Monthly Archives: December 2023

FrogHeart’s 2023 comes to an end as 2024 comes into view

My personal theme for this last year (2023) and for the coming year was and is: catching up. On the plus side, my 2023 backlog (roughly six months) to be published was whittled down considerably. On the minus side, I start 2024 with a backlog of two to three months.

2023 on this blog had a lot in common with 2022 (see my December 31, 2022 posting), which may be due to what’s going on in the world of emerging science and technology or to my personal interests or possibly a bit of both. On to 2023 and a further blurring of boundaries:

Energy, computing and the environment

The argument against paper is that it uses up resources, it’s polluting, it’s affecting the environment, etc. Somehow the part where electricity which underpins so much of our ‘smart’ society does the same thing is left out of the discussion.

Neuromorphic (brainlike) computing and lower energy

Before launching into the stories about lowering energy usage, here’s an October 16, 2023 posting “The cost of building ChatGPT” that gives you some idea of the consequences of our insatiable desire for more computing and more ‘smart’ devices,

In its latest environmental report, Microsoft disclosed that its global water consumption spiked 34% from 2021 to 2022 (to nearly 1.7 billion gallons , or more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools), a sharp increase compared to previous years that outside researchers tie to its AI research. [emphases mine]

“It’s fair to say the majority of the growth is due to AI,” including “its heavy investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI,” said Shaolei Ren, [emphasis mine] a researcher at the University of California, Riverside who has been trying to calculate the environmental impact of generative AI products such as ChatGPT.

Why it matters: Microsoft’s five WDM [West Des Moines in Iowa] data centers — the “epicenter for advancing AI” — represent more than $5 billion in investments in the last 15 years.

Yes, but: They consumed as much as 11.5 million gallons of water a month for cooling, or about 6% of WDM’s total usage during peak summer usage during the last two years, according to information from West Des Moines Water Works.

The focus is AI but it doesn’t take long to realize that all computing has energy and environmental costs. I have more about Ren’s work and about water shortages in the “The cost of building ChatGPT” posting.

This next posting would usually be included with my other art/sci postings but it touches on the issues. My October 13, 2023 posting about Toronto’s Art/Sci Salon events, in particular, there’s the Streaming Carbon Footprint event (just scroll down to the appropriate subhead). For the interested, I also found this 2022 paper “The Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media:; Problems, Calculations, Solutions” co-authored by one of the artist/researchers (Laura U. Marks, philosopher and scholar of new media and film at Simon Fraser University) who presented at the Toronto event.

I’m late to the party; Thomas Daigle posted a January 2, 2020 article about energy use and our appetite for computing and ‘smart’ devices for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s online news,

For those of us binge-watching TV shows, installing new smartphone apps or sharing family photos on social media over the holidays, it may seem like an abstract predicament.

The gigabytes of data we’re using — although invisible — come at a significant cost to the environment. Some experts say it rivals that of the airline industry. 

And as more smart devices rely on data to operate (think internet-connected refrigerators or self-driving cars), their electricity demands are set to skyrocket.

“We are using an immense amount of energy to drive this data revolution,” said Jane Kearns, an environment and technology expert at MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub in Toronto.

“It has real implications for our climate.”

Some good news

Researchers are working on ways to lower the energy and environmental costs, here’s a sampling of 2023 posts with an emphasis on brainlike computing that attest to it,

If there’s an industry that can make neuromorphic computing and energy savings sexy, it’s the automotive indusry,

On the energy front,

Most people are familiar with nuclear fission and some its attendant issues. There is an alternative nuclear energy, fusion, which is considered ‘green’ or greener anyway. General Fusion is a local (Vancouver area) company focused on developing fusion energy, alongside competitors from all over the planet.

Part of what makes fusion energy attractive is that salt water or sea water can be used in its production and, according to that December posting, there are other applications for salt water power,

More encouraging developments in environmental science

Again, this is a selection. You’ll find a number of nano cellulose research projects and a couple of seaweed projects (seaweed research seems to be of increasing interest).

All by myself (neuromorphic engineering)

Neuromorphic computing is a subset of neuromorphic engineering and I stumbled across an article that outlines the similarities and differences. My ‘summary’ of the main points and a link to the original article can be found here,

Oops! I did it again. More AI panic

I included an overview of the various ‘recent’ panics (in my May 25, 2023 posting below) along with a few other posts about concerning developments but it’s not all doom and gloom..

Governments have realized that regulation might be a good idea. The European Union has a n AI act, the UK held an AI Safety Summit in November 2023, the US has been discussing AI regulation with its various hearings, and there’s impending legislation in Canada (see professor and lawyer Michael Geist’s blog for more).

A long time coming, a nanomedicine comeuppance

Paolo Macchiarini is now infamous for his untested, dangerous approach to medicine. Like a lot of people, I was fooled too as you can see in my August 2, 2011 posting, “Body parts nano style,”

In early July 2011, there were reports of a new kind of transplant involving a body part made of a biocomposite. Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene underwent a trachea transplant that required an artificial windpipe crafted by UK experts then flown to Sweden where Beyene’s stem cells were used to coat the windpipe before being transplanted into his body.

It is an extraordinary story not least because Beyene, a patient in a Swedish hospital planning to return to Eritrea after his PhD studies in Iceland, illustrates the international cooperation that made the transplant possible.

The scaffolding material for the artificial windpipe was developed by Professor Alex Seifalian at the University College London in a landmark piece of nanotechnology-enabled tissue engineering. …

Five years later I stumbled across problems with Macchiarini’s work as outlined in my April 19, 2016 posting, “Macchiarini controversy and synthetic trachea transplants (part 1 of 2)” and my other April 19, 2016 posting, “Macchiarini controversy and synthetic trachea transplants (part 2 of 2)“.

This year, Gretchen Vogel (whose work was featured in my 2016 posts) has written a June 21, 2023 update about the Macchiarini affair for Science magazine, Note: Links have been removed,

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who was once hailed as a pioneer of stem cell medicine, was found guilty of gross assault against three of his patients today and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison by an appeals court in Stockholm. The ruling comes a year after a Swedish district court found Macchiarini guilty of bodily harm in two of the cases and gave him a suspended sentence. After both the prosecution and Macchiarini appealed that ruling, the Svea Court of Appeal heard the case in April and May. Today’s ruling from the five-judge panel is largely a win for the prosecution—it had asked for a 5-year sentence whereas Macchiarini’s lawyer urged the appeals court to acquit him of all charges.

Macchiarini performed experimental surgeries on the three patients in 2011 and 2012 while working at the renowned Karolinska Institute. He implanted synthetic windpipes seeded with stem cells from the patients’ own bone marrow, with the hope the cells would multiply over time and provide an enduring replacement. All three patients died when the implants failed. One patient died suddenly when the implant caused massive bleeding just 4 months after it was implanted; the two others survived for 2.5 and nearly 5 years, respectively, but suffered painful and debilitating complications before their deaths.

In the ruling released today, the appeals judges disagreed with the district court’s decision that the first two patients were treated under “emergency” conditions. Both patients could have survived for a significant length of time without the surgeries, they said. The third case was an “emergency,” the court ruled, but the treatment was still indefensible because by then Macchiarini was well aware of the problems with the technique. (One patient had already died and the other had suffered severe complications.)

A fictionalized tv series ( part of the Dr. Death anthology series) based on Macchiarini’s deceptions and a Dr. Death documentary are being broadcast/streamed in the US during January 2024. These come on the heels of a November 2023 Macchiarini documentary also broadcast/streamed on US television.

Dr. Death (anthology), based on the previews I’ve seen, is heavily US-centric, which is to be expected since Adam Ciralsky is involved in the production. Ciralsky wrote an exposé about Macchiarini for Vanity Fair published in 2016 (also featured in my 2016 postings). From a December 20, 2023 article by Julie Miller for Vanity Fair, Note: A link has been removed,

Seven years ago [2016], world-renowned surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was the subject of an ongoing Vanity Fair investigation. He had seduced award-winning NBC producer Benita Alexander while she was making a special about him, proposed, and promised her a wedding officiated by Pope Francis and attended by political A-listers. It was only after her designer wedding gown was made that Alexander learned Macchiarini was still married to his wife, and seemingly had no association with the famous names on their guest list.

Vanity Fair contributor Adam Ciralsky was in the midst of reporting the story for this magazine in the fall of 2015 when he turned to Dr. Ronald Schouten, a Harvard psychiatry professor. Ciralsky sought expert insight into the kind of fabulist who would invent and engage in such an audacious lie.

“I laid out the story to him, and he said, ‘Anybody who does this in their private life engages in the same conduct in their professional life,” recalls Ciralsky, in a phone call with Vanity Fair. “I think you ought to take a hard look at his CVs.”

That was the turning point in the story for Ciralsky, a former CIA lawyer who soon learned that Macchiarini was more dangerous as a surgeon than a suitor. …

Here’s a link to Ciralsky’s original article, which I described this way, from my April 19, 2016 posting (part 2 of the Macchiarini controversy),

For some bizarre frosting on this disturbing cake (see part 1 of the Macchiarini controversy and synthetic trachea transplants for the medical science aspects), a January 5, 2016 Vanity Fair article by Adam Ciralsky documents Macchiarini’s courtship of an NBC ([US] National Broadcasting Corporation) news producer who was preparing a documentary about him and his work.

