Monthly Archives: November 2021

Quick and efficient nanographene synthesis

Thank you to Nagoya University (Japan) for making this image available.

Caption: APEX reactions are carried out on the K, M and bay regions of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, synthesizing multiple nanographenes. These reactions can then be repeated, further increasing the number of potential nanographene structures that can be synthesized. Credit: Issey Takahashi

From a June 28, 2021 Nagoya University press release (also on EurekAlert),

A group of researchers at Nagoya University, Japan, have developed a new method for quickly and efficiently synthesizing nanographenes, a type of nanocarbon with great potential as a next generation material.

Nanographenes are the part structures of graphene, which is a sheet of carbon atoms around 3 nanometers thick with particular potential for use in semiconductor development, having electron mobility several hundred times better than current generation materials. Graphene was first isolated in 2004, a discovery which received the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, making it a very new material which is currently the subject of a great deal of research.

With magnetic and electric characteristics beyond those of graphene, nanographenes are equally of interest to scientists in the nanocarbon research field. The biggest obstacle, albeit an exciting one, faced by researchers is the sheer number of potential nanographenes. The number of potentially possible nanographene structures increases with the number of benzene rings (6 atoms of carbon in a hexagonal formation) to make them. For example, even a relatively small 10 benzene ring nanographene may have up to 16,000 variants. As each nanographene has different physical characteristics, the key to applied nanographene research is to identify the relationship between the structure and characteristics of as many nanographenes as possible.

Thus, scientists’ task is to create a nanographene library, containing data on the properties of as many nanographenes as possible. However, the current method of nanographene synthesis, known as a coupling reaction, is a multi-step process which produces one single nanographene. Thus, to create a 100-nanographene library, 100 separate coupling reactions would have to be carried out. Even this would be a significant undertaking, rendering the construction of a truly comprehensive nanographene library practically impossible.

To solve this problem, the Nagoya University research group, led by Professor Kenichiro Itami, have been working on the APEX reaction, a reaction which uses polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as templates to synthesize nanographenes. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have three areas of their structure – known as the K region, M region and bay region – which can be elongated in an APEX reaction, producing three nanographenes. These nanographenes can then be further elongated in a second reaction, meaning that a large number of nanographenes can be synthesized from a single polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon template molecule.

With Professor Itami’s group having already developed the K region APEX reaction, and another group of scientists having done so for the bay region, they turned their attention to the M region. They activated the M region using the 1950 Nobel Prize winning Diels-Alder reaction, and succeeded in carrying out an elongation reaction on the activated M region, thus rendering all three possible sites on the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons capable of synthesizing nanographenes.

The researchers were able to produce 13 nanographenes with three APEX reactions, with most of these being previously unseen structures, thus proving both the efficiency and usefulness of this new method.

This exciting new piece of research and its potential to accelerate the creation of nanographene libraries is a step towards the development of the next generation of materials, which have the potential to revolutionize semiconductors and solar energy and improve lives all around the world.

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

Diversity-oriented synthesis of nanographenes enabled by dearomative annulative π-extension by Wataru Matsuoka, Hideto Ito, David Sarlah & Kenichiro Itami. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 3940 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24261-y Published 24 June 2021

This paper is open access.

INTER/her, a talk with Camille Baker about an immersive journey inside the female body on Friday, December 3, 2021

Before getting to the announcement, this talk and Q&A (question and answer) session is being co-hosted by ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and the OCAD University/DMG Bodies in Play (BiP) initiative.

For anyone curious about OCAD, it was the Ontario College of Art and Design and then in a very odd government/marketing (?) move, they added the word university. As for DMG, in their own words and from their About page, “DMG is a not-for-profit videogame arts organization that creates space for marginalized creators to make, play and critique videogames within a cultural context.” They are located in Toronto, Ontario. Finally, the Art/Sci Salon and the Fields Institute are located at the University of Toronto.

As for the talk, here’s more from the November 28, 2021 Art/Sci Salon announcement (received via email),

Inspired by her own experience with the health care system to treat a
post-reproductive disease, interdisciplinary artist [Camille] Baker created the
project INTER/her, an immersive installation and VR [virtual reality] experience exploring
the inner world of women’s bodies and the reproductive diseases they
suffer. The project was created to open up the conversation about
phenomena experienced by women in their late 30’s (sometimes earlier)
their 40’s, and sometimes after menopause. Working in consultation
with a gynecologist, the project features interviews with several women
telling their stories. The themes in the work include issues of female
identity, sexuality, body image, loss of body parts, pain, disease, and
cancer. INTER/her has a focus on female reproductive diseases explored
through a feminist lens; as personal exploration, as a conversation
starter, to raise greater public awareness and encourage community
building. The work also represents the lived experience of women’s
pain and anger, conflicting thoughts through self-care and the growth of
disease. Feelings of mortality are explored through a medical process in
male-dominated medical institutions and a dearth of reliable
information. https://inter-her.art/ [1]

In 2021, the installation was shortlisted for the Lumen Prize.

 Join us for a talk and Q&A with the artist to discuss her work and its
future development.

 Friday, December 3,

6:00 pm EST

 Register in advance for this meeting:

https://utoronto.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0rcO6rpzsvGd057GQmTyAERmRRLI2MQ4L1

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing
information about joining the meeting.

This talk is  Co-Hosted by the ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for
Research in Mathematical Sciences and the OCAD University/DMG Bodies in
Play (BiP) initiative.

This event will be recorded and archived on the ArtSci Salon Youtube
channel

Bio

Camille Baker is a Professor in Interactive and Immersive Arts,
University for the Creative Arts [UCA], Farnham Surrey (UK). She is an
artist-performer/researcher/curator within various art forms: immersive
experiences, participatory performance and interactive art, mobile media
art, tech fashion/soft circuits/DIY electronics, responsive interfaces
and environments, and emerging media curating. Maker of participatory
performance and immersive artwork, Baker develops methods to explore
expressive non-verbal modes of communication, extended embodiment and
presence in real and mixed reality and interactive art contexts, using
XR, haptics/ e-textiles, wearable devices and mobile media. She has an
ongoing fascination with all things emotional, embodied, felt, sensed,
the visceral, physical, and relational.

