New system for imaging rare-earth doped nanoparticles

The Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS; Québec, Canada) has issued a January 30,2024 news release (also on EurekAlert) announcing new work in the field of imaging, Note: Links have been removed,

Teams led by professors Jinyang Liang and Fiorenzo Vetrone from the Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) have developed a new system for imaging nanoparticles. It consists of a high-precision, short-wave infrared imaging technique capable of capturing the photoluminescence lifetimes of rare-earth doped nanoparticles in the micro- to millisecond range.

This groundbreaking discovery, which was published in the journal Advanced Science, paves the way for promising applications, particularly in the biomedical and information security fields.

Rare-earth elements are strategic metals that possess unique light-emitting properties that make them very attractive research tools in cutting-edge science. What’s more, the photoluminescence lifetime of nanoparticles doped with these ions has the advantage of being minimally affected by external conditions. As a result, measuring it through imaging provides data from which accurate and highly reliable information can be derived.

Although this field is seeing remarkable progress, existing optical systems for this type of measurement were less than ideal.

“Until now, existing optical systems have offered limited possibilities due to inefficient photon detection, limited imaging speed, and low sensitivity,” explains Professor Jinyang Liang, a specialist in ultrafast imaging and biophotonics.

To date, the most common technique for measuring the photoluminescence lifetime of rare-earth doped nanoparticles has involved counting time-correlated single photons.

“This method requires a large number of repeated excitations at the same location because the detector can only process a limited number of photons for each excitation,” says the study’s first author Miao Liu, a Ph.D. student in energy and materials science supervised by Profs. Liang and Vetrone.

However, the long photoluminescence lifetimes of rare-earth doped nanoparticles in the infrared spectrum, from hundreds of microseconds to several milliseconds, restrict the excitation’s repetition rate. As a result, the pixel dwelling time needed to build the photoluminescence intensity decay curve is much longer.

Pushing the limits

To overcome this challenge, Liang and Vetrone’s teams have combined streak optics with a high-sensitivity camera. The resulting device is called SWIR-PLIMASC (SWIR for short-wave infrared and PLIMASC for photoluminescence lifetime imaging microscopy using an all-optical streak camera). It vastly improves mapping of the optical properties of short-wave infrared photoluminescence lifetimes. It is the first high-sensitivity, high-speed SWIR imaging system in the optics field.

“It has several advantages,” says Miao Liu. “For instance, it responds to a wide spectral range, from 900 nm to 1700 nm, allowing photoluminescence to be detected at different wavelengths and/or spectral bands.”

The Ph.D. student adds that with the help of this device, photoluminescence lifetimes in the infrared spectrum, from microseconds to milliseconds, can be directly captured in one snapshot with a 1D imaging speed that can be tuned from 10.3 kHz to 138.9 kHz.

Finally, the operation that allocates the temporal information of photoluminescence to different spatial positions ensures that the entire process of 1D photoluminescence intensity decay can be recorded in a single snapshot, without repeated excitation. “You save time, but still get high sensitivity,” sums up Miao Liu.

Biomedical and security applications

The work carried out as part of this research will have a very tangible impact. In the biomedical field, the advances made possible by SWIR-PLIMASC could be used to fight cancer, believes Professor Fiorenzo Vetrone, whose expertise lies in nanomedicine.

“As our system applies to the temperature-based photoluminescence lifetime imaging of rare-earth ions, we believe that the data obtained could, for example, help to detect cancer cells even earlier and more accurately. The metabolism of those cells raises the temperature of the surrounding tissues,” says Professor Vetrone.

The innovative system can also be used to store information at enhanced security levels, more specifically to prevent documents and data from being falsified. Finally, in fundamental science, these unprecedented results will allow scientists to synthesize rare-earth nanoparticles with even more interesting optical properties.

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

Short-wave Infrared Photoluminescence Lifetime Mapping of Rare-Earth Doped Nanoparticles Using All-Optical Streak Imaging by Miao Liu, Yingming Lai, Miguel Marquez, Fiorenzo Vetrone, Jinyang Liang. Advanced Science DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/advs.202305284 First published: 06 January 2024

This paper is open access.

‘Frozen smoke’ sensors can detect toxic formaldehyde in homes and offices

I love the fact that ‘frozen smoke’ is another term for aerogel (which has multiple alternative terms) and the latest work on this interesting material is from the University of Cambridge (UK) according to a February 9, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily,

Researchers have developed a sensor made from ‘frozen smoke’ that uses artificial intelligence techniques to detect formaldehyde in real time at concentrations as low as eight parts per billion, far beyond the sensitivity of most indoor air quality sensors.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, developed sensors made from highly porous materials known as aerogels. By precisely engineering the shape of the holes in the aerogels, the sensors were able to detect the fingerprint of formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant, at room temperature.

The proof-of-concept sensors, which require minimal power, could be adapted to detect a wide range of hazardous gases, and could also be miniaturised for wearable and healthcare applications. The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

A February 9, 2024 University of Cambridge press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the problem and the proposed solution in more detail, Note: Links have been removed,

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a major source of indoor air pollution, causing watery eyes, burning in the eyes and throat, and difficulty breathing at elevated levels. High concentrations can trigger attacks in people with asthma, and prolonged exposure may cause certain cancers.

