Monthly Archives: May 2011

Canadian Light Source and Diamond Light (UK) Synchrotrons

Two synchrotrons, Canadian Light Source (CLS [Saskatoon, Saskatchewan]) and Diamond Light Source (near Oxford, England) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU). From the May 31, 2011 news item on,

Making the power of synchrotron light available to more businesses, building new experimental equipment and developing new capabilities are three of the areas of collaboration in a trans-Atlantic memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Diamond Light Source Ltd. near Oxford and Canadian Light Source Inc. (CLS) in Saskatoon.

The agreement paves the way for the two synchrotron light sources to work together on joint projects related to their industrial science programmes, such as exchanges of staff, marketing materials, and coordinating access for clients to capabilities that are available at one synchrotron but not the other.

“Diamond and the CLS have been working closely together for some time,” said Josef Hormes, Executive Director of the CLS. “Now that we have this formal agreement, I am looking forward to a very bright future where the expertise of both our facilities can be combined to accomplish momentous things for fundamental and industrial science.

They don’t mention nanotechnology but synchrotrons can be used for subnanometre measurement and nanofabrication (National Light Source Synchrotron 2009 seminar with Dr. Lin Wang).  You can find out more about synchrotrons at the CLS Education webpage,

A synchrotron is a source of brilliant light that scientists can use to gather information about the structural and chemical properties of materials at the molecular level.

A synchrotron produces the light by using powerful electro-magnets and radio frequency waves to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light. Energy is added to the electrons as they accelerate so that, when the magnets alter their course, they naturally emit a very brilliant, highly focused light. Different spectra of light, such as Infrared, Ultraviolet, and X-rays, are directed down beamlines where researchers choose the desired wavelength to study their samples. The researchers observe the interaction between the light and the matter in their sample at the endstations (small laboratories).

This tool can be used to probe the matter and analyze a host of physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes. Information obtained by scientists can be used to help design new drugs, examine the structure of surfaces to develop more effective motor oils, build smaller, more powerful computer chips, develop new materials for safer medical implants, and help with clean-up of mining wastes, to name just a few applications.

Quick Facts:

  • More than 40 synchrotron light sources have been built around the world. The Canadian synchrotron is competitive with the brightest facilities in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.
  • As of 2009, more than 2000 scientists have used the CLS.
  • More than 3,000 academic, industrial, and government researchers a year from across Canada and from other countries are expected to use the facility once the full complement of beamlines is developed. Beamlines carry the synchrotron light to scientific work stations capable of operating 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, approximately 42 weeks of the year.
  • Initially, the CLS will focus on research in three key areas:
    • mining, natural resources and the environment
    • advanced materials, information technologies and micro systems
    • biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medicine
  • The first synchrotrons were additions to facilities built to study subatomic physics. Synchrotron light was an annoyance to the researchers because it meant their electron beams lost energy every time they went through a bending magnet. However, the remarkable qualities of this light were soon recognized, and researchers began to come up with ways to use it.

Currently, CLSI has more than 130 employees. The work force of scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrators is growing to match additional CLSI users. Located in the midst of a research cluster on the north end of the University of Saskatchewan, next to Innovation Place, one of Canada’s leading high-tech industrial parks, CLSI strengthens Saskatoon’s reputation as “Science City” as a much-needed national R&D facility.

Intriguingly, they don’t mention the word radiation until the 2nd to last section, Salute to safety. In fact, it wasn’t easy finding the Education webpage; it’s not accessible from the Home page as it’s rendered on my computer screen. (I found it by using a search engine.)

Maintaining a worldwide *research lead in nanocrystalline cellulose

“We are all working very hard to maintain our world-wide lead in NCC [nanocrystalline cellulose] research and development. With its three kilograms per day, this small pilot plant will still be producing the largest quantity of NCC in the world”, declared Pierre Lapointe, President and Chief Executive Officer of FPInnovations. “We are building the future of the forest industry by focusing on the research and development of new applications, innovative products and new markets, and we will get there one success at a time”, concluded Lapointe.

