Tag Archives: 4D Labs

#BCTECH: being at the Summit (Jan. 18-19, 2016)

#BCTECH Summit 2016*, a joint event between the province of British Columbia (BC, Canada) and the BC Innovation Council (BCIC), a crown corporation formerly known as the Science Council of British Columbia, launched on Jan. 18, 2016. I have written a preview (Jan. 17, 2016 post) and a commentary on the new #BCTECH strategy (Jan. 19, 2016 posting) announced by British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark, on the opening day (Jan. 18, 2016) of the summit.

I was primarily interested in the trade show/research row/technology showcase aspect of the summit focusing (but not exclusively) on nanotechnology. Here’s what I found,

Nano at the Summit

  • Precision NanoSystems: fabricates equipment which allows researchers to create polymer nanoparticles for delivering medications.

One of the major problems with creating nanoparticles is ensuring a consistent size and rapid production. According to Shell Ip, a Precision NanoSystems field application scientist, their NanoAssemblr Platform has solved the consistency problem and a single microfluidic cartridge can produce 15 ml in two minutes. Cartridges can run in parallel for maximum efficiency when producing nanoparticles in greater quantity.

The NanoAssemblr Platform is in use in laboratories around the world (I think the number is 70) and you can find out more on the company’s About our technology webpage,

The NanoAssemblr™ Platform

The microfluidic approach to particle formulation is at the heart of the NanoAssemblr Platform. This well-controlled process mediates bottom-up self-assembly of nanoparticles with reproducible sizes and low polydispersity. Users can control size by process and composition, and adjust parameters such as mixing ratios, flow rate and lipid composition in order to fine-tune nanoparticle size, encapsulation efficiency and much more. The system technology enables manufacturing scale-up through microfluidic reactor parallelization similar to the arraying of transistors on an integrated chip. Superior design ensures that the platform is fast and easy to use with a software controlled manufacturing process. This usability allows for the simplified transfer of manufacturing protocols between sites, which accelerates development, reduces waste and ultimately saves money. Precision NanoSystems’ flagship product is the NanoAssemblr™ Benchtop Instrument, designed for rapid prototyping of novel nanoparticles. Preparation time on the system is streamlined to approximately one minute, with the ability to complete 30 formulations per day in the hands of any user.

The company is located on property known as the Endowment Lands or, more familiarly, the University of British Columbia (UBC).

A few comments before moving on, being able to standardize the production of medicine-bearing nanoparticles is a tremendous step forward which is going to help scientists dealing with other issues. Despite all the talk in the media about delivering nanoparticles with medication directly to diseased cells, there are transport issues: (1) getting the medicine to the right location/organ and (2) getting the medicine into the cell. My Jan. 12, 2016 posting featured a project with Malaysian scientists and a team at Harvard University who are tackling the transport and other nanomedicine) issues as they relate to the lung. As well, I have a Nov. 26, 2015 posting which explores a controversy about nanoparticles getting past the ‘cell walls’ into the nucleus of the cell.

The next ‘nano’ booths were,

  • 4D Labs located at Simon Fraser University (SFU) was initially hailed as a nanotechnology facility but these days they’re touting themselves as an ‘advanced materials’ facility. Same thing, different branding.

They advertise services including hands-on training for technology companies and academics. There is a nanoimaging facility and nanofabrication facility, amongst others.

I spoke with their operations manager, Nathaniel Sieb who mentioned a few of the local companies that use their facilities. (1) Nanotech Security (featured here most recently in a Dec. 29, 2015 post), an SFU spinoff company, does some of their anticounterfeiting research work at 4D Labs. (2) Switch Materials (a smart window company, electrochromic windows if memory serves) also uses the facilities. It is Neil Branda’s (4D Labs Executive Director) company and I have been waiting impatiently (my May 14, 2010 post was my first one about Switch) for either his or someone else’s electrochromic windows (they could eliminate or reduce the need for air conditioning during the hotter periods and reduce the need for heat in the colder periods) to come to market. Seib tells me, I’ll have to wait longer for Switch. (3) A graduate student was presenting his work at the booth, a handheld diagnostic device that can be attached to a smartphone to transmit data to the cloud. While the first application is for diabetics, there are many other possibilities. Unfortunately, glucose means you need to produce blood for the test when I suggested my preference for saliva the student explained some of the difficulties. Apparently, your saliva changes dynamically and frequently and something as simple as taking a sip of orange juice could result in a false reading. Our conversation (mine, Seib’s and the student’s) also drifted over into the difficulties of bringing products to market. Sadly, we were not able to solve that problem in our 10 minute conversation.

