Before getting to the latest about carbon dots, there’s something to be clarified (and it was news to me), a carbon dot is not a quantum dot. So says this 2020 paper, “Advances in carbon dots: from the perspective of traditional quantum dots” by Yanhong Liu, Hui Huang, Weijing Cao, Baodong Mao, Yang Liu, and Zhenhui Kang. Mater. Chem. Front., 2020,4, 1586-1613 First published March 17, 2020.
Quantum dots (QDs) have been the core concept of nanoscience and nanotechnology since their inception, and play a dominant role in the development of the nano-field. Carbon dots (CDots), defined by a feature size of <10 nm, have become a rising star in the crossover field of carbon materials and traditional QDs (TQDs). CDots possess many unique structural, physicochemical and photochemical properties that render them a promising platform for biology, devices, catalysis and other applications. …
This story is about carbon dots but you can find out more about quantum dots in my October 6, 2023 posting concerning the 2023 Nobel prizes; scroll down to the ‘Chemistry’ subhead.
Researchers at Concordia have developed a new system using tiny nanosensors called carbon dots to detect the presence of the widely used chemical glyphosate. Their research, titled “Ratiometric Sensing of Glyphosate in Water Using Dual Fluorescent Carbon Dots,” is published in Sensors.
Glyphosate is a pesticide found in more than 750 agricultural, forestry, urban and home products, including Monsanto’s popular weed-killer Roundup. It is also controversial: studies have linked its overuse to environmental pollution and cancer in humans. Its sale is banned or restricted in dozens of countries and jurisdictions, including Canada.
The researchers’ system relies on the carbon dots’ chemical interaction with glyphosate to detect its presence. Carbon dots are exceedingly small fluorescent particles, usually no more than 10 or 15 nanometres in size (a human hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometres). But when they are added to water solutions, these nanomaterials emit blue and red fluorescence.
The researchers employed an analysis technique called a ratiometric self-referencing assay to determine glyphosate levels in a solution. The red fluorescence emitted by the carbon dots when exposed to varying concentrations of the chemical and different pH levels is compared with a control in which no glyphosate is present. In all the tests, the blue fluorescence remained unchanged, giving the researchers a common reference point across the different tests.
They observed that higher levels of glyphosate quenched the red fluorescence, which they accredited to the interaction of the pesticide with the carbon dots’ surface.
“Our system differs from others because we are measuring the area between two peaks—two fluorescent signatures—on the visible spectrum,” says Adryanne Clermont-Paquette, a PhD candidate in biology and the paper’s lead author. “This is the integrated area between the two curves. Ratiometric measurement allows us to ignore variables such as temperature, pH levels or other environmental factors. That allows us to just only look at the levels of glyphosate and carbon dots that are in the system.”
“By understanding the chemistry at the surface of these very small dots and by knowing their optical properties, we can use them to our advantage for many different applications,” says Rafik Naccache, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry and the paper’s supervising author.
Research assistants Diego-Andrés Mendoza and Amir Sadeghi, along with associate professor of biology Alisa Piekny, are co-authors.
Naccache says the technique is designed to detect minute amounts of the pesticide. The technique they developed is sensitive enough to be able to detect the presence of pesticide at levels as low as 0.03 parts per million.
“The challenge is always in the other direction, to see how low we can go in terms of sensitivity and selectivity,” he says.
There remains much work to be done before this technology can be used widely. But as Clermont-Paquette notes, this paper represents an important beginning.
“Understanding the interaction between glyphosate and carbon dots is a first step. If we are to move this along further, and develop it into a real-life application, we have to start with the fundamentals.”
The researchers are supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
After seeing the description for Laura U. Marks’s recent work ‘Streaming Carbon Footprint’ (in my October 13, 2023 posting about upcoming ArtSci Salon events in Toronto), where she focuses on the environmental impact of streaming media and digital art, I was reminded of some September 2023 news.
A September 9, 2023 news item (an Associated Press article by Matt O’Brien and Hannah Fingerhut) on phys.org and also published September 12, 2023 on the Iowa Public Radio website, describe an unexpected cost for building ChatGPT and other AI agents, Note: Links have been removed,
The cost of building an artificial intelligence product like ChatGPT can be hard to measure.
But one thing Microsoft-backed OpenAI needed for its technology was plenty of water [emphases mine], pulled from the watershed of the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers in central Iowa to cool a powerful supercomputer as it helped teach its AI systems how to mimic human writing.
As they race to capitalize on a craze for generative AI, leading tech developers including Microsoft, OpenAI and Google have acknowledged that growing demand for their AI tools carries hefty costs, from expensive semiconductors to an increase in water consumption.
But they’re often secretive about the specifics. Few people in Iowa knew about its status as a birthplace of OpenAI’s most advanced large language model, GPT-4, before a top Microsoft executive said in a speech it “was literally made next to cornfields west of Des Moines.”
In its latest environmental report, Microsoft disclosed that its global water consumption spiked 34% from 2021 to 2022 (to nearly 1.7 billion gallons , or more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools), a sharp increase compared to previous years that outside researchers tie to its AI research. [emphases mine]
“It’s fair to say the majority of the growth is due to AI,” including “its heavy investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI,” said Shaolei Ren, [emphasis mine] a researcher at the University of California, Riverside who has been trying to calculate the environmental impact of generative AI products such as ChatGPT.
If you have the time, do read the O’Brien and Fingerhut article in it entirety. (Later in this post, I have a citation for and a link to a paper by Ren.)
Jason Clayworth’s September 18, 2023 article for AXIOS describes the issue from the Iowan perspective, Note: Links have been removed,
Future data center projects in West Des Moines will only be considered if Microsoft can implement technology that can “significantly reduce peak water usage,” the Associated Press reports.
Why it matters: Microsoft’s five WDM data centers — the “epicenter for advancing AI” — represent more than $5 billion in investments in the last 15 years.
Yes, but: They consumed as much as 11.5 million gallons of water a month for cooling, or about 6% of WDM’s total usage during peak summer usage during the last two years, according to information from West Des Moines Water Works.
This information becomes more intriguing (and disturbing) after reading a February 10, 2023 article for the World Economic Forum titled ‘This is why we can’t dismiss water scarcity in the US‘ by James Rees and/or an August 11, 2020 article ‘Why is America running out of water?‘ by Jon Heggie published by the National Geographic, which is a piece of paid content. Note: Despite the fact that it’s sponsored by Finish Dish Detergent, the research in Heggie’s article looks solid.
From Heggie’s article, Note: Links have been removed,
In March 2019, storm clouds rolled across Oklahoma; rain swept down the gutters of New York; hail pummeled northern Florida; floodwaters forced evacuations in Missouri; and a blizzard brought travel to a stop in South Dakota. Across much of America, it can be easy to assume that we have more than enough water. But that same a month, as storms battered the country, a government-backed report issued a stark warning: America is running out of water.
As the U.S. water supply decreases, demand is set to increase. On average, each American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water every day, with the nation’s estimated total daily usage topping 345 billion gallons—enough to sink the state of Rhode Island under a foot of water. By 2100 the U.S. population will have increased by nearly 200 million, with a total population of some 514 million people. Given that we use water for everything, the simple math is that more people mean more water stress across the country.
And we are already tapping into our reserves. Aquifers, porous rocks and sediment that store vast volumes of water underground, are being drained. Nearly 165 million Americans rely on groundwater for drinking water, farmers use it for irrigation―37 percent of our total water usage is for agriculture—and industry needs it for manufacturing. Groundwater is being pumped faster than it can be naturally replenished. The Central Valley Aquifer in California underlies one of the nation’s most agriculturally productive regions, but it is in drastic decline and has lost about ten cubic miles of water in just four years.
Decreasing supply and increasing demand are creating a perfect water storm, the effects of which are already being felt. The Colorado River carved its way 1,450 miles from the Rockies to the Gulf of California for millions of years, but now no longer reaches the sea. In 2018, parts of the Rio Grande recorded their lowest water levels ever; Arizona essentially lives under permanent drought conditions; and in South Florida’s freshwater aquifers are increasingly susceptible to salt water intrusion due to over-extraction.