FPInnovations (located in Pointe-Claire, Québec) is (from their Strength in Unity webpage) “the world’s largest private, not-for-profit forest products research institute” and they’ve just opened new NCC research facilities. From the May 30, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

FPInnovations has announced today’s inauguration of its new NanoCrystalline Cellulose (NCC) research facilities, which consist of a state-of-the-art pilot plant, new high-performance equipment for the Québec City laboratory and two new research laboratories located at Pointe-Claire. The Pointe-Claire laboratories are dedicated primarily to NCC chemistry, as well as to NCC and nanocomposites characterization. The new laboratory equipment in Québec City is being used in the development of advanced wood materials in the appearance, structural and composite wood products sector. The cost of the construction of the facilities and the acquisition of the research equipment amounts to $4.1 million. This investment has been made possible thanks to the financial participation of the Ministère du Développement économique, de l’Innovation et de l’Exportation du Québec for 80% of the expenses and, Natural Resources Canada, for 20%, under its Transformative Technologies Program (TT). The project will make it possible to retain 11 full-time scientists and technicians dedicated to NCC research.

I believe I mentioned the state-of-the-art pilot plant in my July 16, 2010 posting***), when FPInnovations announced a joint venture company with Domtar to build a ‘demonstration’ plant producing one metric ton per day of commercial-scale NCC in Windsor, Québec. 

It sounds very grand to me “… building the future of the forest industry …” and frankly I’d be just as happy if the technology is safe and people get jobs.

***ETA August 23, 2011: The FPInnovations Domtar plant featured in my July 16, 2010 posting is expected to produce one metric ton of  NCC per day when it is completed and operational.

* Nov. 27, 2013: Corrected headline, changed ‘reseach’ to ‘research’.

Birthday balloons, runners that were clothed, and broccoli prints: Martin Creed show at the Rennie Collection

There were balloons everywhere and all of them pink. It was a sea of peppermint candy pink and a childhood fantasy being realized until I got to the part where there were too many balloons, someone in front of me, and a couple of guys (who had hoisted themselves onto some sort of ledge) pushing the balloons back at me as I tried make my way out toward the door at the other side of the gallery. In addition to a mild bit of sudden claustrophobia, I found the scent of the rubber/latex balloons overpowering. I went from “Wow, this is fun!” to “Get me the hell out of here. Now.” in less than five minutes. Thankfully I did not have to struggle long to make my way out the door. (Trying to open the door without letting a bunch of balloons escape was impossible. I was very concerned about my balloon fugitives but noticed that no one to have managed it successfully.)

Shortly after exiting the balloon room enough of us had gathered to form a tour group for the new Martin Creed Show at the Rennie Collection. I believe this was the first public tour for this and the age demographic for this group was markedly different from previous Rennie Collection tours I’ve been on. It was much younger. If you include a few oldsters, the average age was probably about 28 or 29. The last three shows ,the average in a tour group (admittedly a smaller group) would probably have been about 48.

As we gathered, we were exposed to the first of the runners. One of the pieces consists of a team of runners making their way, one at a time at varying intervals and at top speed, through the gallery. Frankly, I thought they should have been naked. Much more classical in tone.

(Side note: A friend of mine, Doug Setter, was running in the piece [no. 850] this last Saturday, May 28, 2011. Interestingly, the runners are being asked to wear Lululemon clothing [apparently they are a sponsor] or plain clothes, i.e. clothes without logos. If you run on three different days (over a period of four hours each time), you get some Lululemon gear. Runners are expected to complete a circuit through the galleries within a specific time limit.)

There is a camera in the large gallery on the 2nd floor so the form which, for the last three shows was an insurance waiver, must include a release for the videos they’re making (I hadn’t bother to read it since I’d signed it so many times already). There was no explanation on the tour of what they would be doing with the video, if anything. (Note: It was the tour guide’s first tour and she did confess to being quite nervous. I wouldn’t have guessed as she concealed it quite well.) [Please see the editing note at the end of this review.]

