Monthly Archives: April 2012

What is Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver?

Dr. Who, a British Broadcasting Corporation science fiction television programme, has an enormous following worldwide. I am not one of those followers as you might have guessed from the headline, which means I didn’t understand this pop culture reference, from the April 23, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

For fans of the hit series Doctor Who, the Sonic Screwdriver will be a familiar device. But now an international team of EU-funded researchers has taken equipment designed for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided focused ultrasound surgery and demonstrated a real Sonic Screwdriver, lifting and spinning a free-floating 10 cm-diameter rubber disk with an ultrasound beam.

I’m going to concentrate on the project first since this EU (European Union) funded project has a somewhat confusing configuration, which I’ll try to tease apart later in this posting. From the news item,

Dr Mike MacDonald, of the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSAT) in the [University of Dundee, Scotland] United Kingdom, comments: ‘This experiment not only confirms a fundamental physics theory but also demonstrates a new level of control over ultrasound beams which can also be applied to non-invasive ultrasound surgery, targeted drug delivery and ultrasonic manipulation of cells.’

The theory the team were testing had not previously been proved in a single experiment; it is valid for both sound and light, and is used in fields like quantum communications and biophotonics. The theory states that the ratio of angular momentum to energy in a vortex beam is equal to the ratio of the number of intertwined helices to the frequency of the beam.

Dr Christine Demore from IMSAT comments: ‘For the first time, our experimental results confirm directly the validity of this fundamental theory. Previously this ratio could only be assumed from theory as the angular momentum and power in a beam had only ever been measured independently.’

The ultrasound beam generated by the researchers resembles the ‘double-helix’ structure of DNA but with many more twisted strands, or helices. This vortex beam generates a rotating, angular component of momentum that can exert torque on an object. In the recent publication, they showed how they could generate vortex beams with many intertwined helices, using a 1 000-element ultrasound transducer array as an acoustic hologram. These beams are so powerful they can levitate and spin the 90 g-disk made of ultrasonic absorber in water.

Here’s a 30 secs. video of the ‘sonic screwdriver’,

Ray Walters in his April 20, 2012 article  for offers a description using measurements that are more commonly used in Canada and the US for what we’re seeing in the video [I have removed a link from the following passage],

Depicted in the video above, the “Sonotweezers” [aka, sonic screwdriver] project as it’s officially known, uses an ultrasound beam that is structured like a strand of DNA. The difference being that there are many more twisted strands that can be used to bring torque to bear on objects for movement. The team has used its device to levitate and spin a 3.17 ounce, 10cm diameter rubber disk that was suspended in water.

To make this happen, the research team used a 1000-element ultrasound transducer array to create what’s called an acoustic hologram.

The project known as ‘Sonotweezers’ at the University of Dundee,  is part of a larger European Union project, Nanoporation, which is investigating drug delivery to cancer cell using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and guided focused ultrasound. The larger project includes a couple of Israeli teams, neither of which seem to be involved with the Sonotweezers/sonic screwdriver project. I gather some of the funding for the Sonotweezers project comes from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Ressearch Council (EPSRC). You can find out more about the Scottish team at the University of Dundee, Sonotweezers, and EPSRC in the April 19, 2012 press release on the University of Dundee website.

Scientists hunger for your money

Crowdfunding (raising funds by posting a project, on a website designed for the purpose, and asking for money in return for rewards you will give to the funders) seems to be everywhere at the moment. I tried it last year for one of my projects and had one failure and one partial success. It’s certainly an interesting process to go through and I’m fascinated with the current interest from scientists. According to an April 25, 2012 posting by Michael Ho on Techdirt, there are at least four crowdfunding websites for science projects.

In addition to the ones Ho cites, I found the #SciFund Challenge, which is being held from May 1  – May 31, 2012. From their home page,

Last fall, scientists raised $76,230 for their research in the first round of the #SciFund Challenge. The second round launches on May 1, 2012!

What? The #SciFund Challenge is a grand experiment in science funding. Can scientists raise money for their research by convincing the general public to open their wallets for small-amount donations? In more and more fields – from music to dance to journalism – people are raising lots of money for projects in precisely this way. The process is called crowdfunding. The first round of the #SciFund Challenge showed that this model can work for funding scientific research. Now, let’s take it to the next level!