Her 2018 book _New Directions in Mobile Media and Performance_ showcases
exciting approaches and artists in this space, as well as her own work.
She has been running a regular meetup group with smart/e-textile artists
and designers since 2014, called e-stitches, where participants share
their practice and facilitate workshops of new techniques and
innovations. Baker  also has been Principal Investigator for UCA for the
EU funded STARTS Ecosystem (starts.eu [2]) Apr 2019-Nov 2021 and founder
initiator for the EU WEAR Sustain project Jan 2017-April 2019
(wearsustain.eu [3]).

The EU or European Union is the agency that provided funding for S+T+Arts (Science, Technology & the Arts), which is an initiative of the European Commission’s. I gather that Baker was involved in two STARTS projects, one called the WEAR Sustain project and the other called, the STARTS Ecosystem.

A newsletter from the Pan-Canadian AI strategy folks

The AICan (Artificial Intelligence Canada) Bulletin is published by CIFAR (Canadian Institute For Advanced Research) and it is the official newsletter for the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. This is a joint production from CIFAR, Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute), Mila (Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence research institute) and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence (Toronto, Ontario).

For anyone curious about the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, first announced in the 2017 federal budget, I have a March 31, 2017 post which focuses heavily on the, then new, Vector Institute but it also contains information about the artificial intelligence scene in Canada at the time, which is at least in part still relevant today.

The AICan Bulletin October 2021 issue number 16 (The Energy and Environment Issue) is available for viewing here and includes these articles,

Equity, diversity and inclusion in AI climate change research

The effects of climate change significantly impact our most vulnerable populations. Canada CIFAR AI Chair David Rolnick (Mila) and Tami Vasanthakumaran (Girls Belong Here) share their insights and call to action for the AI research community.

Predicting the perfect storm

Canada CIFAR AI Chair Samira Kahou (Mila) is using AI to detect and predict extreme weather events to aid in disaster management and raise awareness for the climate crisis.

AI in biodiversity is crucial to our survival

Graham Taylor, a Canada CIFAR AI Chair at the Vector Institute, is using machine learning to build an inventory of life on Earth with DNA barcoding.

ISL Adapt uses ML to make water treatment cleaner & greener

Amii, the University of Alberta, and ISL Engineering explores how machine learning can make water treatment more environmentally friendly and cost-effective with the support of Amii Fellows and Canada CIFAR AI Chairs — Adam White, Martha White and Csaba Szepesvári.

This climate does not exist: Picturing impacts of the climate crisis with AI, one address at a time

Immerse yourself into this AI-driven virtual experience based on empathy to visualize the impacts of climate change on places you hold dear with Mila.

The bulletin also features AI stories from Canada and the US, as well as, events and job postings.

I found two different pages where you can subscribe. First, there’s this subscription page (which is at the bottom of the October 2021 bulletin and then, there’s this page, which requires more details from you.

I’ve taken a look at the CIFAR website and can’t find any of the previous bulletins on it, which would seem to make subscription the only means of access.

Magnetic nanopowder for mobile 6G technology

It seems a little early to be talking about 6G technology, given that in Canada 5G technology is not fully implemented (from a February 8, 2021 article [unchanged as November 18, 2021] by Stephen Clark for whistleout.ca), Note: A link has been removed,

Should I Buy a 5G Phone Now?

There is no rush to buy a 5G phone for most Canadians. Current 5G smartphones offer other premium features such as leading edge Qualcomm CPU performance, brilliant OLED screens and recording video at 8K resolution. These devices can also cost well over $1,000, so you don’t shop for a 5G phone if that’s the only premium feature you are looking for. We expect that Canadians won’t see coast-to-coast coverage by 5G cell towers until at least 2022 [emphasis mine]. Besides, Canada’s 4G LTE mobile performance is among the fastest in the world, serves 99% of Canadians and 4G smartphones will continue to be supported for many years.

A study released by OpenSignal found Canadian 5G networks among the top 5 best in the world for mobile gaming. …

It’s good not to get too focused on one’s naval as there are many other countries in the world and it’s likely at least some, if not most, are more advanced with their 5G technology deployment and are looking forward to 6G. (See this November 1, 2021 University of Tokyo news release “Japan and Finland collaborate to develop 6G” on EurekAlert.)

Now to 6G news, this June 28, 2021 news item on phys.org describes a new technique for producing the new materials necessary for a future 6G deployment,

Material scientists have developed a fast method for producing epsilon iron oxide and demonstrated its promise for next-generation communications devices. Its outstanding magnetic properties make it one of the most coveted materials, such as for the upcoming 6G generation of communication devices and for durable magnetic recording. The work was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry C, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

A June 23, 2021 Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) press release, which originated the news item, describes the work in detail,

Iron oxide (III) is one of the most widespread oxides on Earth. It is mostly found as the mineral hematite (or alpha iron oxide, α-Fe2O3). Another stable and common modification is maghemite (or gamma modification, γ-Fe2O3). The former is widely used in industry as a red pigment, and the latter as a magnetic recording medium. The two modifications differ not only in crystalline structure ( alpha-iron oxide has hexagonal syngony and gamma-iron oxide has cubic syngony) but also in magnetic properties.