[from Ciralsky’s article]

“Macchiarini, 57, is a magnet for superlatives. He is commonly referred to as “world-renowned” and a “super-surgeon.” He is credited with medical miracles, including the world’s first synthetic organ transplant, which involved fashioning a trachea, or windpipe, out of plastic and then coating it with a patient’s own stem cells. That feat, in 2011, appeared to solve two of medicine’s more intractable problems—organ rejection and the lack of donor organs—and brought with it major media exposure for Macchiarini and his employer, Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, home of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Macchiarini was now planning another first: a synthetic-trachea transplant on a child, a two-year-old Korean-Canadian girl named Hannah Warren, who had spent her entire life in a Seoul hospital. … “

Other players in the Macchiarini story

Pierre Delaere, a trachea expert and professor of head and neck surgery at KU Leuven (a university in Belgium) was one of the first to draw attention to Macchiarini’s dangerous and unethical practices. To give you an idea of how difficult it was to get attention for this issue, there’s a September 1, 2017 article by John Rasko and Carl Power for the Guardian illustrating the issue. Here’s what they had to say about Delaere and other early critics of the work, Note: Links have been removed,

Delaere was one of the earliest and harshest critics of Macchiarini’s engineered airways. Reports of their success always seemed like “hot air” to him. He could see no real evidence that the windpipe scaffolds were becoming living, functioning airways – in which case, they were destined to fail. The only question was how long it would take – weeks, months or a few years.

Delaere’s damning criticisms appeared in major medical journals, including the Lancet, but weren’t taken seriously by Karolinska’s leadership. Nor did they impress the institute’s ethics council when Delaere lodged a formal complaint. [emphases mine]

Support for Macchiarini remained strong, even as his patients began to die. In part, this is because the field of windpipe repair is a niche area. Few people at Karolinska, especially among those in power, knew enough about it to appreciate Delaere’s claims. Also, in such a highly competitive environment, people are keen to show allegiance to their superiors and wary of criticising them. The official report into the matter dubbed this the “bandwagon effect”.

With Macchiarini’s exploits endorsed by management and breathlessly reported in the media, it was all too easy to jump on that bandwagon.

And difficult to jump off. In early 2014, four Karolinska doctors defied the reigning culture of silence [emphasis mine] by complaining about Macchiarini. In their view, he was grossly misrepresenting his results and the health of his patients. An independent investigator agreed. But the vice-chancellor of Karolinska Institute, Anders Hamsten, wasn’t bound by this judgement. He officially cleared Macchiarini of scientific misconduct, allowing merely that he’d sometimes acted “without due care”.

For their efforts, the whistleblowers were punished. [emphasis mine] When Macchiarini accused one of them, Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, of stealing his work in a grant application, Hamsten found him guilty. As Grinnemo recalls, it nearly destroyed his career: “I didn’t receive any new grants. No one wanted to collaborate with me. We were doing good research, but it didn’t matter … I thought I was going to lose my lab, my staff – everything.”

This went on for three years until, just recently [2017], Grinnemo was cleared of all wrongdoing.

It is fitting that Macchiarini’s career unravelled at the Karolinska Institute. As the home of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, one of its ambitions is to create scientific celebrities. Every year, it gives science a show-business makeover, picking out from the mass of medical researchers those individuals deserving of superstardom. The idea is that scientific progress is driven by the genius of a few.

It’s a problematic idea with unfortunate side effects. A genius is a revolutionary by definition, a risk-taker and a law-breaker. Wasn’t something of this idea behind the special treatment Karolinska gave Macchiarini? Surely, he got away with so much because he was considered an exception to the rules with more than a whiff of the Nobel about him. At any rate, some of his most powerful friends were themselves Nobel judges until, with his fall from grace, they fell too.

The September 1, 2017 article by Rasko and Power is worth the read if you have the interest and the time. And, Delaere has written up a comprehensive analysis, which includes basic information about tracheas and more, “The Biggest Lie in Medical History” 2020, PDF, 164 pp., Creative Commons Licence).

I also want to mention Leonid Schneider, science journalist and molecular cell biologist, whose work the Macchiarini scandal on his ‘For Better Science’ website was also featured in my 2016 pieces. Schneider’s site has a page titled, ‘Macchiarini’s trachea transplant patients: the full list‘ started in 2017 and which he continues to update with new information about the patients. The latest update was made on December 20, 2023.

Promising nanomedicine research but no promises and a caveat

Most of the research mentioned here is still in the laboratory. i don’t often come across work that has made its way to clinical trials since the focus of this blog is emerging science and technology,

*If you’re interested in the business of neurotechnology, the July 17, 2023 posting highlights a very good UNESCO report on the topic.

Funky music (sound and noise)

I have couple of stories about using sound for wound healing, bioinspiration for soundproofing applications, detecting seismic activity, more data sonification, etc.

Same old, same old CRISPR

2023 was relatively quiet (no panics) where CRISPR developments are concerned but still quite active.

Art/Sci: a pretty active year

I didn’t realize how active the year was art/sciwise including events and other projects until I reviewed this year’s postings. This is a selection from 2023 but there’s a lot more on the blog, just use the search term, “art/sci,” or “art/science,” or “sciart.”

While I often feature events and projects from these groups (e.g., June 2, 2023 posting, “Metacreation Lab’s greatest hits of Summer 2023“), it’s possible for me to miss a few. So, you can check out Toronto’s Art/Sci Salon’s website (strong focus on visual art) and Simon Fraser University’s Metacreation Lab for Creative Artificial Intelligence website (strong focus on music).

My selection of this year’s postings is more heavily weighted to the ‘writing’ end of things.

Boundaries: life/nonlife

Last year I subtitled this section, ‘Aliens on earth: machinic biology and/or biological machinery?” Here’s this year’s selection,

Canada’s 2023 budget … military

2023 featured an unusual budget where military expenditures were going to be increased, something which could have implications for our science and technology research.

Then things changed as Murray Brewster’s November 21, 2023 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) news online website comments, Note: A link has been removed,

There was a revelatory moment on the weekend as Defence Minister Bill Blair attempted to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality in the Liberal government’s spending plans for his department and the Canadian military.

Asked about an anticipated (and long overdue) update to the country’s defence policy (supposedly made urgent two years ago by Russia’s full-on invasion of Ukraine), Blair acknowledged that the reset is now being viewed through a fiscal lens.

“We said we’re going to bring forward a new defence policy update. We’ve been working through that,” Blair told CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.

“The current fiscal environment that the country faces itself does require (that) that defence policy update … recognize (the) fiscal challenges. And so it’ll be part of … our future budget processes.”

One policy goal of the existing defence plan, Strong, Secure and Engaged, was to require that the military be able to concurrently deliver “two sustained deployments of 500 [to] 1,500 personnel in two different theaters of operation, including one as a lead nation.”

In a footnote, the recent estimates said the Canadian military is “currently unable to conduct multiple operations concurrently per the requirements laid out in the 2017 Defence Policy. Readiness of CAF force elements has continued to decrease over the course of the last year, aggravated by decreasing number of personnel and issues with equipment and vehicles.”

Some analysts say they believe that even if the federal government hits its overall budget reduction targets, what has been taken away from defence — and what’s about to be taken away — won’t be coming back, the minister’s public assurances notwithstanding.

10 years: Graphene Flagship Project and Human Brain Project

Graphene and Human Brain Project win biggest research award in history (& this is the 2000th post)” on January 28, 2013 was how I announced the results of what had been a a European Union (EU) competition that stretched out over several years and many stages as projects were evaluated and fell to the wayside or were allowed onto the next stage. The two finalists received €1B each to be paid out over ten years.

Future or not

As you can see, there was plenty of interesting stuff going on in 2023 but no watershed moments in the areas I follow. (Please do let me know in the Comments should you disagree with this or any other part of this posting.) Nanotechnology seems less and less an emerging science/technology in itself and more like a foundational element of our science and technology sectors. On that note, you may find my upcoming (in 2024) post about a report concerning the economic impact of its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) from 2002 to 2022 of interest.

Following on the commercialization theme, I have noticed an increase of interest in commercializing brain and brainlike engineering technologies, as well as, more discussion about ethics.

Colonizing the brain?

UNESCO held events such as, this noted in my July 17, 2023 posting, “Unveiling the Neurotechnology Landscape: Scientific Advancements, Innovations and Major Trends—a UNESCO report” and this noted in my July 7, 2023 posting “Global dialogue on the ethics of neurotechnology on July 13, 2023 led by UNESCO.” An August 21, 2023 posting, “Ethical nanobiotechnology” adds to the discussion.

Meanwhile, Australia has been producing some very interesting mind/robot research, my June 13, 2023 posting, “Mind-controlled robots based on graphene: an Australian research story.” I have more of this kind of research (mind control or mind reading) from Australia to be published in early 2024. The Australians are not alone, there’s also this April 12, 2023 posting, “Mind-reading prosthetic limbs” from Germany.

My May 12, 2023 posting, “Virtual panel discussion: Canadian Strategies for Responsible Neurotechnology Innovation on May 16, 2023” shows Canada is entering the discussion. Unfortunately, the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), which held the event, has not posted a video online even though they have a youtube channel featuring other of their events.