Formaldehyde is a common VOC and is emitted by household items including pressed wood products (such as MDF), wallpapers and paints, and some synthetic fabrics. For the most part, the levels of formaldehyde emitted by these items are low, but levels can build up over time, especially in garages where paints and other formaldehyde-emitting products are more likely to be stored.

According to a 2019 report from the campaign group Clean Air Day, a fifth of households in the UK showed notable concentrations of formaldehyde, with 13% of residences surpassing the recommended limit set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“VOCs such as formaldehyde can lead to serious health problems with prolonged exposure even at low concentrations, but current sensors don’t have the sensitivity or selectivity to distinguish between VOCs that have different impacts on health,” said Professor Tawfique Hasan from the Cambridge Graphene Centre, who led the research.

“We wanted to develop a sensor that is small and doesn’t use much power, but can selectively detect formaldehyde at low concentrations,” said Zhuo Chen, the paper’s first author.

The researchers based their sensors on aerogels: ultra-light materials sometimes referred to as ‘liquid smoke’, since they are more than 99% air by volume. The open structure of aerogels allows gases to easily move in and out. By precisely engineering the shape, or morphology, of the holes, the aerogels can act as highly effective sensors.

Working with colleagues at Warwick University, the Cambridge researchers optimised the composition and structure of the aerogels to increase their sensitivity to formaldehyde, making them into filaments about three times the width of a human hair. The researchers 3D printed lines of a paste made from graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon, and then freeze-dried the graphene paste to form the holes in the final aerogel structure. The aerogels also incorporate tiny semiconductors known as quantum dots.

The sensors they developed were able to detect formaldehyde at concentrations as low as eight parts per billion, which is 0.4 percent of the level deemed safe in UK workplaces. The sensors also work at room temperature, consuming very low power.

“Traditional gas sensors need to be heated up, but because of the way we’ve engineered the materials, our sensors work incredibly well at room temperature, so they use between 10 and 100 times less power than other sensors,” said Chen.

To improve selectivity, the researchers then incorporated machine learning algorithms into the sensors. The algorithms were trained to detect the ‘fingerprint’ of different gases, so that the sensor was able to distinguish the fingerprint of formaldehyde from other VOCs.

“Existing VOC detectors are blunt instruments – you only get one number for the overall concentration in the air,” said Hasan. “By building a sensor that is able to detect specific VOCs at very low concentrations in real time, it can give home and business owners a more accurate picture of air quality and any potential health risks.”

The researchers say that the same technique could be used to develop sensors to detect other VOCs. In theory, a device the size of a standard household carbon monoxide detector could incorporate multiple different sensors within it, providing real-time information about a range of different hazardous gases. The team at Warwick are developing a low-cost multi-sensor platform that will incorporate these new aerogel materials and, coupled with AI algorithms, detect different VOCs.

“By using highly porous materials as the sensing element, we’re opening up whole new ways of detecting hazardous materials in our environment,” said Chen.

The research was supported in part by the Henry Royce Institute, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Tawfique Hasan is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge.

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

Real-time, noise and drift resilient formaldehyde sensing at room temperature with aerogel filaments by Zhuo Chen, Binghan Zhou, Mingfei Xiao, Tynee Bhowmick, Padmanathan Karthick Kannan, Luigi G. Occhipinti, Julian William Gardner, and Tawfique Hasan. Science Advances 9 Feb 2024 Vol 10, Issue 6 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adk6856

This paper is open access.

Neuromodulation-Curious? May 11, 2024 free event in Vancouver (Canada) hosted by Canadian Neuromodulation Society and the International Neuromodulation Society (INS)

Before leaping into the event details, I’ve got some information about neuromodulation for anyone who’s not familiar with the term, there are two bits (not mutually exclusive). First, there’s this Wikipedia Neuromodulation essay, which focuses on the physiological process of neuromodulation. Second, there are the answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), specifically, What is neuromodulation? on the International Neuromodulation Society (INS) website, which pertain more closely to the information being offered at the upcoming event,

WHAT IS NEUROMODULATION?

Neuromodulation is technology that acts directly upon nerves. It is the alteration—or modulation—of nerve activity by delivering electrical or pharmaceutical agents directly to a target area.

Neuromodulation devices and treatments can be life changing. They affect every area of the body and treat nearly every disease or symptom from headaches to tremors to spinal cord damage to urinary incontinence. With such a broad therapeutic scope, and significant ongoing improvements in biotechnology, it is not surprising that neuromodulation is poised as a major growth industry for the next decade.

Most frequently, people think of neuromodulation in the context of chronic pain relief, the most common indication. However, there are a plethora of neuromodulation applications, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment for Parkinson’s disease, sacral nerve stimulation for pelvic disorders and incontinence, and spinal cord stimulation for ischemic disorders (angina, peripheral vascular disease).

In addition, neuromodulation devices can stimulate a response where there was previously none, as in the case of a cochlear implant restoring hearing in a deaf patient.