Who? Well over 140 scientists, from across the globe, have signed for the second round of the #SciFund Challenge.

When? From May 1- May 31, 2012, scientists participating in the #SciFund Challenge will each conduct their own crowdfunding campaigns for their own research. But even though each scientist will be fundraising for their own research, participants won’t be on their own.  In the month of April, #SciFund scientists will be trained how to run a crowdfunding campaign. And, through the Challenge, participants will be connected together to increase the chances that everyone succeeds.

How do I learn more? Read the blog! You can also contact one of the #SciFund Challenge organizers with any questions: Jai Ranganathan ( If you would like to be informed about future rounds of the #SciFund Challenge, please sign up for our mailing list.

From the About page (I have removed several links),

The #SciFund Challenge is an experiment – can scientists use crowdfunding to fund their research? The current rate of funding for science proposals in the U.S. is ~20%. The current rate for crowdfunding statues of RoboCop in Detroit is 135% – to the tune of $67,436. Perhaps Scientists can do better by tapping this reservoir of funds from an interested public. …

The #SciFund Challenge is also a way to get scientists to directly engage with the public. Crowdfunding forces scientists to build public interaction and outreach into their research from day one. It’s a new mechanism to couple science and society, and one that we think has a lot of promise. …

The founders of the #SciFund Challenge are Dr. Jai Ranganathan  and Dr. Jarrett Byrnes. We are biologists – ecologists, actually – and each spends too much time in the science online scene. Jai ran a weekly science podcast, called Curiouser and Curiouser for Miller-McCune magazine, and Jarrett is the big boss over at the science blog I’m a Chordata! Urochordata! On Twitter, you can find Jai at @jranganathan and and Jarrett at @jebyrnes.

On another note and in response to my April 18, 2012 posting about Lego robots being used to grow bones,  I received a notice about a project to raise funds on Kickstarter. As I’m not a Lego afficionado, it took a little digging to figure out the project.

In my April 18, 2012 posting the scientists used a robot that they built with a Lego Mindstorms kit. The beams used to create a base for the robots limit builders and a team from Denmark (Lasse Mogensen and Soren Jensen), which is the home of Lego, have developed a base (a rectangular plate, 21 x 30 holes), which would allow scientists and others to create larger, more robust and complex robots. They call their project, MinuteBot Base,

There are ways to combine the MinuteBot Base plates, which are fully compatible with Lego products, in case a single base does not suffice.

Here’s the MinuteBot Base Kickstarter page where you can find more information and diagrams. The group has raised almost 1/2 of the funds they’ve requested with some 20 days left in their campaign. The group has contacted Michelle Oyen, who’s one of the scientists cited in my April 18, 2012 posting (from their April 25, 2012 email to me),

We are in contact with Michelle Oyen who expressed interest in our products:

“Please let me know if I can be of use in the future, and if you are interested in collaborating on more ideas regarding using Lego Mindstorms for biomedical/bioengineering research!”

The group also has a second project, a MinuteBot Bearing, which they (represented by team member, Dorota Sauer)  have entered in a contest for a prize of $10,000. From the MinuteBot Bearing page on the Boca Bearing contest website,

What was your goal in building this project?

To design a turntable with a perfect interface with LEGO Mindstorms and with improved mechanical properties. The broader vision is to make a kit consisting of robust elements designed for higher precision and durability using industrial components. Robotics made in minutes. That’s MinuteBot.

Does your project help to solve a problem? If so what problem?

LEGO Mindstorms is very easy to program but as it is a toy the precision, durability and mechanical integrity is limited. The MinuteBot Bearing is based on industry-grade ball bearings providing the needed mechanical performance of the turntable.

What makes your idea unique?

The combination of user friendliness, the interface with LEGO Mindstorms and the good mechanical performance makes MinuteBot Bearing unique.

You can find out more information about the team and the products at the MinuteBot website.

Getting back to Michael Ho and his posting about the science-specific crowdfunding sites, here are two listings I’ve excerpted from his April 25, 2012 posting,

Good luck to them all!