As for neurmorphic engineering, China has produced a roadmap for its research in this area as noted in my March 20, 2023 posting, “A nontraditional artificial synaptic device and roadmap for Chinese research into neuromorphic devices.”

Quantum anybody?

I haven’t singled it out in this end-of-year posting but there is a great deal of interest in quantum computer both here in Canada and elsewhere. There is a 2023 report from the Council of Canadian Academies on the topic of quantum computing in Canada, which I hope to comment on soon.

Final words

I have a shout out for the Canadian Science Policy Centre, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2023. Congratulations!

For everyone, I wish peace on earth and all the best for you and yours in 2024!

Poinsettia frogs and a Merry 2023 Christmas

I stumbled across this image in a December 20, 2023 article by Dorothy Woodend for The Tyee where she is the culture editor,

Instead of new material goods this holiday season, I’m searching for something more elusive and ultimately sustaining. And it may help us grow our appreciation for the natural world and its mysteries. Illustrations for The Tyee by Dorothy Woodend.

À propos given the name for this blog and the time of year. Thank you, Ms. Woodend!

I try not to do too many of these stories since the focus for this blog is new and emerging science and technology but I can’t resist including these frog stories (and one dog story). Plus, there may be some tap dancing.

A new (!) fanged frog in Indonesia

This is not the tiny Indonesian fanged frog but it does show you what a fanged frog looks like, from the December 21, 2023 “What Are Fanged Frogs?” posting on the Vajiram and Ravi IAS Study Center website,

Not an Indonesian fanged frog. h/t Vajiram and Ravi IAS Study Center [downloaded from]

If you don’t have much time and are interested in the latest fanged frog, check out the December 21, 2023 “What Are Fanged Frogs?” posting as they have relevant information in bullet point form.

On to the specifics about the ‘new’ fanged frog from a December 21, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily,

In general, frogs’ teeth aren’t anything to write home about — they look like pointy little pinpricks lining the upper jaw. But one group of stream-dwelling frogs in Southeast Asia has a strange adaptation: two bony “fangs” jutting out of their lower jawbone. They use these fangs to battle with each other over territory and mates, and sometimes even to hunt tough-shelled prey like giant centipedes and crabs. In a new study, published in the journal PLOS [Public Library of Science] ONE, researchers have described a new species of fanged frog: the smallest one ever discovered.

“This new species is tiny compared to other fanged frogs on the island where it was found, about the size of a quarter,” says Jeff Frederick, a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago and the study’s lead author, who conducted the research as a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.

A December 20, 2023 Field Museum news release (also on EurrekAlert), which originated the news item, adds more detail,

“Many frogs in this genus are giant, weighing up to two pounds. At the large end, this new species weighs about the same as a dime.”

In collaboration with the Bogor Zoology Museum, a team from the McGuire Lab at Berkeley   found the frogs on Sulawesi, a rugged, mountainous island that makes up part of Indonesia. “It’s a giant island with a vast network of mountains, volcanoes, lowland rainforest, and cloud forests up in the mountains. The presence of all these different habitats mean that the magnitude of biodiversity across many plants and animals we find there is unreal – rivaling places like the Amazon,” says Frederick.

While trekking through the jungle, members of the joint US-Indonesia amphibian and reptile research team noticed something unexpected on the leaves of tree saplings and moss-covered boulders: nests of frog eggs.

Frogs are amphibians, and they lay eggs that are encapsulated by jelly, rather than a hard, protective shell. To keep their eggs from drying out, most amphibians lay their eggs in water. To the research team’s surprise, they kept spotting the terrestrial egg masses on leaves and mossy boulders several feet above the ground. Shortly after, they began to see the small, brown frogs themselves.

“Normally when we’re looking for frogs, we’re scanning the margins of stream banks or wading through streams to spot them directly in the water,” Frederick says. “After repeatedly monitoring the nests though, the team started to find attending frogs sitting on leaves hugging their little nests.” This close contact with their eggs allows the frog parents to coat the eggs with compounds that keep them moist and free from bacterial and fungal contamination.

Closer examination of the amphibian parents revealed not only that they were tiny members of the fanged frog family, complete with barely-visible fangs, but that the frogs caring for the clutches of eggs were all male. “Male egg guarding behavior isn’t totally unknown across all frogs, but it’s rather uncommon,” says Frederick.

Frederick and his colleagues hypothesize that the frogs’ unusual reproductive behaviors might also relate to their smaller-than-usual fangs. Some of the frogs’ relatives have bigger fangs, which help them ward off competition for spots along the river to lay their eggs in the water. Since these frogs evolved a way to lay their eggs away from the water, they may have lost the need for such big imposing fangs. (The scientific name for the new species is Limnonectes phyllofolia; phyllofolia means “leaf-nester.”)

“It’s fascinating that on every subsequent expedition to Sulawesi, we’re still discovering new and diverse reproductive modes,” says Frederick. “Our findings also underscore the importance of conserving these very special tropical habitats. Most of the animals that live in places like Sulawesi are quite unique, and habitat destruction is an ever-looming conservation issue for preserving the hyper-diversity of species we find there. Learning about animals like these frogs that are found nowhere else on Earth helps make the case for protecting these valuable ecosystems.”

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

A new species of terrestrially-nesting fanged frog (Anura: Dicroglossidae) from Sulawesi Island, Indonesia by Jeffrey H. Frederick, Djoko T. Iskanda, Awal Riyanto, Amir Hamidy, Sean B. Reilly, Alexander L. Stubbs, Luke M. Bloch, Bryan Bach, Jimmy A. McGuire. PLOS ONE 18(12): e0292598 DOI: Published: December 20, 2023

This paper is open access and online only.

Fatal attraction to … frog noses?

Bob Yirka in a November 28, 2023 article published on describes research into some unusual mosquito behaviour, Note: Links have been removed,

A pair of environmental and life scientists, one with the University of Newcastle, in Australia, the other the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, has found that one species of mosquito native to Australia targets only the noses of frogs for feeding. In their paper published in the journal Ethology, John Gould and Jose Valdez describe their three-year study of frogs and Mimomyia elegans, a species of mosquito native to Australia

As part of their study of frogs living in a pond on Kooragang Island, the pair took a lot of photographs of the amphibians in their native environment. It was upon returning to their lab and laying out the photographs that they noticed something unique—any mosquito feeding on a frog’s blood was always atop its nose. This spot, they noted, seemed precarious, as mosquitos are part of the frog diet.

A mosquito perches on the nose of a green and yellow frog perched on a branch.
A species of Australian mosquito, Mimomyia elegans, appears to have a predilection for the nostrils of tree frogs, according to new observations published in the journal Ethology. (John Gould) [downloaded from]

Sheena Goodyear posted a December 13, 2023 article containing an embedded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) As It Happens radio programme audio file of an interview with researcher John Gould, Note: A link has been removed,

So why risk landing on the nose of something that wants to eat you, when there are so many other targets walking around full of delicious blood?

“In all of the occasions that we observed, it seems as if the frog didn’t realize that it had a mosquito on top of it…. They were actually quite happy, just sitting idly, while these mosquitoes were feeding on them,” Gould said.

“So it might be that the area between the eyes is a bit of a blind spot for the frogs.”

It’s also something of a sneak attack by the mosquitoes.

“Some of the mosquitoes first initially landed on the backs of the frogs,” Gould said. “They might avoid being eaten by the frogs by landing away from the head and then walking up to the nostrils to feed.

It’s a plausible theory, says amphibian expert Lea Randall, a Calgary Zoo and Wilder Institute ecologist who wasn’t involved in the research. 

“Frogs have amazing vision, and any mosquito that approached from the front would likely end up as a tasty snack for a frog,” she said.

“Landing on the back and making your way undetected to the nostrils is a good strategy.”

And the reward may just be worth the risk. 

“I could also see the nostrils as being a good place to feed as the skin is very thin and highly vascularized, and thus provides a ready source of blood for a hungry mosquito,” Randall said.

Gould admits his friends and loved ones have likely grown weary of hearing him “talking about frogs and nostrils.” But for him, it’s more than a highly specific scientific obsession; it’s about protecting frogs.

His earlier research has suggested that mosquitoes may be a vector for transmitting amphibian chytrid fungus, which is responsible for declines in frog populations worldwide. 

That’s why he had been amassing photos of frogs and mosquitoes in the first place.

“Now that we know where the mosquito is more likely to land, it might give us a better impression about how the infection spreads along the skin of the frog,” he said.

But more work needs to be done. His frog nostril research, while it encompasses three years’ of fieldwork, is a natural history observation, not a laboratory study with controlled variables.

“It would be quite interesting to know whether this particular type of mosquito is transferring the chytrid fungus, and also how the fungus spreads once the mosquito has landed,” Gould said.

A man in a bright yellow jacket and a light strapped to his forehead poses outside at night with a tiny frog perched on his hand.
Gould describes himself as a ‘vampire scientist’ who stays up all night studying nocturnal tree frogs in Australia. ‘They’re so soft and timid a lot of the times,’ he said. ‘They’re quite a special little, little animal.’ (Submitted by John Gould)

Vampire scientist, eh? You can find the embedded 6 mins. 28 secs. audio file in the December 13, 2023 article on the CBC website.