In addition to these forms of iron oxide (III), there are more exotic modifications such as epsilon-, beta-, zeta-, and even glassy. The most attractive  phase is epsilon iron oxide, ε-Fe2O3. This modification has an extremely high coercive force (the ability of the material to resist an external magnetic field). The strength reaches 20 kOe at room temperature, which is comparable to the parameters of magnets based on expensive rare-earth elements. Furthermore, the material absorbs electromagnetic radiation in the sub-terahertz frequency range (100-300 GHz) through the effect of natural ferromagnetic resonance.The frequency of such resonance is one of the criteria for the use of materials in wireless communications devices – the 4G standard uses megahertz and 5G uses tens of gigahertz. There are plans to use the sub-terahertz range as a working range in the sixth generation (6G) wireless technology, which is being prepared for active introduction in our lives from the early 2030s.

The resulting material is suitable for the production of converting units or absorber circuits at these frequencies. For example, by using composite ε-Fe2O3 nanopowders it will be possible to make paints that absorb electromagnetic waves and thus shield rooms from extraneous signals, and protect signals from interception from the outside. The ε-Fe2O3 itself can also be used in 6G reception devices.

Epsilon iron oxide is an extremely rare and difficult form of iron oxide to obtain. Today, it is produced in very small quantities, with the process itself taking up to a month. This, of course, rules out its widespread application. The authors of the study developed a method for accelerated synthesis of epsilon iron oxide capable of reducing the synthesis time to one day (that is, to carry out a full cycle of more than 30 times faster!) and increasing the quantity of the resulting product. The technique is simple to reproduce, cheap and can be easily implemented in industry, and the materials required for the synthesis – iron and silicon – are among the most abundant elements on Earth.

“Although the epsilon-iron oxide phase was obtained in pure form relatively long ago, in 2004, it still has not found industrial application due to the complexity of its synthesis, for example as a medium for magnetic – recording. We have managed to simplify the technology considerably,” says Evgeny Gorbachev, a PhD student in the Department of Materials Sciences at Moscow State University and the first author of the work.

The key to successful application of materials with record-breaking characteristics is research into their fundamental physical properties. Without in-depth study, the material may be undeservedly forgotten for many years, as has happened more than once in the history of science. It was the tandem of materials scientists at Moscow State University, who synthesised the compound, and physicists at MIPT, who studied it in detail, that made the development a success.

“Materials with such high ferromagnetic resonance frequencies have enormous potential for practical applications. Today, terahertz technology is booming: it is the Internet of Things, it is ultra-fast communications, it is more narrowly focused scientific devices, and it is next-generation medical technology. While the 5G standard, which was very popular last year, operates at frequencies in the tens of gigahertz, our materials are opening the door to significantly higher frequencies (hundreds of gigahertz), which means that we are already dealing with 6G standards and higher. Now it’s up to engineers, we are happy to share the information with them and look forward to being able to hold a 6G phone in our hands,” says Dr. Liudmila Alyabyeva, Ph.D., senior researcher at the MIPT Laboratory of Terahertz Spectroscopy , where the terahertz research was carried out.

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

Tuning the particle size, natural ferromagnetic resonance frequency and magnetic properties of ε-Fe2O3 nanoparticles prepared by a rapid sol–gel method by Evgeny Gorbachev, Miroslav Soshnikov, Mingxi Wu, Liudmila Alyabyeva, Dmitrii Myakishev, Ekaterina Kozlyakova, Vasilii Lebedev, Evgeny Anokhin, Boris Gorshunov, Oleg Brylev, Pavel Kazin, Lev Truso. J. Mater. Chem. C, 2021,9, 6173-6179 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1039/D1TC01242H First published 26 Apr 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanomaterial shapes and forms affect passage through blood brain barrier (BBB)

I meant to get this published a lot sooner.

There seems to be a lot of excitement about this research. I got an embargoed press release further in advance than usual and now the embargo is lifted, it’s everywhere except, at the time of this writing (0920 PDT July 6, 2021), on the publisher’s (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS]) website.

A July 5, 2021 news item on Medical Express announces the news,

Nanomaterials found in consumer and health-care products can pass from the bloodstream to the brain side of a blood-brain barrier model with varying ease depending on their shape—creating potential neurological impacts that could be both positive and negative, a new study reveals.

A July 5, 2021 University of Birmingham press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves into the details,

Scientists found that metal-based nanomaterials such as silver and zinc oxide can cross an in vitro model of the ‘blood brain barrier’ (BBB) as both particles and dissolved ions – adversely affecting the health of astrocyte cells, which control neurological responses.

But the researchers also believe that their discovery will help to design safer nanomaterials and could open up new ways of targeting hard-to-reach locations when treating brain disease.

Publishing its findings today in PNAS, an international team of researchers discovered that the physiochemical properties of metallic nanomaterials influence how effective they are at penetrating the in vitro model of the blood brain barrier and their potential levels of toxicity in the brain.

Higher concentration of certain shapes of silver nanomaterials and zinc oxide may impair cell growth and cause increased permeability of the BBB, which can lead to the BBB allowing easier brain access to these compounds.

The BBB plays a vital role in brain health by restricting the passage of various chemical substances and foreign molecules into the brain from surrounding blood vessels.

Impaired BBB integrity compromises the health of the central nervous system and increased permeability to foreign substances may eventually cause damage to the brain (neurotoxicity).

Study co-author Iseult Lynch, Professor of Environmental Nanosciences at the University of Birmingham, commented: “We found that silver and zinc oxide nanomaterials, which are widely used in various daily consumer and health-care products, passed through our in vitro BBB model, in the form of both particles and dissolved ions.

“Variation in shape, size and chemical composition can dramatically influence nanomaterials penetration through the (in vitro) blood brain barrier. This is of paramount importance for tailored medical application of nanomaterials – for example targeted delivery systems, bioimaging and assessing possible risks associated with each type of metallic nanomaterial.”

The BBB is a physical barrier composed of a tightly packed layer of endothelial cells surrounding the brain which separates the blood from the cerebrospinal fluid allowing the transfer of oxygen and essential nutrients but preventing the access of most molecules.

Recent studies found nanomaterials such as zinc oxide can accumulate on the brain side of the in vitro BBB in altered states which can affect neurological activity and brain health. Inhaled, ingested, and dermally-applied nanomaterials can reach the blood stream and a small fraction of these may cross the BBB – impacting on the central nervous system.

