Health Canada advisory: Face masks that contain graphene may pose health risks

Since COVID-19, we’ve been advised to wear face masks. It seems some of them may not be as safe as we assumed. First, the Health Canada advisory that was issued today, April 2, 2021 and then excerpts from an in-depth posting by Dr. Andrew Maynard (associate dean in the Arizona State University College of Global Futures) about the advisory and the use of graphene in masks.

From the Health Canada Recalls & alerts: Face masks that contain graphene may pose health risks webpage,

Summary

  • Product: Face masks labelled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.
  • Issue: There is a potential that wearers could inhale graphene particles from some masks, which may pose health risks.
  • What to do: Do not use these face masks. Report any health product adverse events or complaints to Health Canada.

Issue

Health Canada is advising Canadians not to use face masks that contain graphene because there is a potential that they could inhale graphene particles, which may pose health risks.

Graphene is a novel nanomaterial (materials made of tiny particles) reported to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Health Canada conducted a preliminary scientific assessment after being made aware that masks containing graphene have been sold with COVID-19 claims and used by adults and children in schools and daycares. Health Canada believes they may also have been distributed for use in health care settings.

Health Canada’s preliminary assessment of available research identified that inhaled graphene particles had some potential to cause early lung toxicity in animals. However, the potential for people to inhale graphene particles from face masks and the related health risks are not yet known, and may vary based on mask design. The health risk to people of any age is not clear. Variables, such as the amount and duration of exposure, and the type and characteristics of the graphene material used, all affect the potential to inhale particles and the associated health risks. Health Canada has requested data from mask manufacturers to assess the potential health risks related to their masks that contain graphene.

Until the Department completes a thorough scientific assessment and has established the safety and effectiveness of graphene-containing face masks, it is taking the precautionary approach of removing them from the market while continuing to gather and assess information. Health Canada has directed all known distributors, importers and manufacturers to stop selling and to recall the affected products. Additionally, Health Canada has written to provinces and territories advising them to stop distribution and use of masks containing graphene. The Department will continue to take appropriate action to stop the import and sale of graphene face masks.

Products affected

Face masks labelled as containing graphene or biomass graphene.

What you should do

  • Do not use face masks labelled to contain graphene or biomass graphene.
  • Consult your health care provider if you have used graphene face masks and have health concerns, such as new or unexplained shortness of breath, discomfort or difficulty breathing.
  • Report any health product adverse events or complaints regarding graphene face masks to Health Canada.

Dr. Andrew Maynard’s Edge of Innovation series features a March 26, 2021 posting about the use of graphene in masks (Note: Links have been removed),

Face masks should protect you, not place you in greater danger. However, last Friday Radio Canada revealed that residents of Quebec and Ottawa were being advised not to use specific types of graphene-containing masks as they could potentially be harmful.

The offending material in the masks is graphene — a form of carbon that consists of nanoscopically thin flakes of hexagonally-arranged carbon atoms. It’s a material that has a number of potentially beneficial properties, including the ability to kill bacteria and viruses when they’re exposed to it.

Yet despite its many potential uses, the scientific jury is still out when it comes to how safe the material is.

As with all materials, the potential health risks associated with graphene depend on whether it can get into the body, where it goes if it can, what it does when it gets there, and how much of it is needed to cause enough damage to be of concern.

Unfortunately, even though these are pretty basic questions, there aren’t many answers forthcoming when it comes to the substance’s use in face masks.

Early concerns around graphene were sparked by previous research on another form of carbon — carbon nanotubes. It turns out that some forms of these fiber-like materials can cause serious harm if inhaled. And following on from research here, a natural next-question to ask is whether carbon nanotubes’ close cousin graphene comes with similar concerns.

Because graphene lacks many of the physical and chemical aspects of carbon nanotubes that make them harmful (such as being long, thin, and hard for the body to get rid of), the indications are that the material is safer than its nanotube cousins. But safer doesn’t mean safe. And current research indicates that this is not a material that should be used where it could potentially be inhaled, without a good amount of safety testing first.

[downloaded from https://medium.com/edge-of-innovation/how-safe-are-graphene-based-face-masks-b88740547e8c] Original source: Wikimedia

When it comes to inhaling graphene, the current state of the science indicates that if the material can get into the lower parts of the lungs (the respirable or alveolar region) it can lead to an inflammatory response at high enough concentrations.

There is some evidence that adverse responses are relatively short-lived, and that graphene particles can be broken down and disposed of by the lungs’ defenses.

This is good news as it means that there are less likely to be long-term health impacts from inhaling the material.

There’s also evidence that graphene, unlike some forms of thin, straight carbon nanotubes, does not migrate to the outside layers of the lungs where it could potentially do a lot more damage.

Again, this is encouraging as it suggests that graphene is unlikely to lead to serious long-term health impacts like mesothelioma.