  • FPInnovations is a scientific research centre and network for the forestry sector. They had a display near their booth which was like walking into a peculiar forest (I was charmed). The contrast with the less imaginative approaches all around was striking.

FPInnovation helped to develop cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), then called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC), and I was hoping to be updated about CNC and about the spinoff company Celluforce. The researcher I spoke to was from Sweden and his specialty was business development. He didn’t know much about CNC in Canada and when I commented on how active Sweden has been its pursuit of a CNC application, he noted Finland has been the most active. The researcher noted that making the new materials being derived from the forest, such as CNC, affordable and easily produced for use in applications that have yet to be developed are all necessities and challenges. He mentioned that cultural changes also need to take place. Canadians are accustomed to slicing away and discarding most of the tree instead of using as much of it as possible. We also need to move beyond the construction and pulp & paper sectors (my Feb. 15, 2012 posting featured nanocellulose research in Sweden where sludge was the base material).

Other interests at the Summit

I visited:

  • “The Wearable Lower Limb Anthropomorphic Exoskeleton (WLLAE) – a lightweight, battery-operated and ergonomic robotic system to help those with mobility issues improve their lives. The exoskeleton features joints and links that correspond to those of a human body and sync with motion. SFU has designed, manufactured and tested a proof-of-concept prototype and the current version can mimic all the motions of hip joints.” The researchers (Siamak Arzanpour and Edward Park) pointed out that the ability to mimic all the motions of the hip is a big difference between their system and others which only allow the leg to move forward or back. They rushed the last couple of months to get this system ready for the Summit. In fact, they received their patent for the system the night before (Jan. 17, 2016) the Summit opened.

It’s the least imposing of the exoskeletons I’ve seen (there’s a description of one of the first successful exoskeletons in a May 20, 2014 posting; if you scroll down to the end you’ll see an update about the device’s unveiling at the 2014 World Cup [soccer/football] in Brazil).

Unfortunately, there aren’t any pictures of WLLAE yet and the proof-of-concept version may differ significantly from the final version. This system could be used to help people regain movement (paralysis/frail seniors) and I believe there’s a possibility it could be used to enhance human performance (soldiers/athletes). The researchers still have some significant hoops to jump before getting to the human clinical trial stage. They need to refine their apparatus, ensure that it can be safely operated, and further develop the interface between human and machine. I believe WLLAE is considered a neuroprosthetic device. While it’s not a fake leg or arm, it enables movement (prosthetic) and it operates on brain waves (neuro). It’s a very exciting area of research, consequently, there’s a lot of international competition.

  • Delightfully, after losing contact for a while, I reestablished it with the folks (Sean Lee, Head External Relations and Jim Hanlon, Chief Administrative Officer) at TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics). It’s a consortium of 19 Canadian research institutions (12 full members and seven associate members).

It’s a little disappointing that TRIUMF wasn’t featured in the opening for the Summit since the institution houses theoretical, experimental, and applied science work. It’s a major BC (and Canada) science and technology success story. My latest post (July 16, 2015) about their work featured researchers from California (US) using the TRIUMF cyclotron for imaging nanoscale materials and, on the more practical side, there’s a Mar. 6, 2015 posting about their breakthrough for producing nuclear material-free medical isotopes. Plus, Maclean’s Magazine ran a Jan. 3, 2016 article by Kate Lunau profiling an ‘art/science’ project that took place at TRIUMF (Note: Links have been removed),

It’s not every day that most people get to peek inside a world-class particle physics lab, where scientists probe deep mysteries of the universe. In September [2015], Vancouver’s TRIUMF—home to the world’s biggest cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator—opened its doors to professional and amateur photographers, part of an event called Global Physics Photowalk 2015. (Eight labs around the world participated, including CERN [European particle physics laboratory], in Geneva, where the Higgs boson particle was famously discovered.)