The researchers synthesised a library of metallic nanomaterials with different particle compositions, sizes, and shapes – evaluating their ability to penetrate the BBB using an in vitro BBB model, followed by assessment of their behaviour and fate in and beyond the model BBB.

Co-author Zhiling Guo, a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, commented: “”Understanding these materials’ behaviour once past the blood brain barrier is vital for evaluating the neurological effects arising from their unintentional entry into the brain. Neurotoxicity potential is greater in some materials than others, due to the different ways their shapes allow them to move and be transported.”

The research team tested varied sizes of cerium oxide and iron oxide, along with zinc oxide and four different shapes of silver – spherical (Ag NS), disc-like (Ag ND), rod-shaped (Ag NR) and nanowires (Ag NW).

Zinc oxide slipped through the in vitro BBB with the greatest ease. The researchers found spherical and disc-like silver nanomaterials underwent different dissolution regimes – gradually transforming to silver-sulfur compounds within the BBB, creating ‘easier’ entry pathways.

Zinc oxide is used as a bulking agent and a colorant. In over-the-counter drug products, it is used as a skin protectant and a sunscreen – reflecting and scattering UV radiation to help reduce or prevent sunburn and premature aging of the skin. Silver is used in cosmetic and skincare products such as anti-aging creams.

There’s still a long way to go with this research. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the term ‘in vitro’, the rough translation is ‘in glass’ meaning test tubes, petri dishes, etc. are used. Even though the research paper has been peer-reviewed (not a perfect process), once it becomes available there will be added scrutiny from scientists with regard to how the research was conducted and whether or not the conclusions drawn are reasonable. One more question should also be asked, are the results reproducible by other scientists?

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

Biotransformation modulates the penetration of metallic nanomaterials across an artificial blood–brain barrier model by Zhiling Guo, Peng Zhang, Swaroop Chakraborty, Andrew J Chetwynd, Fazel Abdolahpur Monikh, Christopher Stark, Hanene Ali-Boucetta, Sandra Wilson, Iseult Lynch, and Eugenia Valsami-Jones. PNAS 118 (28) e2105245118 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2105245118 Published: July 13, 2021

This paper appears to be open access.

Job at the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA); application deadline: December 15, 2021

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is looking for a research associate. Before launching into the job description, here’s a little more about the CCA from their About page,

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) [which include The Royal Society of Canada {RSC}, The Canadian Academy of Engineering {CAE}, and The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences {CAHS}] is a not-for-profit organization that convenes the best experts in their respective fields to assess the evidence on complex scientific topics of public interest to inform decision-making in Canada. Led by a Board of Directors and guided by a Scientific Advisory Committee and its founding Academies, the CCA’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social, and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.

Assessments are conducted by multidisciplinary and multisectoral panels of experts from across Canada and abroad who volunteer their time and lend their expertise and knowledge to the CCA. The overarching goal of CCA assessments is to evaluate the best available evidence on particularly complex issues where the science may be challenging to understand, contradictory, or difficult to assemble. Upon completion, assessments provide key decision-makers, as well as researchers and stakeholders, with high-quality information and evidence to develop informed and innovative public policy. Assessments can be referred to the CCA (or “sponsored”) by foundations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, or any level of government.

The CCA assessment process is guided by a professional staff and is completed through in-person meetings, teleconferences, and hundreds of hours of research. To protect the independence of the assessment process, sponsors do not participate in the production of assessments, review drafts of reports, or propose any changes to reports before their release. This process ensures the highest integrity and objectivity of the work. All reports undergo formal peer review and are made available to the public free of charge in both official languages.

Now for the job description and other particulars, from the November 22, 2021 job posting page on the CCA website,

Job Title: Research Associate

Organization: Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

Job Categories: Research and Analysis; Evidence-Based Decision-Making

Location: Ottawa, Ontario [under current COVID-19 restrictions will be working remotely but expected to work in Ottawa at future date]

Application deadline: December 15, 2021

Position Status: Full time, permanent

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is looking for an experienced research associate to join our team of diverse professionals committed to supporting evidence-informed policy and practice in Canada.  

Reporting directly to one or more Project Directors as a member of one or more assessment teams, Research Associates carry out research and writing in support of multidisciplinary expert panels on wide ranging policy areas related to innovation, economics, science and society, health and life sciences, environment, energy and security.

Responsibilities include: Leading the development and execution of assigned elements of assessment-specific research plans in support of panel deliberations and report production, including: conduct of literature searches, synthesis of material and data and determining relevance of data for purposes of study; Draft assessment report content; Provide leadership in the design and implementation of the assessment specific research plan; and, Engage in active relationship management with external contributors, including panel members (correspondence, co-production of material, facilitating feedback, etc.).

Requirements

At least 5 years of relevant work experience; Ability to quickly develop a working knowledge of unfamiliar subject matter; and synthesize complex discussions, documentation, and literature into summary documents; Excellent written communication skills ― particularly an ability to translate scientific concepts and results into text for non-specialists; Team player with a commitment to excellence; Excellent oral communication skills; and A [sic] post-graduate or professional degree.

Assets

A background in economics or other social sciences; and French bilingualism.

How to Apply

Please send a cover letter and résumé summarizing your experience and suitability for the position to careers@cca-reports.ca by December 15, 2021.
-Why are you interested in this position with the CCA?
-What are your long-term career goals, and how will this position with CCA contribute to meeting those goals?
-What strengths and areas of expertise would you bring this position?
-What else would you like us to know about you?

We thank all applicants and will contact those selected for an interview. CCA is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Please let us know if you require accommodation.

CCA staff are currently working remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. The new hire will work remotely, until those restrictions are lifted, at which time they will be expected to be able to work on-site at our office in Ottawa.

Applicants must be legally eligible to work in Canada.

