Monthly Archives: August 2010

University of Alberta, research money, nanotechnology, and those recent Chairs of Excellence

While I’m well aware of their work in nanotechnology research, I did not realize that the University of Alberta was becoming “one of Canada’s powerhouse  research centres.” Here’s more from the Globe & Mail article by Josh Wingrove,

It started last week, with Industry Minister Tony Clement flying in, making a joke about football, announcing $500,000 in funding for nanotechnology research, and promptly leaving. [mentioned in my Aug. 17, 2010 posting]

A week later, a prestigious gathering of 50 delegates from leading Chinese and Canadian research institutions arrived, as well as an announcement Thursday of $200-million in federal research money.

It would be a busy two weeks for any school. But the delegates didn’t attend McGill University, the University of Toronto or the University of British Columbia, typically regarded as Canada’s top-ranked institutions.

Instead, they came to Edmonton’s University of Alberta, which has quickly become one of Canada’s powerhouse research centres. The U of A ranks second in total research funding, behind only U of T and up from fifth in 2006. This year, the U of A will spend $514-million on research, more than double its total from a decade ago.

The university has decided to spend more on research at a time when other departments on campus are experiencing budget cutbacks.

“From a societal point of view of course, research is increasingly conducted as applied research. It’s meant to solve problems,” she [Britta Baron, vice-provost] said. “The more selfish answer from the point of view of the individual university is your prestige, your ranking, depends mostly on the quality of your research. If you want to push yourself up, you need to invest in your research.”

The U of A is home to four of the nation’s 19 Canada Excellence Chairs announced three months ago, more than any other university. [emphasis mine]

I did post about the Canada Excellence Chairs May 20, 2010 when they were first announced and was recently alerted (thanks to Joel Burford of Alberta Innovates Technology Futures) to a youtube interview with one of the new U of A Canada Excellence Chairs, Thomas Thundat. His area of interest is  oil sands molecular engineering,

I’m not really sure what to make of all this other than the fact that competition amongst the universities in Canada seems to be heating up. I recall there was some outcry after a 2009 article by Paul Wells for MacLean’s where representatives from the ‘big five’ Canadian universities claimed they should get the lion’s share of funding for science research and postgraduates while Canada’s other universities should focus on undergraduate education. About 10 days later the other universities replied in an article by Cathy Gulli for MacLean’s. (Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind commented on the controversy here and here.)

I would imagine these latest developments are a matter of some satisfaction for the folks at the U of A. It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out especially if there should be a federal election. Let’s not forget that Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is from Alberta.

Nanocrystalline cellulose interview with Dr. Richard Berry of FPInnovations

Nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) is one of the most searched items on this blog so it seemed like a good idea to send some questions about it to a Canadian company, FPInnovations, that has been a leader in  its development.  [Edited for typo, July 7, 2011] Dr. Richard Berry, program manager for FPInnovations very kindly answered. First a little biographical information,

Dr. Richard Berry is the manager of the FPInnovations Chemical Pulping Program and he has been the leader of the nanotechnology initiative at FPInnovations for the last several years. Dr. Berry is a key contributor to ArboraNano. His scientific accomplishments include work on the elimination of chlorinated dioxins and the development of a variety of bleaching technologies. Dr. Berry has overseen the industrial application of his numerous inventions. He is the author of more than eighty peer-reviewed publications and patents. The prestigious 2009 Nano-industry award from NanoQuébec was given to him for his exceptional contribution to the development of Nanocrystalline Cellulose. The initiatives Dr. Berry has spearheaded in recent years have allowed Canada to position itself as a world leader in the development of this new nanotechnology industry.

Now for the  interview:

Q: In light of the new Domtar-FPInnovations plant [mentioned here in my July 16, 2010 posting] which is going to be built in Windsor, Québec, could you tell me a little about nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC). I have looked at your information sheet which notes that cellulose is: milled then hydrolyzed with the NCC separated and concentrated so it can be treated chemically for new uses.  In layperson’s terms, what’s cellulose?

A:         Cellulose is the most abundant polymer on earth and is the major constituent of all plants; cotton is 100% cellulose. Cellulose is made of chains of glucose molecules and these arrange into amorphous (soft) and crystalline (hard) regions. These structures provide flexibility and strength respectively to the fibres that are made of cellulose.

