Author Archives: Maryse de la Giroday

Books can be toxic (literally)

I do love word play although I am pushing it a bit with ‘book’, ‘literature’, and ‘literal’.

These poison books each contain heavy metals used to create striking colours [in] the 1800s. Source: Museums Victoria Photo: Rob French [downloaded from https://museumsvictoria.com.au/article/if-books-could-kill-poison-heavy-metal-and-literature/]

Mark Lorch’s, Professor of Science Communication and Chemistry at the University of Hull (UK), April 29, 2024 essay on The Conversation (h/t April 30, 2024 news item on phys.org) provides an interesting account of the dangers associated with literature, Note: Links have been removed,

In our modern society, we rarely consider books to be dangerous items. However, certain books contain elements so hazardous that they require scrutiny before being placed on the shelves of public libraries, bookstores or even private homes.

The Poisonous Book Project [also known as, Poison Book Project], a collaborative research project between Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library and the University of Delaware, is dedicated to cataloguing such books. Their concern is not with the content written on the pages, but with the physical components of the books themselves — specifically, the colours of the covers.

The project recently influenced the decision to remove two books from the French national library. The reason? Their vibrant green cloth covers raised suspicions of containing arsenic.

This concern is rooted in historical practices in bookbinding. During the 19th century, as books began to be mass produced, bookbinders transitioned from using expensive leather covers to more affordable cloth items. To attract readers, these cloth covers were often dyed in bright, eye-catching colours.

One popular pigment was Scheele’s green, named after Carl Wilhelm Scheele, a German-Swedish chemist who in 1775 discovered that a vivid green pigment could be produced from copper and arsenic. This dye was not only cheap to make, it was also more vibrant than the copper carbonate greens that had been used for over a century.

Scheele green eventually fell out of favour because it had a tendency to fade to black when it reacted with sulphur-based pollutants released from coal. But new dyes based on Scheele’s discovery, such as emerald and Paris green, proved to be much more durable. …

These pigments, however, had a significant drawback: they degraded easily, releasing poisonous and carcinogenic arsenic. The frequent reports of green candles poisoning children at Christmas parties, factory workers tasked with applying paint to ornaments convulsing and vomiting green water and warnings of poisonous ball dresses raised serious concerns about the safety of these green dyes.

Green isn’t the only colour to worry about, however. Red is also of concern. The brilliant red pigment vermilion was formed from the mineral cinnabar, also known as mercury sulfide. This was a popular source of red paint dating back thousands of years. There is even evidence that neolithic artists suffered from mercury poisoning. Vermilion red sometimes appears on the marbled patterns on the inside of book covers.

Yellow has also caught the eye of the poisonous book project. In this case, the culprit is lead chromate. The bright yellow of lead chromate was a favourite with painters, not least Vincent van Gogh, who used it extensively in his most famous series of paintings: Sunflowers. For the Victorian-era bookbinders, lead chromate allowed them to create a range of colours from greens (achieved by mixing chrome yellow with Prussian blue) to yellows, oranges and browns.

So what should you do if you come across a green cloth book from the 19th century? First, don’t be overly concerned. You would probably have to eat the entire book before you’d suffer from severe arsenic poisoning. However, casual exposure to copper acetoarsenite, the compound in the green pigment, can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.

It is more of a concern for folks who may regularly handle these books where frequent contact could result in more serious symptoms. Therefore, anyone who suspects they might be handling a Victorian-era book with an emerald green binding is advised to wear gloves and avoid touching their face. Then clean all surfaces afterwards.

If you have a bit of time, Lorch’s April 29, 2024 essay is fascinating. If you have more time, there’s the undated “If books could kill: poison, heavy metal and literature” article on the Museums Victoria (Australia) website,

Books are not usually thought of as hazardous objects, but you will want to be careful with these ones from the Melbourne Museum’s Rare Book Collection.

Poisonous heavy metals permeate their very fabric, and the last 150-odd years has done nothing to lessen their toxicity.

How did it happen though?

This is not some dastardly Name of the Rose-esque plot [a reference to Umberto Eco and his 1986 novel, The Name of the Rose] but rather a combination of fashion, vanity, and workers’ rights (or lack thereof) in the years following the Industrial Revolution.