The focus is on individual use of water and Heggie ends his article by suggesting we use less,
… And every American can save more water at home in multiple ways, from taking shorter showers to not rinsing dishes under a running faucet before loading them into a dishwasher, a practice that wastes around 20 gallons of water for each load. …
As an advertising pitch goes, this is fairly subtle as there’s no branding in the article itself and it is almost wholly informational.
Attempts to stave off water shortages as noted in Heggie’s and other articles include groundwater pumping both for individual use and industrial use. This practice has had an unexpected impact according to a June 16, 2023 article by Warren Cornwall for Science (magazine),
While spinning on its axis, Earth wobbles like an off-kilter top. Sloshing molten iron in Earth’s core, melting ice, ocean currents, and even hurricanes can all cause the poles to wander. Now, scientists have found that a significant amount of the polar drift results from human activity: pumping groundwater for drinking and irrigation.
“The very way the planet wobbles is impacted by our activities,” says Surendra Adhikari, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an expert on Earth’s rotation who was not involved in the study. “It is, in a way, mind boggling.”
Clark R. Wilson, a geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues thought the removal of tens of gigatons of groundwater each year might affect the drift. But they knew it could not be the only factor. “There’s a lot of pieces that go into the final budget for causing polar drift,” Wilson says.
The scientists built a model of the polar wander, accounting for factors such as reservoirs filling because of new dams and ice sheets melting, to see how well they explained the polar movements observed between 1993 and 2010. During that time, satellite measurements were precise enough to detect a shift in the poles as small as a few millimeters.
Dams and ice changes were not enough to match the observed polar motion. But when the researchers also put in 2150 gigatons of groundwater that hydrologic models estimate were pumped between 1993 and 2010, the predicted polar motion aligned much more closely with observations. Wilson and his colleagues conclude that the redistribution of that water weight to the world’s oceans has caused Earth’s poles to shift nearly 80 centimeters during that time. In fact, groundwater removal appears to have played a bigger role in that period than the release of meltwater from ice in either Greenland or Antarctica, the scientists reported Thursday [June 15, 2023] in Geophysical Research Letters.
The new paper helps confirm that groundwater depletion added approximately 6 millimeters to global sea level rise between 1993 and 2010. “I was very happy” that this new method matched other estimates, Seo [Ki-Weon Seo geophysicist at Seoul National University and the study’s lead author] says. Because detailed astronomical measurements of the polar axis location go back to the end of the 19th century, polar drift could enable Seo to trace the human impact on the planet’s water over the past century.
Two papers: environmental impact from AI and groundwater pumping wobbles poles
I have two links and citations for Ren’s paper on AI and its environmental impact,
Towards Environmentally Equitable AI via Geographical Load Balancing by Pengfei Li, Jianyi Yang, Adam Wierman, Shaolei Ren. Subjects: Artificial Intelligence (cs.AI); Computers and Society (cs.CY) Cite as: arXiv:2307.05494 [cs.AI] (or arXiv:2307.05494v1 [cs.AI] for this version) DOI: https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.2307.05494 Submitted June 20, 2023
Join us to welcome Cerpina and Stenslie as they introduce us to their book and discuss the future cuisine of humanity. To sustain the soon-to-be 9 billion global population we cannot count on Mother Earth’s resources anymore. The project explores innovative and speculative ideas about new foods in the field of arts, design, science & technology, rethinking eating traditions and food taboos, and proposing new recipes for survival in times of ecological catastrophes.
To match the topic of their talk, attendees will be presented with “anthropocene snacks” and will be encouraged to discuss food alternatives and new networks of solidarity to fight food deserts, waste, and unsustainable consumption.
This is a Hybrid event: our guests will join us virtually on zoom. Join us in person at Glendon Campus, rm YH190 (the studio next to the Glendon Theatre) for a more intimate community experience and some anthropocene snacks. If you wish to join us on Zoom, please
This event is part of a series on Emergent Practices in Communication, featuring explorations on interspecies communication and digital networks; land-based justice and collective care. The full program can be found here
This initiative is supported by York University’s Teaching Commons Academic Innovation Fund
Zane Cerpina is a multicultural and interdisciplinary female author, curator, artist, and designer working with the complexity of socio-political and environmental issues in contemporary society and in the age of the Anthropocene. Cerpina earned her master’s degree in design from AHO – The Oslo School of Architecture and Design and a bachelor’s degree in Art and Technology from Aalborg University. She resides in Oslo and is a project manager/curator at TEKS (Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre). She is also a co-founder and editor of EE: Experimental Emerging Art Journal. From 2015 to 2019, Cerpina was a creative manager and editor at PNEK (Production Network for Electronic Art, Norway).
Stahl Stenslie works as an artist, curator and researcher specializing in experimental media art and interaction experiences. His aesthetic focus is on art and artistic expressions that challenge ordinary ways of perceiving the world. Through his practice he asks the questions we tend to avoid – or where the answers lie in the shadows of existence. Keywords of his practice are somaesthetics, unstable media, transgression and numinousness. The technological focus in his works is on the art of the recently possible – such as i) panhaptic communication on Smartphones, ii) somatic and immersive soundspaces, and iii) design of functional and lethal artguns, 3D printed in low-cost plastic material.He has a PhD on Touch and Technologies from The School of Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway. Currently he heads the R&D department at Arts for Young Audiences Norway.
If you’re interested in the book, there’s the anthropocenecookbook.com, which has more about the book and purchase information,
The Anthropocene Cookbook is by far the most comprehensive collection of ideas about future food from the perspective of art, design, and science. It is a thought-provoking book about art, food, and eating in the Anthropocene –The Age of Man– and the age of catastrophes.
Published by The MIT Press [MIT = Massachusetts Institute of Technology] | mitpress.mit.edu
Supported by TEKS Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre | www.teks.no
*Date changed* Streaming Carbon Footprint on October 27, 2023
Keep scrolling down to Date & location changed for Streaming Carbon Footprint subhead.
From the Toronto ArtSci Salon October 5, 2023 announcement,
Oct 27,  5:00-7:00 PM [ET] Streaming Carbon Footprint
with Laura U. Marks and David Rokeby – Room 230 The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences 222 College Street, Toronto
We are thrilled to announce this dialogue between media Theorist Laura U. Marks and Media Artist David Rokeby. Together, they will discuss a well known elephant in the room of media and digital technologies: their carbon footprint. As social media and streaming media usage increases exponentially, what can be done to mitigate their impact? are there alternatives?
This is a live event: our guests will join us in person.
if you wish to join us on Zoom instead, a link will be circulated on our website and on social media a few days before the event. The event will be recorded
Laura U. Marks works on media art and philosophy with an intercultural focus, and on small-footprint media. She programs experimental media for venues around the world. As Grant Strate University Professor, she teaches in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Her upcoming book The Fold: From Your Body to the Cosmos will be published I March 2024 by Duke University Press.
David Rokeby is an installation artist based in Toronto, Canada. He has been creating and exhibiting since 1982. For the first part of his career he focussed on interactive pieces that directly engage the human body, or that involve artificial perception systems. In the last decade, his practice has expanded to included video, kinetic and static sculpture. His work has been performed / exhibited in shows across Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia.
Awards include the first BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for Interactive Art in 2000, a 2002 Governor General’s award in Visual and Media Arts and the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Interactive Art 2002. He was awarded the first Petro-Canada Award for Media Arts in 1988, the Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction for Interactive Art (Austria) in 1991 and 1997.
I haven’t been able to dig up any information about registration but it will be added here should I stumble across any in the next few weeks. I did, however, find more information about Marks’s work and a festival in Vancouver (Canada).
Fourth Annual Small File Media Festival (October 20 -21, 2023) and the Streaming Carbon Footprint
When was the last time you watched a DVD? If you’re like most people, your DVD collection has been gathering dust as you stream movies and TV from a variety of on-demand services. But have you ever considered the impact of streaming video on the environment?
School for the Contemporary Arts professor Laura Marks and engineering professor Stephen Makonin, with engineering student Alejandro Rodriguez-Silva and media scholar Radek Przedpełski, worked together for over a year to investigate the carbon footprint of streaming media supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
“Stephen and Alejandro were there to give us a reality check and to increase our engineering literacy, and Radek and I brought the critical reading to it,” says Marks. “It was really a beautiful meeting of critical media studies and engineering.”