The hard crystalline regions are separated from the soft amorphous regions in the process that we are using which also causes the separation of the crystallites in the crystalline regions. These crystallites are nanocrystalline cellulose and have a needle shape approximately 200nm in length and 10 nm in diameter

Q: What does hydrolyze mean, in simple terms?

A:         Hydrolyze in this process means that we break the bonds between the glucose molecules. This reaction occurs far more rapidly in the soft amorphous regions of the cellulose structure leaving the hard crystalline regions largely intact

Q: After [Edited for grammar, July 7, 2011] all this processing, do you have nanocrystalline cellulose and how would you describe what nanocrystalline cellulose is?

A:         The process is to produce nanocrystalline cellulose but many of the processing steps are to ensure that the process is closed cycle and that the acid used is recovered and that the dissolved glucose can be separated to make energy, ethanol or higher value chemical products.

Nanocrystalline cellulose is the basic physical building block of plants which therefore have used nanotechnology for eons. The crystallites are the reinforcement elements providing strength in wood, paper and fibres.

Q: Does the process use up the entire log or are parts of it left over? What happens to any leftover bits?

A:         We are starting from the bleached chemical pulp which is, to a large extent, cellulose. The left over bits have actually been processed as part of the chemical pulp mill processes. The acid used is recovered and reused and the sugars are converted into other products; in the demonstration plant they will be converted into biogas.

Q: I understand you won’t want to give away any competitive advantages but could you describe at least partially the sort of chemical processing involved for these new applications?

A:         In some applications, there is no processing needed at all. In other applications, the formulation used allows the NCC to be effective. In further applications, surface modification is required to maximize the properties.

Q: Is the new plant (Domtar-FPInnovations) meant to be used for producing nanocrystalline cellulose particles for shipment elsewhere? Or will there be work on applications using the nanoparticles? If so, on which application(s) are you concentrating your efforts?

A:         The plant presently is for producing various grades of nanocrystalline cellulose for shipment elsewhere. The applications are being developed with partners in the new industry sectors that we are targeting. Amongst others, we have partners for applications in coatings, films and textiles.

Q: Is FPInnovations involved with the ArboraNano Centre of Excellence programme and its efforts to encourage NCC use in industries not usually associated with forest products? What might involvement entail?

A:         FPInnovations is one of the founding members and had a significant role in setting up ArboraNano.  Our involvement presently is as a supplier of NCC through our pilot plant in Pointe Claire and as members of both the Scientific Committee and Board of Arboranano.

Q: Assuming FPInnovations is attending the 2010 TAPPI [International Conference on Nanotechnology for the Forest Product Industry] in Finland, can you give me a preview of the company’s proposed presentation(s) at the conference?

A:         Representatives of FPInnovations will be at the conference but our involvement will be limited because much of the material we have developed is proprietary to ourselves and to the partners that we have. Our focus at this stage is commercial development.

Q: What kind of research is being done on possible health, safety and environment issues with regard to NCC?

A:         From the very beginning of our project, 20% of our funding has been spent on these issues. We are glad to say that the research has shown that NCC is in the category of “practically non toxic”, and mammalian studies done to assess inhalation, ingestion and dermal risk have all shown the material to be in the lowest category of risk. These results show that the size of a particle is not a determinant of its risk but as with chemicals it is the specific material that is critical in determining toxicity.

Q: Are there plans, at some point in the future, to list NCC on Charles McGovern’s Integrated Nano-Science Commodities Exchange or will your product be listed on some other commodities exchange?

A:         We do not view NCC at the moment as a commodity; it is a very specialized group of materials. We hope it will take a long time before it becomes a commodity.

Thank you very much Dr. Berry.

On a related matter, I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the documentation that the Canadian federal government provided in response to Member of Parliament, Peter Julian’s (NDP), question about nanotechnology funding from 2005/6 – 2008/9. The response from Natural Resources Canada highlighted funding provided to FPInnovations in fiscal year 2007/8 of $2,308,000 and in fiscal year 2008/9,  a further, $3,2570,000 for a total of $5,565,000. Natural Resources Canada did not fund any nanotechnology research in 2005/6 or 2006/7.

One final note, former president and chief executive officer of FPInnovations, Ian de la Roche, PhD, will be the keynote speaker at the 10th Pacific Rim Bio-Based Composites Symposium Oct. 5-8, 2010 in Banff, Alberta. (Thanks to Joel Burford at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures for the information.)

Smallest frog in Asia/Africa/Europe (Old World)

Despite the name for this blog, I’m not the greatest frog lover and I don’t tend to collect ‘froggy’ things. Stil, every once in a while a frog story catches my attention. In this case, it was the picture that did .