However, research also shows that this is not a benign material. Despite being made of carbon — and it’s tempting to think of carbon as being safe, just because we’re familiar with it — there is some evidence that the jagged edges of some graphene particles can harm cells, leading to local damage as the body responds to any damage the material causes.

There are also concerns, although they are less well explored in the literature, that some forms of graphene may be carriers for nanometer-sized metal particles that can be quite destructive in the lungs. This is certainly the case with some carbon nanotubes, as the metallic catalyst particles used to manufacture them become embedded in the material, and contribute to its toxicity.

The long and short of this is that, while there are still plenty of gaps in our knowledge around how much graphene it’s safe to inhale, inhaling small graphene particles probably isn’t a great idea unless there’s been comprehensive testing to show otherwise.

And this brings us to graphene-containing face masks.

….

Here, it’s important to stress that we don’t yet know if graphene particles are being released and, if they are, whether they are being released in sufficient quantities to cause health effects. And there are indications that, if there are health risks, these may be relatively short-term — simply because graphene particles may be effectively degraded by the lungs’ defenses.

At the same time, it seems highly irresponsible to include a material with unknown inhalation risks in a product that is intimately associated with inhalation. Especially when there are a growing number of face masks available that claim to use graphene.

… There are millions of graphene face masks and respirators being sold and used around the world. And while the unfolding news focuses on Quebec and one particular type of face mask, this is casting uncertainty over the safety of any graphene-containing masks that are being sold.

And this uncertainty will persist until manufacturers and regulators provide data indicating that they have tested the products for the release and subsequent inhalation of fine graphene particles, and shown the risks to be negligible.

I strongly recommend reading, in its entirety , Dr. Maynard’s March 26, 2021 posting, Which he has updated twice since first posting the story.

In short. you may want to hold off before buying a mask with graphene until there’s more data about safety.

BrainGate demonstrates a high-bandwidth wireless brain-computer interface (BCI)

I wrote about some brain computer interface (BCI) work out of Stanford University (California, US), in a Sept. 17, 2020 posting (Turning brain-controlled wireless electronic prostheses into reality plus some ethical points), which may have contributed to what is now the first demonstration of a wireless brain-computer interface for people with tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia).

From an April 1, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily,

In an important step toward a fully implantable intracortical brain-computer interface system, BrainGate researchers demonstrated human use of a wireless transmitter capable of delivering high-bandwidth neural signals.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are an emerging assistive technology, enabling people with paralysis to type on computer screens or manipulate robotic prostheses just by thinking about moving their own bodies. For years, investigational BCIs used in clinical trials have required cables to connect the sensing array in the brain to computers that decode the signals and use them to drive external devices.

Now, for the first time, BrainGate clinical trial participants with tetraplegia have demonstrated use of an intracortical wireless BCI with an external wireless transmitter. The system is capable of transmitting brain signals at single-neuron resolution and in full broadband fidelity without physically tethering the user to a decoding system. The traditional cables are replaced by a small transmitter about 2 inches in its largest dimension and weighing a little over 1.5 ounces. The unit sits on top of a user’s head and connects to an electrode array within the brain’s motor cortex using the same port used by wired systems.

For a study published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, two clinical trial participants with paralysis used the BrainGate system with a wireless transmitter to point, click and type on a standard tablet computer. The study showed that the wireless system transmitted signals with virtually the same fidelity as wired systems, and participants achieved similar point-and-click accuracy and typing speeds.

A March 31, 2021 Brown University news release (also on EurekAlert but published April 1, 2021), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

“We’ve demonstrated that this wireless system is functionally equivalent to the wired systems that have been the gold standard in BCI performance for years,” said John Simeral, an assistant professor of engineering (research) at Brown University, a member of the BrainGate research consortium and the study’s lead author. “The signals are recorded and transmitted with appropriately similar fidelity, which means we can use the same decoding algorithms we used with wired equipment. The only difference is that people no longer need to be physically tethered to our equipment, which opens up new possibilities in terms of how the system can be used.”

The researchers say the study represents an early but important step toward a major objective in BCI research: a fully implantable intracortical system that aids in restoring independence for people who have lost the ability to move. While wireless devices with lower bandwidth have been reported previously, this is the first device to transmit the full spectrum of signals recorded by an intracortical sensor. That high-broadband wireless signal enables clinical research and basic human neuroscience that is much more difficult to perform with wired BCIs.

The new study demonstrated some of those new possibilities. The trial participants — a 35-year-old man and a 63-year-old man, both paralyzed by spinal cord injuries — were able to use the system in their homes, as opposed to the lab setting where most BCI research takes place. Unencumbered by cables, the participants were able to use the BCI continuously for up to 24 hours, giving the researchers long-duration data including while participants slept.