Upstairs on the 2nd floor and in addition to the camera, there are the broccoli prints (No. 1000). Yes, Creed massacred bunches of helpless broccoli to dip them into paint and then press them onto a piece of paper. Each paint colour is pure, i.e., there was no mixing to change the tint, and each broccoli print is made from a unique piece of broccoli.  There’s also a crumpled up ball of paper in a glass case. Not part of the broccoli series, it is another art piece. I understand that if you purchase this, you receive instructions on how to crumple it. [Please see the editing note at the end of this review.]

In the next room framed pieces of papers of different colours line the wall and there’s a series of metronomes on the floor all ticking loudly at slightly different paces. The last room on this floor hosts a video of people throwing up. According to the tour guide, this is Creed’s way of reminding us we have bodies and that the art experience is as much physical as intellectual. He has done other videos that focus on bodily fluids for that very reason. Interestingly, Mona Hatoum, the first artist given an exhibition at the Rennie Collection, has also worked with bodily fluids for much the same reason.

I don’t think the artists need to remind gallery goers that they are physical, as well as, intellectual.  Think of it, most painters/sculptors/dancers have to develop skills and use their bodies to make their art. It’s the artists who have the problem. Neither Creed nor Hatoum produce work that requires much physicality or skill on their part.

Conceptual artists like Hatoum and Creed get an idea and either get a skilled artisan to carry out their vision or, it’s something so simple (broccoli prints?), anyone could do it.

(Getting back to the tour) On the roof top where we went next, we paused to view Creed’s neon sign (No. 851), EVERYTHING IS GOiNG TO BE ALRIGHT, which is on permanent display. If you look east from the roof (for the next week or so), you’ll see a huge flowering lilac tree about one or two blocks overs. It’s so big it towers over buildings in that area. There’s something quite special about being on a grassy roof in downtown Vancouver.

No. 372, the banging piano in the basement was one of the last pieces we viewed. It’s a grand piano that’s been wired to bang itself shut.

There are no titles to Creed’s pieces, just numbers. According to the tour guide, Creed wants to imbue the pieces with the democracy of numbers. It seems like a pretty exclusive democracy since there are no negative numbers, fractions, percentages or decimals (which means no Pi). Plus, he’s never used one or two in his numbering scheme which he started at the number 3. It seems less like less like he’s going for democracy (unless it’s the kind where only men vote [that’s how democracy started in Athens, a city state of ancient Greece, only male citizens got to vote] and more like the anonymity of numbers to me.

Using numbers in this way frustrates the tendency to create a story, which sets up an interesting tension. In a way, these pieces are all story and no art. How do you sell or for that matter own a piece which consists of pink balloons (Creed gave Rennie the choice of buying either brown or pink)  in a room? Anyone could get a few hundred or more pink balloons, fill them with air or some sort of gas, and put them in a room. For that matter, anyone could take a piece of paper and crumple it up into a ball. The distinguishing feature about these pieces is the story about them.

On the way out, I made my way through the balloons again as I wanted to open the door without having any balloons escape. Sadly, I was not successful but I’m glad I tried.

ETA June 2, 2011: I received an email from the Rennie Collection tour guide where she kindly advised me of an error regarding the crumpled ball of paper and provided additional information about the videotaping in the 2nd floor gallery. Thank you for reading the review and adding to my knowledge of one of the works and the videotaping situation.

I wanted to correct a mistake, made entirely on my part, regarding Work No. 652, A sheet of paper crumpled into a ball. I was under the impression that this and Work No. 880, A sheet of U.S.l Legal Paper, were purchased as whole pieces of paper and then ‘carried out,’ so to speak, here. This is not the case. Both works were done by Martin himself, and were shipped to the Rennie collection in their final stages, complete with plinths. Additionally, Martin will often do a number of attempts at these works before he is contented with the shape and form of the piece. I apologize for the misstep and the misdirection.

Also, the taping that was being done during the tour was both for archival/documentation purposes and to send to Martin and his gallery. We’ll likely put various versions of it on our website in the future.