After combing through studies on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and making their own calculations, they confirmed that streaming media (including video on demand, YouTube, video embedded in social media and websites, video conferences, video calls and games) is responsible for more than one per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. And this number is only projected to rise as video conferencing and streaming proliferate.
“One per cent doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s significant if you think that the airline industry is estimated to be 1.9 per cent,” says Marks. “ICT’s carbon footprint is growing fast, and I’m concerned that because we’re all turning our energy to other obvious carbon polluters, like fossil fuels, cars, the airline industry, people are not going to pay attention to this silent, invisible carbon polluter.”
One thing that Marks found surprising during their research is how politicized this topic is.
Their full report includes a section detailing the International Energy Association’s attack on French think tank The Shift Project after they published a report on streaming media’s carbon footprint in 2019. They found that some ICT engineers state that the carbon footprint of streaming is not a concern because data centres and networks are very efficient, while others say the fast-rising footprint is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Their report includes comparisons of the divergent figures in engineering studies in order to get a better understanding of the scope of this problem.
The No. 1 thing Marks and Makonin recommend to reduce streaming’s carbon footprint is to ensure that our electricity comes from renewable sources. At an individual level, they offer a list of recommendations to reduce energy consumption and demand for new ICT infrastructure including: stream less, watch physical media including DVDs, decrease video resolution, use audio-only mode when possible, and keep your devices longer—since production of devices is very carbon-intensive.
Promoting small files and low resolution, Marks founded the Small File Media Festival [link leads to 2023 programme], which will present its second annual program  of 5-megabyte films Aug. 10 – 20. As the organizers say, movies don’t have to be big to be binge-worthy.
And now for 2023, here’s a video promoting the upcoming fourth annual festival,
The Streaming Carbon Footprint webpage on the SFU website includes information about the final report and the latest Small File Media Festival. Although I found the Small File Media Festival website also included a link for purchasing tickets,
The Small File Media Festival returns for its fourth iteration! We are delighted to partner with The Cinematheque to present over sixty jewel-like works from across the globe. These movies are small in file size, but huge in impact: by embracing the aesthetics of compression and low resolution (glitchiness, noise, pixelation), they lay the groundwork for a new experimental film movement in the digital age. This year, six lovingly curated programs traverse brooding pixelated landscapes, textural paradises, and crystalline infinities.
Join us Friday, October 20  for the opening-night program followed by a drinks reception in the lobby and a dance party in the cinema, featuring music by Vancouver electronic artist SAN. We’ll announce the winner of the coveted Small-File Golden Mini Bear during Saturday’s [October 21, 2023] award ceremony! As always, the festival will stream online at smallfile.ca after the live events.
We’re most grateful to our future-forward friends at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canada Council for the Arts, and SFU Contemporary Arts. Thanks to VIVO Media Arts, Cairo Video Festival, and The Hmm for generous distribution and exhibition awards, and to UKRAïNATV, a partner in small-file activism.
Cosmically healthy, community-building, and punk AF, small-file ecomedia will heal the world, one pixel at a time.
it seems IBM is very excited about neuromorphic computing. First, there’s an August 10, 2023 news article by Shiona McCallum & Chris Vallance for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) online news,
Concerns have been raised about emissions associated with warehouses full of computers powering AI systems.
IBM said its prototype could lead to more efficient, less battery draining AI chips for smartphones.
Its efficiency is down to components that work in a similar way to connections in human brains, it said.
Compared to traditional computers, “the human brain is able to achieve remarkable performance while consuming little power”, said scientist Thanos Vasilopoulos, based at IBM’s research lab in Zurich, Switzerland.
Most chips are digital, meaning they store information as 0s and 1s, but the new chip uses components called memristors [memory resistors] that are analogue and can store a range of numbers.
You can think of the difference between digital and analogue as like the difference between a light switch and a dimmer switch.
The human brain is analogue, and the way memristors work is similar to the way synapses in the brain work.
Prof Ferrante Neri, from the University of Surrey, explains that memristors fall into the realm of what you might call nature-inspired computing that mimics brain function.
A memristor could “remember” its electric history, in a similar way to a synapse in a biological system.
“Interconnected memristors can form a network resembling a biological brain,” he said.
He was cautiously optimistic about the future for chips using this technology: “These advancements suggest that we may be on the cusp of witnessing the emergence of brain-like chips in the near future.”
However, he warned that developing a memristor-based computer is not a simple task and that there would be a number of challenges ahead for widespread adoption, including the costs of materials and manufacturing difficulties.
Neri is most likely aware that researchers have been excited that ‘green’ computing could be made possible by memristors since at least 2008 (see my May 9, 2008 posting “Memristors and green energy“).
As it turns out, IBM published two studies on neuromorphic chips in August 2023.
The first study (mentioned in the BBC article) is also described in an August 22, 2023 article by Peter Grad for Tech Xpore. This one is a little more technical than the BBC article,
For those who are truly technical, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
A 64-core mixed-signal in-memory compute chip based on phase-change memory for deep neural network inference by Manuel Le Gallo, Riduan Khaddam-Aljameh, Milos Stanisavljevic, Athanasios Vasilopoulos, Benedikt Kersting, Martino Dazzi, Geethan Karunaratne, Matthias Brändli, Abhairaj Singh, Silvia M. Müller, Julian Büchel, Xavier Timoneda, Vinay Joshi, Malte J. Rasch, Urs Egger, Angelo Garofalo, Anastasios Petropoulos, Theodore Antonakopoulos, Kevin Brew, Samuel Choi, Injo Ok, Timothy Philip, Victor Chan, Claire Silvestre, Ishtiaq Ahsan, Nicole Saulnier, Nicole Saulnier, Pier Andrea Francese, Evangelos Eleftheriou & Abu Sebastian. Nature Electronics (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-023-01010-1 Published: 10 August 2023
This paper is behind a paywall.
Before getting to the second paper, there’s an August 23, 2023 IBM blog post by Mike Murphy announcing its publication in Nature, Note: Links have been removed,
Although we’re still just at the precipice of the AI revolution, artificial intelligence has already begun to revolutionize the way we live and work. There’s just one problem: AI technology is incredibly power-hungry. By some estimates, running a large AI model generates more emissions over its lifetime than the average American car.
The future of AI requires new innovations in energy efficiency, from the way models are designed down to the hardware that runs them. And in a world that’s increasingly threatened by climate change, any advances in AI energy efficiency are essential to keep pace with AI’s rapidly expanding carbon footprint.
And one of the latest breakthroughs in AI efficiency from IBM Research relies on analog chips — ones that consume much less power. In a paper published in Nature today,1 researchers from IBM labs around the world presented their prototype analog AI chip for energy-efficient speech recognition and transcription. Their design was utilized in two AI inference experiments, and in both cases, the analog chips performed these tasks just as reliably as comparable all-digital devices — but finished the tasks faster and used less energy.
The concept of designing analog chips for AI inference is not new — researchers have been contemplating the idea for years. Back in 2021, a team at IBM developed chips that use Phase-change memory (PCM) works when an electrical pulse is applied to a material, which changes the conductance of the device. The material switches between amorphous and crystalline phases, where a lower electrical pulse will make the device more crystalline, providing less resistance, and a high enough electrical pulse makes the device amorphous, resulting in large resistance. Instead of recording the usual 0s or 1s you would see in digital systems, the PCM device records its state as a continuum of values between the amorphous and crystalline states. This value is called a synaptic weight, which can be stored in the physical atomic configuration of each PCM device. The memory is non-volatile, so the weights are retained when the power supply is switched off.phase-change memory to encode the weights of a neural network directly onto the physical chip. But previous research in the field hasn’t shown how chips like these could be used on the massive models we see dominating the AI landscape today. For example, GPT-3, one of the larger popular models, has 175 billion parameters, or weights.
Murphy also explains the difference (for amateurs like me) between this work and the earlier published study, from the August 23, 2023 IBM blog post, Note: Links have been removed,
Natural-language tasks aren’t the only AI problems that analog AI could solve — IBM researchers are working on a host of other uses. In a paper published earlier this month in Nature Electronics, the team showed it was possible to use an energy-efficient analog chip design for scalable mixed-signal architecture that can achieve high accuracy in the CIFAR-10 image dataset for computer vision image recognition.