“We want to understand how neural signals evolve over time,” said Leigh Hochberg, an engineering professor at Brown, a researcher at Brown’s Carney Institute for Brain Science and leader of the BrainGate clinical trial. “With this system, we’re able to look at brain activity, at home, over long periods in a way that was nearly impossible before. This will help us to design decoding algorithms that provide for the seamless, intuitive, reliable restoration of communication and mobility for people with paralysis.”

The device used in the study was first developed at Brown in the lab of Arto Nurmikko, a professor in Brown’s School of Engineering. Dubbed the Brown Wireless Device (BWD), it was designed to transmit high-fidelity signals while drawing minimal power. In the current study, two devices used together recorded neural signals at 48 megabits per second from 200 electrodes with a battery life of over 36 hours.

While the BWD has been used successfully for several years in basic neuroscience research, additional testing and regulatory permission were required prior to using the system in the BrainGate trial. Nurmikko says the step to human use marks a key moment in the development of BCI technology.

“I am privileged to be part of a team pushing the frontiers of brain-machine interfaces for human use,” Nurmikko said. “Importantly, the wireless technology described in our paper has helped us to gain crucial insight for the road ahead in pursuit of next generation of neurotechnologies, such as fully implanted high-density wireless electronic interfaces for the brain.”

The new study marks another significant advance by researchers with the BrainGate consortium, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Brown, Stanford and Case Western Reserve universities, as well as the Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2012, the team published landmark research in which clinical trial participants were able, for the first time, to operate multidimensional robotic prosthetics using a BCI. That work has been followed by a steady stream of refinements to the system, as well as new clinical breakthroughs that have enabled people to type on computers, use tablet apps and even move their own paralyzed limbs.

“The evolution of intracortical BCIs from requiring a wire cable to instead using a miniature wireless transmitter is a major step toward functional use of fully implanted, high-performance neural interfaces,” said study co-author Sharlene Flesher, who was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford and is now a hardware engineer at Apple. “As the field heads toward reducing transmitted bandwidth while preserving the accuracy of assistive device control, this study may be one of few that captures the full breadth of cortical signals for extended periods of time, including during practical BCI use.”

The new wireless technology is already paying dividends in unexpected ways, the researchers say. Because participants are able to use the wireless device in their homes without a technician on hand to maintain the wired connection, the BrainGate team has been able to continue their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In March 2020, it became clear that we would not be able to visit our research participants’ homes,” said Hochberg, who is also a critical care neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and director of the V.A. Rehabilitation Research and Development Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology. “But by training caregivers how to establish the wireless connection, a trial participant was able to use the BCI without members of our team physically being there. So not only were we able to continue our research, this technology allowed us to continue with the full bandwidth and fidelity that we had before.”

Simeral noted that, “Multiple companies have wonderfully entered the BCI field, and some have already demonstrated human use of low-bandwidth wireless systems, including some that are fully implanted. In this report, we’re excited to have used a high-bandwidth wireless system that advances the scientific and clinical capabilities for future systems.”

Brown has a licensing agreement with Blackrock Microsystems to make the device available to neuroscience researchers around the world. The BrainGate team plans to continue to use the device in ongoing clinical trials.

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

Home Use of a Percutaneous Wireless Intracortical Brain-Computer Interface by Individuals With Tetraplegia by John D Simeral, Thomas Hosman, Jad Saab, Sharlene N Flesher, Marco Vilela, Brian Franco, Jessica Kelemen, David M Brandman, John G Ciancibello, Paymon G Rezaii, Emad N. Eskandar, David M Rosler, Krishna V Shenoy, Jaimie M. Henderson, Arto V Nurmikko, Leigh R. Hochberg. IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering, 2021; 1 DOI: 10.1109/TBME.2021.3069119 Date of Publication: 30 March 2021

This paper is open access.

If you don’t happen to be familiar with the IEEE, it’s the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. BrainGate can be found here, and Blackrock Microsystems can be found here.

The first story here to feature BrainGate was in a May 17, 2012 posting. (Unfortunately, the video featuring a participant picking up a cup of coffee is no longer embedded in the post.) There’s also an October 31, 2016 posting and an April 24, 2017 posting, both of which mention BrainGate. As for my Sept. 17, 2020 posting (Turning brain-controlled wireless electronic prostheses into reality plus some ethical points), you may want to look at those ethical points.

Use kombucha to produce bacterial cellulose

The combination of the US Army, bacterial cellulose, and kombucha seems a little unusual. However, this January 26, 2021 U.S. Army Research Laboratory news release (also on EurekAlert) provides some clues as to how this combination makes sense,

Kombucha tea, a trendy fermented beverage, inspired researchers to develop a new way to generate tough, functional materials using a mixture of bacteria and yeast similar to the kombucha mother used to ferment tea.