And it has left a dangerous legacy for modern-day museums.

Lastly, you can find the Poison Book Project here.

Cotton gin waste and self-embedding silver nanoparticles

This work may lead to new uses for cotton waste products according to an April 10, 2024 news item on phys.org,

Cotton gin waste, also known as cotton gin trash, is a byproduct of the cotton ginning process and occurs when the cotton fibers are separated from the seed boll. For cotton gin waste, the treasure is its hidden potential to transform silver ions into silver nanoparticles and create a new hybrid material that could be used to add antimicrobial properties to consumer products, like aerogels, packaging, or composites.

An April 9, 2024 US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail, Note: Links have been removed,

Silver nanoparticles are highly sought-after products in the nanotechnology industry because of their antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, electrical, and optical properties. These nanoparticles have an estimated global production of 500 tons per year and are widely applied to consumer goods such as textiles, coatings, paints, pigments, electronics, optics, and packaging.

In a study published in ACS Omega, researchers from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) revealed the ability of cotton gin waste to synthesize and generate silver nanoparticles in the presence of silver ions.

“Our method not only lets cotton gin waste act as chemical agents for producing silver nanoparticles, which makes it cost-effective and environmentally friendly but also enables embedding the nanoparticles within the cotton gin waste matrix,” said Sunghyun Nam, research engineer at ARS’s Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Unit in New Orleans. “By embedding them in the cotton gin waste, these materials acquire antimicrobial properties.”

Nam said the researchers used a simple heat treatment of cotton gin waste materials in water containing silver ions that produced silver nanoparticles without the need for additional chemical agents.

This finding is significant since making silver nanoparticles usually requires chemical agents which can be costly and pose environmental concerns. Embedding nanoparticles into a material can also be challenging.

Developing nanoparticle embedding technology is not new for Nam and her team. They previously developed washable antimicrobial wipes by using raw cotton fiber that produced silver nanoparticles inside the fiber. The embedded silver nanoparticles can continue to kill harmful bacteria wash after wash.

Large quantities of cotton gin waste are generated annually, and the cotton ginning industry is always seeking new sustainable processes that upcycle crop residue.

“Our research paves the way for new material applications of cotton gin waste that can protect against microbial contamination,” said Nam.

A provisional patent application on the self-embedding silver nanoparticle biomass waste compositions has recently been filed.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in U.S. agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.

Despite the date of the news release, this is a relatively old paper; here’s a link to and a citation,

Unveiling the Hidden Value of Cotton Gin Waste: Natural Synthesis and Hosting of Silver Nanoparticles by Sunghyun Nam*, Michael Easson, Jacobs H. Jordan, Zhongqi He, Hailin Zhang, Michael Santiago Cintrón, and SeChin Chang. ACS Omega 2023, 8, 34, 31281–31292 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsomega.3c03653 Publication Date: August 9, 2023 © 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society. This publication is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0.

As you can see from the Creative Commons licence, this paper is open access.

Nanocellulose film and Kiragami hydrogels

A Kirigami pattern of the hydrogel (top) and the hydrogel swollen from dry state (bottom). (Image: NIMS) [downloaded from https://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-news3/newsid=65005.php]

An April 11, 2024 news item on Nanowerk highlights research that combines kiragami with hydrogel production, Note 1: A link has been removed, Note 2: Kiragami is described in the excerpt after this one,

New options for making finely structured soft, flexible and expandable materials called hydrogels have been developed by researchers at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT). Their work extends the emerging field of ‘kirigami hydrogels’, in which patterns are cut into a thin film allowing it to later swell into complex hydrogel structures.

An April 12, 2024 Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (TUAT) press release, which originated the news item, on JCN Newswire, Note: Distribution of press releases can be spread out over days (sometimes identical press releases are sent out twice, months apart),

Hydrogels have a network of water-attracting (hydrophilic) molecules, allowing their structure to swell substantially when exposed to water that becomes incorporated within the molecular network. Researchers Daisuke Nakagawa and Itsuo Hanasaki worked with an initially dry film composed of nanofibers of cellulose, the natural material that forms much of the structure of plant cell walls.