These chips were conceived and designed by IBM researchers in the Tokyo, Zurich, Yorktown Heights, New York, and Almaden, California labs, and built by an external fabrication company. The phase change memory and metal levels were processed and validated at IBM Research’s lab in the Albany Nanotech Complex.
If you were to combine the benefits of the work published today in Nature, such as large arrays and parallel data-transport, with the capable digital compute-blocks of the chip shown in the Nature Electronics paper, you would see many of the building blocks needed to realize the vision of a fast, low-power analog AI inference accelerator. And pairing these designs with hardware-resilient training algorithms, the team expects these AI devices to deliver the software equivalent of neural network accuracies for a wide range of AI models in the future.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the second paper,
An analog-AI chip for energy-efficient speech recognition and transcription by S. Ambrogio, P. Narayanan, A. Okazaki, A. Fasoli, C. Mackin, K. Hosokawa, A. Nomura, T. Yasuda, A. Chen, A. Friz, M. Ishii, J. Luquin, Y. Kohda, N. Saulnier, K. Brew, S. Choi, I. Ok, T. Philip, V. Chan, C. Silvestre, I. Ahsan, V. Narayanan, H. Tsai & G. W. Burr. Nature volume 620, pages 768–775 (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06337-5 Published: 23 August 2023 Issue Date: 24 August 2023
It seems that Canadian nuclear energy company General Fusion has finally moved from Burnaby to Richmond (both are part of the Metro Vancouver Region). The move first announced in 2021 (see my November 3, 2021 posting for the news and a description of fusion energy; Note: fission is a different form of nuclear energy, fusion is considered clean/green).
If all goes as planned, a major hurdle in fusion-based, zero-emission clean energy innovation could be produced on Sea Island in Richmond in just three years from now.
BC-based General Fusion announced today it has plans to build a new magnetized target fusion (MTF) machine at the company’s global headquarters at 6020-6082 Russ Baker Way [emphasis mine] near the South Terminal of Vancouver International Airport (YVR). [Note: YVR is located in Richmond, BC]
This machine will be designed to achieve fusion conditions of over 100,000,000°C by 2025, with “scientific breakeven” conditions by 2026. This will “fast-track” the company’s technical progress.
More specifically, this further proof-of-concept will show General Fusion’s ability to “symmetrically compress magnetized plasmas in a repeatable manner and achieve fusion conditions at scale.”
General Fusion’s technology is designed to be lower cost by avoiding other approaches that require expensive superconducting magnets or high-powered lasers.
The YVR machine is intended to support further work and investment and reduce the risk of General Fusion’s commercial-scale demonstration test plan in Culham Campus of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) — located just outside of Oxford, west of London. The UK plant has effectively been delayed, [emphasis mine] with the goal now to provide electricity to the grid with commercial fusion energy by the early to mid-2030s.
“Our updated three-year Fusion Demonstration Program puts us on the best path forward to commercialize our technology by the 2030s,” said Greg Twinney, CEO of General Fusion, in a statement. “We’re harnessing our team’s existing strengths right here in Canada and delivering high-value, industry-leading technical milestones in the near term.”
Canada, always a colony
I wonder what happened to the UKAEA deal. In my October 28, 2022 posting (Overview of fusion energy scene) General Fusion was downright effusive in its enthusiasm about the joint path to commercialization with a demonstration machine to be built in the UK. Scroll down to my ‘Fusion energy explanation (2)’ subhead for more details.
General Fusion announced a new Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) machine that will fast-track the company’s technical progress. To be built at the company’s new Richmond headquarters, this ground-breaking machine is designed to achieve fusion conditions of over 100 million degrees Celsius by 2025, [emphasis mine] and progress toward scientific breakeven by 2026. In addition, the company completed the first close of its Series F raise for a combined $25 million USD (approximately $33.5 million CAD) of funding. The round was anchored by existing investors, BDC Capital and GIC. It also included new grant funding from the Government of British Columbia, which builds upon the Canadian government’s ongoing support through the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).
This machine represents a significant new pillar to accelerate and de-risk [emphasis mine] General Fusion’s Demonstration Program, designed to leverage the company’s recent technological advancements and provide electricity to the grid with commercial fusion energy by the early to mid-2030s.
Over the next two to three years, General Fusion will work closely with the UK Atomic Energy Authority [UKAEA] to validate the data gathered from [Lawson Machine 26] LM26 and incorporate it into the design of the company’s planned commercial scale demonstration in the UK.
So, the machine is being ‘de-risked’ in Canada first, eh?
Today [September 6, 2023], General Fusion announced the appointment of Norman Harrison to its Board of Directors. Norman is a world-class executive in the energy sector, with 40 years of unique experience providing leadership to both the fusion energy and nuclear fission communities.
His experience includes serving as the CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) from 2006 to 2010 [emphasis mine], when he oversaw the groundbreaking research being conducted by the Joint European Torus (JET), the world’s largest fusion experiment and the only one operating using deuterium-tritium fuel, as it pushed the frontiers of fusion science. Norman’s expertise will support General Fusion as the company completes its Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) demonstration, LM26 [scroll up to August 9, 2023 news release in the above for details] , at its Canadian headquarters. LM26 is targeting fusion conditions of 100 million degrees Celsius by 2025 and is charting a path to scientific breakeven equivalent by 2026. The results achieved by LM26 will be validated by the UKAEA and incorporated into the design of the company’s near-commercial machine, which is planned to be built at the UKAEA’s Culham Campus.
Norman’s background also includes leading the construction and operations of large-scale power plants. As a result, his guidance will benefit General Fusion as it progresses to commercializing its MTF technology by the early to mid-2030s.
“I’ve been a part of the fusion energy industry for many years now. General Fusion’s unique technology stands out and has exciting promise to put fusion energy onto the electricity grid,” said Norman Harrison. “I am thrilled to join the General Fusion team and be a part of the company’s progress.”
“Norman’s wealth of expertise in advancing fusion technology and operating large electricity infrastructure provides us with meaningful insight into what is required to effectively bring Magnetized Target Fusion to the energy grid in a cost-effective, practical way,” said Greg Twinney, CEO, General Fusion. “We look forward to working with him as General Fusion transforms the commercial power industry with reliable fusion power.”
About General Fusion
General Fusion is pursuing a fast and practical approach to commercial fusion energy and is headquartered in Richmond, B.C. The company was established in 2002 and is funded by a global syndicate of leading energy venture capital firms, industry leaders and technology pioneers. …
So, after postponing plans to build a build a demonstration plant with UKAEA and deciding to build it in Canada where it can be ‘de-risked’ here first, General Fusion adds a former UKAEA CEO to their company board. This seems a little strategic to me.
Today [October 11, 2023], General Fusion and Kyoto Fusioneering announced a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to accelerate the commercialization of General Fusion’s proprietary Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) technology, aiming for grid integration in the early to mid-2030s. The companies will collaborate to advance critical systems for MTF commercialization, including the tritium fuel cycle, liquid metal balance of plant, and power conversion cycle.
Tritium, a hydrogen isotope and key fusion fuel, does not occur naturally and must be produced or “bred” in the fusion process. General Fusion’s game-changing commercial power plant design features a proprietary liquid metal wall that compresses plasma to fusion conditions, protects the fusion machine’s vessel components, and breeds tritium upon interacting with the fusion products. This design allows the machine to be self-sustaining, generating fuel for the life of the power plant while facilitating efficient energy extraction from the fusion reaction through a liquid metal loop to a heat exchanger.
Kyoto Fusioneering specializes in fusion power plant systems that complement the plasma confinement core, are applicable to various fusion confinement concepts, such as MTF, and are on the critical path for fusion commercialization. The complementary capabilities of both organizations will enable parallel development of key systems supporting MTF commercialization. Initial collaboration under this MOU will focus on liquid metal experimentation and fuel cycle system development at both the General Fusion and Kyoto Fusioneering facilities, such as establishment of balance of plant and power conversion test facilities, liquid metal loops, and vacuum systems.
“Currently, our new machine, LM26, is on-track to achieve fusion conditions by 2025, and progress towards scientific breakeven by 2026,” said Greg Twinney, CEO, General Fusion. “Harnessing the unique technological and engineering expertise of Kyoto Fusioneering will be instrumental as we translate LM26’s groundbreaking results into the world’s first Magnetized Target Fusion power plant.”