A new species of miniature frog was discovered in Borneo. Microhyla nepenthicola, shown here on the tip of a pencil, is about the size of a pea. (Credit: © Prof. Indraneil Das/Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation)

It took me a few seconds to realize that really is the tip of a pencil. According to the news item on Science Daily,

The smallest frog in the Old World (Asia, Africa and Europe) and one of the world’s tiniest was discovered inside and around pitcher plants in the heath forests of the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. The pea-sized amphibian is a species of microhylid, which, as the name suggests, is composed of miniature frogs under 15 millimeters.

“I saw some specimens in museum collections that are over 100 years old. Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly-discovered micro species,” said Dr. Das [Dr. Indraneil Das of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak].

Adult males of the new species range between 10.6 and 12.8 mm — about the size of a pea. Because they are so tiny, finding them proved to be a challenge. The frogs were tracked by their call, and then made to jump onto a piece of white cloth to be examined closer. The singing normally starts at dusk, with males gathering within and around the pitcher plants. They call in a series of harsh rasping notes that last for a few minutes with brief intervals of silence. This “amphibian symphony” goes on from sundown until peaking in the early hours of the evening.

You can read more about the discovery at Science Daily.

Oil-absorbing (nanotechnology-enabled) robots at Venice Biennale?

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) researchers are going to be presenting nano-enabled oil-absorbing robots, Seaswarm, at the Venice Biennale , (from the news item on Nanowerk),

Using a cutting edge nanotechnology, researchers at MIT have created a robotic prototype that could autonomously navigate the surface of the ocean to collect surface oil and process it on site.

The system, called Seaswarm, is a fleet of vehicles that may make cleaning up future oil spills both less expensive and more efficient than current skimming methods. MIT’s Senseable City Lab will unveil the first Seaswarm prototype at the Venice Biennale’s Italian Pavilion on Saturday, August 28. The Venice Biennale is an international art, music and architecture festival whose current theme addresses how nanotechnology will change the way we live in 2050.

I did look at the Biennale website for more information about the theme and about Seaswarm but details, at least on the English language version of the website, are nonexistent. (Note: The Venice Biennale was launched in 1895 as an art exhibition. Today the Biennale features, cinema, architecture, theatre, and music as well as art.)

You can find out more about Seaswarm at MIT’s senseable city lab here and/or you can watch this animation,

The animation specifically mentions BP and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and compares the skimmers used to remove oil from the ocean with Seaswarm skimmers outfitted with  nanowire meshes,

The Seaswarm robot uses a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil. The fabric, developed by MIT Visiting Associate Professor Francesco Stellacci, and previously featured in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

“We envisioned something that would move as a ‘rolling carpet’ along the water and seamlessly absorb a surface spill,” said Senseable City Lab Associate Director Assaf Biderman. “This led to the design of a novel marine vehicle: a simple and lightweight conveyor belt that rolls on the surface of the ocean, adjusting to the waves.”

The Seaswarm robot, which is 16 feet long and seven feet wide, uses two square meters of solar panels for self-propulsion. With just 100 watts, the equivalent of one household light bulb, it could potentially clean continuously for weeks.

I’d love to see the prototype in operation not to mention getting a chance to attend La Biennale.

Stickybots at Stanford University

I’ve been intrigued by ‘gecko technology’ or ‘spiderman technology’ since I first started investigating nanotechnology about four years ago.  This is the first time I’ve seen theory put into practice. From the news item on Nanowerk,

Mark Cutkosky, the lead designer of the Stickybot, a professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of the Center for Design Research [Stanford University], has been collaborating with scientists around the nation for the last five years to build climbing robots.

After designing a robot that could conquer rough vertical surfaces such as brick walls and concrete, Cutkosky moved on to smooth surfaces such as glass and metal. He turned to the gecko for ideas.

“Unless you use suction cups, which are kind of slow and inefficient, the other solution out there is to use dry adhesion, which is the technique the gecko uses,” Cutkosky said.

Here’s a video of Stanford’s Stickybot in  action (from the Stanford University News website),

As Cutkosky goes on to explain in the news item,

The interaction between the molecules of gecko toe hair and the wall is a molecular attraction called van der Waals force. A gecko can hang and support its whole weight on one toe by placing it on the glass and then pulling it back. It only sticks when you pull in one direction – their toes are a kind of one-way adhesive, Cutkosky said.