Erotica, censorship, and PayPal

There’s been some talk here in Canada about censorship, journalism, and science in regards to the government requiring (since fall 2011) that journalists direct their interview requests to the communications offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources. This practice has been described as a muzzle. It is the 2nd ministry in the last few years to be given this treatment, the first was the Ministry of the Environment. In my March 7, 2012 posting I touched on this issue (scroll about 40% of the way down) in the context of an encounter with someone at the University of British Columbia (UBC). You may want to continue onto the comments for the March 7, 2012 posting where David Bruggeman of the Pasco Phronesis blog eloquently argues that neither my experience with UBC nor the government muzzles amounted to censorship. (As of today, April 30, 2012, I’m still working on my response.)

Given that in addition to censorship I am quite interested in e-publishing, the April 20, 2012 story (PayPal, You’ve Met Your Match: Erotica Writers) by David Zax for Fast Company caught my attention,

Mark Coker is the CEO of Smashwords, an e-book publishing and distribution platform. Coker recently won a highly publicized battle against PayPal, which briefly refused to work with Smashwords unless Coker removed certain naughty titles from the site. Fast Company caught up with Coker and learned, among other things, that writers of incest erotica can be very articulate.

FAST COMPANY: What is Smashwords?

MARK COKER: We’re probably the world’s largest distributor of self-published e-books and e-books from small independent presses. We were founded in 2008. A writer comes to Smashwords, uploads a Word document, which we instantly convert into multiple formats to be read on a Kindle or other device. Those are then available for sale at at a price set by the author. 85% of all proceeds go to the author, so we flipped the compensation model upside-down. In traditional publishing, in the best case, an author earns 17.5% off an e-book’s list price. In 2008, we had 140 titles; in 2009, we had 6,000 titles; today we have just over 115,000.

You recently came to prominence by picking a fight with PayPal, which threatened to stop working with you if you failed to remove some smutty titles from your store.

On a Saturday, I received an email from PayPal notifying me I had about five days to remove all books containing themes of rape, bestiality, and incest. That was upsetting; we’d been working with PayPal for almost four years. I offered to meet with them, but they responded that they didn’t take meetings, and this was their policy. [emphasis mine] By luck, I called in to the general customer support line, and person who picked up happened to be an author, a member of the Romance Writers of America. She knew who Smashwords was, and knew it was a legitimate platform for indie authors, and that kind soul volunteered to walk us through the process and connect us with people who could actually listen to us.

Did you find purveyors of underage incest erotica to be surprisingly articulate?

We’ve never allowed underage erotica–we’ve always had a strict policy about that. But for the other folks, yes, I found them incredibly articulate and well spoken. Writers are great at communicating, and they were pissed off.

What happened next?

On Monday I received a phone call from a higher-level manager within the PayPal enforcement division. In that call we agreed to continue discussions in good faith, and that PayPal would not turn off its services while we gave it time to work this out. At that point I put into place a new strategy. PayPal had said that they were doing this only because of the credit card companies and banks they worked with. I thought if we could put enough pressure on the credit card companies, that would open the whole thing up. We got the press to start contacting credit card companies to ask if they were behind this or not, and we also escalated the email campaign to all our authors and then all our customers. The public anger rose, and ultimately PayPal wanted out, and the credit card companies relented and gave permission to relax the policies. I think with this incident, a lot of authors realized Smashwords was standing behind them. I think if anyone tries to push the indie author community down again, we’ll be there to help stand behind these authors. In the end I think it was a great victory for free speech, and shows the rising power of self-publishing authors in the publishing community.

There is more to Zax’s article including a discussion of a recent US Dept. of Justice lawsuit over e-book pricing and some criticism of Coker’s other responses to the PayPal anti-erotica initiative.

Zachary Knight in a March 5, 2012 posting on Techdirt covered the story as it was happening. There’s some additional insight into PayPal and its policies as well as a description of how Smashwords and Coker responded to the pressure.

Getting back to the issue of censorship, I find this striking because it seems to have been done at arm’s length. It’s not PayPal, it’s the credit card companies who have decided that these books must be removed. I’m wondering how the credit card companies, as a group, concluded that they didn’t want to have customers paying for e-book erotica. Did they meet somewhere in their secret headquarters and make a group decision? For that matter, why e-book erotica? Don’t people use credit cards to pay for other forms of erotica (movies/downloads?) and/or pornography?