With Army funding, using this mixture, also called a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, engineers at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Imperial College London produced cellulose embedded with enzymes that can perform a variety of functions, such as sensing environmental pollutants and self-healing materials.

The team also showed that they could incorporate yeast directly into the cellulose, creating living materials that could be used to purify water for Soldiers in the field or make smart packaging materials that can detect damage.

“This work provides insights into how synthetic biology approaches can harness the design of biotic-abiotic interfaces with biological organization over multiple length scales,” said Dr. Dawanne Poree, program manager, Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory. “This is important to the Army as this can lead to new materials with potential applications in microbial fuel cells, sense and respond systems, and self-reporting and self-repairing materials.”

The research, published in Nature Materials was funded by ARO [Army Research Office] and the Army’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies [ISN] at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The U.S. Army established the ISN in 2002 as an interdisciplinary research center devoted to dramatically improving the protection, survivability, and mission capabilities of the Soldier and Soldier-supporting platforms and systems.

“We foresee a future where diverse materials could be grown at home or in local production facilities, using biology rather than resource-intensive centralized manufacturing,” said Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering.

Researchers produced cellulose embedded with enzymes, creating living materials that could be used to purify water for Soldiers in the field or make smart packaging materials that can detect damage. These fermentation factories, which usually contain one species of bacteria and one or more yeast species, produce ethanol, cellulose, and acetic acid that gives kombucha tea its distinctive flavor.

Most of the wild yeast strains used for fermentation are difficult to genetically modify, so the researchers replaced them with a strain of laboratory yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. They combined the yeast with a type of bacteria called Komagataeibacter rhaeticus that their collaborators at Imperial College London had previously isolated from a kombucha mother. This species can produce large quantities of cellulose.

Because the researchers used a laboratory strain of yeast, they could engineer the cells to do any of the things that lab yeast can do, such as producing enzymes that glow in the dark, or sensing pollutants or pathogens in the environment. The yeast can also be programmed so that they can break down pollutants/pathogens after detecting them, which is highly relevant to Army for chem/bio defense applications.

“Our community believes that living materials could provide the most effective sensing of chem/bio warfare agents, especially those of unknown genetics and chemistry,” said Dr. Jim Burgess ISN program manager for ARO.

The bacteria in the culture produced large-scale quantities of tough cellulose that served as a scaffold. The researchers designed their system so that they can control whether the yeast themselves, or just the enzymes that they produce, are incorporated into the cellulose structure. It takes only a few days to grow the material, and if left long enough, it can thicken to occupy a space as large as a bathtub.

“We think this is a good system that is very cheap and very easy to make in very large quantities,” said MIT graduate student and the paper’s lead author, Tzu-Chieh Tang. To demonstrate the potential of their microbe culture, which they call Syn-SCOBY, the researchers created a material incorporating yeast that senses estradiol, which is sometimes found as an environmental pollutant. In another version, they used a strain of yeast that produces a glowing protein called luciferase when exposed to blue light. These yeasts could be swapped out for other strains that detect other pollutants, metals, or pathogens.

The researchers are now looking into using the Syn-SCOBY system for biomedical or food applications. For example, engineering the yeast cells to produce antimicrobials or proteins that could benefit human health.

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

Living materials with programmable functionalities grown from engineered microbial co-cultures by Charlie Gilbert, Tzu-Chieh Tang, Wolfgang Ott, Brandon A. Dorr, William M. Shaw, George L. Sun, Timothy K. Lu & Tom Ellis. Nature Materials (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-020-00857-5 Published: 11 January 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Cambridge Science Festival April 2021: 30 Days of Science

First, this Cambridge is in Massachusetts, US. The US festival was started in 2007 by John Durant, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum (see the MIT Museum Wikipedia entry for more information).

There’s also this from the Cambridge Science Festival website About Us webpage,

The Cambridge Science Festival, the first of its kind in the United States, is a celebration showcasing the leading edge in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).  A multifaceted, multicultural event, the Festival makes science accessible, interactive and fun, highlighting the impact of STEAM in all our lives.

For the 2021 Festival, recognizing social distancing will be in place as we begin to emerge from the pandemic,  we will celebrate STEAM in our community with an overarching theme of gratitude and appreciation. During the month of April 2021, we will showcase creative digital and virtual entries from our rich STEAM community, and celebrate with public displays of appreciation and gratitude. Stay tuned and get involved!

Modeled on art, music, and movie festivals, the Cambridge Science Festival offers activities, demonstrations, workshops, tours, debates, contests, talks, and behind-the-scene glimpses to illuminate the richness of scientific inquiry and the excitement of discovery.

The 2021 festival is offering the 30 Days of Science Challenge!

This year, Cambridge Science Festival is celebrating science for the entire month of April. Join us!

Our challenge to you: 30 Days of Science.