Update on Canada’s Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials public consultation

As usual I found the information about last year’s public consultation on the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials in an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report. The report which includes an accounting from several member countries including Canada about a range of activities relating to nanomaterial safety is titled, OECD Environment, Health and Safety Publications Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials, No. 29: Current Developments/Activities on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials Tour De Table at The 8th Meeting of the Working Party On Manufactured Nanomaterials, Paris, France 16-18 March 2011.

Here’s what the report had to say about the public consultation on the interim policy statement,

The six month web-based public consultation for the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials ended on August 31, 2010. A total of 29 submissions were received from a range of stakeholders. The majority of comments were received from industry; however, public interest groups, government bodies, and private individuals also submitted comments. The comments focussed on the process of the development of the working definition, the content or meaning of particular terms, and its application or use. Health Canada is currently reviewing and considering all comments received as well as key developments of other definitions of nanomaterials, including those of the International Organisation for Standardisation and the European Commission. (p. 24)

I last posted an update about this public consultation in my Jan. 20, 2011 posting. From my posting,

A reader sent in a response to a query about the public consultation’s status since it closed Aug. 31, 2011.

Consultation Results – Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials

Dear [XXX],

Thank you for your interest in the Interim Policy Statement on Health Canada’s Working Definition for Nanomaterials (Interim Policy Statement). Extensive comments were received from a wide-range of stakeholders.

Health Canada is currently reviewing and considering all comments, and any necessary revisions to the Interim Policy Statement. Further information on how Health Canada will address these comments, including any possible amendments to the policy statement will be made available on Health Canada’s Web site soon. Stakeholders will be notified at that time. [emphasis mine]

Thank you

Science Policy Directorate/La direction des politiques scientifiques
Strategic Policy Branch/Direction générale de la politique stratégique
Health Canada/Santé Canada

I guess they were still counting the responses in January so they could be ready for the March report in Paris. As for updates on the Health Canada site, the Health Canada webpage hosting the interim policy has not been updated since Feb. 11, 2010 according to the Date Modified notice at the bottom of the page.

Here’s an excerpt from the report about at least some of the nanomaterial scientific research and policy work taking place in Canada,

Scientific research

Health Canada is starting a research project to investigate the toxicity of surface-modified silica
nanoparticles entitled “Evaluation of Toxic Potency of Silica-based Nanoparticles using High-throughput Integrated In Vitro Cytotoxicity Assay Platform”. The aim of the project is to investigate the importance of size and surface modification on the toxicity of silica nanoparticles. The silica nanoparticles used in the project will be synthesised and modified according to specific parameters to better reflect those that are of greatest interest to the New Substances Program. This project is designed as a proof of concept and will be extended over the fiscal years 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

Canada has supported multiple research projects under the Strategic Grants Program of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). The nanomaterials used in these projects have included OECD priority nanomaterials such as TiO2. The projects examined fate both in the aqueous and the subsurface compartments and include establishing methodologies for suspension and physical-chemical characterisation of the nanomaterials prior to any exposure testing.

A larger Canadian initiative is a multidisciplinary, 3-year collaborative project that brings together: 1) industry and academic/government researchers involved in the engineering and production of new and existing commercial nanomaterials, 2) representatives involved in the current regulatory testing industry that require new, cost-effective, time-sensitive, and efficient testing methods, 3) academic/government researchers who can develop and apply new technologies to the area of safe nanomaterials production and effective ecotoxicology testing, and 4) Canadian regulatory community. The goal of the project is to understand the fate and effects of nanomaterials (including OECD priority materials) in the aquatic environment, with specific themes targeting (1) synthesis; (2) characterisation in complex media; (3)
methods for biological effects testing; and (4) establishing collaborative dialogue between key stakeholders.

Funding and partnering opportunities are currently being considered by Canada to a) develop in-house analytical chemistry infrastructure for the measurement of nanoparticles in food; b) to assess the health effects of orally ingested nanomaterials for addressing exposure through food contamination from packaging materials, or through nanostructures in food additives; c) to evaluate the effects of nanomaterials in food on nutrient bioavailability, functionality and efficacy for addressing the regulation of nanotech products designed.