Here’s the local (Vancouver) jury’s pick for the winning image (from the Nov. 4, 2015 posting [Winning Photographs Revealed] by Alexis Fong on the TRIUMF website),

Caption: DESCANT (at TRIUMF) neutron detector array composed of 70 hexagonal detectors Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane

Caption: DESCANT (at TRIUMF) neutron detector array composed of 70 hexagonal detectors Credit: Pamela Joe McFarlane

With all those hexagons and a spherical shape, the DESCANT looks like a ‘buckyball’ or buckminsterfullerene or C60  to me.

I hope the next Summit features TRIUMF and/or some other endeavours which exemplify, Science, Technology, and Creativity in British Columbia and Canada.

Onto the last booth,

  • MITACS was originally one of the Canadian federal government’s Network Centres for Excellence projects. It was focused on mathematics, networking, and innovation but once the money ran out the organization took a turn. These days, it’s describing itself as (from their About page) “a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Working with 60 universities, thousands of companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.”Their Jan. 19, 2016 news release (coincidental with the #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016?) features a new report about improving international investment in Canada,

    Opportunities to improve Canada’s attractiveness for R&D investment were identified:

    1.Canada needs to better incentivize R&D by rebalancing direct and indirect support measures

    2.Canada requires a coordinated, client-centric approach to incentivizing R&D

    3.Canada needs to invest in training programs that grow the knowledge economy”

    Oddly, entrepreneurial/corporate/business types never have a problem with government spending when the money is coming to them; it’s only a problem when it’s social services.

    Back to MITACS, one of their more interesting (to me) projects was announced at the 2015 Canadian Science Policy Conference. MITACS has inaugurated a Canadian Science Policy Fellowships programme which in its first year (pilot) will see up up to 10 academics applying their expertise to policy-making while embedded in various federal government agencies. I don’t believe anything similar has occurred here in Canada although, if memory serves, the Brits have a similar programme.

    Finally, I offer kudos to Sherry Zhao, MITACS Business Development Specialist, the only person to ask me how her organization might benefit my business. Admittedly I didn’t talk to a lot of people but it’s striking to me that at an ‘innovation and business’ tech summit, only one person approached me about doing business.  Of course, I’m not a male aged between 25 and 55. So, extra kudos to Sherry Zhao and MITACS.

Christy Clark (Premier of British Columbia), in her opening comments, stated 2800 (they were expecting about 1000) had signed up for the #BCTECH Summit. I haven’t been able to verify that number or get other additional information, e.g., business deals, research breakthroughs, etc. announced at the Summit. Regardless, it was exciting to attend and find out about the latest and greatest on the BC scene.

I wish all the participants great and good luck and look forward to next year’s where perhaps we’ll here about how the province plans to help with the ‘manufacturing middle’ issue. For new products you need to have facilities capable of reproducing your devices at a speed that satisfies your customers; see my Feb. 10, 2014 post featuring a report on this and other similar issues from the US General Accountability Office.

*’BCTECH Summit 2016′ link added Jan. 21, 2016.

#BCTECH: preview of Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016

It is the first and it is sold out. Fear Not! I have gotten a press pass so I can investigate a bit further. In the meantime, #BCTECH Summit 2016 is a joint venture between the province of British Columbia (BC, Canada) and the BC Innovation Council (BCIC), a crown corporation formerly known as the Science Council of British Columbia.  A Jan 6, 2016 BCIC news release tells the story,

With less than two weeks to go and tickets 95% sold out, world-renowned keynote speakers will reinforce technology’s increasing economic and social impact to more than 2,000 people during B.C.’s first #BCTECH Summit on Jan. 18 & 19, 2016.