Each day, we’ll share a simple prompt with content and events developed exclusively by the Cambridge Science Festival community. Spend a few minutes a day exploring the offerings, connecting with cool scientists, & learning new things!

Or choose your own adventure! Want to learn about a new native bird each day? Maybe perfect your daily coffee routine with science? Ready to learn about 30 exoplanets?

We want to learn with you. We’re here to keep you accountable & cheer you on. Take the pledge — share your discoveries, fun facts, & new questions with us through #30DaysofScience.

Let’s get nerdy!

I’m In

The 2021 (US) Cambridge Science Festival starting April 1 has its website here and the 2021 (UK) Cambridge Science Festival 26 March to April 4 has its here.

h/t: @ArtBioCollab (Twitter) for their tweet about the (US) Cambridge Science Festival. You can also find their website here.

Self-assembled molecular nanofibers that are stronger than steel

A January 26, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announces a promising discovery in ‘self-assembly research’ (Note: A link has been removed,

Self-assembly is ubiquitous in the natural world, serving as a route to form organized structures in every living organism. This phenomenon can be seen, for instance, when two strands of DNA — without any external prodding or guidance — join to form a double helix, or when large numbers of molecules combine to create membranes or other vital cellular structures. Everything goes to its rightful place without an unseen builder having to put all the pieces together, one at a time.

For the past couple of decades, scientists and engineers have been following nature’s lead, designing molecules that assemble themselves in water, with the goal of making nanostructures, primarily for biomedical applications such as drug delivery or tissue engineering.

“These small-molecule-based materials tend to degrade rather quickly,” explains Julia Ortony, assistant professor in [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), “and they’re chemically unstable, too. The whole structure falls apart when you remove the water, particularly when any kind of external force is applied.”

She and her team, however, have designed a new class of small molecules that spontaneously assemble into nanoribbons with unprecedented strength, retaining their structure outside of water. The results of this multi-year effort, which could inspire a broad range of applications, were described in Nature Nanotechnology (“Self-assembly of aramid amphiphiles into ultra-stable nanoribbons and aligned nanoribbon threads”) by Ortony and coauthors.

“This seminal work — which yielded anomalous mechanical properties through highly controlled self-assembly — should have a big impact on the field,” asserts Professor Tazuko Aida, deputy director for the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science and professor of chemistry and biotechnology at the University of Tokyo, who was not involved in the research.

A January 26, 2021 MIT news release, which originated the news item, describe the work in more detail,

The material the MIT group constructed — or rather, allowed to construct itself — is modeled after a cell membrane. Its outer part is “hydrophilic,” which means it likes to be in water, whereas its inner part is “hydrophobic,” meaning it tries to avoid water. This configuration, Ortony comments, “provides a driving force for self-assembly,” as the molecules orient themselves to minimize interactions between the hydrophobic regions and water, consequently taking on a nanoscale shape.

The shape, in this case, is conferred by water, and ordinarily the whole structure would collapse when dried. But Ortony and her colleagues came up with a plan to keep that from happening. When molecules are loosely bound together, they move around quickly, analogous to a fluid; as the strength of intermolecular forces increases, motion slows and molecules assume a solid-like state. The idea, Ortony explains, “is to slow molecular motion through small modifications to the individual molecules, which can lead to a collective, and hopefully dramatic, change in the nanostructure’s properties.”

One way of slowing down molecules, notes Ty Christoff-Tempesta, a PhD student and first author of the paper, “is to have them cling to each other more strongly than in biological systems.” That can be accomplished when a dense network of strong hydrogen bonds join the molecules together. “That’s what gives a material like Kevlar — constructed of so-called ‘aramids’ — its chemical stability and strength,” states Christoff-Tempesta.

Ortony’s team incorporated that capability into their design of a molecule that has three main components: an outer portion that likes to interact with water, aramids in the middle for binding, and an inner part that has a strong aversion to water. The researchers tested dozens of molecules meeting these criteria before finding the design that led to long ribbons with nanometer-scale thickness. The authors then measured the nanoribbons’ strength and stiffness to understand the impact of including Kevlar-like interactions between molecules. They discovered that the nanoribbons were unexpectedly sturdy — stronger than steel, in fact. 

This finding led the authors to wonder if the nanoribbons could be bundled to produce stable macroscopic materials. Ortony’s group devised a strategy whereby aligned nanoribbons were pulled into long threads that could be dried and handled. Notably, Ortony’s team showed that the threads could hold 200 times their own weight and have extraordinarily high surface areas — 200 square meters per gram of material. “This high surface-to-mass ratio offers promise for miniaturizing technologies by performing more chemistry with less material,” explains Christoff-Tempesta. To this end, they have already developed nanoribbons whose surfaces are coated with molecules that can pull heavy metals, like lead or arsenic, out of contaminated water. Other efforts in the research group are aimed at using bundled nanoribbons in electronic devices and batteries.