“We’re thrilled to join forces with General Fusion. Our combined expertise will accelerate the path to commercial fusion energy, a critical step toward a sustainable, decarbonized future,” said Satoshi Konishi, Co-founder and Chief Fusioneer, Kyoto Fusioneering.
Magnetized Target Fusion [prepare yourself for 1 min. 21 secs. of an enthusiastic Michel Laberge, company founder and chief science officer] uniquely sidesteps challenges to commercialization that other technologies face. The proprietary liquid metal liner in the commercial fusion machine is mechanically compressed by high-powered pistons. This enables fusion conditions to be created in short pulses rather than creating a sustained reaction. General Fusion’s design does not require large superconducting magnets or an expensive array of lasers.
General Fusion’s design will use deuterium-tritium fuel for its commercial power plant. Both are isotopes of hydrogen. Deuterium occurs naturally and can be derived from seawater. Tritium needs to be produced, which is why General Fusion’s unique and proprietary technology that breeds tritium as a byproduct of the fusion reaction is a game-changer.
Kyoto Fusioneering was spun out of Kyoto University. It is home to world-class R&D facilities, and its team has a combined total of approximately 800 years of experience [emphasis mine].
About Kyoto Fusioneering
Kyoto Fusioneering, established in 2019 [emphasis mine], is a privately funded technology startup with facilities in Tokyo and Kyoto (Japan), Reading (UK), and Seattle (USA). The company specialises in developing advanced technologies for commercial fusion power plants, such as gyrotron systems, tritium fuel cycle technologies, and breeding blankets for tritium production and power generation. Working collaboratively with public and private fusion developers around the world, Kyoto Fusioneering’s mission is to make fusion energy the ultimate sustainable solution for humanity’s energy needs.
800 years of experience seems to be a bit of a stretch for a company established four years ago with 96 employees as of July 1, 2023 (see Kyoto Fusioneering’s Company Profile webpage) but hat’s off for the sheer gutsiness of it.
“This technology is not alive,” says Laia Mogas-Soldevila. “It is living-like.”
The distinction is an important one for the assistant professor at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design [University of Pennsylvania], for reasons both scientific and artistic. With a doctorate in biomedical engineering, several degrees in architecture, and a devotion to sustainable design, Mogas-Soldevila brings biology to everyday life, creating materials for a future built halfway between nature and artifice.
The architectural technology she describes is unassuming at first look: A freeze-dried pellet, small enough to get lost in your pocket. But this tiny lump of matter, the result of more than a year’s collaboration between designers, engineers and biologists, is a biomaterial that contains a “living-like” system.
When touched by water, the pellet activates and expresses a glowing protein, its fluorescence demonstrating that life and art can harmonize into a third and very different thing, as ready to please as to protect. Woven into lattices made of flexible natural materials promoting air and moisture flow, the pellets form striking interior design elements that could one day keep us healthy.
“We envision them as sensors,” explains Mogas-Soldevila. “They may detect pathogens, such as bacteria or viruses, or alert people to toxins inside their home. The pellets are designed to interact with air. With development, they could monitor or even clean it.”
For now, they glow, a triumphant first stop on the team’s roadmap to the future. The fluorescence establishes that the lab’s biomaterial manufacturing process is compatible with the leading-edge cell-free engineering that gives the pellets their life-like properties.
A rapidly expanding technology, cell-free protein expression systems allow researchers to manufacture proteins without the use of living cells.
Gabrielle Ho, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Bioengineering and co-leader of the project, explains how the team’s design work came to be cell-free, a technique rarely explored outside of lab study or medical applications.
“Typically, we’d use living E. coli cells to make a protein,” says Ho. “E. coli is a biological workhorse, accessible and very productive. We’d introduce DNA to the cell to encourage expression of specific proteins. But this traditional method was not an option for this project. You can’t have engineered E. coli hanging on your walls.”
Cell-free systems contain all the components a living cell requires to manufacture protein —energy, enzymes and amino acids — and not much else. These systems are therefore not alive. They do not replicate, and neither can they cause infection. They are “living-like,” designed to take in DNA and push out protein in ways that previously were only possible using living cells.
“One of the nicest things about these materials not being alive,” says Mogas-Soldevila, “is that we don’t need to worry about keeping them that way.”
Unlike living cells, cell-free materials don’t need a wet environment or constant monitoring in a lab. The team’s research has established a process for making these dry pellets that preserves bioactivity throughout manufacturing, storage and use.
Bioactive, expressive and programmable, this technology is designed to capitalize on the unique properties of organic materials.
Mogas-Soldevila, whose lab focuses exclusively on biodegradable architecture, understands the value of biomaterials as both environmentally responsible and aesthetically rich.
“Architects are coming to the realization that conventional materials — concrete, steel, glass, ceramic, etc. — are environmentally damaging and they are becoming more and more interested in alternatives to replace at least some of them. Because we use so much, even being able to replace a small percentage would result in a significant reduction in waste and pollution.”
Her lab’s signature materials — biopolymers made from shrimp shells, wood pulp, sand and soil, silk cocoons, and algae gums — lend qualities over and above their sustainable advantages.
“My obsession is diagnostic, but my passion is playfulness,” says Mogas-Soldevila. “Biomaterials are the only materials that can encapsulate this double function observed in nature.”
This multivalent approach benefited from the help of Penn Engineering’s George H. Stephenson Foundation Educational Laboratory & Bio-MakerSpace, and the support of its director, Sevile Mannickarottu. In addition to contributing essential equipment and research infrastructure to the team, Mannickarottu was instrumental in enabling the interdisciplinary relationships that led the team to success, introducing Ho to the DumoLab Research team collaborators. These include Mogas-Soldevila, Camila Irabien, a Penn Biology major who provided crucial contributions to experimental work, and Fulbright design fellow Vlasta Kubušová, who co-led the project during her time at Penn and who will continue fueling the project’s next steps.
The cell-free manufacturing and design research required unique dialogues between science and art, categories that Ho believed to be entirely separate before embarking on this project.
“I learned so much from the approach the designers brought to the lab,” says Ho. “Usually, in science, we have a specific problem or hypothesis that we systematically work towards.”
But in this collaboration, things were different. Open-ended. The team sought a living-like platform that does sensing and tells people about interactive matter. They needed to explore, step by step, how to get there.
“Design is only limited by imagination. We sought a technology that could help build towards a vision, and that turned out to be cell-free” says Ho.
“For my part,” says Mogas-Soldevila, “it was inspiring to witness the rigor and attention to constraints that bioengineering brings.”
The constraints were many — machine constraints, biological constraints, financial constraints and space constraints.
“But as we kept these restrictions in play,” she continues, “we asked our most pressing creative questions. Can materials warn us of invisible threats? How will humans react to these bioactive sites? Will they be beautiful? Will they be weird? Most importantly, will they enable a new aesthetic relationship with the potential of bio-based and bioactive matter?”
Down the line, the cell-free pellets and biopolymer lattices could drape protectively over our interior lives, caring for our mental and physical health. For now, research is ongoing, the poetry of design energized by constraint, the constraint of engineering energized by poetry. [emphases mine]
The “poetry of design” and “engineering energized by poetry,” eh? (I have a few comments about science, in my September 11, 2023 posting; scroll down to the ‘Poetry and physics’ subhead.)
Back on topic, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
Scientists hoping to reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry have developed a way to grow building materials using knitted molds and the root network of fungi. Although researchers have experimented with similar composites before, the shape and growth constraints of the organic material have made it hard to develop diverse applications that fulfil its potential. Using the knitted molds as a flexible framework or ‘formwork’, the scientists created a composite called ‘mycocrete’ which is stronger and more versatile in terms of shape and form, allowing the scientists to grow lightweight and relatively eco-friendly construction materials.
“Our ambition is to transform the look, feel and wellbeing of architectural spaces using mycelium in combination with biobased materials such as wool, sawdust and cellulose,” said Dr Jane Scott of Newcastle University [UK], corresponding author of the paper in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. The research was carried out by a team of designers, engineers, and scientists in the Living Textiles Research Group, part of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University, which is funded by Research England.