Canada is also currently engaged in both in-house and collaborative research projects involving a range of different nanomaterials (e.g., nanoparticulates of zero-valent iron, gold, silver, TiO2, single walled carbon nanotubes, and C60 fullerenes). Testing includes pulmonary and cardiovascular injury; reproductive, developmental and transgenerational effects; exposure and tissue penetration, interactive effects with microorganisms, immune defences, and genotoxicity. Alternative tests such as molecular (genomic/ proteomic) and cellular in vitro techniques play an important part of the repertoire for such investigations. Other on-going projects include developing bioassays and biomarkers for nanomaterials, harmonising and
standardising chemical and toxicological assays, toxicogenomics, evaluating fate in aquatic environments understanding the interaction of nanoparticles with microbial cells, soil effects research, and bioaccumulation and toxicity in benthic invertebrates.

Canada (Environment and Health Canada), together with Government agencies in the United States, Non- Governmental Organisations and Industry are supporting a project lead out of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) to look at releases of nanomaterials from industrial matrices (e.g., coatings). The purpose of the project is (a) to compile literature information on different test methodologies and nanomaterials used to study releases from matrices (e.g., coatings); and (b) develop standard methodologies (validated through round-robin testing) to quantify releases of nanomaterials from a matrix.

At the current stage, the Steering Committee for the project is selecting primary materials in advance of an expert workshop being planned in Fall 2011. The expert workshop will inform on path forward on a testing regime for the materials and matrices selected. Additional information can be found at

Policy research

Canada participates in the project on Regulatory Framework for Nanotechnology in Food and Medical Products, The project is composed of two independent surveys addressing the same set of questions related to: (1) the regulatory frameworks being used to provide oversight for the use of nanotechnology in food and medical products, (2) the legislative frameworks relevant to these regulatory frameworks, and (3) relevant government-supported research programmes and institutions. The surveys have been circulated to member countries to be filled by March 2011.

The information generated by the surveys will be used to populate inventories, and draft a report on areas of shared interest and highlight opportunities for enhancing communication related to regulation and applications of nanotechnology in food and medical products. The report is expected to be completed in 2011/2012. (pp. 25-6)

Some of this looks familiar to me (these reports tend to regurgitate the same information for years) but there does seem to be more detail than usual in this report.

Scientific research, failure, and the scanning tunneling microscope

“99% of all you do is failure and that’s maybe the most difficult part of basic research,” said Gerd Binnig in a snippet I’ve culled from an interview with Dexter Johnson (Nanoclast blog on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) posted May 23, 2011 where Binnig discussed why he continued with a project that had failed time and time again. (The snippet is from the 2nd audio file from the top of the posting)

Binnig along with Heinrich Rohrer is a Nobel Laureate. Both men won their award for work on the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which was the project that had failed countless times and that went on to play an important part in the nanotechnology narrative. Earlier this month, both men were honoured when IBM and ETH Zurich opened the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center in Zurich. From the May 17, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

IBM and ETH Zurich, a premiere European science and engineering university, hosted more than 600 guests from industry, academia and government, to open the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center located on the campus of IBM Research – Zurich. The facility is the centerpiece of a 10-year strategic partnership in nanoscience between IBM and ETH Zurich where scientists will research novel nanoscale structures and devices to advance energy and information technologies.

The new Center is named for Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, the two IBM scientists and Nobel Laureates who invented the scanning tunneling microscope at the Zurich Research Lab in 1981, thus enabling researchers to see atoms on a surface for the first time. The two scientists attended today’s opening ceremony, at which the new lab was unveiled to the public.

Here’s an excerpt from Dexter’s posting where he gives some context for the audio files,

As promised last week, I would like to share some audio recordings I made of Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer taking questions from the press during the opening of the new IBM and ETH Zurich nanotechnology laboratory named in their honor.