They used laser processing to cut structures into the film before water was added allowing the film to swell. The particular design of the Kirigami pattern works in such a way that the width increases when stretched in the longitudinal direction, which is called the auxetic property. This auxetic property emerges provided that the thickness grows sufficiently when the original thin film is wet.

“As Kirigami literally means the cut design of papers [emphasis mine], it was originally intended for thin sheet structures. On the other hand, our two-dimensional auxetic mechanism manifests when the thickness of the sheet is sufficient, and this three dimensionality of the hydrogel structure emerges by swelling when it is used. It is convenient to store it in the dry state before use, rather than keeping the same water content level of the hydrogel.” says Hanasaki. “Furthermore, the auxeticity is maintained during the cyclic loading that causes the adaptive deformation of the hydrogel to reach another structural state. It will be important for the design of intelligent materials.”

Potential applications for the adaptive hydrogels include soft components of robotic technologies, allowing them to respond flexibly when interacting with objects they are manipulating, for example. They might also be incorporated into soft switches and sensor components. Hydrogels are also being explored for medical applications, including tissue engineering, wound dressings, drug delivery systems and materials that can adapt flexibly to movement and growth. The advance in kirigami hydrogels achieved by the TUAT team significantly extends the options for future hydrogel applications.

“Keeping the designed characteristics while showing adaptivity to the environmental condition is advantageous for the development of multifunctionality,” Hanasaki concludes

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

Adaptive plasticity of auxetic Kirigami hydrogel fabricated from anisotropic swelling of cellulose nanofiber film by Daisuke Nakagawa & Itsuo Hanasaki. Science and Technology of Advanced Materials Volume 25, 2024 – Issue 1 Article: 2331959 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14686996.2024.2331959 Published online: 02 Apr 2024

This is an open access paper.

Goldene, its single layer of gold atoms makes it a cousin to graphene (a single layer of carbon atoms)

An April 16, 2024 news item on ScienceDaily announces yet another addition to the world of 2D materials,

For the first time, scientists have managed to create sheets of gold only a single atom layer thick. The material has been termed goldene. According to researchers from Linköping University, Sweden, this has given the gold new properties that can make it suitable for use in applications such as carbon dioxide conversion, hydrogen production, and production of value-added chemicals. Their findings are published in the journal Nature Synthesis.

An April 16, 2024 Linköping University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the constraints the researchers faced and how they resolved the problem of how to create goldene,

Scientists have long tried to make single-atom-thick sheets of gold but failed because the metal’s tendency to lump together. But researchers from Linköping University have now succeeded thanks to a hundred-year-old method used by Japanese smiths.

“If you make a material extremely thin, something extraordinary happens – as with graphene. The same thing happens with gold. As you know, gold is usually a metal, but if single-atom-layer thick, the gold can become a semiconductor instead,” says Shun Kashiwaya, researcher at the Materials Design Division at Linköping University.

To create goldene, the researchers used a three-dimensional base material where gold is embedded between layers of titanium and carbon. But coming up with goldene proved to be a challenge. According to Lars Hultman, professor of thin film physics at Linköping University, part of the progress is due to serendipidy. 

“We had created the base material with completely different applications in mind. We started with an electrically conductive ceramics called titanium silicon carbide, where silicon is in thin layers. Then the idea was to coat the material with gold to make a contact. But when we exposed the component to high temperature, the silicon layer was replaced by gold inside the base material,” says Lars Hultman.

This phenomenon is called intercalation and what the researchers had discovered was titanium gold carbide. For several years, the researchers have had titanium gold carbide without knowing how the gold can be exfoliated or panned out, so to speak. 

By chance, Lars Hultman found a method that has been used in Japanese forging art for over a hundred years. It is called Murakami’s reagent, which etches away carbon residue and changes the colour of steel in knife making, for example. But it was not possible to use the exact same recipe as the smiths did. Shun Kashiwaya had to look at modifications:

“I tried different concentrations of Murakami’s reagent and different time spans for etching. One day, one week, one month, several months. What we noticed was that the lower the concentration and the longer the etching process, the better. But it still wasn’t enough,” he says.