To make composites using mycelium, part of the root network of fungi, scientists mix mycelium spores with grains they can feed on and material that they can grow on. This mixture is packed into a mold and placed in a dark, humid, and warm environment so that the mycelium can grow, binding the substrate tightly together. Once it’s reached the right density, but before it starts to produce the fruiting bodies we call mushrooms, it is dried out. This process could provide a cheap, sustainable replacement for foam, timber, and plastic. But mycelium needs oxygen to grow, which constrains the size and shape of conventional rigid molds and limits current applications.
Knitted textiles offer a possible solution: oxygen-permeable molds that could change from flexible to stiff with the growth of the mycelium. But textiles can be too yielding, and it is difficult to pack the molds consistently. Scott and her colleagues set out to design a mycelium mixture and a production system that could exploit the potential of knitted forms.
“Knitting is an incredibly versatile 3D manufacturing system,” said Scott. “It is lightweight, flexible, and formable. The major advantage of knitting technology compared to other textile processes is the ability to knit 3D structures and forms with no seams and no waste.”
Samples of conventional mycelium composite were prepared by the scientists as controls, and grown alongside samples of mycocrete, which also contained paper powder, paper fiber clumps, water, glycerin, and xanthan gum. This paste was designed to be delivered into the knitted formwork with an injection gun to improve packing consistency: the paste needed to be liquid enough for the delivery system, but not so liquid that it failed to hold its shape.
Tubes for their planned test structure were knitted from merino yarn, sterilized, and fixed to a rigid structure while they were filled with the paste, so that changes in tension of the fabric would not affect the performance of the mycocrete.
Building the future
Once dried, samples were subjected to strength tests in tension, compression and flexion. The mycocrete samples proved to be stronger than the conventional mycelium composite samples and outperformed mycelium composites grown without knitted formwork. In addition, the porous knitted fabric of the formwork provided better oxygen availability, and the samples grown in it shrank less than most mycelium composite materials do when they are dried, suggesting more predictable and consistent manufacturing results could be achieved.
The team were also able to build a larger proof-of-concept prototype structure called BioKnit – a complex freestanding dome constructed in a single piece without joins that could prove to be weak points, thanks to the flexible knitted form.
“The mechanical performance of the mycocrete used in combination with permanent knitted formwork is a significant result, and a step towards the use of mycelium and textile biohybrids within construction,” said Scott. “In this paper we have specified particular yarns, substrates, and mycelium necessary to achieve a specific goal. However, there is extensive opportunity to adapt this formulation for different applications. Biofabricated architecture may require new machine technology to move textiles into the construction sector.”
The mycelium vault (also pictured above) is a freestanding structure,
I almost missed the briefing but the folks at the US National Science Foundation (NSF) kindly allowed me to join the meeting despite being 10 minutes late. Before launching into my comments, here’s what we were discussing,
From a September 20, 2023 NSF media briefing (received via email),
U. S. National Science Foundation Media Briefing on the Inaugural Global Centers Awards
Please join the U.S. National Science Foundation this Wednesday September 20th from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. ESTfor a discussion and Q&A on the inaugural Global Centers Competition awards. Earlier this week, NSF along with partner funding agencies from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom — announced awards totaling $76.4 million for the inaugural Global Centers Competition. These international, interdisciplinary collaborative research centers will apply best practices of broadening participation and community engagement to develop use-inspired research on climate change and clean energy. The centers will also create and promote opportunities for students and early-career researchers to gain education and training in world-class research while enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
NSF will have a panel of experts on hand to discuss and answer questions about these new Global Centers and how they will sync talent across the globe to generate the discoveries and solutions needed to empower resilient communities everywhere.
What: Panel discussion and Q&A on NSF’s Global Centers
When: 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday, September 20th, 2023
Where: This briefing [is over.]
Who: Scheduled panelists include…
Anne Emig is the Section Chief for the Programs and Analysis Section in the National Science Foundation Office of International Science and Engineering
Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf is the Principal Investigator for the Global Centers Track 1 project on AI and Biodiversity Change as well as the Director of the Translational Data Analytics Institute and a Professor of Computer Science Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at the Ohio State University
Dr. Meng Tao is the Principal Investigator for the Global Centers Track 1 project Global Hydrogen Production Technologies Center as well as a Professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University
Dr. Ashish Sharma is the Principal Investigator for the Global Centers Track 1 project Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions as well as the Climate and Urban Sustainability Lead at the Discovery Partners Institute, University of Illinois System
Note: This briefing is only open to members of the media
I’m glad to have learned about this effort and applaud the NSF for its outreach efforts. By comparison, Canadian agencies (I’m looking at you, Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada [NSERC] and Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC]) have a lot to learn.
Today [September 18, 2023], the U.S. National Science Foundation — along with partner funding agencies from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom — announced awards totaling $76.4 million for the inaugural Global Centers Competition. These international, interdisciplinary collaborative research centers will apply best practices of broadening participation and community engagement to develop use-inspired research on climate change and clean energy. The centers will also create and promote opportunities for students and early-career researchers to gain education and training in world-class research while enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
“NSF builds capacity and advances its priorities through these centers of research excellence by uniting diverse teams from around the world,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Global Centers will sync talent across the globe to generate the discoveries and solutions needed to empower resilient communities everywhere.”
Global Centers are sponsored in part by a multilateral funding activity led by NSF and four partner funding organizations: Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the United Kingdom’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Both collectively and independently, the centers will support convergent interdisciplinary research collaborations focused on assessing and mitigating the impacts of climate change on society, people, and communities. Outcomes from Global Centers’ activities will inform and catalyze the development of innovative solutions and technologies to address climate change. Examples include: enhancing awareness of critical information; advancing and advocating for decarbonization efforts; creating climate change adaptation plans tailored to specific localities and groups; using artificial intelligence to study responses of nature to climate change; transboundary water issues; and scaling the production of next-generation technologies aimed at achieving net zero. Several projects include partnerships with tribal groups or historically Black colleges and universities that will broaden participation.
“The National Science Foundation Global Centres initiative provides students and researchers a platform to advance innovative and interdisciplinary research and gain education and training opportunities in world-class research while also enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility,” said NSERC President Alejandro Adem. “We at NSERC look forward to seeing the outcomes of the work being done by some of Canada and the world’s best and brightest minds to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time.”
The awards are divided into two tracks. Track 1 are Implementation grants with co-funding from international partners. Track 2 are Design grants meant to provide seed funding to develop the teams and the science for future competitions. Many additional countries are involved in Track 2 and will increase global engagement.
There are seven Track 1 Global Centers that involve research partnerships with Australia, Canada, and the U.K. Each Track 1 Global Center will be implemented by internationally dispersed teams consisting of U.S. and foreign researchers. U.S. researchers will be supported by NSF up to $5 million over four to five years, while foreign researchers will be supported by their respective country’s funding agency (CSIRO, NSERC, SSHRC and UKRI) with a comparable amount of funds.
There are 14 Track 2 Global Centers that are at the community-driven design stage. These centers’ teams involve U.S. researchers in partnerships with foreign researchers from any country. NSF will provide the U.S. researchers up to $250,000 of seed funding over a two-year period. These multidisciplinary, international teams will coordinate the research and education efforts needed to become competitive for Track-1 funding in the future.
“Our combined investment in Global Centers enables exciting researcher and innovation-led international and interdisciplinary collaboration to drive the energy transition,” said UKRI CEO, Dame Ottoline Leyser. “I look forward to seeing the creative solutions developed through these global collaborations.”
Kirsten Rose, Acting Chief Executive of CSIRO, said as Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO is proud to be part of a strong national contribution to solving this critical global challenge. “Partnering with the NSF’s Global Centers means Australia remains at the global forefront of work to build a clean hydrogen industry, build integrated and equitable energy systems, and partnering with regions and industries for a low emissions future.”
Track 1 (Implementation)
Global Hydrogen Production Technologies (HyPT) Center Grant number: 2330525 Arizona State University and U.S. partner institutions: University of Michigan, Stanford University and Navajo Technical University. Quadrilateral research partnership with Australia, Canada, and the U.K. Critical and Emerging Tech: green hydrogen (renewable energy generation).
Electric Power Innovation for a Carbon-free Society (EPICS) Grant number: 2330450 The Johns Hopkins University and U.S. partner institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California, Davis, and Resources for the Future. Trilateral research partnership with Australia and the U.K. Critical and Emerging Tech: renewable energy storage.