With Microsoft confirmed as the title sponsor, the summit will feature numerous dynamic keynote speakers:

  •  Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist—described as “the restless genius”, with predictions that will change how people think about the future.
  •  Andrew Wilson, CEO, Electronic Arts—named one of the top people in business by Fortune magazine.
  •  T.K. “Ranga” Rengarajan, corporate vice-president, Microsoft—will explore how technology and the cloud is empowering Canadians and changing how we do business and interact in the digital world.
  •  Elyse Allan, president and CEO, GE Canada—named one of the 25 most powerful people in Canada.
  •  Eric Ries, pioneer of the Lean Startup movement—a new approach to business that’s being adopted around the world; changing the way companies are built and new products are launched.

In addition, panel discussions featuring B.C. business leaders and global thought leaders will explore the latest trends, including fintech, cleantech, big data and cyber security.

A technology showcase will feature B.C.’s most innovative technology at work, including robots, 3D printing and electric cars. A new exhibit, the 4D Portal, will take delegates on a journey of B.C. tech, from deep below the earth’s surface into outer space.

More than 500 high school and post-secondary students will also take part in the summit’s career showcase featuring speakers and exhibitors sharing the latest information about technology as a career choice that pays, on average, 60% more than the B.C. average.

As part of the career showcase, nearly 200 high school students will participate in a coding camp and learn basic coding skills. The coding camp will also be offered via live webcast so schools throughout the province can participate.

A key component of the summit will profile venture capital presentations made by 40 promising small- to medium-sized B.C. companies aiming to attract investors and proceed to the next stage of development.

B.C.’s technology sector, a key pillar of the BC Jobs Plan, is consistently growing faster than the economy overall. Its continued growth is integral to diversifying the Province’s economy, strengthening B.C.’s business landscape and creating jobs in B.C. communities.

The new $100 million venture capital BC Tech Fund, announced Dec. 8, 2015, is the first pillar of the comprehensive #BCTECH Strategy to be released in full at B.C.’s first #BCTECH Summit, Jan. 18 – 19, 2016. The conference is presented by the B.C. government in partnership with the BC Innovation Council (BCIC). To register or learn more, go to: http://bctechsummit.ca

Quotes:

Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, Amrik Virk –

“Strengthening our technology sector is part of our commitment to support our diverse economy. The summit provides an unprecedented opportunity for like-minded individuals to get together and discuss ways of growing this sector and capitalizing from that growth.”

President and CEO, BCIC, Greg Caws –

“We are pleased to provide British Columbians from across the province with the opportunity to explore how technology impacts our lives and our businesses. Above all, the #BCTECH Summit will be a catalyst for all of us to embrace technology and an innovation mindset.”

President, Microsoft Canada, Janet Kennedy –

“Microsoft is proud to be the title sponsor of the #BCTECH Summit—an event that showcases B.C.’s vibrant technology industry. We are excited about the growth of B.C.’s tech sector and are pleased that we’re expanding our developer presence in Vancouver and supporting Canadian private and public sector organizations through our investments in Canadian data centres.”

Quick Facts:

  •  The technology sector directly employs more than 86,000 people, and wages for those jobs are 60% higher than B.C.’s industrial average.
  •  B.C.’s technology sector is growing faster than the overall economy. In 2013, it grew at a rate of 4.7%, higher than the 3.2% growth observed in the provincial economy.
  •  In 2013, the technology sector added $13.9 billion to B.C.’s GDP.
  •  B.C.’s 9,000 technology companies combined generated $23.3 billion in revenue in 2013.
  •  New technology companies are emerging at increasing rates throughout the province. In 2013, there was an addition of more than 700 new technology companies in B.C., an increase of 8% over the prior year.

I’m not a big fan of Kurzweil’s but the man can sell tickets and, in days past, he did develop some important software. You can find out more about him on his website and critiques can be found here on Quora, as well as, a thoughtful Nov. 5, 2012 piece by Gary Marcus for the New Yorker about Kurzweil’s latest book (“How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed”).