The etching must also be carried out in the dark as cyanide develops in the reaction when it is struck by light, and it dissolves gold. The last step was to get the gold sheets stable. To prevent the exposed two-dimensional sheets from curling up, a surfactant was added. In this case, a long molecule that separates and stabilises the sheets, i.e. a tenside.

“The goldene sheets are in a solution, a bit like cornflakes in milk. Using a type of “sieve”, we can collect the gold and examine it using an electron microscope to confirm that we have succeeded. Which we have,” says Shun Kashiwaya.

The new properties of goldene are due to the fact that the gold has two free bonds when two-dimensional. Thanks to this, future applications could include carbon dioxide conversion, hydrogen-generating catalysis, selective production of value-added chemicals, hydrogen production, water purification, communication, and much more. Moreover, the amount of gold used in applications today can be much reduced.

The next step for the LiU researchers is to investigate whether it is possible to do the same with other noble metals and identify additional future applications.

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

Synthesis of goldene comprising single-atom layer gold by Shun Kashiwaya, Yuchen Shi, Jun Lu, Davide G. Sangiovanni, Grzegorz Greczynski, Martin Magnuson, Mike Andersson, Johanna Rosen & Lars Hultman. Nature Synthesis (2024) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s44160-024-00518-4 Published: 16 April 2024

This paper is open access.

Three century long development of a scientific idea: body armor made from silk

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain [downloaded from https://phys.org/news/2024-04-body-armor-silk-apparently-edge.html]

Lloyd Strickland’s (professor of Philosophy and Intellectual History, Manchester Metropolitan University) fascinating April 9, 2024 essay on The Conversation (h/t April 10, 2024 news item on phys.org) illustrates the long and winding road to scientific and technological discoveries, Note: Links have been removed,

Separate teams of Chinese and American scientists are reported to be developing body armour using the silk from genetically modified silkworms. The researchers modified the genes of silkworms to make them produce spider silk instead of their own silk.

Harnessing the properties of spider silk has been a longstanding aim because the material is as strong as steel, yet also highly elastic. However, the idea of using silk to make bulletproof vests is not a new idea. Instead, it goes back centuries.

The invention of the silk bulletproof vest is often credited to the American physician George Emory Goodfellow (1855–1910), following his observation that silk was impenetrable to bullets.

But the idea was in fact proposed more than two centuries earlier by the German polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), best known as inventor of calculus and binary arithmetic. …

You’ll notice it’s almost two centuries between the idea being proposed and someone working out a way to make a silk bulletproof vest. First, Liebniz (from Strickland’s April 9, 2024 essay), Note: Links have been removed,

In one of these little-known writings, unassumingly entitled “Plan for a military manufacturing process”, Leibniz sought to identify a material suitable for making a lightweight, flexible, bulletproof fabric. He briefly considered metal wires, layered metal sheets, and layered “goldbeater’s skin”, which is a material made from ox intestine. However, he devoted most of his attention to silk.

Whereas Goodfellow had observed the impenetrability of silk by bullets, Leibniz never had. Instead, he thought silk was the most promising material for a bulletproof fabric due to being lightweight, flexible, and strong. “Of all the materials we use for fabrics, and which can be obtained in quantity, there is nothing firmer than a silk thread,” he wrote.

Noting that silk was never firmer than in the cocoon, “where the silk is still gathered in the way that nature produced it”, Leibniz proposed making a fabric formed of silkworm cocoons tightly pressed together with a little glue.

He realised that while such a sheet could not easily be pierced, due to the tightly-woven silk in the cocoons, it would be prone to tearing where one cocoon met the next. Thus, he inferred that a bullet would not make a hole in the fabric, but instead tear whatever cocoon it hit from the surrounding ones, and drive it into the body, similar to what Goodfellow would observe with the silk handkerchief two centuries later.

Leibniz’s solution to the tearing problem was to propose layering sheets of pressed silkworm cocoons on top of each other. He illustrated this with a rudimentary diagram of a row of circles stacked on top of one another in a lattice arrangement, where a small interstice is left between adjoining circles.