“Other adhesives are sort of like walking around with chewing gum on your feet: You have to press it into the surface and then you have to work to pull it off. But with directional adhesion, it’s almost like you can sort of hook and unhook yourself from the surface,” Cutkosky said.

After the breakthrough insight that direction matters, Cutkosky and his team began asking how to build artificial materials for robots that create the same effect. They came up with a rubber-like material with tiny polymer hairs made from a micro-scale mold.

The designers attach a layer of adhesive cut to the shape of Stickybot’s four feet, which are about the size of a child’s hand. As it steadily moves up the wall, the robot peels and sticks its feet to the surface with ease, resembling a mechanical lizard.

The newest versions of the adhesive, developed in 2009, have a two-layer system, similar to the gecko’s lamellae and setae. The “hairs” are even smaller than the ones on the first version – about 20 micrometers wide, which is five times thinner than a human hair. These versions support higher loads and allow Stickybot to climb surfaces such as wood paneling, painted metal and glass.

The material is strong and reusable, and leaves behind no residue or damage. Robots that scale vertical walls could be useful for accessing dangerous or hard to reach places.

The research team’s paper, Effect of fibril shape on adhesive properties, was published online Aug. 2, 2010 in Applied Physics Letter.

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico, science, and not taking sides

Linda Hooper-Bui is a professor in Louisiana who studies insects.She’s also one of the scientists who’s been denied access to freely available (usually) areas in the Gulf of Mexico wetlands. She and her students want to gather data for examination about the impact that the oil spill has had on the insect populations. BP Oil and the US federal government are going court over the oil spill and both sides want scientific evidence to buttress their respective cases. Scientists wanting access to areas controlled by either of the parties are required to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) by either BP Oil or the Natural Resource Damage Assessment federal agency. The NDA’s extend not just to the publication of data but also to informal sharing.

From the article by Hooper-Bui in The Scientist,

The ants, crickets, flies, bees, dragon flies, and spiders I study are important components of the coastal food web. They function as soil aerators, seed dispersers, pollinators, and food sources in complex ecosystems of the Gulf.

Insects were not a primary concern when oil was gushing into the Gulf, but now they may be the best indicator of stressor effects on the coastal northern Gulf of Mexico. Those stressors include oil, dispersants, and cleanup activities. If insect populations survive, then frogs, fish, and birds will survive. If frogs, fish, and birds are there, the fishermen and the birdwatchers will be there. The Gulf’s coastal communities will survive. But if the bugs suffer, so too will the people of the Gulf Coast.

This is why my continued research is important: to give us an idea of just how badly the health of the Gulf Coast ecosystems has been damaged and what, if anything, we can do to stave off a full-blown ecological collapse. But I am having trouble conducting my research without signing confidentiality agreements or agreeing to other conditions that restrict my ability to tell a robust and truthful scientific story.

I want to collect data to answer scientific questions absent a corporate or governmental agenda. I won’t collect data specifically to support the government’s lawsuit against BP nor will I collect data only to be used in BP’s defense. Whereas I think damage assessment is important, it’s my job to be independent — to tell an accurate, unbiased story. But because I choose not to work for BP’s consultants or NRDA, my job is difficult and access to study sites is limited.

Hooper-Bui goes on to describe a situation where she and her students had to surrender samples to a US Fish and Wildlife officer because their project (on public lands therefore they should have been freely accessible) had not been approved. Do read the article before it disappears behind a paywall but if you prefer. you can listen to a panel discussion with her and colleagues Christopher D’Elia and Cary Nelson on the US National Public Radio (NPR) website, here. One of the people who calls in to the show is another professor, this one from Texas, who has the same problem collecting data. He too refused to sign any NDAs. One group of nonaligned scientists has been able to get access and that’s largely because they acted before the bureaucracy snapped into place. They got permission (without having to sign NDAs) while the federal bureaucracy was still organizing itself in the early days of the spill.

These practices are antithetical to the practice of science. Meanwhile, the contrast between this situation and the move to increase access and make peer review a more open process (in my August 20, 2010 posting) could not be more glaring. Very simply, the institutions want more control while the grassroots science practitioners want a more open environment in which to work.

Hooper-Bui comments on NPR that she views her work as public service. It’s all that and more; it’s global public service.