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

A little on the nose: A mosquito targets the nostrils of tree frogs for a blood meal by John Gould, Jose W. Valdez. Ethology DOI: First published: 21 November 2023

This paper is open access.

Gifted dogs

Caption: Shira, 6 -year-old, female, Border Collie mix, that was rescued at a young age. She lives in New Jersey, and knows the names of 125 toys. Credit Photo: Tres Hanley-Millman

A December 14, 2023 news item on describes some intriguing research from Hungary,

All dog owners think that their pups are special. Science now has documented that some rare dogs are even more special. They have a talent for learning hundreds of names of dog toys. Due to the extreme rarity of this phenomenon, until recently, very little was known about these dogs, as most of the studies that documented this ability included only a small sample of one or two dogs.

A December 18,2023 Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) press release (also on EurekAlert but published December 14, 2023), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

In a previous study, the scientists found that only very few dogs could learn the names of object, mostly dog toys. The researchers wanted to understand this phenomenon better and, so they needed to find more dogs with this ability. But finding dogs with this rare talent was a challenge! For five years, the researchers tirelessly searched across the world for these unique Gifted Word Learner (GWL) dogs. As part of this search, in 2020, they launched a social media campaign and broadcasted their experiments with GWL dogs, in the hope of finding more GWL dogs.

“This was a citizen science project” explains Dr. Claudia Fugazza, team leader. “When a dog owner told us they thought their dog knew toy names, we gave them instructions on how to self-test their dog and asked them to send us the video of the test”. The researchers then held an online meeting with the owners to test the dog’s vocabulary under controlled conditions and, if the dog showed he knew the names of his toys, the researchers asked the owners to fill out a questionnaire. “In the questionnaire, we asked the owners about their dog’s life experience, their own experience in raising and training dogs, and about the process by which the dog came to learn the names of his/her toys” explains Dr. Andrea Sommese, co-author.


The researchers found 41 dogs from 9 different countries: the US, the UK, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and Hungary. Most of the previous studies on this topic included Border collies. So, while object label learning is very rare even in Border collies, it was not surprising that many of the dogs participating in the current study (56%) belonged to this breed. However, the study documented the ability to learn toy names in a few dogs from non-working breeds, such as two Pomeranians, one Pekingese, one Shih Tzu, a Corgi, a Poodle, and a few mixed breeds.

“Surprisingly, most owners reported that they did not intentionally teach their dogs toy names, but rather that the dogs just seemed to spontaneously pick up the toy names during unstructured play sessions,” says Shany Dror, lead researcher. In addition, the vast majority of owners participating in the study had no professional background in dog training and the researchers found no correlations between the owners’ level of experience in handling and training dogs, and the dogs’ ability to select the correct toys when hearing its names.

“In our previous studies we have shown that GWL dogs learn new object names very fast” explains Dror. “So, it is not surprising that when we conducted the test with the dogs, the average number of toys known by the dogs was 29, but when we published the results, more than 50% of the owners reported that their dogs had already acquired a vocabulary of over 100 toy names”.

“Because GWL dogs are so rare, until now there were only anecdotes about their background” explains Prof. Adam Miklósi, Head of the Ethology Department at ELTE and co-author. “The rare ability to learn object names is the first documented case of talent in a non-human species. The relatively large sample of dogs documented in this study, helps us to identify the common characteristics that are shared among these dogs, and brings us one step closer in the quest of understanding their unique ability”.

This research is part of the Genius Dog Challenge research project which aims to understand the unique talent that Gifted Word Learner dogs have. The researchers encourage dog owners who believe their dogs know multiple toy names, to contact them via the Genius Dog Challenge website.

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

A citizen science model turns anecdotes into evidence by revealing similar characteristics among Gifted Word Learner dogs by Shany Dror, Ádám Miklósi, Andrea Sommese & Claudia Fugazza. Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 21747 (2023) DOI: Published: 14 December 2023

This paper is open access.

The End with an origin story NORAD’s Santa Tracker and some tap dancing

At the height of Cold War tensions between the US and Russia, the red phone (to be used only by the US president or a four star genera) rang at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Before the conversation ended, the colonel in charge had driven a child to tears and put in motion the start of a beloved Christmas tradition.

There’s a short version and a long version and if you want all the details read both,

As for the tap dancing, I have three links:

  1. Irish Dancers Face Off Against American Tap Dancers To Deliver EPIC Performance!” is an embedded 8 mins. dance off video (scroll down past a few paragraphs) in Erin Perri’s September 1, 2017 posting for And, if you scroll further down to the bottom of Perri’s post, you’ll see an embedded video of Sammy Davis Jr.

In the video …, along with his dad and uncle, Sammy performs at an unbelievable pace. In the last 30 seconds of this routine, Sammy demonstrates more talent than other dancers are able to cram into a lifelong career! You can see these three were breakdancing long before it became a thing in the 1980s and they did it wearing tap shoes!


2. “Legendary Nicholas Brothers Dance Routine Was Unrehearsed and Filmed in One Take” embedded at the end of Emma Taggart’s October 4, 2019 posting on

3. Finally, there’s “Jill Biden releases extravagant dance video to celebrate Christmas at the White House” with a video file embedded (wait for it to finish loading and scroll down a few paragraphs) in Kate Fowler’s December 15, (?) 2023 article for MSN. It’s a little jazz, a little tap, and a little Christmas joy.

Joyeux Noël!

Gene editing to identify and change parts of chicken DNA and limit the spread of bird flu virus

This news comes from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). From an October 10, 2023 news item on, Note: A link has been removed,

Scientists have used gene editing techniques to identify and change parts of chicken DNA that could limit the spread of the bird flu virus in the animals.

Researchers were able to restrict—but not completely block—the virus from infecting chickens by altering a small section of their DNA.

The birds showed no signs that the change in their DNA had any impact on their health or well-being.

The findings are an encouraging step forward, but experts highlight that further gene edits would be needed to produce a chicken population which cannot be infected by bird flu—one of the world’s most costly animal diseases.

An October 10, 2023 University of Edinburgh press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about this research,

Gene editing

Scientists from University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute bred the chickens using gene editing techniques to alter the section of DNA responsible for producing the protein ANP32A. During an infection, flu viruses hijack this molecule to help replicate themselves.

When the ANP32A gene-edited chickens were exposed to a normal dose of the H9N2-UDL strain of avian influenza virus – commonly known as bird flu – 9 out of 10 birds remained uninfected and there was no spread to other chickens.

Partial protection

The research team then exposed the gene-edited birds to an artificially high dose of avian influenza virus to further test their resilience.

When exposed to the high dose, half of the group – 5 out of 10 birds – became infected. However, the gene edit did provide some protection, with the amount of virus in the infected gene-edited chickens much lower than the level typically seen during infection in non-gene-edited chickens.

The gene edit also helped to limit onward spread of the virus to just one of four non-gene-edited chickens placed in the same incubator. There was no transmission to gene-edited birds.

Viral evolution

Scientists found that in the ANP32A gene-edited birds, the virus had adapted to enlist the support of two related proteins – ANP32B and ANP32E – to replicate.

Following lab tests, scientists found that some of the mutations enabled the virus to utilise the human version of ANP32, but its replication remained low in cell cultures from the human airway.

Experts say that additional genetic changes would be needed for the virus to infect and spread effectively in humans.

However, the findings demonstrate that the single ANP32A gene edit is not robust enough for application in the production of chickens, according to the team.

Gene editing

Scientists from University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute bred the chickens using gene editing techniques to alter the section of DNA responsible for producing the protein ANP32A. During an infection, flu viruses hijack this molecule to help replicate themselves.

When the ANP32A gene-edited chickens were exposed to a normal dose of the H9N2-UDL strain of avian influenza virus – commonly known as bird flu – 9 out of 10 birds remained uninfected and there was no spread to other chickens.

Partial protection

The research team then exposed the gene-edited birds to an artificially high dose of avian influenza virus to further test their resilience.

When exposed to the high dose, half of the group – 5 out of 10 birds – became infected. However, the gene edit did provide some protection, with the amount of virus in the infected gene-edited chickens much lower than the level typically seen during infection in non-gene-edited chickens.

The gene edit also helped to limit onward spread of the virus to just one of four non-gene-edited chickens placed in the same incubator. There was no transmission to gene-edited birds.

Viral evolution

Scientists found that in the ANP32A gene-edited birds, the virus had adapted to enlist the support of two related proteins – ANP32B and ANP32E – to replicate.

Following lab tests, scientists found that some of the mutations enabled the virus to utilise the human version of ANP32, but its replication remained low in cell cultures from the human airway.

Experts say that additional genetic changes would be needed for the virus to infect and spread effectively in humans.

However, the findings demonstrate that the single ANP32A gene edit is not robust enough for application in the production of chickens, according to the team.

Further edits

To prevent the emergence of escape viruses – viruses that adapt to evade the gene edit and cause infection – the research team next targeted additional sections of DNA responsible for producing all three proteins – ANP32A, ANP32B and ANP32E – inside lab-grown chicken cells.

In cell cultures in the lab, growth of the virus was successfully blocked in cells with the three gene edits.

The next step will be to try to develop chickens with edits to all three genes. No birds have been produced yet.