Ortony, for her part, is still amazed that they’ve been able to achieve their original research goal of “tuning the internal state of matter to create exceptionally strong molecular nanostructures.” Things could easily have gone the other way; these materials might have proved to be disorganized, or their structures fragile, like their predecessors, only holding up in water. But, she says, “we were excited to see that our modifications to the molecular structure were indeed amplified by the collective behavior of molecules, creating nanostructures with extremely robust mechanical properties. The next step, figuring out the most important applications, will be exciting.”

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

Self-assembly of aramid amphiphiles into ultra-stable nanoribbons and aligned nanoribbon threads by Ty Christoff-Tempesta, Yukio Cho, Dae-Yoon Kim, Michela Geri, Guillaume Lamour, Andrew J. Lew, Xiaobing Zuo, William R. Lindemann & Julia H. Ortony. Nature Nanotechnology (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-020-00840-w Published: 18 January 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

DEBBY FRIDAY’s LINK SICK, an audio play+, opens March 29, 2021 (online)

[downloaded from https://debbyfriday.com/link-sick]

This is an artistic work, part of the DEBBY FRIDAY enterprise, and an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) project. Here’s the description from the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Link Sick event page,

LINK SICK

DEBBY FRIDAY’S MFA Project
Launching Monday, March 29, 2021 | debbyfriday.com/link-sick

Set against the backdrop of an ambiguous dystopia and eternal rave, LINK SICK is a tale about the threads that bind us together.  

LINK SICK is DEBBY FRIDAY’S graduate thesis project – an audio-play written, directed and scored by the artist herself. The project is a science-fiction exploration of the connective tissue of human experience as well as an experiment in sound art; blurring the lines between theatre, radio, music, fiction, essay, and internet art. Over 42-minutes, listeners are invited to gather round, close their eyes, and open their ears; submerging straight into a strange future peppered with blink-streams, automated protests, disembodied DJs, dancefloor orgies, and only the trendiest S/S 221 G-E two-piece club skins.

Starring 

DEBBY FRIDAY as Izzi/Narrator
Chino Amobi as Philo
Sam Rolfes as Dj GODLESS
Hanna Sam as ABC Inc. Announcer
Storm Greenwood as Diana Deviance
Alex Zhang Hungtai as Weaver
Allie Stephen as Numee
Soukayna as Katz
AI Voice Generated Protesters via Replica Studios

Presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University.

No time is listed but I’m assuming FRIDAY is operating on PDT, so, you might want to take that into account when checking.

FRIDAY seems to favour full caps for her name and everywhere on her eponymous website (from her ABOUT page),

DEBBY FRIDAY is an experimentalist.

Born in Nigeria, raised in Montreal, and now based in Vancouver, DEBBY FRIDAY’s work spans the spectrum of the audio-visual, resisting categorizations of genre and artistic discipline. She is at once sound theorist and musician, performer and poet, filmmaker and PUNK GOD. …

Should you wish to support the artist financially, she offers merchandise.

Getting back to the play, I look forward to the auditory experience. Given how much we are expected to watch and the dominance of images, creating a piece that requires listening is an interesting choice.

Soap and water for creating 2D nanoflakes (hexagonal boron nitride [hBN] sheets)

Rice University (Texas, US) has a pretty image illustrating the process of making 2D nanoflakes,

Caption: The image displays the exfoliation of hexagonal boron nitride into atomically thin nanosheets aided by surfactants, a process refined by chemists at Rice University. Credit: Ella Maru Studio

A January 27, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announces the Rice University news,

Just a little soap helps clean up the challenging process of preparing two-dimensional hexagonal boron nitride (hBN).

Rice University chemists have found a way to get the maximum amount [number] of quality 2D hBN nanosheets from its natural bulk form by processing it with surfactant (aka soap) and water. The surfactant surrounds and stabilizes the microscopic flakes, preserving their properties.

Experiments by the lab of Rice chemist Angel Martí identified the “sweet spot” for making stable dispersions of hBN, which can be processed into very thin antibacterial films that handle temperatures up to 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit).

A brief grammatical moment: I can see where someone might view it as arguable (see second paragraph of the above excerpt) but for me ‘amount’ is for something like ‘flour’ for an ‘amount of flour’. ‘Number’ is for something like a ‘number of sheets’. The difference lies in your ability to count the items. Generally speaking, you can’t count the number of flour, therefore, it’s the amount of flour, but you can count the number of sheets. Can count these hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) sheets? If not, is what makes this arguable.

A January 27, 2021 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves into details,

The work led by Martí, alumna Ashleigh Smith McWilliams and graduate student Cecilia Martínez-Jiménez is detailed in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Nano Materials.

“Boron nitride materials are interesting, particularly because they are extremely resistant to heat,” Martí said. “They are as light as graphene and carbon nanotubes, but you can put hBN in a flame and nothing happens to it.”