Well, well, well. No mention of a salary? What an intriguing approach to recruiting new staff members.

I’m also intrigued by this responsibility, “… Engage in active relationship management with external contributors, including panel members (correspondence, co-production of material, facilitating feedback, etc.).” Relationship management, eh?

First off, there’s always at least one prima donna in the group, someone who requires delicate handling and, often, that person is not particularly pleasant to deal with. As well, imagine getting people to deliver materials on deadline and these people are volunteers, which means more occasions for delicate handling.

I’m struck by this requirement, “Excellent written communication skills ― particularly an ability to translate scientific concepts and results into text for non-specialists.”

I have read more than one CCA assessment and I would not describe any of them as excellent writing. They are written in a clear, competent fashion but excellent writing is something more than competent; it requires imagination and, as far as I can tell, that quality is not encouraged at the CCA.

On the plus side, this is an opportunity to make a lot of contacts both nationally and internationally and the work will be varied as the assessments cover quite a range of topics from Public Safety in the Digital Age to Canada’s Carbon Sink Potential to The Socio-Economic Impacts of Science and Health Misinformation to AI for Science and Engineering, and more.

Good luck!

Graphene in art preservation and restoration

A July 5, 2021 news item on phys.org announces a new technology for preserving and restoring your paintings,

The exposure of colors used in artworks to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light in the presence of oxidizing agents triggers color degradation, fading and yellowing. These degradation mechanisms can lead to irreversible alteration of artworks. Protective varnishes and coatings currently used to protect art paintings are not acceptable solutions, since their removal requires the use of solvents, which can affect adversely the underlying work surface.

A team of researchers from the Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences of Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH/ ICE-HT), the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Patras, and the Center for Colloid and Surface Science (CSGI) of the University of Florence, led by Professor Costas Galiotis, had the innovative ideato use graphene veils for the protection of paintings against environmental degradation.

A July 2, 2021 Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH) press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Since its isolation in 2004 by Geim [Andre Geim] and Novoselov [Konstantin Novoselov] from the University of Manchester (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010), graphene has been termed as a ‘wonder material’ due to its exceptional properties that have already been used in many applications and products. The graphene veil used in this work is a flexible, transparent film, produced by the technique of chemical vapor deposition. It has a monoatomic thickness and, since there are no size limitations in the other dimensions (length and width), it can cover any required large surface areas.

The results from measurements performed in the above mentioned laboratories, showed that this membrane is impermeable to moisture, the oxidizing agents and other harmful pollutants and also can absorb a large amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation. Finally, in contrast to other protective means, it is demonstrated that these graphene coatings are relatively easy to remove without damaging the surface of the artworks.

[downloaded from https://phys.org/news/2021-07-graphene-paving-methods-art.html]

Before getting to the link and citation for the paper, here’s the abstract, which helps fill n a few more details,

Modern and contemporary art materials are generally prone to irreversible colour changes upon exposure to light and oxidizing agents. Graphene can be produced in thin large sheets, blocks ultraviolet light, and is impermeable to oxygen, moisture and corrosive agents; therefore, it has the potential to be used as a transparent layer for the protection of art objects in museums, during storage and transportation. Here we show that a single-layer or multilayer graphene veil, produced by chemical vapour deposition, can be deposited over artworks to protect them efficiently against colour fading, with a protection factor of up to 70%. We also show that this process is reversible since the graphene protective layer can be removed using a soft rubber eraser without causing any damage to the artwork. We have also explored a complementary contactless graphene-based route for colour protection that is based on the deposition of graphene on picture framing glass for use when the directapplication of graphene is not feasible due to surface roughness or artwork fragility. Overall, the present results are a proof of concept of the potential use of graphene as an effective and removable protective advanced material to prevent colour fading in artworks.

And now, a link to and a citation for the paper,

Preventing colour fading in artworks with graphene veils by M. Kotsidi, G. Gorgolis, M. G. Pastore Carbone, G. Anagnostopoulos, G. Paterakis, G. Poggi, A. Manikas, G. Trakakis, P. Baglioni & C. Galiotis. Nature Nanotechnology (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-021-00934-z Published 01 July 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Clean up soil and water or deliver drugs with nanobots

Nanobots/nanorobots/nanoswimmers or whatever they’re called, could prove to be quite useful for environmental remediation efforts or medical delivery systems according to a June 29, 2021 news item on Nanowerk (Note: One link has been removed),

CU Boulder [University of Colorado at Boulder] researchers have discovered that minuscule, self-propelled particles called “nanoswimmers” can escape from mazes as much as 20 times faster than other, passive particles, paving the way for their use in everything from industrial clean-ups to medication delivery.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“Mechanisms of transport enhancement for self-propelled nanoswimmers in a porous matrix”), describe how these tiny synthetic nanorobots are incredibly effective at escaping cavities within maze-like environments. These nanoswimmers could one day be used to remediate contaminated soil, improve water filtration or even deliver drugs to targeted areas of the body, like within dense tissues.

A June 29, 2021 University of Colorado at Boulder news release (also on EurekAlert) by Kelsey Simpkins, which originated the news item, explains what makes these nanobots different,

“This is the discovery of an entirely new phenomenon that points to a broad potential range of applications,” said Daniel Schwartz, senior author of the paper and Glenn L. Murphy Endowed Professor of chemical and biological engineering.

These nanoswimmers came to the attention of the theoretical physics community about 20 years ago, and people imagined a wealth of real-world applications, according to Schwartz. But unfortunately these tangible applications have not yet been realized, in part because it’s been quite difficult to observe and model their movement in relevant environments–until now.

These nanoswimmers, also called Janus particles (named after a Roman two-headed god), are tiny spherical particles composed of polymer or silica, engineered with different chemical properties on each side of the sphere. One hemisphere promotes chemical reactions to occur, but not the other. This creates a chemical field which allows the particle to take energy from the environment and convert it into directional motion–also known as self-propulsion.