Layering cocoons in such a hexagonal packing arrangement ensures that the weak parts of one layer are covered by the strong parts of another. This way, the fabric would not tear or be pierced when hit by a bullet. The result, Leibniz claimed, would be a fabric suitable for covering almost the whole body, especially if it was made to be oversized, affording the wearer freedom of movement.

Leibniz never realised his proposal to create bulletproof clothing using silk.

Strickland’s April 9, 2024 essay offers more about how Goodfellow’s field observations led to the invention of the first silk bulletproof vest by a Catholic priest.

Scott Burton’s undated article for bodyarmornews.com on spider silk and bulletproof body armour offers information about current efforts by US and Chinese scientists to incorporate spider proteins by gene editing silkworms capable of producing enough hybrid silk for enhanced body armour.

A century later, what appears to be the latest breakthrough was announced in a September 24, 2023 news item on chinadaily.com (and noted in Burton’s article),

Chinese scientists have developed the first whole full-length spider silk fiber obtained from genetically-engineered silkworms, exhibiting a six-fold toughness when compared to a bulletproof vest.

The results pave the way for spider silk’s commercialization as a sustainable substitute for synthetic fibers, and it can be used in making surgical sutures and comfortable bulletproof vests, according to the study.

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

High-strength and ultra-tough whole spider silk fibers spun from transgenic silkworms by Junpeng Mi, Yizhong Zhou, Sanyuan Ma, Xingping Zhou, Shouying Xu, Yuchen Yang, Yuan Sun, Qingyou Xia, Hongnian Zhu, Suyang Wang, Luyang Tian, Qing Men. Matter Volume 6, ISSUE 10, P3661-3683, October 04, 2023 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.matt.2023.08.013 First published online: September 20, 2023

This paper is behind a paywall.

Reusable ‘sponge’ for soaking up marine oil spills—even in northern waters

A May 28, 2024 news item on phys.org announces some new research into sponges, a topic of some interest where oil spill cleanups are concerned,

Oil spills, if not cleaned up quickly and effectively, can cause lasting damage to marine and coastal environments. That’s why a team of North American researchers are developing a new sponge-like material that is not only effective at grabbing and holding oil on its surface (adsorption), but can be reused again and again—even in icy Canadian waters….

A May 27, 2024 Canadian Light Source (CLS) news release (also received via email) by Rowan Hollinger provides some details, Note: CNF can be cellulose nanofibers, cellulose nanofibrils, or, it’s sometimes called, nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) (see Nanocellulose Wikipedia entry),,

The special material – called CNF-SP aerogel — combines a biodegradable cellulose-based material with a substance called spiropyran, a light-sensitive material. Spiropyran has a unique ‘switchable’ property that allows the aerogel to go between being oil-sorbent and oil-repellent, just like a kitchen sponge that can be used to soak up and squeeze out water.

“Once spiropyran has been added to the aerogel, after each usage we just switch the light condition,” explains Dr. Baiyu Helen Zhang, professor and Canada Research Chair at Memorial University, Newfoundland. “We used the aerogel as an oil sorbent under visible light. After oil adsorption, we switched the light condition to UV light. This switch helped the sponge to release the oil.”

And the material continues soaking up and releasing oil, even when the water temperature drops, according to Dr. Xiujuan Chen, an assistant professor at University of Texas – Arlington.

“We found that when we tested the oil sorbent’s performance under different kinds of environmental conditions, it had a very good performance in a cold environment. This is quite useful for cold winter seasons, particularly for Canada.”

The researchers used the CLS’s Mid-IR beamline to examine the characteristics of the aerogel before and after exposing it to visible and UV light. From here, the researchers are looking to scale up their research with large pilot studies and even testing the material in the field.

“The CLS has very unique infrastructure that supports students and researchers like us to conduct many kinds of very exciting research and to contribute to scientific knowledge and engineering applications,” says Zhang.

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

Development of a spiropyran-assisted cellulose aerogel with switchable wettability as oil sorbent for oil spill cleanup by Hongjie Wang, Xiujuan Chen, Bing Chen, Yuming Zhao, Baiyu Zhang. Science of The Total Environment Volume 923, 1 May 2024, 171451 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.171451 Available online: 2 March 2024 Version of Record: 8 March 2024

This paper is behind a paywall.