The study highlights the importance of responsible gene editing and the need to be alert to the risks of driving viral evolution in unwanted directions if complete resistance is not achieved, experts say.

Bird flu is a major global threat, with a devastating impact in both farmed and wild bird populations. In the UK alone, the current outbreak of H5N1 bird flu has decimated seabird populations and cost the poultry industry more than £100 million in losses.

In rare instances, mutations in the bird flu virus allow it to infect people and cause serious illness. Efforts to control the spread of the disease are urgently needed.

“Bird flu is a great threat to bird populations. Vaccination against the virus poses a number of challenges, with significant practical and cost issues associated with vaccine deployment. Gene-editing offers a promising route towards permanent disease resistance, which could be passed down through generations, protecting poultry and reducing the risks to humans and wild birds. Our work shows that stopping the spread of avian influenza in chickens will need several simultaneous genetic changes.” Professor Mike McGrew, The study’s principal investigator, from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute

“This work is an exciting collaboration that fuses our expertise in virology with the world-leading genetic capability at the Roslin Institute. Although we haven’t yet got the perfect combination of gene edits to take this approach into the field, the results have told us a lot about how influenza virus functions inside the infected cell and how to slow its replication.” Professor Wendy Barclay, Imperial College London

The research was funded by UKRI-BBSRC, which also provides strategic funding to The Roslin Institute, and was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service.

Ryan O’Hare’s October 10, 2023 Imperial College London (ICL) press release offers a slightly different perspective on the same work, Note: A link has been removed,

Scientists have successfully used gene editing techniques to limit the spread of bird flu in chickens.

In a UK first, researchers have been able to restrict, but not completely block, the avian influenza virus from infecting the birds by precisely altering a small section of their DNA.

The modified birds showed no signs that the change had any impact on the animals’ health or well-being.

But the researchers say that while the findings are encouraging, further gene edits would be needed to produce chickens which cannot be infected by bird flu.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Professor Wendy Barclay, Head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said: “This work is an exciting collaboration that fuses our expertise in virology with the world world-leading genetic capability at the Roslin Institute.

“Although we haven’t yet got the perfect combination of gene edits to take this approach into the field, the results have told us a lot about how influenza virus functions inside the infected cell and how to slow its replication.”

Global Threat

Bird flu is a major global threat, with a devastating impact in both farmed and wild bird populations. In the UK alone, the current outbreak of H5N1 bird flu has decimated seabird populations and cost the poultry industry more than £100 million in losses.

In the latest study, researchers aimed to test whether precise edits to the chicken’s genome could potentially generate birds which are resistant to the virus.

The team bred chickens with small edits to a gene called ANP32A. During an infection, influenza viruses hijack the ANP32A protein to help replicate themselves.

But when the gene-edited birds were exposed to a normal dose of virus (the H9N2 strain of avian influenza), 9 out of 10 birds remained uninfected and there was no spread to other chickens.

When the birds were exposed to an artificially high dose of virus, only half of them became infected. The single gene edit also provided some protection against transmission, with a much lower amount of virus in infected gene-edited birds compared to non-edited birds.

In addition, the edit also helped to limit onward spread of the virus to just one of four non-edited chickens placed in the same incubator. There was no transmission to gene-edited birds.

Triple edits

Analysis revealed that in the edited birds, the virus adapted to enlist the support of two related proteins to replicate – ANP32B and ANP32E.

Following lab tests, the researchers found some of the mutations may enable the virus to utilise the human version of ANP32, but replication remained low in cell cultures from the human airway. The researchers stress that additional genetic changes would be needed for the virus to have the potential to infect and spread effectively in humans.

According to the team, the findings demonstrate that a single gene edit is not robust enough to produce resistant chickens. To prevent the emergence of viruses able to adapt to the single edit, the team next used a triple edit to target additional proteins (ANP32A, ANP32B and ANP32E) in lab-grown chicken cells.

In cell cultures in the lab, growth of the virus was successfully blocked in cells with edits to all three genes. In future, researchers hope to develop chickens with this triple edit, but no birds have been produced at this stage.

According to the researchers, the study highlights the importance of responsible gene editing and the need to be alert to the risks of driving viral evolution in unwanted directions if complete resistance is not achieved, experts say.

Professor Mike McGrew, from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and principal investigator of the study, said: “Bird flu is a great threat to bird populations. Vaccination against the virus poses a number of challenges, with significant practical and cost issues associated with vaccine deployment.

“Gene-editing offers a promising route towards permanent disease resistance, which could be passed down through generations, protecting poultry and reducing the risks to humans and wild birds. Our work shows that stopping the spread of avian influenza in chickens will need several simultaneous genetic changes.”

A non-gene-edited chicken (left) pictured next to an ANP32A gene-edited chicken (right). Image credit: Norrie Russell Courtesy: University of Edinburgh

There’s also an October 10, 2023 article by Jon Cohen for, which gives some idea of how much work it took to get to this point, Note: Links have been removed,

For 3 decades, Helen Sang has tinkered with the genomes of chickens to try to make the birds resistant to the flu viruses that periodically devastate flocks and raise fears of a human pandemic. Now, as an especially virulent strain of avian influenza sweeps through poultry and wild birds around the world, the geneticist at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute has her first solid success. Using the CRISPR gene editor and recent findings about what makes poultry vulnerable to flu, Sang and colleagues from three other institutions have created chickens that can resist real-life doses of avian flu viruses. “Sticking to it gets you somewhere in the end,” she says.

The result, published today [October 5, 2023] in Nature Communications, is “a long-awaited achievement,” says Jiří Hejnar, a virologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Molecular Genetics whose group showed in 2020 that CRISPR-edited chickens could resist a cancer-causing virus. But farmers won’t be raising flu-proof chickens anytime soon. The edited birds still became infected when exposed to larger amounts of the flu virus. And the strategy raises a safety concern: chickens edited this way could, in theory, drive the evolution of flu variants better at infecting people. “What this showed is a proof of concept,” says Wendy Barclay, a virologist at Imperial College London who worked on the new study. “But we’re not there yet.”

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

Creating resistance to avian influenza infection through genome editing of the ANP32 gene family by Alewo Idoko-Akoh, Daniel H. Goldhill, Carol M. Sheppard, Dagmara Bialy, Jessica L. Quantrill, Ksenia Sukhova, Jonathan C. Brown, Samuel Richardson, Ciara Campbell, Lorna Taylor, Adrian Sherman, Salik Nazki, Jason S. Long, Michael A. Skinner, Holly Shelton, Helen M. Sang, Wendy S. Barclay & Mike J. McGrew. Nature Communications volume 14, Article number: 6136 (2023) DOI: Published: 10 October 2023

This paper is open access.

Nanoscientists speculate that artificial life forms could be medicine of the future

Even after all these years, my jaw is still capable of dropping but then I read the details. This looks a lot like ‘medical nanobots’ which researchers have been talking about for a long time. Nice twist on a familiar theme. From an October 5, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily,

Imagine a life form that doesn’t resemble any of the organisms found on the tree of life. One that has its own unique control system, and that a doctor would want to send into your body. It sounds like a science fiction movie, but according to nanoscientists, it can—and should—happen in the future.

Creating artificial life is a recurring theme in both science and popular literature, where it conjures images of creeping slime creatures with malevolent intentions or super-cute designer pets. At the same time, the question arises: What role should artificial life play in our environment here on Earth, where all life forms are created by nature and have their own place and purpose?

Associate professor Chenguang Lou from the Department of Physics, Chemistry, and Pharmacy, University of Southern Denmark, together with Professor Hanbin Mao from Kent State University, is the parent of a special artificial hybrid molecule that could lead to the creation of artificial life forms. They have now published a review in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science on the state of research in the field behind their creation. The field is called “hybrid peptide-DNA nanostructures,” and it is an emerging field, less than ten years old.

An October 5, 2023 University of Southern Denmark press release (also on EurekAlert) by Birgitte Svennevig, which originated the news item, shares the researcher’s (Chenguang Lou) vision for the research and more technical details about “hybrid peptide-DNA nanostructures” along with other international research efforts,

Lou’s vision is to create viral vaccines (modified and weakened versions of a virus) and artificial life forms that can be used for diagnosing and treating diseases.

“In nature, most organisms have natural enemies, but some do not. For example, some disease-causing viruses have no natural enemy. It would be a logical step to create an artificial life form that could become an enemy to them,” he says.

Similarly, he envisions such artificial life forms can act as vaccines against viral infection and can be used as nanorobots [also known as nanobots] or nanomachines loaded with medication or diagnostic elements and sent into a patient’s body.

“An artificial viral vaccine may be about 10 years away. An artificial cell, on the other hand, is on the horizon because it consists of many elements that need to be controlled before we can start building with them. But with the knowledge we have, there is, in principle, no hindrance to produce artificial cellular organisms in the future,” he says.

What are the building blocks that Lou and his colleagues in this field will use to create viral vaccines and artificial life? DNA and peptides are some of the most important biomolecules in nature, making DNA technology and peptide technology the two most powerful molecular tools in the nanotechnological toolkit today. DNA technology provides precise control over programming, from the atomic level to the macro level, but it can only provide limited chemical functions since it only has four bases: A, C, G, and T. Peptide technology, on the other hand, can provide sufficient chemical functions on a large scale, as there are 20 amino acids to work with. Nature uses both DNA and peptides to build various protein factories found in cells, allowing them to evolve into organisms.