This first audio file features both Binnig’s and Rohrer’s response to my question of why they were interested in looking at inhomogenities on surfaces in the first place, which led them eventually to creating an instrument for doing it. A more complete history of the STM’s genesis can be found in their joint Nobel lecture here.

The sound quality isn’t the best but these snippets are definitely worth listening to if you find the process of scientific inquiry interesting.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the scanning tunneling microscope, I found this description in the book, Soft Machines; Nanotechnology and Life, by Richard Jones.

Scanning probe microscopes rely on an entirely different principle to both light microscopes and electron microscopes, or indeed our own eyes. Rather than detecting waves that have been scattered from the object we are looking at, on feels the surface of that object with a physical probe. This probe is moved across the surface with high precision. As it tracks the contours of the surface, it s moved up or down in a way that is controlled by some interaction between the tip of the probe and the surface. This interaction could be the flow of electrical current, in the case of a scanning tunneling microscope, or simple the force between the tip and the surface in the case of an atomic force microscope. pp. 17-18

Prince Charles, evolution, and Baba Brinkman

It’s the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s Leicester Square not the prince himself that I’m talking about. Baba Brinkman, the Vancouver-based rapper whose Rap Guide to Evolution performance is about to be launched in a June off-Broadway show in New York, is launching yet something else tomorrow, May 25, 2011. From Baba Brinkman’s May 23, 2011 newsletter,

On Wednesday May 25 at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, London, we will be premiering the Rap Guide to Evolution Music Videos [emphasis mine], sponsored by the Wellcome Trust. The new website,, is now live, please take a moment to check it out! Over the next few months the site will be populated with a whole series of new music videos, links to evolution news and information, resources and discussion, all in aid of teaching evolutionary science through rap.

Here’s a preview of one of the new videos which will be premiered tomorrow night,

Here’s one more tidbit from Baba’s newsletter,

I’ve also just had word that Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, who has written a biography of Darwin and whom I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago in Cambridge, will be the opening speaker at the event. I just spoke to Randal half an hour ago and he said he’s really looking forward to the launch as well.

David Bruggeman at the Pasco Phronesis blog has more details about this launch in the UK (excerpted from his May 16, 2011 posting),

The new phase of the project is visual, with a grant from the Wellcome Trust and over 12,000 additional pounds (raised from volunteers) used to shoot and produce videos for each of the tunes. It was prompted by requests from teachers for a DVD edition of the Rap Guide. There is also a new track out, which Brinkman says is the first track from a forthcoming remix album. The project gets a proper U.K. rollout (the home of the Wellcome Trust) in London on May 25th.

Good luck to Baba Brinkman and the various teams working with him to produce these videos and shows.

Nanoeducation in Europe

There’s a Nano-eTwinning toolkit available from NanoYou (Nano Youth) for teachers. It’s aimed at children 11 to 14 years of age. From the May 23, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

A new eTwinning toolkit has been produced in the context of NANOYOU to offer schools creative ideas to explore and learn about nanotechnologies. The toolkit provides guidelines to organise a class programme as well as pedagogical objectives, follow up suggestions and evaluation ideas.

eTwinning is a community for schools in Europe that gives teachers the opportunity and tools to join online collaborative projects, to get involved in educational networking and to participate in professional development activities.The eTwinning Portal -developed by European Schoolnet- is available in 24 languages and offers, among others, partner-finding tools, social networking facilities and online working platforms for teachers and pupils to collaborate online.

In looking at the toolkit, I was most interested in the process. For example, here’s item five,

5) Role Play on ELSA:
– Select a dilemma on ethical, legal and social aspects of Nanotechnology from the 10 NANOYOU role plays directly connected with one of the applications of Nanotechnology.
– Each stakeholder is represented by a team composed of pupils of the partner schools. Each team should be about 6 persons. Pupils are given enough time to communicate and share information, opinions and strategies to be able to effectively sustain the point of view of the stakeholder they have been assigned.
– The discussion among stakeholder takes place, either using the forum in the TwinSpace, in an asynchronous manner or during a synchronous event (e.g. a TwinSpace chat, a Skype session or a videoconference). At the end of the discussion, a solution to the dilemma, or at least a possible concrete path to reach it, should be proposed. Pupils may also be asked to write newspaper articles, which summarise their different points of view and the compromise reached (if there is one).
– The results are made public and visible on the TwinSpace, and on schools websites.