The CLS has made this video of the researchers available,

For the curious, I have many posts about sponges and, in particular, sponges for use in environmental cleanups.

A biochemical means of protecting passwords and anti-counterfeiting solution for art and other precious goods

I guess you could say my passwords are as precious to me as a piece.of art is to some people.

DNA can be used to confirm the authenticity of valuable art prints. (AI-​generated image: ETH Zurich)

An April 8, 2024 ETH Zurich press release (also on EurekAlert) by Fabio Bergamin features an approach that could make passwords secure from quantum computers, Note: A link has been removed,

Security experts fear Q-​Day, the day when quantum computers become so powerful that they can crack today’s passwords. Some experts estimate that this day will come within the next ten years. Password checks are based on cryptographic one-​way functions, which calculate an output value from an input value. This makes it possible to check the validity of a password without transmitting the password itself: the one-​way function converts the password into an output value that can then be used to check its validity in, say, online banking. What makes one-​way functions special is that it’s impossible to use their output value to deduce the input value – in other words, the password. At least not with today’s resources. However, future quantum computers could make this kind of inverse calculation easier.

Researchers at ETH Zurich have now presented a cryptographic one-​way function that works differently from today’s and will also be secure in the future. Rather than processing the data using arithmetic operations, it is stored as a sequence of nucleotides – the chemical building blocks of DNA.

Based on true randomness

“Our system is based on true randomness. The input and output values are physically linked, and it’s only possible to get from the input value to the output value, not the other way round,” explains Robert Grass, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences. “Since it’s a physical system and not a digital one, it can’t be decoded by an algorithm, not even by one that runs on a quantum computer,” adds Anne Lüscher, a doctoral student in Grass’s group. She is the lead author of the paper, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers’ new system can serve as a counterfeit-​proof way of certifying the authenticity of valuable objects such as works of art. The technology could also be used to trace raw materials and industrial products.

How it works

The new biochemical one-​way function is based on a pool of one hundred million different DNA molecules. Each of the molecules contains two segments featuring a random sequence of nucleotides: one segment for the input value and one for the output value. There are several hundred identical copies of each of these DNA molecules in the pool, and the pool can also be divided into several pools; these are identical because they contain the same random DNA molecules. The pools can be located in different places, or they can be built into objects.

Anyone in possession of this DNA pool holds the security system’s lock. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can be used to test a key, or input value, which takes the form of a short sequence of nucleotides. During the PCR, this key searches the pool of hundreds of millions of DNA molecules for the molecule with the matching input value, and the PCR then amplifies the output value located on the same molecule. DNA sequencing is used to make the output value readable.

At first glance, the principle seems complicated. “However, producing DNA molecules with built-​in randomness is cheap and easy,” Grass says. The production costs for a DNA pool that can be divided up in this way are less than 1 Swiss franc. Using DNA sequencing to read out the output value is more time-​consuming and expensive, but many biology laboratories already possess the necessary equipment.

Securing valuable goods and supply chains

ETH Zurich has applied for a patent on this new technology. The researchers now want to optimise and refine it to bring it to market. Because using the method calls for specialised laboratory infrastructure, the scientists think the most likely application for this form of password verification is currently for highly sensitive goods or for access to buildings with restricted access. This technology won’t be an option for the broader public to check passwords until DNA sequencing in particular becomes easier.

A little more thought has already gone into the idea of using the technology for the forgery-​proof certification of works of art. For instance, if there are ten copies of a picture, the artist can mark them all with the DNA pool – perhaps by mixing the DNA into the paint, spraying it onto the picture or applying it to a specific spot.

If several owners later wish to have the authenticity of these artworks confirmed, they can get together, agree on a key (i.e. an input value) and carry out the DNA test. All the copies for which the test produces the same output value will have been proven genuine. The new technology could also be used to link crypto-​assets such as NFTs, which exist only in the digital world, to an object and thus to the physical world.