And for every existing neuromodulatory treatment, there are many more on the horizon. An emerging technology called BrainGate Neural Interface System has been used to analyze brain signals and translate those signals into cursor movements, allowing severely motor-impaired individuals an alternate “pathway” to control a computer with thought, and offers potential for one day restoring some degree of limb movement.

This April 9, 2024 International Neuromodulation Society (INS) news release on EurekAlert announces the May 11, 2024 free public event in Vancouver (Canada),

The Canadian Neuromodulation Society and the International Neuromodulation Society (INS) are delighted to announce a public education event, “Understanding Neuromodulation of the Brain and Spinal Cord”. 

This complimentary event is scheduled to take place at the Vancouver Convention Centre, East Building, on Saturday, May 11, from 13:30 to 18:00, during the 16th INS World Congress.

Aimed at patients, their families, and friends dealing with conditions such as chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, and tremor, this event is also open to interested members of the public, media representatives, and professionals. 

This gathering comprises several lectures that pair scientifically and clinically substantiated insights with firsthand, real-world experiences. It provides a unique opportunity to learn directly from both local and international medical experts and patients about neuromodulation therapies. Neuromodulation treatments involve “altering nerve activity through the targeted delivery of electrical stimulation or chemical agents to specific neurological sites in the body” (Source: INS).

This event will be moderated by Dr. Christopher Honey, MD, DPhil, FRCPC, FACS, Professor & Head, Division of Neurosurgery at the University of British Columbia, as well as esteemed leader, clinician, author and INS Congress Chair.

“I am both delighted and honoured to chair this meeting. We have brought the world’s experts in neuromodulation and more than a thousand clinicians to Vancouver for the scientific meeting. The public lectures will provide background information on neuromodulation and allow our patients to give a first-hand review of their experience with the technology.” 

Event Highlights:

* Educational Sessions: A series of talks covering various aspects of neuromodulation, including its application for Parkinson’s Disease, tremor, dystonia, back & leg pain, neuropathic pain (CRPS and post-surgical), and angina and peripheral vascular disease.

* Patient Experiences: Hear firsthand accounts from patients who have benefited from neuromodulation therapies, providing insights into their journeys and outcomes.

* Interactive Q&A: Dedicated Q&A sessions will allow attendees to engage with experts, ask questions, and deepen their understanding of neuromodulation and its risks and benefits.

* Networking: Opportunities for attendees to connect with healthcare professionals, researchers and others interested in neuromodulation.

This event is particularly significant as it precedes the INS 16th World Congress on Neuromodulation, highlighting the importance of public education alongside scientific discourse. It underlines the commitment of both the Canadian Neuromodulation Society and INS to raising awareness about therapies that can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with chronic conditions.

Registration Information:

Attendance is free of charge, but registration is required. Interested participants are encouraged to register early to secure their place at this informative session.

About the International Neuromodulation Society:

The International Neuromodulation Society (INS) is a global non-profit organization focused on the scientific development and awareness of neuromodulation. The INS is dedicated to promoting improved patient care through education, research, and advocacy in the field of neuromodulation. The Canadian Neuromodulation Society has been an established chapter of the INS since 2006. [You can find the Canadian Neuromodulation Society website here.]

Good luck getting a seat!

Five more stories complete the 3rd Frontiers for Young Minds collection of stories by Nobel Laureates

A January 31, 2024 Frontiers (publishers) news release on EurekAlert announces more stories by Nobel Laureates for volume 3 of Frontiers for Young Minds,

Frontiers for Young Minds, a non-profit, open-access scientific journal for kids, has published five new articles written by Nobel Prize-winners. The articles complete the third volume of the Nobel collection, bringing the number of featured Laureates and their discoveries to 30.  

The authors were awarded the Nobel Prize for their contributions to the fields of economics, physiology, and medicine. Within each article, the authors explain their ground-breaking work and the practical or future applications of their science.  

The articles are:  

  • Game Theory— More Than Just Games, written by Robert Aumann, awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2005.  
    Game theory is not just about games. It deals with real-life situations like business, politics, war, or even sharing donuts. Robert Aumann enhanced conflict resolution using game theory – the logic which helps us understand how to improve our decisions, specifically in situations where people might disagree.  
  • Can We Use Math to Design a Brighter Future? written by Eric Maskin, awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2007.  
    Math helps to develop new technologies and engineering techniques that advance our society. Eric Maskin laid the foundations of mechanism design theory, a branch of economics that can shape economies to reach social goals such as reducing pollution and establishing fair voting systems. 
  • T Killer T Cells: Immune System Heroes, written by Peter Doherty, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1996.  
    Our immune system keeps our body healthy by fighting microbes and protecting us from infections. Peter Doherty discovered how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells and the clever way our T-cells identify and kill them. This knowledge could develop new treatments for autoimmune diseases and cancer. 
  • Can Grid Cells Help Us Understand the Brain? written by Edvard Moser, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2014.  
    Grid cells are special brain cells that play a key role in the brain’s navigation system. Edvard Moser co-discovered that these cells generate a positioning system that allows us to navigate our environment and estimate distance. Rapidly developing research on grid cells could eventually help us understand how cognition works. 
  • Hot Chili Peppers Help Uncover the Secrets of Pain, written by David Julius, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2021.  
    Receptors are small sensing structures present on cell membranes that react to stimuli from the environment or from within the body. David Julius identified a sensor in the nerve endings of the skin that responds to pain and heat. Using chili peppers to study how receptors relate to pain could help develop better drugs for intense and long-term (chronic) pain. 