Recently, Hanbin Mao and Chenguang Lou have succeeded in linking designed three-stranded DNA structures with three-stranded peptide structures, thus creating an artificial hybrid molecule that combines the strengths of both. This work was published in Nature Communications in 2022. (read the article here “Chirality transmission in macromolecular domains” and the press release at

Elsewhere in the world, other researchers are also working on connecting DNA and peptides because this connection forms a strong foundation for the development of more advanced biological entities and life forms.

At Oxford University, researchers have succeeded in building a nanomachine made of DNA and peptides that can drill through a cell membrane, creating an artificial membrane channel through which small molecules can pass. (Spruijt et al., Nat. Nanotechnol. 2018, 13, 739-745)

At Arizona State University, Nicholas Stephanopoulos and colleagues have enabled DNA and peptides to self-assemble into 2D and 3D structures. (Buchberger et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2020, 142, 1406-1416)

At Northwest University [Northwestern University?], researchers have shown that microfibers can form in conjunction with DNA and peptides self-assembling. DNA and peptides operate at the nano level, so when considering the size differences, microfibers are huge. (Freeman et al., Science, 2018, 362, 808-813)

At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, scientists have used hybrid molecules to create an onion-like spherical structure containing cancer medication, which holds promise to be used in the body to target cancerous tumors. (Chotera et al., Chem. Eur. J., 2018, 24, 10128-10135)

“In my view, the overall value of all these efforts is that they can be used to improve society’s ability to diagnose and treat sick people. Looking forward, I will not be surprised that one day we can arbitrarily create hybrid nanomachines, viral vaccines and even artificial life forms from these building blocks to help the society to combat those difficult-to-cure diseases. It would be a revolution in healthcare,” says Chenguang Lou.

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

Peptide-DNA conjugates as building blocks for de novo design of hybrid nanostructures by Mathias Bogetoft Danielsen, Hanbin Mao, Chenguang Lou. Cell Reports Physical Science Volume 4, Issue 10, 18 October 2023, 101620 DOI:

This paper is open access.

Consciousness, energy, and matter

Credit: Rice University [downloaded from]

There’s an intriguing approach tying together ideas about consciousness, artificial intelligence, and physics in an October 8, 2023 news item on,

With the rise of brain-interface technology and artificial intelligence that can imitate brain functions, understanding the nature of consciousness and how it interacts with reality is not just an age-old philosophical question but also a salient challenge for humanity.

An October 9, 2023 University of Technology Sydney (UTS) press release (also on EurekAlert but published on October 8, 2023), which originated the news item, delves further into the subject matter, Note: Links have been removed,

Can AI become conscious, and how would we know? Should we incorporate human or animal cells, such as neurons, into machines and robots? Would they be conscious and have subjective experiences? Does consciousness reduce to physicalism, or is it fundamental? And if machine-brain interaction influenced you to commit a crime, or caused a crime, would you be responsible beyond a reasonable doubt? Do we have a free will?

AI and computer science specialist Dr Mahendra Samarawickrama, winner of the Australian Computer Society’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Professional of the year, has applied his knowledge of physics and artificial neural networks to this thorny topic.

He presented a peer-reviewed paper on fundamental physics and consciousness at the 11th International Conference on Mathematical Modelling in Physical Sciences, Unifying Matter, Energy and Consciousness, which has just been published in the AIP (the American Institute of Physics) Conference Proceedings. 

“Consciousness is an evolving topic connected to physics, engineering, neuroscience and many other fields. Understanding the interplay between consciousness, energy and matter could bring important insights to our fundamental understanding of reality,” said Dr Samarawickrama.

“Einstein’s dream of a unified theory is a quest that occupies the minds of many theoretical physicists and engineers. Some solutions completely change existing frameworks, which increases complexity and creates more problems than it solves.

“My theory brings the notion of consciousness to fundamental physics such that it complements the current physics models and explains the time, causality, and interplay of consciousness, energy and matter.

“I propose that consciousness is a high-speed sequential flow of awareness subjected to relativity. The quantised energy of consciousness can interplay with matter creating reality while adhering to laws of physics, including quantum physics and relativity.

“Awareness can be seen in life, AI and even physical realities like entangled particles. Studying consciousness helps us be aware of and differentiate realities that exist in nature,” he said. 

Dr Samarawickrama is an honorary Visiting Scholar in the School of Computer Science at the University of Technology Sydney, where he has contributed to UTS research on data science and AI, focusing on social impact.

“Research in this field could pave the way towards the development of conscious AI, with robots that are aware and have the ability to think becoming a reality. We want to ensure that artificial intelligence is ethical and responsible in emerging solutions,” Dr Samarawickrama said.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper Samarawickrama presented at the 11th International Conference on Mathematical Modelling in Physical Sciences, Unifying Matter, Energy and Consciousness,

Unifying matter, energy and consciousness by Mahendra Samarawickrama. AIP Conf. Proc. Volume 2872, Issue 1, 28 September 2023, 110001 (2023) DOI:

This paper is open access.

The researcher has made a video of his presentation and further information available,

It’s a little bit over my head but hopefully repeated viewings and readings will help me better understand Dr. Samarawickrama’s work.

The sounds of recent (December 2023) seismic activity in Iceland

On the heels of yesterday’s When the rocks sing “I got rhythm” (my December 18, 2023 posting), I received (via email) a media notice/reminder/update about a Northwestern University (Chicago, Illinois, US) app that allows you to listen,

From the original November 16, 2023 Northwestern University news release by Amanda Morris (also published as a November 16, 2023 news item on,

As seismic activity intensifies ahead of an impending eruption of a fissure near Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano, the island’s Reykjanes Peninsula is experiencing hundreds of earthquakes per day.

Now, listeners can follow along through Northwestern University’s Earthtunes app. Developed in 2019, the app transforms seismic frequencies into audible pitches. Whereas a classic seismometer records motions in the Earth’s surface as squiggly lines scratched across a page, Earthtunes enables users to hear, rather than see, activity.

So far, Iceland’s recent, ongoing seismic activity sounds like a jarring symphony of doors slamming, hail pelting against a tin roof or window and people cracking trays of ice cubes.

By listening to activities recorded by the Global Seismographic Network station (named BORG), located to the north-northeast of Reykjavik, people can hear how the seismic activity has changed around the Fagradalsfjall area.

In this audio clip, listeners can hear 24 hours of activity recorded from Friday, Nov. 10, into Saturday, Nov. 11. Peppered with a cacophony of sharp knocking noises, it sounds like someone is insistently banging on a door.

“The activity is formidable, exciting and scary,” said Northwestern seismologist Suzan van der Lee, who co-developed Earthtunes. “Iceland did the right thing by evacuating residents in nearby Grindavik and the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, one of the world’s oldest geothermal power plants, which was the first to combine electricity generation with hot water for heating in the region.”

Van der Lee is the Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. In her research, she applies data science to millions of records of seismic waves in order to decode seismic signals, which harbor valuable information about the Earth’s interior dynamics.

As hundreds of earthquakes shake the ground, Van der Lee says the impending eruption is reminiscent of the 1973 eruption of Heimaey on Iceland’s Vestmannaeyjar archipelago.

“This level of danger is unprecedented for this area of Iceland, but not for Iceland as a whole,” said van der Lee, who hiked Fagradalsfjall in June. “While most Icelandic volcanoes erupt away from towns and other infrastructure, Icelanders share the terrible memory of an eruption 50 years ago on the island Vestmannaeyjar, during which lava covered part of that island’s town, Heimaey. The residents felt very vulnerable, as the evacuated people of Grindavik feel now. In a few days or weeks, they might no longer have their jobs, homes and most possessions, while still having to feed their families and pay their mortgages. However, partially resulting from that eruption on Vestmannaeyjar, Icelanders are well prepared for the current situation in the Fagradallsfjall-Svartsengi-Grindavik area.” 

Accelerated audio

This audio clip presents the same data, with the pitch increased by 10 octaves. Listeners will hear a long, low rumbling sound, punctuated by an occasional slamming door.

“What you’re hearing is 24 hours of seismic data — filled with earthquake signals,” van der Lee said. “The vast majority of these quakes are associated with the magma intrusion into the crust of the Fagradallsfjall-Svartsengi-Grindavik area of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Seismic data are not audible; their frequencies are too low. So, the 24 hours of data are compressed into approximately 1.5 minutes of audio data. You can hear an unprecedented intensity of earthquakes during the night from last Friday into Saturday and related to a new magma intrusion into the crust area.”

In a third audio clip, the same data is less compressed, with the pitch increased by just seven octaves

“One can hear frequent earthquakes happening at this point,” van der Lee said. “Icelandic seismologists have been monitoring these quakes and their increasing vigor and changing patterns. They recognized similar patterns to earthquake swarms that preceded the 2021-2023 eruptions of the adjacent Fagradallsfjall volcano.”

Earthtunes is supported by the American Geophysical Union and Northwestern’s department of Earth and planetary sciences. Seismic data is obtained from the Earthscope Consortium. The app was designed and developed by van der Lee, Helio Tejedor, Melanie Marzen, Igor Eufrasio, Josephine Anderson, Liam Toney, Cooper Barth, Michael Ji and Leonicio Cabrera.