Furthermore, it would support counterfeit-​proof tracking along supply chains of industrial goods or raw materials. “The aviation industry, for example, has to be able to provide complete proof that it uses only original components. Our technology can guarantee traceability,” Grass says. In addition, the method could be used to label the authenticity of original medicines or cosmetics.

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

Chemical unclonable functions based on operable random DNA pools by Anne M. Luescher, Andreas L. Gimpel, Wendelin J. Stark, Reinhard Heckel & Robert N. Grass. Nature Communications volume 15, Article number: 2955 (2024) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-47187-7 Published: 05 April 2024

This paper is open access.

Registration for 2024 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC): Empowering Society… in November 20 – 22, 2024

After celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2023 with an eye-watering price increase of over 20% for most categories (e.g., a standard registration rose from $990 to $1200 for the conference and gala dinner at the super saver rate; see my July 28, 2023 posting for more details), the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) has increased its prices by a little over 4% this year (e.g., $1250 for the conference and gala dinner at the super saver rate)..Of course, the inflation rate in Canada, according to the latest statistics (Statistics Canada June 25, 2024 news release) was 2.9% in May 2024.

Here are the currently available details about the 2024 conference, from the What To Expect webpage (apparently the conference is going be ‘spectacular’),

This year’s conference is in person from Nov 20th to 22nd [2024] with spectacular panels and programs.

CSPC 2024 features a spectacular program in different formats:

Wednesday, Nov 20th

8:00 am – 12:00 pm

Symposiums (5 themes)
(In Person Only)

Include 15+ sessions:

• Brain Strategy
• Braiding Knowledges Canada
• Equity,  Diversity and Inclusion
• Innovation Policy
• Youth Entrepreneurship

Thursday, Nov 21st – Friday, Nov 22nd

Main Conference
(In-Person Only)

• 50+ Concurrent Sessions
• 5 Plenary Sessions
• Three Luncheon Talks
• Three Breakfast Sessions
• Networking
• Gala Dinner

CSPC 2024 is expecting over 1000 participants, and 300+ speakers from across the globe, presenting in 50+ panel sessions covering a wide range of topics grouped in six tracks.

The conference will include a spectacular [emphasis mine] Gala Dinner featuring the Award Ceremony, which has become a signature annual event to celebrate Canadian science and innovation policy achievements.

CSPC 2024 attracts current and future leaders from all sectors and communities of science, innovation, technology, and policy across the country and internationally to discuss the challenges and solutions of our time.

Regarding Day 1, I can guess but really don’t know what ‘brain strategy’ or ‘braiding knowledges’ mean. Innovation is usually code for ‘business’, i.e., how can money be made? The other two seem self-explanatory.

Regarding Days 2 & 3, you can find our about the themes for the five conference tracks for the 50+ sessions on the CSPC 2024 Themes webpage.

Pricing

From the CSPC 2024 registration webpage,

Registration Rates

All rates are subject to 13% HST tax.

Conference and Symposiums: 3 Lunches, 3 breakfasts, refreshment breaks, and one reception. Gala Dinner is included in the Standard registration category.

SuperSaver
All summer – Sept 1st
Conference OnlyConference + Symposiums
Special SuperSaver Deal:
Symposium is Free up to $300 savings
Standard (Gala dinner included)$1250
Academic/Non-Profit/Diplomat/Retired$750
Student/Post Doctoral$250
Early Bird
Sept. 2nd – Oct. 5th
Conference OnlyConference + Symposiums
$200 savings
Standard (Gala dinner included)$1250$1350
Academic/Non-Profit/Diplomat/Retired$750$850
Student/Post Doctoral$300$350
Regular Rate
Oct 6th – Nov 16th
Conference OnlyConference + Symposiums
$200 savings
Standard (Gala dinner included)$1400$1500
Academic/Non-Profit/Diplomat/Retired$850$950
Student/Post Doctoral$350$400
Other (Conference Only)Cost
Speaker One Day (Day of presentation)$250
Speaker full conference (Conference + Symposiums)$500
Exhibitor Booth Staff$800
Symposiums Only (Wednesday, November 20th)Cost
Standard$300
Academic/Non-Profit/Diplomat/Retired$200
Student/Post Doctoral$100
Gala Dinner Tickets Only (Wednesday, November 20th)Cost
Conference Delegates (Students)$99
Conference Delegates (Academic / Non-profits)$150
Other (not registered for conference)$300
Table (10)$2750

Register Now!