“In biology and living organisms, cell propulsion is the dominant mechanism that causes motion to occur, and yet, in engineered applications, it’s rarely used. Our work suggests that there is a lot we can do with self-propulsion,” said Schwartz.

In contrast, passive particles which move about randomly (a kind of motion known as Brownian motion) are known as Brownian particles. They’re named after 19th century scientist Robert Brown, who studied such things as the random motion of pollen grains suspended in water.

The researchers converted these passive Brownian particles into Janus particles (nanoswimmers) for this research. Then they made these self-propelled nanoswimmers try to move through a maze, made of a porous medium, and compared how efficiently and effectively they found escape routes compared to the passive, Brownian particles.

The results were shocking, even to the researchers.

The Janus particles were incredibly effective at escaping cavities within the maze–as much as 20 times faster than the Brownian particles–because they moved strategically along the cavity walls searching for holes, which allowed them to find the exits very quickly. Their self-propulsion also appeared to give them a boost of energy needed to pass through the exit holes within the maze.

“We know we have a lot of applications for nanorobots, especially in very confined environments, but we didn’t really know how they move and what the advantages are compared to traditional Brownian particles. That’s why we started a comparison between these two,” said Haichao Wu, lead author of the paper and graduate student in chemical and biological engineering. “And we found that nanoswimmers are able to use a totally different way to search around these maze environments.”

While these particles are incredibly small, around 250 nanometers–just wider than a human hair (160 nanometers) but still much, much smaller than the head of a pin (1-2 millimeters)–the work is scalable. This means that these particles could navigate and permeate spaces as microscopic as human tissue to carry cargo and deliver drugs, as well as through soil underground or beaches of sand to remove unwanted pollutants.

Swarming nanoswimmers 

The next step in this line of research is to understand how nanoswimmers behave in groups within confined environments, or in combination with passive particles.

“In open environments, nanoswimmers are known to display emergent behavior–behavior that is more than the sum of its parts–that mimics the swarming motion of flocks of birds or schools of fish. That’s been a lot of the impetus for studying them,” said Schwartz.

One of the main obstacles to reaching this goal is the difficulty involved in being able to observe and understand the 3D movement of these tiny particles deep within a material comprising complex interconnected spaces.

Wu overcame this hurdle by using refractive index liquid in the porous medium, which is liquid that affects how fast light travels through a material. This made the maze essentially invisible, while allowing the observation of 3D particle motion using a technique known as double-helix point spread function microscopy.

This enabled Wu to track three-dimensional trajectories of the particles and create visual representations, a major advancement from typical 2D modeling of nanoparticles. Without this advancement, it would not be possible to better understand the movement and behavior of either individuals or groups of nanoswimmers.

“This paper is the first step: It provides a model system and the imaging platform that enables us to answer these questions,” said Wu. “The next step is to use this model with a larger population of nanoswimmers, to study how they are able to interact with each other in a confined environment.”

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

Mechanisms of transport enhancement for self-propelled nanoswimmers in a porous matrix by Haichao Wu, Benjamin Greydanus, and Daniel K. Schwartz. PNAS July 6, 2021 118 (27) e2101807118; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2101807118

This paper is behind a paywall.

Heritage science at the University of Kentucky (US)

Before launching into the news, there is very interesting terminology coming up (for a Canadian anyway). The University of Kentucky is also referred to as UK, not to be confused with the United Kingdom, which also uses those initials. As well, the reference to ‘commonwealth’ is a reference to the state of Kentucky’s full name. From the Commonwealth (U.S. State) Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

Commonwealth is a term used by four of the 50 states of the United States in their full official state names. “Commonwealth” is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good.[1] The four states – Kentucky,[2] Massachusetts,[3] Pennsylvania,[4] and Virginia[5] – are all in the Eastern United States, and prior to the formation of the United States in 1776, were British colonial possessions (although Kentucky did not exist as an independent polity under British rule, instead being a part of Virginia). As such, they share a strong influence of English common law in some of their laws and institutions.[6][7]

On to the news. A November 5, 2021 University of Kentucky (UK) news release (also on EurekAlert but published November 8, 2021) by Lindsey Piercy, Alicia Gregory, and Ben Corwin describes what is being planned at the new EduceLab with a $14 million grant (Note 1: Links have been removed; Note 2: A video of the research team discussing EduceLab is embedded with the news release on the University of Kentucky website),

It’s the signature on a bourbon barrel — it’s the ancient footprints in Mammoth Cave.

Heritage science is all around us and has deep roots in the Commonwealth.

Kentucky’s story begins in prehistoric times, when mammoths roamed the Ohio River Valley at Big Bone Lick.

Now, thanks to a $14 million infrastructure grant from the National Science Foundation, the University of Kentucky is poised to tell that story in new, groundbreaking ways through the lens of heritage science.

“We are at a turning point,” Brent Seales, UK Alumni Professor in the Department of Computer Science, said. “Science and technology present a host of exciting opportunities to the heritage sector. They must not be wasted.”

For more than 20 years, Seales has been working to create and use high-tech, non-invasive tools to rescue hidden texts and restore them to humanity. Dubbed “the man who can read the unreadable,” he has garnered international recognition for his “virtual unwrapping” work to read damaged ancient artifacts — such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and Herculaneum papyrus rolls — without ever physically opening them.

Now, Seales is expanding his research.

Using the NSF infrastructure funding, he has gathered a team of experts from the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences to build EduceLab — UK’s vision for next-generation heritage science. The collaborative facility will focus on developing innovative artificial intelligence (AI) solutions for the unique challenges presented by cultural heritage objects.

Heritage science draws on engineering, the humanities and the sciences to enhance the understanding of our past, inform the present and guide our future. Ultimately, the goal is to enrich people’s lives and celebrate both the commonality and diversity of the human experience.