Jennifer Ouellette’s November 16, 2023 article for Ars Tecnica draws heavily from the news release while delving into the topic of data sonification (making sounds from data), Note: Links have been removed,


Sonification of scientific data is an area of growing interest in many different fields. For instance, several years ago, a project called LHCSound built a library of the “sounds” of a top quark jet and the Higgs boson, among others. The project hoped to develop sonification as a technique for analyzing the data from particle collisions so that physicists could “detect” subatomic particles by ear. Other scientists have mapped the molecular structure of proteins in spider silk threads onto musical theory to produce the “sound” of silk in hopes of establishing a radical new way to create designer proteins. And there’s a free app for Android called the Amino Acid Synthesizer that enables users to create their own protein “compositions” from the sounds of amino acids.

The December 19, 2023 Northwestern University media update points to the latest audio file of the eruption of the svartsengi-grindavik fissure in Iceland: 24 hours as of Monday, December 18, 2023 14:00:00 UTC.


One last thing, there are a number of postings about data sonification here; many but not all scientists and/or communication practitioners think to include audio files.

When the rocks sing “I got rhythm”

George Gershwin, along with his brother Ira, wrote jazz standards such as “I got rhythm” in 1930 and, before that, “Fascinating rhythm” in 1924 and both seem à propos in relation to this October 9, 2023 news item on,

f you could sink through the Earth’s crust, you might hear, with a carefully tuned ear, a cacophany of booms and crackles along the way. The fissures, pores, and defects running through rocks are like strings that resonate when pressed and stressed. And as a team of MIT geologists has found, the rhythm and pace of these sounds can tell you something about the depth and strength of the rocks around you.

The fissures and pores running through rocks, from the Earth’s crust to the liquid mantle, are like channels and cavities through which sound can resonate. Credit: iStock [downloaded from]

An October 9, 2023 Massachusetts Institute of Technology news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jennifer Chu, which originated the news item, (word play alert) delves down into the material, Note: A link has been removed,

“If you were listening to the rocks, they would be singing at higher and higher pitches, the deeper you go,” says MIT geologist Matěj Peč. 

Peč and his colleagues are listening to rocks, to see whether any acoustic patterns, or “fingerprints” emerge when subjected to various pressures. In lab studies, they have now shown that samples of marble, when subjected to low pressures, emit low-pitched “booms,” while at higher pressures, the rocks generate an ‘avalanche’ of higher-pitched crackles. 

Peč says these acoustic patterns in rocks can help scientists estimate the types of cracks, fissures, and other defects that the Earth’s crust experiences with depth, which they can then use to identify unstable regions below the surface, where there is potential for earthquakes or eruptions. The team’s results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could also help inform surveyors’ efforts to drill for renewable, geothermal energy. 

“If we want to tap these very hot geothermal sources, we will have to learn how to drill into rocks that are in this mixed-mode condition, where they are not purely brittle, but also flow a bit,” says Peč, who is an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS). “But overall, this is fundamental science that can help us understand where the lithosphere is strongest.” 

Peč’s collaborators at MIT are lead author and research scientist Hoagy O. Ghaffari, technical associate Ulrich Mok, graduate student Hilary Chang, and professor emeritus of geophysics Brian Evans. Tushar Mittal, co-author and former EAPS postdoc, is now an assistant professor at Penn State University.

Fracture and flow

The Earth’s crust is often compared to the skin of an apple. At its thickest, the crust can be 70 kilometers deep — a tiny fraction of the globe’s total, 12,700-kilometer diameter. And yet, the rocks that make up the planet’s thin peel vary greatly in their strength and stability. Geologists infer that rocks near the surface are brittle and fracture easily, compared to rocks at greater depths, where immense pressures, and heat from the core, can make rocks flow. 

The fact that rocks are brittle at the surface and more ductile at depth implies there must be an in-between — a phase in which rocks transition from one to the other, and may have properties of both, able to fracture like granite, and flow like honey. This “brittle-to-ductile transition” is not well understood, though geologists believe it may be where rocks are at their strongest within the crust. 

“This transition state of partly flowing, partly fracturing, is really important, because that’s where we think the peak of the lithosphere’s strength is and where the largest earthquakes nucleate,” Peč says. “But we don’t have a good handle on this type of mixed-mode behavior.”

He and his colleagues are studying how the strength and stability of rocks — whether brittle, ductile, or somewhere in between — varies, based on a rock’s microscopic defects. The size, density, and distribution of defects such as microscopic cracks, fissures, and pores can shape how brittle or ductile a rock can be. 

But measuring the microscopic defects in rocks, under conditions that simulate the Earth’s various pressures and depths, is no trivial task. There is, for instance, no visual-imaging technique that allows scientists to see inside rocks to map their microscopic imperfections. So the team turned to ultrasound, and the idea that, any sound wave traveling through a rock should bounce, vibrate, and reflect off any microscopic cracks and crevices, in specific ways that should reveal something about the pattern of those defects. 

All these defects will also generate their own sounds when they move under stress and therefore both actively sounding through the rock as well as listening to it should give them a great deal of information. They found that the idea should work with ultrasound waves, at megahertz frequencies.

This kind of ultrasound method is analogous to what seismologists do in nature, but at much higher frequencies,” Peč explains. “This helps us to understand the physics that occur at microscopic scales, during the deformation of these rocks.” 

A rock in a hard place

In their experiments, the team tested cylinders of Carrara marble. 

“It’s the same material as what Michaelangelo’s David is made from,” Peč notes. “It’s a very well-characterized material, and we know exactly what it should be doing.”

The team placed each marble cylinder in a a vice-like apparatus made from pistons of aluminum, zirconium, and steel, which together can generate extreme stresses. They placed the vice in a pressurized chamber, then subjected each cylinder to pressures similar to what rocks experience throughout the Earth’s crust.  

As they slowly crushed each rock, the team sent pulses of ultrasound through the top of the sample, and recorded the acoustic pattern that exited through the bottom. When the sensors were not pulsing, they were listening to any naturally occurring acoustic emissions.

They found that at the lower end of the pressure range, where rocks are brittle, the marble indeed formed sudden fractures in response, and the sound waves resembled large, low-frequency booms. At the highest pressures, where rocks are more ductile, the acoustic waves resembled a higher-pitched crackling. The team believes this crackling was produced by microscopic defects called dislocations that then spread and flow like an avalanche. 

“For the first time, we have recorded the ‘noises’ that rocks make when they are deformed across this brittle-to-ductile transition, and we link these noises to the individual microscopic defects that cause them,” Peč says. “We found that these defects massively change their size and propagation velocity as they cross this transition. It’s more complicated than people had thought.”

The team’s characterizations of rocks and their defects at various pressures can help scientists estimate how the Earth’s crust will behave at various depths, such as how rocks might fracture in an earthquake, or flow in an eruption.    

“When rocks are partly fracturing and partly flowing, how does that feed back into the earthquake cycle? And how does that affect the movement of magma through a network of rocks?” Peč says. “Those are larger scale questions that can be tackled with research like this.”

This research was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.

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

Microscopic defect dynamics during a brittle-to-ductile transition by Hoagy O’Ghaffari, Matěj Peč, Tushar Mittal, Ulrich Mok, Hilary Chang, and Brian Evans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 120 (42) e2305667120 DOI: October 9, 2023

This paper is behind a paywall.

Reducing toxicity of Alzheimer’s proteins with graphene oxide

Nobody really knows what causes Alzheimer’s disease (a form of dementia) so researchers continue to investigates the cause(s) and, also, possible remedies. An October 4, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily announces some of the latest research,

A probable early driver of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of molecules called amyloid peptides. These cause cell death, and are commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have now shown that yeast cells that accumulate these misfolded amyloid peptides can recover after being treated with graphene oxide nanoflakes.

An October 4, 2023 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also received via email and on EurekAlert) by Susanne Nilsson Lindh & Johanna Wilde, which originated the news item, delves into the topic,

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable brain disease, leading to dementia and death, that causes suffering for both the patients and their families. It is estimated that over 40 million people worldwide are living with the disease or a related form of dementia. According to Alzheimer’s News Today, the estimated global cost of these diseases is one percent of the global gross domestic product.

Misfolded amyloid-beta peptides, Aβ peptides, that accumulate and aggregate in the brain, are believed to be the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease. They trigger a series of harmful processes in the neurons (brain cells) – causing the loss of many vital cell functions or cell death, and thus a loss of brain function in the affected area. To date, there are no effective strategies to treat amyloid accumulation in the brain.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have now shown that treatment with graphene oxide leads to reduced levels of aggregated amyloid peptides in a yeast cell model.

“This effect of graphene oxide has recently also been shown by other researchers, but not in yeast cells”, says Xin Chen, Researcher in Systems Biology at Chalmers and first author of the study. “Our study also explains the mechanism behind the effect. Graphene oxide affects the metabolism of the cells, in a way that increases their resistance to misfolded proteins and oxidative stress. This has not been previously reported.”

Investigating the mechanisms using baker’s yeast affected by Alzheimer’s disease
In Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid aggregates exert their neurotoxic effects by causing various cellular metabolic disorders, such as stress in the endoplasmic reticulum – a major part of the cell, in which many of its proteins are produced. This can reduce cells’ ability to handle misfolded proteins, and consequently increase the accumulation of these proteins.