Register Here (English)

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To sum up, the 16th Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) is being held November 20th-22nd, 2024, at the Westin Ottawa hotel. This is the second posting about the conference here, the first was my April 1, 2024 posting (scroll down to the “2024 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC): call for proposals” subhead.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Canadian science police scene, these conferences are organized by the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC). Yes, they use same abbreviation for the conferences and the centre.

New approach to brain-inspired (neuromorphic) computing: measuring information transfer

An April 8, 2024 news item on Nanowerk announces a new approach to neuromorphic computing that involves measurement, Note: Links have been removed,

The biological brain, especially the human brain, is a desirable computing system that consumes little energy and runs at high efficiency. To build a computing system just as good, many neuromorphic scientists focus on designing hardware components intended to mimic the elusive learning mechanism of the brain. Recently, a research team has approached the goal from a different angle, focusing on measuring information transfer instead.

Their method went through biological and simulation experiments and then proved effective in an electronic neuromorphic system. It was published in Intelligent Computing (“Information Transfer in Neuronal Circuits: From Biological Neurons to Neuromorphic Electronics”).

An April 8, 2024 Intelligent Computing news release on EurekAlert delves further into the topic,

Although electronic systems have not fully replicated the complex information transfer between synapses and neurons, the team has demonstrated that it is possible to transform biological circuits into electronic circuits while maintaining the amount of information transferred. “This represents a key step toward brain-inspired low-power artificial systems,” the authors note.

To evaluate the efficiency of information transfer, the team drew inspiration from information theory. They quantified the amount of information conveyed by synapses in single neurons, then measured the quantity using mutual information, the analysis of which reveals the relationship between input stimuli and neuron responses.

First, the team conducted experiments with biological neurons. They used brain slices from rats, recording and analyzing the biological circuits in cerebellar granule cells. Then they evaluated the information transmitted at the synapses from mossy fiber neurons to the cerebellar granule cells. The mossy fibers were periodically stimulated with electrical spikes to induce synaptic plasticity, a fundamental biological feature where the information transfer at the synapses is constantly strengthened or weakened with repeated neuronal activity.

The results show that the changes in mutual information values are largely consistent with the changes in biological information transfer induced by synaptic plasticity. The findings from simulation and electronic neuromorphic experiments mirrored the biological results.

Second, the team conducted experiments with simulated neurons. They applied a spiking neural network model, which was developed by the same research group. Spiking neural networks were inspired by the functioning of biological neurons and are considered a promising approach for achieving efficient neuromorphic computing.

In the model, four mossy fibers are connected to one cerebellar granule cell, and each connection is given a random weight, which affects the information transfer efficiency like synaptic plasticity does in biological circuits. In the experiments, the team applied eight stimulation patterns to all mossy fibers and recorded the responses to evaluate the information transfer in the artificial neural network.

Third, the team conducted experiments with electronic neurons. A setup similar to those in the biological and simulation experiments was used. A previously developed semiconductor device functioned as a neuron, and four specialized memristors functioned as synapses. The team applied 20 spike sequences to decrease resistance values, then applied another 20 to increase them. The changes in resistance values were investigated to assess the information transfer efficiency within the neuromorphic system.

In addition to verifying the quantity of information transferred in biological, simulated and electronic neurons, the team also highlighted the importance of spike timing, which as they observed is closely related to information transfer. This observation could influence the development of neuromorphic computing, given that most devices are designed with spike-frequency-based algorithms.

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

Information Transfer in Neuronal Circuits: From Biological Neurons to Neuromorphic Electronics by Daniela Gandolfi, Lorenzo Benatti, Tommaso Zanotti, Giulia M. Boiani, Albertino Bigiani, Francesco M. Puglisi, and Jonathan Mapell. Intelligent Computing 1 Feb 2024 Vol 3 Article ID: 0059 DOI: 10.34133/icomputing.0059

This paper is open access.