He said bulk hBN is cheap and easy to obtain, but processing it into microscopic building blocks has been a challenge. “The first step is to be able to exfoliate and disperse them, but research on how to do that has been scattered,” Martí said. “When we decided to set a benchmark, we found the processes that have been extremely useful for graphene and nanotubes don’t work as well for boron nitride.”

Sonicating bulk hBN in water successfully exfoliated the material and made it soluble. “That surprised us, because nanotubes or graphene just float on top,” Martí said. “The hBN dispersed throughout, though they weren’t particularly stable.

“It turned out the borders of boron nitride crystals are made of amine and nitric oxide groups and boric acid, and all of these groups are polar (with positive or negative charge),” he said. “So when you exfoliate them, the edges are full of these functional groups that really like water. That never happens with graphene.”

Experiments with nine surfactants helped them find just the right type and amount to keep 2D hBN from clumping without cutting individual flakes too much during sonication. The researchers used 1% by weight of each surfactant in water, added 20 milligrams of bulk hBN, then stirred and sonicated the mix.

Spinning the resulting solutions at low and high rates showed the greatest yield came with the surfactant known as PF88 under 100-gravity centrifugation, but the highest-quality nanosheets came from all the ionic surfactants under 8,000 g centrifugation, with the greatest stability from common ionic surfactants SDS and CTAC.

DTAB — short for dodecyltrimethylammonium bromide — under high centrifugation proved best at balancing the yield and quality of 2D hBN. The researchers also produced a transparent film from hBN nanosheets dispersed in SDS and water to demonstrate how they can be processed into useful products.

“We describe the steps you need to do to produce high-quality hBN flakes,” Martí said. “All of the steps are important, and we were able to bring to light the consequences of each one.”

Understanding the Exfoliation and Dispersion of Hexagonal Boron Nitride Nanosheets by Surfactants: Implications for Antibacterial and Thermally Resistant Coatings by Ashleigh D. Smith McWilliams, Cecilia Martínez-Jiménez, Asia Matatyaho Ya’akobi, Cedric J. Ginestra, Yeshayahu Talmon, Matteo Pasquali, and Angel A. Martí. ACS Appl. Nano Mater. 2021, 4, 1, 142–151 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsanm.0c02437 Publication Date: January 7, 2021 Copyright © 2021 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Inside Dogma Lab; an ArtSci Salon event on March 25, 2021

This event is taking place at 7 am PDT. Should you still be interested, here are more details from a March 17, 2021 ArtSci Salon announcement (received via email; you can also find the information on the artscisalon.com/dogmalab/ webpage) provides descriptions of the talk and the artists after the registration and viewing information,

Benjamin Bacon & Vivian Xu –  Inside Dogma Lab – exploring new media
ecologies


Thursday, March 25 [2021]

10 am EDT, 4 pm GST, 10 pm CST [ 7 am PDT]

This session will stream on Zoom and YouTube

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://utoronto.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMlfuyrpz4jG9aTl-Y8sAwn6Q75CPEpWRsM

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

See more here:
https://artscisalon.com/dogmalab/

Or on Facebook:

https://facebook.com/artscisalon

Description

This ArtSci Salon /LASER morning event is inspired by the NewONE,
Learning without borders, a program at the University of Toronto
dedicated to interdisciplinary pedagogies and ecological learning
experiences. Art technology and science are waved together and inform
each other. The arts here are not simply used to illustrate or to
narrate, but to transmit, and make sense of complexity without falling
into given disciplinary and instrumental containers. The artistic medium
becomes simultaneously a catalyst for interrogating nature and a new
research tools able to display and communicate its complexity.

With this event, we welcome interdisciplinary artists Benjamin Bacon and
Vivian Xu.

Their transdisciplinary design lab, the Dogma Lab (http://dogma.org/, not only combines a diverse range of mediums (including software,
hardware, networked systems, online platforms, raw data, biomaterials
and living organisms), but also considers “the entanglement of
technological systems with other realities, including surveillance, sensory, bodily, environmental, and living systems. They are interested in complex hybrid networks that bridge the digital with the physical and biological realms, speculating on possible synthesized futures”.

Their research outcomes both individually and collectively have taken
the form of interfaces, wearables, toolkits, machines, musical
instruments, compositions and performances, public installations,
architectural spectacles and educational programs.

Situated in China, they have an invested interest in understanding and
participating in local design, technology and societal discourse, as
well how China as a local actor affects the dynamic of the larger global
system.