Something else I found quite striking was that PayPal refused to meet because ‘that’s the policy’. I am not much enamoured of agencies (corporate, government, etc.) that make these unilateral decisions and then hide behind policies designed to eliminate any discussion.

By the way, for anyone who’s interested in Smashwords, it looks like a very interesting site with a wide range of materials. From the home page,

Angel’s Whisper    by Muhammad Nasim
You set the price! 20040 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Inspiration » Personal inspiration.
A collection of short and literary blogs of Naseem Mahnavi arranged latest first. They contain wisdom with humor and compelling opinion. Anecdotes range from ants discussing gravity to interpretation of Nistradamus’s quartains and history of America. Perhaps the most interesting part is the candid definitions of common terms compiled over a five year period of blogging. For readers of all ages.

Midnight Arpeggios: An Illustrated Philosophy of Practicing & Music    by M.J. Murphy
Price: $4.99 USD. 22650 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Essay » Literature.
If you are looking for a discussion of musicianship at a basic philosophical level then this is for you. You will find a collection of 23 short, original essays on music that are inspired, informal, and brilliantly illustrated with classic artwork.

Blood of the Revenant    by N.R. Allen
Price: $0.99 USD. 72490 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy.
As Gabriel begins to unravel the dangerous mystery that surrounds the strange and dark place called Returning City, he is drawn into a very deadly secret, one that threatens to destroy not only him but everyone he has ever cared about.

Helping with Homework: A Guide for Teachers and Parents  by Irene Taylor
Price: $4.99 USD. 10250 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Education and Study Guides » Elementary.
Homework…does that word make you cringe? Homework is probably the most talked about idea in education today. Is it an unnecessary waste of energy for student and parents, or a useful tool for teachers?

10 Minute Tidy: 108 Ways to Organize Your Office Quickly, 2nd edition    by Shannon McGinnis
Price: $2.99 USD. 28020 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Business & Economics » Office management.
The 108 Tips in this book offer you fast, easy solutions for increasing your efficiency and productivity at the office. By focusing your attention on one task at a time and devoting just 10 minutes at a time to each tip, you can organize your business for success

M-CORP 2020    by Sajjad  Tameez
Price: Free! 3470 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Fiction» Adventure » Action.
In the year 2020, M-Corp, a huge cooperation has bailed out the UK; but for the price of M-Corp having complete control. As society gets chewed up by the rich, and the government takes a back-seat, a modern day Robin Hood emerges, taking things into his own hands. But can one act change the course of the future? Or will the wicked wheels of corruption crush anything that comes in its way.

Using Astrology to Find Your Luck: What Works?   by K.C. Powers
Price: $24.99 USD. 37750 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » New Age » Astrology.
Ever wondered what a Lottery Winners Chart looks like? Ever wondered if maybe YOU could win something big? What planets cause the biggest wins and what are the best Triggers of a Lucky Event? These questions have been the subject of my passionate research for over a decade. This book concentrates on Luck and Good Fortune and what really works in astrological prediction.

Reporting Live: Articles and Letters from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair   by Lyndon Irwin
Price: $10.99 USD. 67620 words. Language: English. Published by Gregath Publishing Company, Inc. on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Biography » Historical biography.
Articles and Letters from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

Make Your Own Beer   by Dee Phillips
Price: $2.99 USD. 6160 words. Language: English. Published on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Cooking, Food, Wine, Spirits » Beer.
Here is all the information you need to start making your own great tasting beer at home. From informing you about how the beer making process works to telling you about the different types of beers, you will be able to start making your own beer. 10 great tasting beer recipes included!

The Open Bible – The Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 17    by Open Bible Matthew
Price: Free! 1090 words. Language: English. Published by The Open Bible on April 24, 2012. Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Bibles.
Chapter 17 of Matthew from the Open Bible, a simple easy to understand translation, produced to enable anyone to create their own Bible video and audio recordings etc without any legal restrictions. Chapter 17 includes the account of the Transfiguration on the Mount, and also the miracle of the money in the fish’s mouth

Any budding authors out there? As for censorship and science, I will be getting back to that soon.