Global Nitrogen Innovation Center for Clean Energy and Environment (NICCEE) Grant number: 2330502 University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and U.S. partner institutions: New York University and University of Massachusetts Amherst. Trilateral research partnership with Canada and the U.K. Critical & Emerging Tech: green ammonia (bioeconomy + agriculture).
Understanding Climate Change Impacts on Transboundary Waters Grant number: 2330317 University of Michigan and U.S. partner institutions: Cornell University, College of the Menominee Nation, Red Lake Nation and University of Wisconsin–Madison. Bilateral research partnership with Canada. Critical and Emerging Tech: N/A.
AI and Biodiversity Change (ABC) Grant number: 2330423 The Ohio State University and U.S. partner institutions: University of Pittsburgh and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bilateral Research partnership with Canada. Critical and Emerging Tech: AI.
U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid Grant number: 2330582 The University of Utah and U.S. partner institutions: University of California San Diego, The University of New Mexico, and The Nevada System of Higher Education. Bilateral Research partnership with Canada. Critical and Emerging Tech: AI.
Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions Grant number: 2330565 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and U.S. partner institutions: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and Arizona State University. Bilateral Research partnership with the U.K. Critical and Emerging Tech: N/A
Track 2 (Design)
Developing Solutions to Decarbonize Emissions and Fuels Grant number: 2330509 University of Maryland, College Park. International collaboration with Japan, Israel, and Ghana.
Enhanced Wind Turbine Blade Durability Grant number: 2329911 Cornell University. International collaboration with Canada, the UK, Norway, Denmark, and Spain.
Building the Global Center for Forecasting Freshwater Futures Grant number: 2330211 Virginia Tech. International collaboration with Australia.
Climate Risk and Resilience: Southeast Asia as a Living Lab (SEALL) Grant number: 2330308 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. International collaboration with Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and India.
Climate-Smart Food-Energy-Water Nexus in Small Farms Grant number: 2330505 The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. International collaboration with Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Cambodia, and Uganda.
Center for Household Energy and Thermal Resilience (HEaTR) Grant number: 2330533 Cornell University. International collaboration with India, the U.K, Ghana, and Singapore.
Enabling interdisciplinary wildfire research for community resilience Grant number: 2330343 Oregon State University. International collaborations with Australia and the U.K.
SuReMin: Sustainable, resilient, responsible global minerals supply chain Grant number: 2330041 Northwestern University. International collaboration with Chile.
Nature-based Urban Hydrology Center Grant number: 2330413 Villanova University. International collaboration with Canada, the U.K, Switzerland, Ireland, Australia, Chile, and Turkey.
A multi-disciplinary framework to combat climate-induced desert locust upsurges, outbreaks, and plagues in East Africa Grand number: 2330452 Georgia State University. International collaboration with Ethiopia.
US-Africa Research Center for Clean Energy Grant number: 2330437 Georgia Institute of Technology. International collaborations with Rwanda.
Equitable and User-Centric Energy Market for Resilient Grid-interactive Communities Grant number: 2330504 Santa Clara University. International collaboration with Canada.
Energy Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples (ESIP) Grant number: 2330387 University of North Dakota. International collaboration with Canada.
Blue Climate Solutions Grant number: 2330518 University of Rhode Island. International collaboration with Indonesia.
For Canadian researchers who are interested, there’s a National Science Foundation Global Centres webpage on the NSERC website, which answers a lot of questions about the programme from a Canadian perspective. The application deadline for both tracks was May 10, 2023 and there’s no information (as of September 20, 2023) about future competitions. Nice to see the social science and humanities included in the form of a funding agency. (I think this might be the one compliment I deliver to a Canadian funding initiative this year. 🙂
News about local and international affairs (see Seth Borenstein’s September 20, 2023 Associated Press article “UN chief warns of ‘gates of hell’ in climate summit, but carbon polluting nations stay silent”) and one’s own personal experience with climate issues can be discouraging at times so it’s heartening to see these efforts. Kudos to the organizers of the Global Centers programme and I wish all the researchers success.
Given how new these centers are, it’s understandable that the panelists would be a little fuzzy about specific although they’ve clearly considered and are attempting to address issues such as sharing data, trust, and outreach to various stakeholders and communities.
I wish I’d asked about cybersecurity when they were talking about data. Ah well, there was my question about outreach to people over the age of 50 or 55 as so much of their planning was focused on youth. The panelists who responded (Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf, Dr. Meng Tao, and Dr. Ashish Sharma) did not seem to have done much thinking about seniors/elders/older people.
I believe bird watching (as mentioned by one of the panelists) does tend to attract older people but citizen science or other hobbies/programmes mentioned may or may not be a good source for seniors outreach. Almost all science outreach tilts to youth including citizen science.
With the planet is not doing so well and with the aging populations in Canada, the US, many European countries, China, Japan, and I’m sure many others perhaps some new thinking about ‘inclusivity’ might be in order. One suggestion, start thinking about age groups. In the same way that 20 is not 30, is not 40, so 55 is not 65, is not 75. One more thing, perhaps take into account life experience. Something that gets forgotten is that a lot of the programmes that people take for granted and a lot of the technology people use today was developed in the 1960s (e.g. Internet). That old person? Maybe it’s someone who founded the UN’s Environment Program (I was teaching a nanotechnology course in a seniors programme and asked students about themselves; I was intimidated by her credentials).
In the end, this Global Center initiative is heartening news.
They’re usually known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) but the term wood nanocrystals works too. From a March 23, 2023 news item on Nanowerk,
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have developed a new method that can easily purify contaminated water using a cellulose-based material. This discovery could have implications for countries with poor water treatment technologies and combat the widespread problem of toxic dye discharge from the textile industry.
Clean water is a prerequisite for our health and living environment, but far from a given for everyone. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, there are currently over two billion people living with limited or no access to clean water.
This global challenge is at the centre of a research group at Chalmers University of Technology, which has developed a method to easily remove pollutants from water. The group, led by Gunnar Westman, Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry focuses on new uses for cellulose and wood-based products and is part of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center.
The researchers have built up solid knowledge about cellulose nanocrystals* – and this is where the key to water purification lies. These tiny nanoparticles have an outstanding adsorption capacity, which the researchers have now found a way to utilise.
“We have taken a unique holistic approach to these cellulose nanocrystals, examining their properties and potential applications. We have now created a biobased material, a form of cellulose powder with excellent purification properties that we can adapt and modify depending on the types of pollutants to be removed,” says Gunnar Westman.
Absorbs and breaks down toxins In a study recently published in the scientific journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, the researchers show how toxic dyes can be filtered out of wastewater using the method and material developed by the group. The research was conducted in collaboration with the Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur in India, where dye pollutants in textile industry wastewater are a widespread problem.
The treatment requires neither pressure nor heat and uses sunlight to catalyse the process. Gunnar Westman likens the method to pouring raspberry juice into a glass with grains of rice, which soak up the juice to make the water transparent again.
“Imagine a simple purification system, like a portable box connected to the sewage pipe. As the contaminated water passes through the cellulose powder filter, the pollutants are absorbed and the sunlight entering the treatment system causes them to break down quickly and efficiently. It is a cost-effective and simple system to set up and use, and we see that it could be of great benefit in countries that currently have poor or non-existent water treatment,” he says.
The method will be tested in India India is one of the developing countries in Asia with extensive textile production, where large amounts of dyes are released into lakes, rivers and streams every year. The consequences for humans and the environment are serious. Water contaminant contains dyes and heavy metals and can cause skin damage with direct contact and increase the risk of cancer and organ damage when they enter into the food chain. Additionally, nature is affected in several ways, including the impairment of photosynthesis and plant growth.
Conducting field studies in India is an important next step, and the Chalmers researchers are now supporting their Indian colleagues in their efforts to get some of the country’s small-scale industries to test the method in reality. So far, laboratory tests with industrial water have shown that more than 80 percent of the dye pollutants are removed with the new method, and Gunnar Westman sees good opportunities to further increase the degree of purification.
“Going from discharging completely untreated water to removing 80 percent of the pollutants is a huge improvement, and means significantly less destruction of nature and harm to humans. In addition, by optimising the pH and treatment time, we see an opportunity to further improve the process so that we can produce both irrigation and drinking water. It would be fantastic if we can help these industries to get a water treatment system that works, so that people in the surrounding area can use the water without risking their health,” he says.