Launched in 2013, Frontiers for Young Minds publishes accessible and engaging articles in collaboration with exceptional researchers to inspire the next generation of scientists. It provides reliable and up-to-date information on various topics in science, including in technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). The unique Frontiers for Young Minds review process gives kids confidence and communication skills to engage with leading researchers worldwide and empowers them to ask questions and think critically before they validate the scientific information they read.  

Commenting on the new articles, head of program Laura Henderson says: “Since launching our Nobel Collection volume 1 in 2021, we have been blown away by the impact it has made. With over 1.8 million views and downloads worldwide, we are reaching science enthusiasts all over the world as part of our mission to inspire and engage kids with accessible scientific content. To now have a total of 30 Nobel Prize winners helping us to communicate scientific concepts to young minds is a huge achievement for all our team. I look forward to reaching even more young learners with these articles and our new partner collections coming later this year.” 

Discover all the Nobel Collections here: 

Volume one 
Volume two 
Volume three 

The first half of Volume three was announced here in my November 9, 2023 posting.

Trust in science remains high but public questions scientists’ adherence to science’s norms

A March 4, 2024 Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania news release (also on EurekAlert and received via email) announces research into public trust in science in the US,

Science is one of the most highly regarded institutions in America, with nearly three-quarters of the public expressing “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in scientists. But confidence in science has nonetheless declined over the past few years, since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has for most other major social institutions.

In a new article, members of the Strategic Council of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM] examine what has happened to public confidence in science, why it has happened, and what can be done to elevate it. The researchers write that while there is broad public agreement about the values that should underpin science, the public questions whether scientists actually live up to these values and whether they can overcome their individual biases.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), relies in part on new data being released in connection with this article by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania. The data come from the Annenberg Science Knowledge (ASK) survey conducted February 22-28, 2023, with an empaneled, nationally representative sample of 1,638 U.S. adults who were asked about their views on scientists and science. The margin of error for the entire sample is ± 3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. (See the paper for the findings.) The survey is directed by APPC director Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a member of the Strategic Council and a co-author of the PNAS paper.

Decline in confidence comparable to other institutions

The researchers also examine trends in public confidence in science dating back 20 years from other sources, including the Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey of National Opinion Research at the University of Chicago. These show a recent decline consistent with the decline seen for other institutions.

“We’re of the view that trust has to be earned,” said lead author Arthur Lupia, a member of the NASEM’s Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust, and associate vice president for research at the University of Michigan. “We wanted to understand how trust in science is changing, and why, and is there anything that the scientific enterprise can do to regain trust?”

Highlights

“Confidence in science is high relative to nearly all other civic, cultural, and government institutions…,” the article states. In addition:

  • The public has high levels of confidence in scientists’ competence, trustworthiness, and honesty – 84% of survey respondents in February 2023 are very or somewhat confident that scientists provide the public with trustworthy information in the scientists’ area of inquiry.
  • Many in the public question whether scientists share their values and whether scientists can overcome their own biases. For instance, when asked whether scientists will or will not publish findings if a study’s results run counter to the interests of the organization running the study, 70% said scientists will not publish the findings.
  • The public has “consistent beliefs about how scientists should act and beliefs that support their confidence in science despite their concerns about scientists’ possible biases and distortive incentives.” For example, 84% of U.S. adults say it is somewhat or very important for scientists to disclose their funders and 92% say it is somewhat or very important that scientists be open to changing their minds based on new evidence.
  • However, when asked about scientists’ biases, just over half of U.S. adults (53%) say scientists provide the public with unbiased conclusions about their area of inquiry and just 42% say scientists generally are “able to overcome their human and political biases.”

Beyond measurements of trust in science

The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s ASK survey in February 2023 asked U.S. adults more nuanced questions about attitudes toward scientists.

“We’ve developed measures beyond trust or confidence in science in order to understand why some in the public are less supportive of science and scientists than others,” said Jamieson, who is also a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. “Perceptions of whether scientists share one’s values, overcome their human and political biases, and correct mistakes are important as well.”

The ASK survey of U.S. adults found, for instance, that 81% regard scientists as competent, 70% as trustworthy, and 68% as honest, but only 42% say scientists “share my values.”

A more detailed analysis of the variables and effects seen in Annenberg’s surveys was published in September 2023 in PNAS in the paper “Factors Assessing Science’s Self-Presentation model and their effect on conservatives’ and liberals’ support for funding science.”

Confidence in science and Covid-19 vaccination status

The research published in PNAS was initiated by members of the NASEM’s Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust, which was established in 2021 to advance the integrity, ethics, resilience, and effectiveness of the research enterprise.