“The word Educe means ‘to bring out from data’ or ‘to develop something that is latent but not on its own explicit.’ That’s what we’ve been doing with our virtual unwrapping work. And that context has created an opportunity to expand the very focused question of, ‘Can we read what’s inside a scroll?’ to a broader question of, ‘What heritage science questions can we answer right here in Kentucky,’ Seales explained. “My goal is to rally some of the best researchers here around that theme and build a world-class laboratory that allows us to pose and then answer some of those questions.”

And the quest for answers has already begun.

“Here at UK, we are tremendously well positioned to bring in collaborations, because we have all major colleges in one contiguous campus,” Hugo Reyes-Centeno, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, added. “I see tremendous potential to integrate quantitative analysis and new methodologies that will inform the theoretical perspectives that are the hallmark of the social sciences.”

Multimillion Dollar Renovation to Enhance William S. Webb Museum

EduceLab will function as a user facility for the heritage community and have its home base in UK’s William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, located on Export Street in Lexington, next to the main campus.

Founded in 1931, the museum remains dedicated to enhancing knowledge about and preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage.

The Webb Museum houses a world-renowned archaeological collection from more than 250 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places — including Native American, Revolutionary War- and Civil War-era sites.

The collections provide a link to the roots of the Commonwealth and its people. Additionally, the immense research archives provide educational services, practical training and research opportunities for the campus community and beyond — making it the ideal location for EduceLab.

“Within Kentucky, it’s probably a well-kept secret that we have some of the best collections that relate to this question of the first agricultural populations in Eastern North America. The Webb Museum, which is primarily a research center, is not your classic bricks and mortar display. We maintain the collections for the state of Kentucky for research purposes,” Crothers [George Crothers, Director, William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology] said. “This is going to significantly impact what we do in the museum, and in archaeology in general, because it’s providing us access to the most sophisticated and high-level equipment, which we didn’t have before.”

EduceLab has four parts: FLEX, BENCH, MOBILE and CYBER.

BENCH

Modern technology is key to understanding how relics of our past were made.

BENCH will work to acquire the instruments needed to conduct leading-edge materials science, which will help establish a comprehensive workflow.

“My role is to bring the perspective of materials characterization. As a materials engineer, I look at what materials are made of. That helps us understand how a specimen was made in the first place and the technology that was used to create it. And I apply that to metals and alloys or ceramics that are used in industry, but we can also apply that to cultural heritage artifacts,” John Balk, William T. Bryan Professor of Materials Engineering and associate dean for research and graduate studies in UK Engineering, said. “It’s definitely a new application space for me, but we can apply these scientific techniques and really learn about the material — the artifact — and put that in the right context of cultural heritage.”

FLEX

In 2016, Seales’ team developed the Volume Cartographer, a revolutionary computer program for locating and mapping 2D surfaces within a 3D object. The software pipeline is used with micro-CT to generate extremely high-resolution images — enabling the ability to read a document without ever needing to physically open it. The charred scroll from En Gedi was the first complete text to be revealed using the software.

While the first-of-its-kind software has profoundly impacted history and literature, not all damaged artifacts are created equal.

Seales and his team have often found it difficult to use equipment that is poorly suited for the odd shapes and sizes — so they decided to build their own.

“With the FLEX cluster, we will have a prototype environment where we can envision, build and test custom instrument configurations built around the heritage object under study,” Seales said. “That is truly a novel approach not seen anywhere else at the mid-scale level.”

MOBILE

It’s one thing to bring an object into the lab. It’s another to go to the object in the field.

By setting up in the parking lot of a museum or by collecting data at an archeological site, the MOBILE team will take EduceLab on the road.

Suzanne Smith, along with faculty members Sean Bailey and Mike Sama, will deploy the use of unmanned aerial systems for field campaigns. “And in that field campaign, we do all kinds of measurements from the air over a larger area,” Smith, director of UK Unmanned Systems Research Consortium, explained. “It’s using all different kinds of sensors that can give different perspectives on the shapes that are being measured, and we can even see through some of the materials — giving us the historical context of that whole area. It’s just such a bigger scale of where that history has happened.”

Additionally, the MOBILE team will use external displays for community involvement. “They can actually see this information coming in,” Smith said. “There are going to be exciting discoveries that happen in the moment, and the public will be able to be right there.”

MOBILE TO CYBER

While MOBILE oversees collecting data, CYBER will be tasked with generating and sharing the data.

As the link between MOBILE and CYBER, that’s where Corey Baker’s expertise in wireless communications comes in. CYBER will be critical when helping to further drive advancements in drone fleets.

“There are a lot of devices in use when it comes to the unmanned vehicles component. They will pick up data and transfer data. But many times, they may not have internet connectivity,” Baker, an assistant professor in computer science, said. “My research focuses on the question, when the internet is limited or nonexistent, how do you build applications and systems to disseminate information?”

Additionally, Baker believes technology should be an enabler not just for researchers, but for the entire community. “These types of projects are not just designed to produce something that looks fancy. But it’s designed to make a difference.”

Students Remain Key in Unlocking Sealed Secrets

Over the years, this team of UK faculty members has been as committed to developing students’ talents. By engaging in hands-on research, they’re able to determine an area of interest and jump start their careers. 

“I never would have imagined that I would go into academia to pursue some of the questions that always interested me. But if it were not for that undergraduate research experience that ultimately led me to Europe and to the discovery of this field of heritage science, I probably wouldn’t be here now,” Reyes-Centeno said. “The undergraduate research component is certainly something we’ll be continuing to develop for our students. Our students must have those opportunities.”

The Promise Moving Forward

Seales is considered the foremost expert in the digital restoration of cultural antiquities. To this day, his quest to uncover ancient wisdom is ever evolving.

Overcoming damage incurred by time is no small challenge. But Seales, and his dedicated team, are committed to conquering the seemingly impossible.