The aggregates also affect the function of the mitochondria, the cells’ powerhouses. Therefore, the neurons are exposed to increased oxidative stress (reactive molecules called oxygen radicals, which damage other molecules); something to which brain cells are particularly sensitive.

The Chalmers researchers have conducted the study by a combination of protein analysis (proteomics) and follow-up experiments. They have used baker’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as an in vivo model for human cells. Both cell types have very similar systems for controlling protein quality. This yeast cell model was previously established by the research group to mimic human neurons affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

“The yeast cells in our model resemble neurons affected by the accumulation of amyloid-beta42, which is the form of amyloid peptide most prone to aggregate formation”, says Xin Chen. “These cells age faster than normal, show endoplasmic reticulum stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, and have elevated production of harmful reactive oxygen radicals.”

High hopes for graphene oxide nanoflakes
Graphene oxide nanoflakes are two-dimensional carbon nanomaterials with unique properties, including outstanding conductivity and high biocompatibility. They are used extensively in various research projects, including the development of cancer treatments, drug delivery systems and biosensors.

The nanoflakes are hydrophilic (water soluble) and interact well with biomolecules such as proteins. When graphene oxide enters living cells, it is able to interfere with the self-assembly processes of proteins.

“As a result, it can hinder the formation of protein aggregates and promote the disintegration of existing aggregates”, says Santosh Pandit, Researcher in Systems Biology at Chalmers and co-author of the study. “We believe that the nanoflakes act via two independent pathways to mitigate the toxic effects of amyloid-beta42 in the yeast cells.”

In one pathway, graphene oxide acts directly to prevent amyloid-beta42 accumulation. In the other, graphene oxide acts indirectly by a (currently unknown) mechanism, in which specific genes for stress response are activated. This increases the cell’s ability to handle misfolded proteins and oxidative stress.

How to treat Alzheimer’s patients is still a question for the future. However, according to the research group at Chalmers, graphene oxide holds great potential for future research in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. The research group has already been able to show that treatment with graphene oxide also reduces the toxic effects of protein aggregates specific to Huntington’s disease in a yeast model.

“The next step is to investigate whether it is possible to develop a drug delivery system based on graphene oxide for Alzheimer’s disease.” says Xin Chen. “We also want to test whether graphene oxide has beneficial effects in additional models of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.”

More about: proteins and peptides
Proteins and peptides are fundamentally the same type of molecule and are made up of amino acids. Peptide molecules are smaller – typically containing less than 50 amino acids – and have a less complicated structure. Proteins and peptides can both become deformed if they fold in the wrong way during formation in the cell. When many amyloid-beta peptides accumulate in the brain, the aggregates are classified as proteins.

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

Graphene Oxide Attenuates Toxicity of Amyloid-β Aggregates in Yeast by Promoting Disassembly and Boosting Cellular Stress Response by Xin Chen, Santosh Pandit, Lei Shi, Vaishnavi Ravikumar, Julie Bonne Køhler, Ema Svetlicic, Zhejian Cao, Abhroop Garg, Dina Petranovic, Ivan Mijakovic. Advanced Functional Materials Volume 33, Issue 45 November 2, 2023 2304053 DOI: First published online: 07 July 2023

This paper is open access.

Centuries-old technique for constructing arched stone windows leads to new technique for nanoscale windows

An October 2, 2023 news item on announces research from Saudi Arabia,

A centuries-old technique for constructing arched stone windows has inspired a new way to form tailored nanoscale windows in porous functional materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs).

I very much appreciate the aesthetics of the illustration for the research,

Caption: KAUST researchers have developed a new approach to MOF design that offers multiple benefits to enhance MOF performance. Credit: © 2023 KAUST.

An October 2, 2023 King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more technical details about the research, Note: A link has been removed,

The method uses a molecular version of an architectural arch-forming “centring formwork“ template to direct the formation of MOFs with pore windows of predetermined shape and size.[1]. New MOFs designed and made in this way range from narrow-windowed materials with gas separation potential to larger-windowed structures with potential medical applications due to their excellent oxygen-adsorption capacity.

“One of the most challenging goals in new structure design is the precise control of structure formation,” says Aleksandr Sapianik, a postdoc in the group of Mohamed Eddaoudi, who led the research. For reticular chemistry — the assembly of molecular building blocks into porous crystalline materials such as MOFs — the centering formwork concept might offer that precise control, the team realized.

The starting point of the research was a zeolite-like MOF (ZMOF), which usually features pentagonal windows framed by building blocks called supertetrahedra (ST). “Our goal was to control ST arrangement to change from this well-known topology to one not reported before with these building blocks,” Sapianik says.

The team developed centring structure-directing agents (cSDA) to control ST alignment and form ZMOF windows of new shapes and sizes. One set of cSDAs, designed to tighten the angle between adjoining ST units, created small windows. Another set, designed to expand the angle between ST units, gave larger windows.

“MOF pore size and volume are important parameters that affect their application,” says Marina Barsukova, a postdoc in Eddaoudi’s team. One large-windowed ZMOF the team designed, Fe-sod-ZMOF-320, showed the highest oxygen adsorption capacity of any MOF known. “This property is important in the medical and aerospace industries, where the high capacity would increase oxygen storage in a cylinder, or enable smaller cylinders for easier transport,” Barsukova says. The same ZMOFs also performed well for storage of methane and hydrogen, which are potential fuels. Other ZMOFs in the family with narrow windows showed potential for gas separation of molecular mixtures.

The cSDA concept offers multiple benefits enhancing MOF performance, says Vincent Guillerm, a research scientist in Eddaoudi’s group. “The cSDA partitions big windows into smaller ones, which our preliminary results suggest will be useful for chemical separations,” he says. “It also offers additional internal pore surface, which can help to improve gas storage, and reinforces the MOF framework, which should improve the material’s stability,” he adds.

“The centring approach we have developed is another powerful strategy in the repertoire of reticular chemistry, offering great potential for made-to-order MOFs for applications in energy security and environmental sustainability,” Eddaoudi says.

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

Face-directed assembly of tailored isoreticular MOFs using centring structure-directing agents by Marina Barsukova, Aleksandr Sapianik, Vincent Guillerm, Aleksander Shkurenko, Aslam C. Shaikh, Prakash Parvatkar, Prashant M. Bhatt, Mickaele Bonneau, Abdulhadi Alhaji, Osama Shekhah, Salvador R. G. Balestra, Rocio Semino, Guillaume Maurin & Mohamed Eddaoudi. Nature Synthesis (2023) DOI: Published: 02 October 2023

This paper is open access.

Powered with salt water

Apparently, salt water can be used both in the production of fusion energy (a form of nuclear energy) and, according to new research from the University of Illinois into a nanofluidic device, electricity. From a September 22, 2023 University of Illinois news release (also on EurekAlert),

There is a largely untapped energy source along the world’s coastlines: the difference in salinity between seawater and freshwater. A new nanodevice can harness this difference to generate power.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has reported a design for a nanofluidic device capable of converting ionic flow into usable electric power in the journal Nano Energy. The team believes that their device could be used to extract power from the natural ionic flows at seawater-freshwater boundaries.

“While our design is still a concept at this stage, it is quite versatile and already shows strong potential for energy applications,” said Jean-Pierre Leburton, a U. of I. professor of electrical & computer engineering and the project lead. “It began with an academic question – ‘Can a nanoscale solid-state device extract energy from ionic flow?’ – but our design exceeded our expectations and surprised us in many ways.”

When two bodies of water with different salinity meet, such as where a river empties into an ocean, salt molecules naturally flow from higher concentration to lower concentration. The energy of these flows can be harvested because they consist of electrically charged particles called ions that form from the dissolved salt.

Leburton’s group designed a nanoscale semiconductor device that takes advantage of a phenomenon called “Coulomb drag” between flowing ions and electric charges in the device. When the ions flow through a narrow channel in the device, electric forces cause the device charges to move from one side to the other creating voltage and electric current.

The researchers found two surprising behaviors when they simulated their device. First, while they expected that Coulomb drag would primarily occur through the attractive force between opposite electric charges, the simulations indicated that the device works equally well if the electric forces are repulsive. Both positively and negatively charged ions contribute to drag.

“Just as noteworthy, our study indicates that there is an amplification effect” said Mingye Xiong, a graduate student in Leburton’s group and the study’s lead author. “Since the moving ions are so massive compared to the device charges, the ions impart large amounts of momentum to the charges, amplifying the underlying current.”

The researchers also found that these effects are independent of the specific channel configuration as well as the choice of materials, provided the channel diameter is narrow enough to ensure proximity between the ions and the charges.

The researchers are in the process of patenting their findings, and they are studying how arrays of these devices could scale for practical power generation.

“We believe that the power density of a device array could meet or exceed that of solar cells,” Leburton said. “And that’s not to mention the potential applications in other fields like biomedical sensing and nanofluidics.”

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

Ionic coulomb drag in nanofluidic semiconductor channels for energy harvest by Mingye Xiong, Kewei Song, Jean-Pierre Leburton. Nano Energy Volume 117, 1 December 2023, 108860 DOI:

This paper is behind a paywall.