Lupia said the Strategic Council’s conversations about whether trust in science was declining and if so, why, began during the pandemic. “There was great science behind the Covid-19 vaccine, so why was the idea of people taking it so controversial?” he asked. “Covid deaths were so visible and yet the controversy over the vaccine was also so visible – kind of an icon of the public-health implications of declining trust in science.”

The article cites research from the Annenberg Public Policy Center that found important relationships between science-based forms of trust and the willingness to take a Covid-19 vaccine. Data from waves of another APPC survey of U.S. adults in five swing states during the 2020 campaign season – reported in a 2021 article in PNAS – showed that from July 2020 to February 2021, U.S. adults’ trust in health authorities was a significant predictor of the reported intention to get the Covid-19 vaccine. See the article “The role of non-COVID-specific and COVID-specific factors in predicting a shift in willingness to vaccinate: A panel study.”

How to raise confidence in science

Raising public confidence in science, the researchers write, “should not be premised on the assumption that society would be better off with higher levels of uncritical trust in the scientific community. Indeed, uncritical trust in science would violate the scientific norm of organized skepticism and be antithetical to science’s culture of challenge, critique, and self-correction.”

“Instead,” they propose, “researchers, scientific organizations, and the scientific community writ large need to redouble their commitment to conduct, communicate, critique, and – when error is found or misconduct detected – correct the published record in ways that both merit and earn public confidence.”

The data cited in the paper, they conclude, “suggest that the scientific community’s commitment to core values such as the culture of critique and correction, peer review, acknowledging limitations in data and methods, precise specification of key terms, and faithful accounts of evidence in every step of scientific practice and in every engagement with the public may help sustain confidence in scientific findings.”

“Trends in U.S. Public Confidence in Science and Opportunities for Progress” was published March 4, 2024, in PNAS. In addition to Jamieson and Lupia, the authors are David B. Allison, dean of the School of Public Health, Indiana University; Jennifer Heimberg, of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief of the journal Nature; and Susan M. Wolf, of the University of Minnesota Law and Medical Schools. Allison is co-chair of the National Academies’ Strategic Council; Lupia, Jamieson, Skipper, and Wolf are members of the Council, and Heimberg is the director of the Council.

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

Trends in U.S. public confidence in science and opportunities for progress by Arthur Lupia, David B. Allison, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and Susan M. Wolf. PNAS March 4, 2024 121 (11) e2319488121 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2319488121

This paper is open access.

Butterfly mating inspires neuromorphic (brainlike) computing

Michael Berger writes about a multisensory approach to neuromorphic computing inspired by butterflies in his February 2, 2024 Nanowerk Spotlight article, Note: Links have been removed,

Artificial intelligence systems have historically struggled to integrate and interpret information from multiple senses the way animals intuitively do. Humans and other species rely on combining sight, sound, touch, taste and smell to better understand their surroundings and make decisions. However, the field of neuromorphic computing has largely focused on processing data from individual senses separately.

This unisensory approach stems in part from the lack of miniaturized hardware able to co-locate different sensing modules and enable in-sensor and near-sensor processing. Recent efforts have targeted fusing visual and tactile data. However, visuochemical integration, which merges visual and chemical information to emulate complex sensory processing such as that seen in nature—for instance, butterflies integrating visual signals with chemical cues for mating decisions—remains relatively unexplored. Smell can potentially alter visual perception, yet current AI leans heavily on visual inputs alone, missing a key aspect of biological cognition.

Now, researchers at Penn State University have developed bio-inspired hardware that embraces heterogeneous integration of nanomaterials to allow the co-location of chemical and visual sensors along with computing elements. This facilitates efficient visuochemical information processing and decision-making, taking cues from the courtship behaviors of a species of tropical butterfly.

In the paper published in Advanced Materials (“A Butterfly-Inspired Multisensory Neuromorphic Platform for Integration of Visual and Chemical Cues”), the researchers describe creating their visuochemical integration platform inspired by Heliconius butterflies. During mating, female butterflies rely on integrating visual signals like wing color from males along with chemical pheromones to select partners. Specialized neurons combine these visual and chemical cues to enable informed mate choice.

To emulate this capability, the team constructed hardware encompassing monolayer molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) memtransistors serving as visual capture and processing components. Meanwhile, graphene chemitransistors functioned as artificial olfactory receptors. Together, these nanomaterials provided the sensing, memory and computing elements necessary for visuochemical integration in a compact architecture.

While mating butterflies served as inspiration, the developed technology has much wider relevance. It represents a significant step toward overcoming the reliance of artificial intelligence on single data modalities. Enabling integration of multiple senses can greatly improve situational understanding and decision-making for autonomous robots, vehicles, monitoring devices and other systems interacting with complex environments.