Creativity manifesto

A creativity manifesto can apply and appeal to anyone, it doesn’t have to be confined to artists. I suspect the reason this manifesto focuses so much on artists is because they were instrumental, as they so often are, in putting it together. Here it is (from Mike Masnick’s April 13, 2012 posting on Techdirt),

Creativity Manifesto

Here’s a bit from Masnick about the manifesto,

What I love most about this is how inclusive it is, and how much of it is about recognizing and embracing what an amazingly creative time this is for artists. All too often, we hear of artists who decry such things, who complain about the fact that their club doesn’t feel as exclusive any more. For artists and an art exhibit to not just embrace, but joyfully celebrate the way creativity works today, while recognizing how these tools mean that anyone and everyone are creating art all the time, is really wonderful to see.

This ‘poster’ and the full manifesto (excerpt below) were published online at a 2011 photography show, Les Rencontres Arles Photographie, in Arles, France.


My car’s called Picasso

A name that people getting born around the world just now are more likely to hear for the first time in connection with a car rather than one of the twentieth century’s most influential painters. Here we have a sign of the porousness of today’s boundaries between art and popular culture, itself a reflection of the High / Low yoyo that’s been going up and down for near on a century now. Soon we’ll be celebrating the hundredth birthday of Marcel Duchamp’s invention of the readymade, since which the concept of taking some everyday consumer product and importing it into art has been all the rage. Most of the historical avant-garde movements—Dada, Surrealism, Pop, the Situationist International, the Picture Generation and Postmodernism—delved extensively into the visual resources of appropriation, to the point where it’s now become a medium in its own right. These days artists resort to appropriation the way their quattrocento predecessors did to the camera obscura, or a Sunday painter does to watercolour. Everybody’s on the bandwagon: the artist currently in the spotlight, the art student, the lady next door, my cousin—right down to the art directors of the big car companies.

The growth of the Internet and the proliferation of sites for searching out and/or sharing images online—Flickr, Photobucket, Facebook, Google Images, eBay, to name only the best-known—now mean a plethora of visual resources that was inconceivable as little as ten years ago: a phenomenon comparable to the advent of running water and gas in big cities in the nineteenth century. We all know just how thoroughly those amenities altered people’s way of life in terms of everyday comfort and hygiene—and now, right in our own homes, we have an image-tap that’s refashioning our visual habits just as radically. …

Across-the-board appropriation on the one hand plus hyper-accessibility of images on the other: a pairing that would prove particularly fertile and stimulating for the art field. Beginning with the first years of the new millennium—Google Images launched in 2001, Google Maps in 2004 and Flickr the same year—artists jumped at the new technologies, and since then more and more of them have been taking advantage of the wealth of opportunities offered by the Internet. …

People are mixing, matching, and appropriation in all kinds of fields so I don’t think it would take too much to change this manifesto to make even more inclusive by adding scientists and others to the mix.

Two-dimensional Dirac cones, bismuth-antimony films, and graphene

Two researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) have developed a new material, a bismuth-antimony film. From the April 24, 2012 news item by David Chandler for MIT News,

Now, researchers at MIT have found another compound that shares many of graphene’s unusual characteristics — and in some cases has interesting complementary properties to this much-heralded material.

The material, a thin film of bismuth-antimony, can have a variety of different controllable characteristics, the researchers found, depending on the ambient temperature and pressure, the material’s thickness and the orientation of its growth. The research, carried out by materials science and engineering PhD candidate Shuang Tang and Institute Professor Mildred Dresselhaus …

Like graphene, the new material has electronic properties that are known as two-dimensional Dirac cones, a term that refers to the cone-shaped graph plotting energy versus momentum for electrons moving through the material. These unusual properties — which allow electrons to move in a different way than is possible in most materials — may give the bismuth-antimony films properties that are highly desirable for applications in manufacturing next-generation electronic chips or thermoelectric generators and coolers.

In such materials, Tang says, electrons “can travel like a beam of light,” potentially making possible new chips with much faster computational abilities. The electron flow might in some cases be hundreds of times faster than in conventional silicon chips, he says.