I wonder how they will measure success for this project. It is possible to rate the toolkit although no one has done so yet (presumably there just hasn’t been enough time).

I have previously mentioned the NanoYou programme in a May 3, 2010 posting.

At long last, a yocto!

Don’t ask me why but I find units of measure interesting so this morning’s (May 24, 2011) announcement about a physicist reaching a measuring milestone struck a chord with me. From the May 24, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Research into the most sensitive measurement of force yet recorded has earned University of Sydney physicist Dr Michael Biercuk, of the School of Physics’ Quantum Science Group, the National Measurement Institute Prize for excellence in measurement techniques by a scientist under 35.

In collaboration with the Ion Storage Group at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, Dr Biercuk demonstrated it is possible to use trapped atomic ions as extremely sensitive detectors of applied forces and electromagnetic fields. In so doing, the researchers were able to measure forces with extraordinary sensitivity – down to the yoctonewton (yN) level.

The yoctonewton represents one septillionth of a newton, the unit of force named after physicist Sir Isaac Newton.

I believe the yocto is the smallest unit of measure that’s been defined. Here’s a brief review of the units of measure as they get smaller (from this Wikipedia essay),

milli thousandth
micro millionth
nano billionth
pico trillionth
femto quadrillionth
atto quintillionth
zetto sextillionth
yocto septillionth

So there we go. Nano is not the smallest of all despite what most people write about it.

Robot ethics at Vancouver’s next Café Scientifique

AJung Moon, a mechanical engineering researcher at the University of British Columbia, will be giving a talk: Roboethics – A discussion on how robots are impacting our society on Tuesday, May 31, 2011, 7:30 pm at the Railway Club,579 Dunsmuir St., Vancouver, BC. From the announcement,

From vacuuming houses to befriending older persons at care facilities, robots are starting to provide convenient and efficient solutions at homes, hospitals, and schools. For decades, numerous works in science fiction have imaginatively warned us that robots can bring catastrophic ethical, legal, and social issues into our society. But is today’s robotics technology advanced enough to the point that we should take these fictional speculations seriously? Roboticists, philosophers, and policymakers agree that we won’t see Terminator or Transformers type robots any time soon, but they also agree that the technology is bringing forth ethical issues needing serious discussions today. In this talk, we will highlight some of the ways robots are already impacting our society, and how the study of human-robot interaction can help put ethics into its design.

Moon has a blog called Roboethic info DataBase, where she posts the latest about robots and ethics.

Here’s a picture of her,

AJung Moon (downloaded from her Roboethics info DataBase blog)

I wonder what she makes of the RoboEarth project where robots will uploading information to something which is the equivalent of the internet and wikipedia (my Feb. 14, 2011 posting, scroll down a few paragraphs) or the lingodroids project where robots are creating a language. From the May 17, 2011 article by Katie Gatto (originally written for the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) on,

Communication is a vital part of any task that has to be done by more than one individual. That is why humans in every corner of the world have created their own complex languages that help us share the goal. As it turns out, we are not alone in that need, or in our ability to create a language of our own.

Researchers at the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology have created a pair of robots who are creating their own language. The bots, which are being taught how to speak but not given specific languages, are learning to create a lexicon of their own.

The researchers have named these bots, lingodroids and you can read the paper here,

Research paper: Schulz, R., Wyeth, G., & Wiles, J. (In Press) Are we there yet? Grounding temporal concepts in shared journeys, IEEE Transactions on Autonomous Mental Development [PDF]

I hope to get to the talk on Tuesday, May 31, 2011. Meanwhile, Happy Weekend (and for Canadians it’s a long weekend)!