What happens in the Gulf over the next decades will have a global impact. For example, there’s a huge colony of birds that make their way from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gaspé Peninsula in Québec for the summer returning to the Gulf in the winter.  They should start making their way back in the next few months. Who knows what’s going to happen to that colony and the impact this will have on other ecosystems?

We need policies that protect scientists and ensure, as much as possible, that their work be conducted in the public interest.

Frames, nanotechnology and public opinion

Frames, you find them on paintings and windows and you find them in the social sciences.As per the Wikipedia essay on Erving Goffman and his book Frame Analysis,

This book was Goffman’s way of trying to explain how conceptual frames structure the individual’s perception of the society; therefore, this book is about organization of experiences rather than organization of society. Frames organize the experiences and guide action for the individual and/or for everyone. Frame analysis, then, is the study of organization of social experiences. One example that Goffman used to help people better understand the concept is associating the frame with the concept of a picture frame. He used the picture frame concept to illustrate how people use the frame (which represents structure) to hold together their picture (which represents the context) of what they are experiencing in their life. The most basic frames are called primary frameworks. These frameworks take an experience or an aspect of a scene of an individual that would originally be meaningless and make it to become meaningful. One type of primary framework is natural frameworks, which identifies situations that happened in the natural world, and is completely physical with no human influences. The other type of framework is social framework, which explains events and connects it to humans. An example of natural framework would be the weather and an example of social framework would be the meteorologist who reports people with the weather forecast. Goffman concentrates more on the frameworks and tries to “construct a general statement regarding the structure, or form, of experiences individuals have at any moment of their social life”. [Note: I have removed the footnote numbers, see the essay for them.]

I’m mentioning frames as I’ve seen them referred to in some of the literature about nanotechnology and other emerging technologies and how people form opinions about them.  Specifically,it’s  the topic of one of Matthew Nibet’s latest postings on his new blog, Age of Engagement on his new home site, Big Think. From Nisbet’s August 20, 2910 posting (Study: In Communicating about Nano and GMOs, Do the Frames or the Facts Matter?),

Framing is an unavoidable aspect of human communication. There is no such thing as unframed information. On science-related issues, this idea is difficult to grasp for some advocates and scientists who still view communication through the lens of what scholars call the “deficit model” which assumes that opinion formation is a direct consequence of knowledge (or alternatively ignorance). If the public only better understood the facts of a scientific topic they would more likely view the issue as scientists do and controversy would go away.

Nisbet mentions this in the context of a specific study by Northwestern University researchers James Druckman and Toby Bolsen in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Communication.

On election day in 2008, Druckman and Bolsen assembled 20 teams of students to conduct exit polls of 621 voters in the Chicago region, querying voters on their perceptions of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and genetically-modified foods (GMOs). For the interviews, voters were randomly assigned to separate frame and issue conditions.

For different groups of voters, CNTs or GMOS were defined using either a “fact” free frame or fact-based frame, with an emphasis on either benefits or risks. In the case of CNTs, respondents were read the following introduction followed by one of the following frames, depending on their assigned experimental condition. A similar method was used on GMOs (see the paper for more details):

One of the most pressing issues facing the nation—as has been clear from the election—concerns the limitations to our energy supply (e.g., with regard to coal, oil and natural gas). One approach to addressing this issue is to rely more on carbon nanotubes or CNTs. CNTs are tiny graphite with distinct chemical properties. They efficiently convert sunlight into electricity, and thus, serve as an alternative to coal, oil, and natural gas. The uncertain long-term effects of CNTs are the subject of continued study and debate.

Fact Free Benefits of Nanotechnology

Most agree that the most important implication of CNTs concerns how they will affect energy cost and availability. A recent study on cost and availability showed that CNTs will double the efficiency of solar cells in the coming years.

Fact Free Risks of Nanotechnology

Most agree that the most important implication of CNTs concerns their unknown long-run implications for human health.

Fact-based Benefits of Nanotechnology

A recent study on cost and availability showed that CNTs will double the efficiency of solar cells in the coming years.

Fact-based Risks of Nanotechnology

A recent study on health showed that mice injected with large quantities of CNTs reacted in the same way as they do when injected with asbestos.

We find at every stage of the decision-making process, the processing of factual information is fraught with imperfections. First, facts have limited impact on initial opinions—no greater than alternative considerations including values and perceptions about science credibility (also see, e.g., Scheufele & Lewenstein 2005). Second, we find that when provided with frames that lack factual information and frames that include facts, individuals do not privilege the facts (also see, e.g., Nisbet & Mooney, 2007). Facts do not enhance frame strength (although facts do have effects equivalent to that of frames without facts). Third, once they form initial opinions, individuals process new factual information in a biased manner (also see, e.g., Kahan et al., 2008). Specifically, they view information consistent with their prior opinions as relatively stronger and they view neutral facts as consistent with their existing dispositions.