Similarly, in a thermoelectric application — where a temperature difference between two sides of a device creates a flow of electrical current — the much faster movement of electrons, coupled with strong thermal insulating properties, could enable much more efficient power production. This might prove useful in powering satellites by exploiting the temperature difference between their sunlit and shady sides, Tang says.

Such applications remain speculative at this point, Dresselhaus says, because further research is needed to analyze additional properties and eventually to test samples of the material. This initial analysis was based mostly on theoretical modeling of the bismuth-antimony film’s properties.

PhD candidate Shuang Tang, left, and Institute Professor Mildred Dresselhaus Photo: Dominick Reuter

While possible applications are purely speculation, the new material appears to have some interesting properties, from the April 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

While it turns out that the thin films of bismuth-antimony can have some properties similar to those of graphene, changing the conditions also allows a variety of other properties to be realized. That opens up the possibility of designing electronic devices made of the same material with varying properties, deposited one layer atop another, rather than layers of different materials.

The material’s unusual properties can vary from one direction to another: Electrons moving in one direction might follow the laws of classical mechanics, for example, while those moving in a perpendicular direction obey relativistic physics. This could enable devices to test relativistic physics in a cheaper and simpler way than existing systems, Tang says, although this remains to be shown through experiments.

“Nobody’s made any devices yet” from the new material, Dresselhaus cautions, but adds that the principles are clear and the necessary analysis should take less than a year to carry out.

Here’s what another researcher (not affiliated with this work) had to say about the new material, from the April 24, 2012 MIT article,

Joseph Heremans, a professor of physics at Ohio State University who was not involved in this research, says that while some unusual properties of bismuth have been known for a long time, “what is surprising is the richness of the system calculated by Tang and Dresselhaus. The beauty of this prediction is further enhanced by the fact that system is experimentally quite accessible.”

Heremans adds that in further research on the properties of the bismuth-antimony material, “there will be difficulties, and a few are already known,” but he says the properties are sufficiently interesting and promising that “this paper should stimulate a large experimental effort.”

So, in about one year, we should know more.

Mathematical healing of skin and bone

Mathematics professor at Australia’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Graeme Pettet provides a fascinating perspective on skin and bone, from the April 23, 2012 news item by Alita Pashley on,

Professor Graeme Pettet, a mathematician from QUT’s Institute of Health Biomedical Innovation (IHBI), said maths could be used to better understand the structure of skin and bones and their response to healing techniques, which will eventually lead to better therapeutic innovations.

“Mathematics is the language of any science so if there are spatial or temporal variations of any kind then you can describe it mathematically,” he said.

“Skin is very difficult to describe. It’s very messy and very complicated. In fact most of the descriptions that engineers and biologists use are schematic stories (diagrams),” he said.

“Once we understand the structure (of the skin) and how it develops we can begin to analyze how that development impacts upon healing in the skin and maybe also diseases of the skin.”

Professor Pettet said his research would, for the first time, formalise the theories about the way cells interact when healing.

Professor Pettet is also working on applying similar techniques to figure out how to show how small, localised damage at the site of bone fractures can impact on healing.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much more in the way of detail either in the news item or on the Tissue Repair and Regeneration Research Program webpage.

Greenish chemistry and silver nanoparticles in Iran

Iranian scientists are using lecithin to synthesize and bind silver nanoparticles more tightly to wool according to this April 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

“Bearing the basic concepts of the green chemistry in the mind, we have managed to synthesize the nanoparticles both in the aqueous phase and over a woolen medium. We employed Lecithin to serve as the stabilizer and carrier of the silver nanoparticles through the woolen medium,” says Hossein Barani, a member of the research group [at Amirkabir University of Technology, Iran].

The goals targeted by this research project apparently include the synthesis of silver nanoparticles with the help of Lecithin as a biodegradable surface active agent, to apply environmentally friendly chemicals in the synthesis of nanoparticles, simultaneous synthesis and loading of the nanoparticles into the fiber structures which effectively improves the quality and durability of the washing.

“Lecithin acts as a stabilizer for the silver nanoparticles during their synthesis step and also is the vehicle by which the nanoparticles are transferred into the woolen fiber structures. The prepared silver nanoparticles possess approximate dimensions of 7 nm and are entrapped inside a liposomic vesicle,” Barani added.