“We’re in a time now where our cultural heritage is the key to understanding and embracing our diversity,” he said. “Focusing on heritage science can be key to unlocking, in a positive way, how that heritage can help us understand each other, collaborate together and shape our future. We plan to keep showing the world what can be done, right here at UK.”

You can find out more about EduceLab here.

Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN)

If I understand the message from the Canadian Black Scientists Network’s (CBSN) president, Professor Maydianne CB Andrade correctly, the first meeting was in July 2020 and during that meeting the Canadian Black Science Network (CBXN) was born and the website was established (in August 2021?).

The Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN) is a national coalition of Black people possessing or pursuing higher degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine/Health (STEMM), together with Allies who are senior leaders with a demonstrated commitment to action for Black inclusion. Our network is young and growing. We were founded by a small group of faculty and held our first meeting in July 2020. Since then, we have expanded to include hundreds of members from across the country, including academics, graduate students and postdocs, research administrators, and STEMM practitioners. We have established a very active steering committee of volunteers, an online presence, and are increasingly recognized as the face of a multidisciplinary, national vanguard of Black excellence in STEMM.

….

We focus on those who identify as Black, which we define as those of Black African descent, which includes those who identify as Black Africans, and those found worldwide who identify as descendants of Black African peoples. We acknowledge and will be open to working in partnership with other organizations that focus on dismantling the challenges, discrimination, and barriers to inclusion in STEMM that are experienced by others.  We simultaneously emphasize the need to maintain our network’s focus on Black Canadians. Deliberate, tailored interventions for Black communities are required to remove the long-standing discrimination, exclusion, and oppression that was initially created to justify slavery, and the ways in which those structures and stereotypes still manifest in systematic anti-Black racism in the lives of Canadians (see: the United Nations Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its mission to Canada). We will not shirk from pointing to these realities, but will maintain a strong commitment to joining with all Canadians to build a more equitable society. 

Prof Maydianne CB Andrade
Inaugural President & Co-Founder
August 10, 2021

They’ve already been in involved in a number of media programmes and events. That’s a lot to get done (i.e., establishing a network, participating on [10 – 13] panels, podcasts, etc., and organizing a conference [BE-STEMM conference for January 30 – February 2, 2022], developing sponsorships, putting together a website, and more) in a little over 18 months.

Funding, conference, award-winning CBC programme

They must have gotten money from somewhere and while they don’t spell it out, you can find out more about the CBSN’s sponsors (i.e., funders and other supporters) here. As one would expect, you’ll find the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Natural Research Council of Canada (NRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Information about the BE-STEMM Conference (January 30 – February 2, 2022) can be found here,

We are pleased to announce our first annual conference for Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine/Health (BE-STEMM 2022).

This virtual, interdisciplinary conference will highlight established and rising star Black Canadians in STEMM fields through plenary talks and concurrent talks sessions. Three days of academic programming will be anchored by a fourth day dedicated to leadership summits aimed at sharing best practices for actions supporting justice for Black Canadians in STEMM across sectors, educational levels, professional roles, and intersectional identities. Other highlights include a career fair, public panels and talks, and sessions featuring research of high school and undergraduate students.

Funded by grants from CIHR, NRC, NSERC, FRQNT [Fonds de recherche du Québec], and supported by MITACS [Canadian, national, not-for-profit organization designing and delivering research and training programs] and several academic partners, this bilingual, accessible conference invites all to attend. Black Canadians, Indigenous Canadians, and Allies of all identities from across the STEMM landscape are welcome. Visit this site often for more details on how to participate or become a sponsor.

The timing for the establishment of a Canadian Black Scientists Network couldn’t be much better. Just months after the July 2020 meeting, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) radio broadcasts a February 16, 2021 interview featuring Maydianne Andrade and Kevin Hewitt, co-founders of the Canadian Black Scientists Network, on the Mainstreet NS [news stories?] with Jeff Douglas.

On February 27, 2021, CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme broadcasts an award-winning, three-part special “Black in science: The legacy of racism in science and how Black scientists are moving the dial,” which featured an interview with Angela Saini (author of 2019’s SUPERIOR; The Return of Race Science), as well as, Prof Maydianne CB Andrade (CBSN Inaugural President & Co-Founder), and many others.

The 2021 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Kavli Science Journalism Award for “Black in science …,” was announced November 10, 2021,

Audio

Gold Award:

Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro

CBC/Radio-Canada

“Quirks & Quarks: Black in science special”

Feb. 27, 2021

Buckiewicz and Mortillaro, producers for a special edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s long-running “Quirks & Quarks” program, looked at the past and future of Black people in science. The episode examined the history of biased and false “race science” that led to misunderstanding and mistreatment of Black people by the scientific and medical community, creating obstacles for them to participate in the scientific process. Buckiewicz and Mortillaro spoke to Black researchers about their work and how they are trying to increase recognition for the contributions of Black scientists and build more opportunities and representation across all disciplines of science. Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science journalist, called the program “unflinching in describing science’s racist history, such as how Carl Linnaeus classified people by skin color and how Black scientists have been intentionally marginalized and pushed out of research.” Through a variety of interviews with expert sources, she said, the episode illuminates the work required to make science more equitable. Rich Monastersky, chief features editor for Nature in Washington, D.C., said: “The show explored the difficult and important topic of racism in science—from its historical roots to the impact that it still has and to the ways that researchers are combating the problem. It should be required listening for all students studying science—as well as practicing scientists.” Commenting on the award, Buckiewicz and Mortillaro said: “We often think of the practice of science as being this unflappable, objective quest for knowledge, but it’s about time that we face some hard truths about the way science has been misused to justify the mistreatment of generations of people. With this radio special we really wanted to shed light on the long legacy of racism in science and unpack some of the ways we can do science better.”

Congratulations to Amanda Buckiewicz and Nicole Mortillaro; good luck to the CBSN; and thank you to Alon Eisenstein (https://twitter.com/AlonEisenstein) for the November 20, 2021 tweet that led me to the CBSN.