Of course ours is just one study on two particular technologies, and as a result, caution needs to be taken in generalizing. It does seem clear, however, that factual information is not always as it appears (to a neutral observer). Our results suggest that the best route to facilitate reasonable opinion formation may be to provide alternative ways of thinking about new technologies—that is, different frames—and then to encourage individuals to weigh these frames against one another. Under distinct circumstances, facts may play a more salient and less biased role.

I find this study a little confusing because they seem to be using at least two meanings for frames/framing. There’s both topical framing, i.e., fact-based vs nonfact-based with regard to how nanotechnology information is framed and an individual’s more comprehensive framing strategy which is derived from their values and beliefs.  (Note: I’ve read the preliminary paper which Nisbet makes available in the August 20, 2010 posting.)

Another element which always niggles at me in these kinds of studies is that people have  responded in a similar fashion to previously emerging technologies such as electricity and telephony (see Carolyn Marvin’s book, When old technologies were new, for some insights into the concerns and ‘cultural’ wars that ensued).  The question I keep asking myself is, what does understanding the process of framing in the context of accepting emerging technologies do for us? Humans have accepted any number of technological innovations  over the millenia while expressing many of the same concerns we do now without all this probing analysis and discussion of frames. What purpose is there to understanding framing strategies?

As for the suggestion that science literacy is neither here nor there, I’m not sure I’m ready to accept that but then I imagine the researchers would point out that my own framing strategy is what compels me to reject that notion.

One other thing, I found their ‘facts’ lacking. The information about the mice and CNTs with regard to nanotechnology risks is very minimal and frankly it wouldn’t be enough to convince of me of anything.

McGill researchers achieve control of quantum dots

Canadian researchers at McGill University (Montréal, Québec) have achieved engineering control of the piezoelectric effect in quantum dots. From the news release,

The generation of an electric field by the compression and expansion of solid materials is known as the piezoelectric effect, and it has a wide range of applications ranging from everyday items such as watches, motion sensors and precise positioning systems. Researchers at McGill University’s Department of Chemistry have now discovered how to control this effect in nanoscale semiconductors called “quantum dots,” enabling the development of incredibly tiny new products.

Although the word “quantum” is used in everyday language to connote something very large, it actually means the smallest amount by which certain physical quantities can change. A quantum dot has a diameter of only 10 to 50 atoms, or less than 10 nanometres. By comparison, the diameter of the DNA double-helix is 2 nanometres. The McGill researchers have discovered a way to make individual charges reside on the surface of the dot, which produces a large electric field within the dot. This electric field produces enormous piezoelectric forces causing large and rapid expansion and contraction of the dots within a trillionth of a second. Most importantly, the team is able to control the size of this vibration.

Cadmium Selenide quantum dots can be used in a wide range of technological applications. Solar power is one area that has been explored, but this new discovery has paved way for other nanoscale device applications for these dots. This discovery offers a way of controlling the speed and switching time of nanoelectronic devices, and possibly even developing nanoscale power supplies, whereby a small compression would produce a large voltage.

The research was published in Nano Letters (behind a paywall).

Job posting at Safenano

Here it is,

We are actively seeking a Research Scientist to join Safenano. The principal, technical and administrative functions will include:

* Provision of specialist competence in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA);

* Supporting the development of proposals in the pursuit of consultancy and research opportunities;

* Contributing to and leading (where appropriate) projects involving LCA;

* Developing and implementing LCA methods for nanotechnology;

* Writing client reports, position papers and articles for peer-reviewed publication.

The post holder should have a first degree (minimum Upper Second Class division) in a physical or life science and post-graduate qualification in a physical or life science, with a focus on life cycle assessment (LCA).

The salary range for the post is £17,847 – £25,000 and will be dependent on qualifications and experience.

If you have relevant experience and want to join the Safenano team at the IOM [Institute of Occupational Medicine], please request further information about the post from Ms Gemma Burns ( or contact Dr Steve Hankin (Tel. +44 131 449 8040). The closing date for applications is 31 August 2010.

The original job posting and Safenano site are here. As you may have guessed, Safenano is located in the UK.