Bios

Benjamin Bacon is an inter-disciplinary artist, designer and musician
that works at the intersection of computational design, networked
systems, data, sound, installation and mechanical sculpture. He is
currently Associate Professor of Media and Art and Director of Signature
Work at Duke Kunshan University. He is also a lifetime fellow at V2_ Lab
for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

He has exhibited or performed his work in the USA, Europe, Iran, and
China such as the National Art Museum of  China (Beijing), Gallery Ho
(NYC), Wave Gotik Treffen (Germany), Chelsea Museum (NYC), Millennium
Museum (Beijing), Plug-In Gallery (Switzerland), Beijing Design Week,
Shenzhen Bay Science Technology and Arts Festival, the  Shanghai
Symphony Hall. Most recently his mechanical life and AI sculpture PROBE
– AVERSO SPECILLO DI  DUCENDUM was collected by the UNArt Center in
Shanghai, China.

https://www.benjaminbacon.studio/ [3]

Vivian Xu is a Beijing-born media artist, designer, researcher and
educator. Her work explores the boundaries  between bio and electronic
media in creating new forms of machine logic, speculative life and
sensory systems  often taking the form of objects, machines,
installations and wearable. Her work has been presented at various
institutions in China, the US, Europe and Australia.

She is an Assistant Professor of Media and Arts at Duke Kunshan
University. She has lectured, held research positions at various
institutions including Parsons New School for Design, New York
University Shanghai, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen).

https://www.vivianxu.studio/

This event is hosted by ArtSci Salon @ The Fields Institute for
Research in Mathematical Sciences, the NewOne @ UofT and is part of
Leonardo/ISAST LASER TALKS. LASER is a program of international
gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists
together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with
the wider public. The mission of the LASERs is to encourage contribution
to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary
dialogue and opportunities for community building to over 40 cities
around the world. To learn more about how our LASER Hosts and to visit a
LASER near you please visit our website: leonardo.info/laser-talks [5].
@lasertalks_

Interesting timing: two Michaels and Meng Wanzhou

Given the tensions between Canada and China these days, this session with China-based artists intrigues for more than the usual reasons.

For anyone unfamiliar with the situation, here’s a quick recap: Meng Wanzhou, deputy board chair and chief financial officer (CFO) of telecom giant, Huawei, which was founded by her father Ren Zhengfei. has been detained, at a US government request and in accordance with a treaty, since 2018 in one of her two multimillion dollar mansions in Vancouver, Canada. She wears an electronic bracelet for surveillance purposes, must be escorted on her shopping trips and other excursions, and must abide by an 11 pm – 7 am curfew. She is currently fighting extradition to the US with an extensive team of Canadian lawyers.

In what has been widely perceived as retaliatory, China shortly after Meng Wanzhou’s arrest put two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, wre arrested and put in prison allowing only severely limited contact with Canadian consular officials. As I write this on March 22, 2021, brief trials have been held (Friday, March 19, 2021 and Monday, March 22, 2021) for both Michaels, no outside observers allowed. It’s unclear as to which or how many lawyers are arguing in defence of either Michael. Sentences will be given at some time in the future.

Tensions are very high indeed.

Moving on to links

You can find the Dogma Lab here. As for Leonardo/ISAST, there is an interesting history,

The journal Leonardo was founded in 1968 in Paris by kinetic artist and astronautical pioneer Frank Malina. Malina saw the need for a journal that would serve as an international channel of communication among artists, with emphasis on the writings of artists who use science and developing technologies in their work. After the death of Frank Malina in 1981 and under the leadership of his son, Roger F. Malina, Leonardo moved to San Francisco, California, as the flagship journal of the newly founded nonprofit organization Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). Leonardo/ISAST has grown along with its community and today is the leading organization for artists, scientists and others interested in the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts and music.

Frank Malina, founder of Leonardo, was an American scientist. After receiving his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1936, Malina directed the WAC Corporal program that put the first rocket beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. He co-founded and was the second director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), co-founded the Aerojet General Corporation and was an active participant in rocket-science development in the period leading up to and during World War II.

Invited to join the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) in 1947 by Julian Huxley, Malina moved to Paris as the director of the organization’s science programs. The separation between science and the humanities was the subject of intense debate during the post-war period, particularly after the publication of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures in 1959. The concept that there was and should be a natural relationship between science and art fascinated Malina, eventually influencing him to synthesize his scientific experience with his long-standing artistic sensibilities. As an artist, Malina moved from traditional media to mesh, string and canvas constructions and finally to experiments with light, which led to his development of systems for kinetic painting.

Here’s a description of the LASER talks from the Leonardo/ISAST LASER Talks event page,

… a program of international gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with the wider public. The mission of LASER is to encourage contribution to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and opportunities for community building.

There are two talks scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 23, 2021 and four talks for Thursday, March 25, 2021 with more scheduled for April on the Leonardo/ISAST LASER Talks event page,

You can find out more about the New College at the University of Toronto here where the New One: Learning without Borders programme is offered. BTW, New College was founded in 1962. You can get more information on their Why New College page.