Here are some of the advantages (from the news item),

“Simultaneous synthesis and loading of the silver nanoparticles is in favor of the loading efficiency and durability of washing. In addition, the presence of Lecithin boosts the loading quality, avoids excessive concentration of the nanoparticles upon the fibers’ surfaces, reduces the undesired yellowing of the fabric, and increases the antibacterial performance through a gradual release with lowest toxicity for fibroblast cells,” he reiterated.

Apparently, it would be fairly easy to transfer this process to industry (from the news item),

Barani also evaluated the commercialization of the method as promising, and said, “In case of industrial investment, the proposed approach can be implemented to the production line of textile companies with practical ease.”

More nano art from the Materials Research Society (MRS)

The Materials Research Society has two major meetings in the year, Spring and Fall. At each meeting, there is an art competition and I think much of it could be classified as nano art. Michael Berger over at the Nanowerk website is featuring several pieces from the Spring 2012 and earlier meetings in an April 26, 2012 news item.  (Nanowerk has a library of nano art here.)

Here’s a sample (A Dendritic Baby Giraffe Born Inside Ni-Al-C Melt) from the MRS 2012 Spring meeting (more here),

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) image depicts a baby giraffe formed within a jungle of Ni-Al-C dendrites. As the molten alloy was being solidified inside a graphitic crucible, the melt was decanted, leaving behind a little dendrite wetted by a thin molten blanket. As the jungle got colder, the blanket froze and rejected carbon which eventually crystallized as a graphite cover. Upon further cooling, the graphitic cover wrinkled, due to its thermal expansion coefficient mismatch with metallic substrate, creating a faceted network of creases resembling the familiar skin patches of a giraffe. - Shaahin Amini and Reza Abbaschian, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California Riverside

And there’s this one (Mountains of Organic Crystal Snow),

A stunning visual pattern of high-performance organic semiconductor crystals obtained using cross-polarized optical microscopy. The image is completely original without editing. The nucleating point shows a pattern that resembles a lone man wearing a curious hat on top of a mountain made from organic crystals amid a sea of other crystals. The cross-polarizer modulates the brightness of the different mountain top, providing a perspective of depth. The Haiku was inspired by the man-like figure: " The scientist sits atop, Mountains of organic crystal snow, Yonder the electrons flow? - Benjamin Tee

I see some samples of creative writing as per the captions written by the scientists, as well as, their nano art.

The latest in bulletproof vests: carbon nanotubes

Amendment II; An American Combat Apparel Company as it bills itself on Facebook, is offering new bulletproof body armour utilizing RynoHide, a carbon nanotube composite. From the April 26, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

RynoHide™, the world’s first Carbon Nanotube compound for ballistic and shrapnel resistant products is now available to the personal protection equipment industry and the general public. On the cutting edge of scientific innovation, RynoHide is lighter than any other compound on the market, yet provide greater user protection from back-face deformation of projectiles. Designed to meet the needs of all military and law enforcement operations, RynoHide is also affordable for public consumers.

Here’s a 2 min. video where RynoHide’s bulletstopping capabilities are demonstrated,

Since carbon nanotubes have been compared to asbestos and there is research which indicates that they behave like asbestos fibres when inhaled (my Sept. 22, 2011 posting), I’d be a little nervous about the fibres which are spewed when the bullet hits the composite. It’s possible that these carbon nanotubes are encapsulated and are not released into the environment when a bullet or projectile hits the material but I have looked around on the Amendment II company website and was not able to find any information about safety and carbon nanotubes.

Perhaps in the excitement they forgot to include any details about the carbon nanotubes, how they are integrated into the composite, and the safety testing. The April 26, 2012 news item highlights one of the product’s big advantages,

Traditional armor is designed to stop projectiles moving thousands of feet per second from penetration and back-face deformation. Back-face deformation is the bulge that occurs in the back of the armor from a projectile hitting the front without passing completely though. Traditional armor is designed to minimize these threats by using 20 to 30 layers of a high tensile strength synthetic aramid, such as Kevlar.

The acceptable back-face deformation limit for body armor, as set by the National Institute of Justice, is 44mm, or nearly two inches. RynoHide helps body armor achieve a back-face deformation level in the low 30’s, without increasing the weight of the armor.