The work also helps progress neuromorphic computing approaches seeking to emulate biological brains for next-generation ML acceleration, edge deployment and reduced power consumption. In nature, cross-modal learning underpins animals’ adaptable behavior and intelligence emerging from brains organizing sensory inputs into unified percepts. This research provides a blueprint for hardware co-locating sensors and processors to more closely replicate such capabilities

It’s fascinating to me how many times butterflies inspire science,

Butterfly-inspired visuo-chemical integration. a) A simplified abstraction of visual and chemical stimuli from male butterflies and visuo-chemical integration pathway in female butterflies. b) Butterfly-inspired neuromorphic hardware comprising of monolayer MoS2 memtransistor-based visual afferent neuron, graphene-based chemoreceptor neuron, and MoS2 memtransistor-based neuro-mimetic mating circuits. Courtesy: Wiley/Penn State University Researchers

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

A Butterfly-Inspired Multisensory Neuromorphic Platform for Integration of Visual and Chemical Cues by Yikai Zheng, Subir Ghosh, Saptarshi Das. Advanced Materials SOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202307380 First published: 09 December 2023

This paper is open access.

Invitation to collect data during April 8, 2024 eclipse for US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

An April 2, 2024 news item on phys.org is, in fact, an open invitation to participate in data collection for NASA during the April 8, 2024 eclipse,

On April 8, 2024, as the moon passes between the sun and Earth, thousands of amateur citizen scientists will measure air temperatures and snap pictures of clouds. The data they collect will aid researchers who are investigating how the sun influences climates in different environments.

Among those citizen scientists are the fifth- and sixth-grade students at Alpena Elementary in northwest Arkansas. In the weeks leading up to the eclipse, these students are visiting the school’s weather station 10 times a day to collect temperature readings and monitor cloud cover. They will then upload the data to a phone-based app that’s part of a NASA-led program called GLOBE, short for Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment.

The goal, according to Alpena Elementary science and math teacher Roger Rose, is to “make science and math more real” for his students. “It makes them feel like they’re doing something that’s important and worthwhile.”

The GLOBE eclipse tool is a small part of the much broader GLOBE project, through which students and citizen scientists collect data on plants, soil, water, the atmosphere, and even mosquitoes. Contributors to the eclipse project will only need a thermometer and a smartphone with the GLOBE Observer app downloaded. They can access the eclipse tool in the app. [emphases mine]

An April 1, 2024 NASA article by James Riordon, which originated the news item, provides more information about the GLOBE program and the hopes for the April 8, 2024 eclipse initiative,

This is not the first time the GLOBE eclipse tool has been deployed in North America. During the 2017 North American eclipse, NASA researchers examined the relationship between clouds and air temperature and found that temperature swings during the eclipse were greatest in areas with less cloud cover, while temperature fluctuations in cloudier regions were more muted. It’s a finding that would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, without the assistance of numerous amateur observers along the eclipse path, said Marilé Colón Robles, a meteorologist based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and the GLOBE project scientist overseeing the cloud study portion of the project.

GLOBE program volunteers across North America uploaded data coinciding with the July 21, 2017 event to this map. A high concentration of observers make the path of totality in the western part of the U.S. stand out. Credit: NASA Globe program

The number of weather stations along this year’s eclipse path is limited, and while satellites give us a global view, they can’t provide the same level of detail as people on the ground, said Ashlee Autore, a NASA Langley data scientist who will be conducting a follow-up to the 2017 study. “The power of citizen science is that people make the observations, and they can move.”

It’s still unclear how temperature fluctuations during a total eclipse compare across different climate regions, Colón Robles said. “This upcoming eclipse is passing through desert regions, mountainous regions, as well as more moist regions near the oceans.” Acquiring observations across these areas, she said, “will help us dig deeper into questions about regional connections between cloud cover and ground-level temperatures.” The studies should give scientists a better handle on the flow of energy from the Sun that’s crucial for understanding climate.

In many areas, citizen scientists are expected to gather en masse. “We’re inviting basically all of El Paso to campus,” said geophysicist and GLOBE partner John Olgin of El Paso Community College in Texas. The area will experience the eclipse in near totality, with about 80% of the Sun covered at the peak. It’s enough to make for an engaging event involving citizen scientists from the U.S. and Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande. 

Just a few minutes of midday darkness will have the long-term benefits of increasing awareness of NASA citizen science programs, Olgin said: “It’s going to inspire people to say, ‘Hey look, you can actually do stuff with NASA.’”

More than 30 million people live along the path of the 2024 eclipse, and hundreds of millions more will see a partial eclipse. It will be another 20 years before so many people in North America experience another total solar eclipse again.

With this in mind, Colón Robles has a piece of advice: As the Moon actively blocks the Sun, set your phone and thermometer aside, and marvel at one of the most extraordinary astronomical events of your lifetime.

Visit NASA’s Citizen Science page to learn how you can help NASA scientists study the Earth during eclipses and all year round. The GLOBE Program page provides connections to communities of GLOBE participants in 127 countries, access to data for retrieval and analysis, a roadmap for new participants, and other resources.

For anyone who wants to experience all of the ways that NASA has made their citizen science April 2024 eclipse projects accessible there’s NASA’s ‘general eclipse’ webpage.

Dendritic painting: a physics story

A March 4, 2024 news item on phys.org announces research into the physics of using paints and inks in visual art, Note: A link has been removed,

Falling from the tip of a brush suspended in mid-air, an ink droplet touches a painted surface and blossoms into a masterpiece of ever-changing beauty. It weaves a tapestry of intricate, evolving patterns. Some of them resemble branching snowflakes, thunderbolts or neurons, whispering the unique expression of the artist’s vision.

Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) researchers set out to analyze the physical principles of this fascinating technique, known as dendritic painting. They took inspiration from the artwork of Japanese media artist, Akiko Nakayama. The work is published in the journal PNAS Nexus.

Caption: Japanese artist Akiko Nakayama manipulates alcohol and inks to create tree-like dendritic patterns during a live painting session. Credit: Photo Credit: Akiko Nakayama

Yes, the ends definitely look tree-like (maybe cedar). A February 29, 2024 Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) press release (also on EurekAlert but published March 1, 2024), which originated the news item, goes on to describe the forces at work and provides instructions for creating your own dendritic paintings, Note: Links have been removed,

During her [Akiko Nakayama] live painting performances, she applies colourful droplets of acrylic ink mixed with alcohol atop a flat surface coated with a layer of acrylic paint. Beautiful fractals – tree-like geometrical shapes that repeat at different scales and are often found in nature – appear before the eyes of the audience. This is a captivating art form driven by creativity, but also by the physics of fluid dynamics.

“I have a deep admiration for scientists, such as Ukichiro Nakaya and Torahiko Terada, who made remarkable contributions to both science and art. I was very happy to be contacted by OIST physicist Chan San To. I am envious of his ability ‘to dialogue’ with the dendritic patterns, observing how they change shape in response to different approaches. Hearing this secret conversation was delightful,” explains Nakayama.

“Painters have often employed fluid mechanics to craft unique compositions. We have seen it with David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jackson Pollock, and Naoko Tosa, just to name a few. In our laboratory, we reproduce and study artistic techniques, to understand how the characteristics of the fluids influence the final outcome,” says OIST Professor Eliot Fried of OIST’s Mechanics and Materials Unit, who likes looking at dendritic paintings from artistic and scientific angles.

In dendritic painting, the droplets made of ink and alcohol experience various forces. One of them is surface tension – the force that makes rain droplets spherical in shape, and allows leaves to float on the surface of a pond. In particular, as alcohol evaporates faster than water, it alters the surface tension of the droplet. Fluid molecules tend to be pulled towards the droplet rim, which has higher surface tension compared to its centre. This is called the Marangoni effect and is the same phenomenon responsible for the formation of wine tears – the droplets or streaks of wine that form on the inside of a wine glass after swirling or tilting.

Secondly, the underlying paint layer also plays an important part in this artistic technique. Dr. Chan tested various types of liquids. For fractals to emerge, the liquid must be a fluid that decreases in viscosity under shear strain, meaning it has to behave somewhat like ketchup. It’s common knowledge that it’s hard to get ketchup out of the bottle unless you shake it. This happens because ketchup’s viscosity changes depending on shear strain. When you shake the bottle, the ketchup becomes less viscous, making it easier to pour it onto your dish. How is this applied to dendritic painting?

“In dendritic painting, the expanding ink droplet shears the underlying acrylic paint layer. It is not as strong as the shaking of a ketchup bottle, but it is still a form of shear strain. As with ketchup, the more stress there is, the easier it is for the ink droplets to flow,” explains Dr. Chan.

“We also showed that the physics behind this dendritic painting technique is similar to how liquid travels in a porous medium, such as soil. If you were to look at the mix of acrylic paint under the microscope, you would see a network of microscopic structures made of polymer molecules and pigments. The ink droplet tends to find its way through this underlying network, travelling through paths of least resistance, that leads to the dendritic pattern,” adds Prof. Fried.

Each dendritic print is one-of-a-kind, but there are at least two key aspects that artists can take into consideration to control the outcome of dendritic painting. The first and most important factor is the thickness of the paint layer spread on the surface. Dr. Chan observed that well-refined fractals appear with paint layer thinner than a half millimetre.

The second factor to experiment with is the concentration of diluting medium and paint in this paint layer. Dr. Chan obtained the most detailed fractals using three parts diluting medium and one part paint, or two parts diluting medium and one part paint. If the concentration of paint is higher, the droplet cannot spread well. Conversely, if the concentration of paint is lower, fuzzy edges will form. 

This is not the first science-meets-art project that members of the Mechanics and Materials Unit have embarked on. For example, they designed and installed a mobile sculpture on the OIST campus. The sculpture exemplifies a family of mechanical devices, called Möbius kaleidocycles, invented in the Unit, which may offer guidelines for designing chemical compounds with novel electronic properties.

Currently, Dr. Chan is also developing novel methods of analysing how the complexity of a sketch or painting evolves during its creation. He and Prof. Fried are optimistic that these methods might be applied to uncover hidden structures in experimentally captured or numerically generated images of flowing fluids.

“Why should we confine science to just technological progress?” wonders Dr. Chan. “I like exploring its potential to drive artistic innovation as well. I do digital art, but I really admire traditional artists. I sincerely invite them to experiment with various materials and reach out to us if they’re interested in collaborating and exploring the physics hidden within their artwork.”