Can be used against other types of pollutants Gunnar Westman also sees great opportunities to use cellulose nanocrystals for the treatment of other water pollutants than dyes. In a previous study, the research group has shown that pollutants of toxic hexavalent chromium, which is common in wastewater from mining, leather and metal industries, could be successfully removed with a similar type of cellulose-based material. The group is also exploring how the research area can contribute to the purification of antibiotic residues.
“There is great potential to find good water purification opportunities with this material, and in addition to the basic knowledge we have built up at Chalmers, an important key to success is the collective expertise available at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center,” he says.
More about the scientific article Read the full article in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research: Cellulose nanocrystals derived from microcrystalline cellulose for selective removal of Janus Green Azo Dye. The authors of the article are Gunnar Westman and Amit Kumar Sonker of Chalmers University of Technology, and Ruchi Aggarwal, Anjali Kumari Garg, Deepika Saini, and Sumit Kumar Sonkar of Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur in India. The research is funded by the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, WWSC and the Indian group research is funded by Science and Engineering Research Board under Department of Science and Technology (DST-SERB) Government of India.
*Nanocrystals Nanocrystals are nanoparticles in crystal form that are extremely small: a nanoparticle is between 1 and 100 nanometres in at least one dimension, i.e. along one axis. (one nanometre = one billionth of a metre).
Wallenberg Wood Science Center • The Wallenberg Wood Science Center, WWSC, is a research centre that aims to develop new sustainable biobased materials using raw materials from the forest. The WWSC is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Linköping University, and is based on a donation from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. • The centre involves about 95 researchers and faculty members and 50 doctoral students. Eight research groups from Chalmers are part of the centre.
About dye pollutants and access to clean water • Over two billion people in the world live with limited or no access to clean water. It is estimated that over 3.5 million people die each year from lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation. • The global textile industry, which is concentrated in Asia, contributes to widespread water pollution. Production often takes place in low-wage countries, where much of the technology is antiquated and environmental legislation and oversight may be lacking. • Emissions contribute to eutrophication and toxic effects in water and soil. There are examples in China and India where groundwater has been contaminated by dye and processing chemicals. • Producing one kilogram of new textiles requires between 7,000 and 29,000 litres of water, and between 1.5 and 6.9 kg of chemicals. • In 2021, around 327 thousand tonnes of dyes and pigments were produced in India. A large proportion of the country’s dye pollutants is discharged untreated.
A critical review on the treatment of dye-containing wastewater: Ecotoxicological and health concerns of textile dyes and possible remediation approaches for environmental safety. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, February 2022
Northwestern University engineers have developed a new sponge that can remove metals — including toxic heavy metals like lead and critical metals like cobalt — from contaminated water, leaving safe, drinkable water behind.
In proof-of-concept experiments, the researchers tested their new sponge on a highly contaminated sample of tap water, containing more than 1 part per million of lead. With one use, the sponge filtered lead to below detectable levels.
After using the sponge, researchers also were able to successfully recover metals and reuse the sponge for multiple cycles. The new sponge shows promise for future use as an inexpensive, easy-to-use tool in home water filters or large-scale environmental remediation efforts.
The study was published late yesterday (May 10 ) in the journal ACS ES&T Water. The paper outlines the new research and sets design rules for optimizing similar platforms for removing — and recovering — other heavy-metal toxins, including cadmium, arsenic, cobalt and chromium.
“The presence of heavy metals in the water supply is an enormous public health challenge for the entire globe,” said Northwestern’s Vinayak Dravid, senior author of the study. “It is a gigaton problem that requires solutions that can be deployed easily, effectively and inexpensively. That’s where our sponge comes in. It can remove the pollution and then be used again and again.”
Dravid is the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and director of global initiatives at the International Institute for Nanotechnology.
Sopping up spills
The project builds on Dravid’s previous work to develop highly porous sponges for various aspects of environmental remediation. In May 2020, his team unveiled a new sponge designed to clean up oil spills. [Note: My June 25, 2020 posting highlights the work and includes an embedded video demonstration of the technology.] The nanoparticle-coated sponge, which is now being commercialized by Northwestern spinoff MFNS Tech, offers a more efficient, economic, ecofriendly and reusable alternative to current approaches to oil spills.
But Dravid knew it wasn’t enough.
“When there is an oil spill, you can remove the oil,” he said. “But there also are toxic heavy metals — like mercury, cadmium, sulfur and lead — in those spills. So, even when you remove the oil, some of the other toxins might remain.
Rinse and repeat
To tackle this aspect of the issue, Dravid’s team, again, turned to sponges coated with an ultrathin layer of nanoparticles. After testing many different types of nanoparticles, the team found that a manganese-doped goethite coating worked best. Not only are manganese-doped goethite nanoparticles inexpensive to make, easily available and nontoxic to human, they also have the properties necessary to selectively remediate heavy metals.
“You want a material with a high surface area, so there’s more room for the lead ions to stick to it,” said Benjamin Shindel, a Ph.D. student in Dravid’s lab and the paper’s first author. “These nanoparticles have high-surface areas and abundant reactive surface sites for adsorption and are stable, so they can be reused many times.”
The team synthesized slurries of manganese-doped goethite nanoparticles, as well as several other compositions of nanoparticles, and coated commercially available cellulose sponges with these slurries. Then, they rinsed the coated sponges with water in order to wash away any loose particles. The final coatings measured just tens of nanometers in thickness.
When submerged into contaminated water, the nanoparticle-coated sponge effectively sequested lead ions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that bottled drinking water is below 5 parts per billion of lead. In filtration trials, the sponge lowered the amount of lead to approximately 2 parts per billion, making it safe to drink.
“We’re really happy with that,” Shindel said. “Of course, this performance can vary based on several factors. For instance, if you have a large sponge in a tiny volume of water, it will perform better than a tiny sponge in a huge lake.”
Recovery bypasses mining
From there, the team rinsed the sponge with mildly acidified water, which Shindel likened to “having the same acidity of lemonade.” The acidic solution caused the sponge to release the lead ions and be ready for another use. Although the sponge’s performance declined after the first use, it still recovered more than 90% of the ions during subsequent use cycles.
This ability to gather and then recover heavy metals is particularly valuable for removing rare, critical metals, such as cobalt, from water sources. A common ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, cobalt is energetically expensive to mine and accompanied by a laundry list of environmental and human costs.
If researchers could develop a sponge that selectively removes rare metals, including cobalt, from water, then those metals could be recycled into products like batteries.
“For renewable energy technologies, like batteries and fuel cells, there is a need for metal recovery,” Dravid said. “Otherwise, there is not enough cobalt in the world for the growing number of batteries. We must find ways to recover metals from very dilute solutions. Otherwise, it becomes poisonous and toxic, just sitting there in the water. We might as well make something valuable with it.”
As a part of the study, Dravid and his team set new design rules to help others develop tools to target particular metals, including cobalt. Specifically, they pinpointed which low-cost and nontoxic nanoparticles also have high-surface areas and affinities for sticking to metal ions. They studied the performance of coatings of manganese, iron, aluminum and zinc oxides on lead adsorption. Then, they established relationships between the structures of these nanoparticles and their adsorptive properties.
Called Nanomaterial Sponge Coatings for Heavy Metals (or “Nano-SCHeMe”), the environmental remediation platform can help other researchers differentiate which nanomaterials are best suited for particular applications.
“I’ve read a lot of literature that compares different coatings and adsorbents,” said Caroline Harms, an undergraduate student in Dravid’s lab and paper co-author. “There really is a lack of standardization in the field. By analyzing different types of nanoparticles, we developed a comparative scale that actually works for all of them. It could have a lot of implications in moving the field forward.”
Dravid and his team imagine that their sponge could be used in commercial water filters, for environmental clean-up or as an added step in water reclamation and treatment facilities.
“This work may be pertinent to water quality issues both locally and globally,” Shindel said. “We want to see this out in the world, where it can make a real impact.”
The study, “Nano-SCHeME: Nanomaterial Sponge Coatings for Heavy Metals, an environmental remediation platform,” was supported by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy.
Editor’s note: Dravid and Northwestern have financial interests (equities, royalties) in MFNS Tech.