Less back-face deformation means less hurt on the body.

“That’s a huge advantage for the user of the armor if they get hit,” says R.G. Craig, President of Amendment II. “It could be the difference between a stay in the hospital or simply going home at the end of the day to your family.” Such protection is achieved without compromise in comfort and convenience.

The product was developed at the University of Utah’s Nano Institute in partnership with Amendment II.

Canadian firefighter declares nanotechnologies a known danger

Capt. Peter McBride Ottawa (Canada) Fire Services declared that nanotechnology has been proven unsafe at a Fire Dept. Instructors Conference (FDIC)  in Indianapolis (US), which was held April 16-21, 2012. From the April 24, 2012 article by Ed Ballam for,

Firefighters and responders have known for decades that smoke is harmful to their health, but the latest studies have shown that the microscopic materials that become airborne during fires are far more deadly than ever realized. That’s because of the proliferation of nanotechnology – particles that are one billionth of a meter in size – that are found in today’s consumer products.

Capt. Peter McBride Ottawa (Canada) Fire Services spoke of the dangers of nanotechnologies, which contain known cancer causing materials, at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. He is a safety officer in Ottawa, responsible for the health and safety of the firefighters in his department.

I’m not sure how McBride determined that these particles were cancer-causing or exactly which particles he’s discussing.  From the article,

He became acutely interested in nanotechnologies when a huge downtown sporting goods store burned and belched acrid black smoke for blocks. Carbon fiber sporting goods, including thousands of skis, burned and emitted microscopic particles that coated everything, particularly his white department-issued SUV. He noticed stubborn black deposits on the SUV that just wouldn’t come off.

Realizing smoke was an inherent hazard of firefighting, he set out to see exactly what that black goop was on his SUV and how to best protect his crews from its hazards.

And what he found is that when material with nanotechnology burns, it emits dangerous particulates.

In a sporting goods store fire, I’d expect carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles in the particulate matter as these are commonly used in sporting goods. If there were other nanoparticles created as a consequence of the fire, I’d like to know which ones.

On a more general note, we have been ingesting more nanoparticles than we know. For example, burning diesel gas which we have been inhaling for decades also emits dangerous particulates at the nanoscale as we recently found out (my Oct. 7, 2012 posting on diesel gas honey bees [scroll down 1/2 way]).

Getting back to firefighters and nanotechnology, my concern is that McBride is making a claim without supporting data as he does here in the article,

“I am not against nanotechnologies,” McBride said. “I am against us not doing anything to protect ourselves from the known dangers.” [emphasis mine]

Who knows about these dangers? I haven’t seen a single claim from a researcher about the ‘known dangers’ of nano: particles/materials/technologies. In fact, it’s the uncertainty that’s disturbing.

I’m not the only with issues about this piece, commenters have quickly noted the problems, from the article webpage (I fixed some minor typos),

  • Bmayo

I’m sorry but Captain Mc Bride is very mistaken In the world of engineering and science there is a huge difference between. .Nano and micro, micro is thousands of time larger than nano-particles. also the idea of keeping and using a the SCBA until the fire is totally out is nothing new. The fire service has been teaching this for over 30 years.


yeah, it’s just the specific mention of carcinogenicity, mentioned twice, that i want evidence for. that’s not a word you toss around casually in this industry.

Adam Sawyer

There are some legitimate health risks with certain types of combustible nanoparticles/nanofibers, but just because a product has “nanotechnology” in it does not necessarily mean it’s dangerous.  The challenge will be for fire safety researchers and toxicologists to collaborate and figure out what’s getting into the air and at what concentration.  Study it the same way plastics were studied decades ago and we’ll figure out which materials cause problems and which don’t.


Yep,,,,,The joys of Firefighting …


Very Very good article


I’m a safety trainer, and any small particulates can be hazardous, but I’d like information on the “known cancer causing materials.” I’ve never seen anything alleging that before, and if you have references, please list them.

No one could possibly fault McBride for his concerns about safety and it’s certainly true new nanotechnology-enabled products could pose special hazards. If McBride has data that supports his contention, I, like Antimatter, would like to see the references. I’d also appreciate a little more specificity with the terminology.