Instructions to create dendritic painting at home

Everybody can have fun creating dendritic paintings. The materials needed include a non-absorbent surface (glass, synthetic paper, ceramics, etc.), a brush, a hairbrush, rubbing alcohol (iso-propyl alcohol), acrylic ink, acrylic paint and pouring medium.

  1. Dilute one part of acrylic paint to two or three parts of  pouring medium, or test other ratios to see how the result changes
  2. Apply this to the non-absorbent surface uniformly using a hairbrush. OIST physicists have found out that the thickness of the paint affects the result. For the best fractals, a layer of paint thinner than half millimetre is recommended.
  3. Mix rubbing alcohol with acrylic ink. The density of the ink may differ for different brands: have a try mixing alcohol and ink in different ratios
  4. When the white paint is still wet (hasn’t dried yet), apply a droplet of the ink with alcohol mix using a brush or another tool, such as a bamboo stick or a toothpick.
  5. Enjoy your masterpiece as it develops before your eyes. 

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

Marangoni spreading on liquid substrates in new media art by San To Chan and Eliot Fried. PNAS Nexus, Volume 3, Issue 2, February 2024, pgae059 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgae059 Published: 08 February 2024

This paper is open access.

Canadian Science Policy Centre: a 2024 Canadian federal budget event and a call for 2024 conference proposals *(deadline extension)*

2024 Canadian federal budget event

Canada’s 2024 federal budget will be presented on April 16, 2024, according to this March 4, 2024 Government of Canada media advisory. About two weeks later the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) will host their annual budget symposium (Decoding Budget 2024 for Science and Innovation). Here’s more from the March 28, 2024 CSPC announcement (received via email),

The CSPC Budget Symposium will be held on Wednesday May 1, 2024 starting at 12pm. The Symposium will feature a detailed budget analysis presented by David Watters and Omer Kaya from Global Advantage Consulting Group followed by panel discussions with leaders from across the country, representing academic, business, and non-profit sectors.

Details

Date: May 1 [2024]
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm EDT
Event Category: Virtual Session
Registration Page: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Zu0_hqZaRZuADWwT7y5rIw

Venue

Zoom

Organizer

Canadian Science Policy Centre
Email info@sciencepolicy.ca

Mark your calendar to be part of insightful discussions around the Federal Budget 2024!

Register Now

Kaya and Watters were both scheduled to speak at last year’s (2023) federal budget symposium and both have been guest speakers in years previous to 2023. Presumably more speakers and specific topics will be identified as the May 1, 2024 budget symposium draws nearer.

2024 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC): call for proposals

I gather the conference organizers (the Canadian Science Policy Centre) are short of ‘panel proposals’ but have enough ‘short talk proposals’ as the the March 28, 2024 CSPC announcement (received via email) highlights the panels only,

Call for Panel Proposals, Three Weeks
Left to the Deadline: April 19, 2024 *(extended to April 26, 2024)*

The call for proposals is open with only 3 weeks left until the submission deadline of Friday, April 19, 2024. We invite you to submit proposals that revolve around any of the conference’s six tracks. The theme and topics can be viewed by clicking here, and the submission criteria and panel formats on our website at the link below.

CSPC 2024 Panel Proposal Submission

I have a few details about the 2024 conference, from the CSPC 2024 webpage,

16th Canadian Science Policy Conference

November 20th-22nd, 2024, at the Westin Ottawa hotel

CSPC 2024 Theme:

Empowering Society: The Transformative Value of Science, Knowledge, and Innovation

The 16th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC 2024), will be held in person on November 20th – 22nd, 2024. The conference expects 1000+ participants, more than 300 speakers, in 60 panel sessions. CSPC 2024 will also include a spectacular Gala dinner featuring its award ceremony which has become a signature annual event to celebrate Canadian science and innovation policy achievements.

We invite you to submit proposals in a variety of presentation formats that revolve around any of the conference topics. …

Track One: Science, Knowledge, and Policy

*The national STI ecosystem: Strategy for the next ten years; building on strengths and opportunities; addressing weaknesses
*Managing the evolving/changing research landscape: AI, Open Science
*Evidence for policy
*Science policy futures

Track Two: Science, Knowledge, and Society


*Systemic racism, otherism

*Science, Knowledge, and Truth and Reconciliation
*Ethics of emerging technologies

*Citizen Scientist

Track Three: Innovation Policy and Economic Development

*Emerging economic opportunities
*Emerging and disruptive technologies

*Scale up and commercialization

Track Four: Science, International Affairs and Security


*Science diplomacy, research security and geopolitics
*Scientists on the move

Track Five: Science and the Next Generation


*Enabling the next generation of researchers with non-research skills
*Trainees’ well-being
*Grassroots science policy networks, opportunities and lessons learned

Track Six: Grand Challenges – Adaptation, Resilience, Canada’s Role

*Climate change
*The North
*Food, agriculture, water

For details about proposal submissions for either a short talk or a panel, go to the 2024 CSPC proposal webpage. If you’re curious about previous conferences, you can find the proceedings for the 2023 CSPC here.

*Deadline for 2024 CSPC conference proposals extended to April 26, 2024.*