As for me, I’m most interested in the trade show/research row/technology showcase. Simon Fraser University sent out a Jan. 14, 2016 news release highlighting its participation in the trade show and summit (weirdly there was nothing from the other major local research institution, the University of British Columbia),

Simon Fraser University is a gold sponsor of the #BCTECH Summit a new two-day event presented by the B.C. government and the BC Innovation Council to showcase the province’s vibrant technology sector

 

Simon Fraser University will be highly visible at the inaugural #BCTECH Summit taking place on January 18-19 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

 

In addition to technology displays from student entrepreneurs at the SFU Innovates booth, SFU research will be featured at both the Technology Showcase and Research Row. [emphasis mine] SFU representatives will be on hand at the Career Showcase to speak to secondary and post-secondary students who are interested in the industry. And several investment-ready companies affiliated with SFU will be pitching to elite investors.

 

During the summit, entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, students and government will explore new ideas on how to gain a competitive advantage for B.C. The event will spark discussion on directions for the province’s rapidly developing high tech sector, while several streams will illustrate and share new innovations.

 

“This event provides us with an opportunity to showcase how SFU students, faculty, alumni and client companies are stimulating innovation and creating jobs and opportunities for British Columbia,“ says SFU Vice-President Research Joy Johnson. “And it highlights the work we’ve been doing to inspire, develop and support impact-driven innovation and entrepreneurship through SFU Innovates.”

 

SFU Innovates was launched in October to synergize and strengthen the university’s activities and resources related to community and industry engagement, incubation and acceleration, entrepreneurship and social innovation.

 

Johnson will introduce the summit’s keynote address by Eric Ries, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, on How today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, on Jan. 18 [2016] at 10:45 a.m.

 

SFU Faculty of Applied Sciences professor Ryan D’Arcy will be a panelist at a session titled Industry Deep Dive – Healthcare, moderated by Paul Drohan, CEO, Life Sciences BC, on Jan. 19 [2016] at 11 a.m. He will share how Surrey’s thriving Innovation Boulevard (IB) is progressing. SFU is a founding partner of IB and contributes via the university’s research strengths in health and technology and its focus on health tech innovation.

 

Steven Jones, an SFU professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and associate director and head of bioinformatics at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, BCCA [BC Cancer Agency], will participate on a panel titled Shaping the Future of Health, on Jan. 19 [2016] at 2:15 p.m., to be moderated by the Honourable Terry Lake, Minister of Health.

 

And Igor Faletski, CEO of Mobify (and an SFU alumnus) will participate in the “Why BC?” session to be moderated by Bill Tam, CEO of BCTIA [BC Technology Industry Association], on Jan. 18 [2016] at 11:30 a.m.

 

Students and delegates will also have the opportunity to explore the various research and technology showcases.

 

Backgrounder: SFU Innovations at #BCTECH Summit

 

Research Row

 

4D LABS will showcase how it has helped B.C.’s academic and industry tech clients turn their ideas into innovations. The facility has been instrumental in bringing numerous ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace, advancing a diverse range of technologies, including fuel cells, batteries, biosensors, security devices, pharmaceutical delivery, MEMS, and many more. As B.C.’s premier materials research institute, the open-access, $65 million state-of-the-art facility has helped to advance nearly 50 companies in the local tech sector.

 

• SFU researchers led by JC Liu of the Faculty of Applied Sciences will display their cloud gaming platform, Rhizome, utilizing the latest hardware support for both remote servers and local clients. The platform takes the first step towards bridging online gaming systems and the public cloud, accomplishing ultra-low latency and resulting in a low power consumption gaming experience. Their demo shows that gaming over virtualized cloud can be made possible with careful optimization and integration of different modules. They will also introduce CrowdNavigation, a complementary service to existing navigation systems that combats the “last mile puzzle” and helps drivers to determine the end of routes.

 

Molescope is a hand held tool that uses a smartphone to monitor skin for signs of cancer. The device is based on research that Maryam Sadeghi conducted during her doctoral studies at SFU and commercialized through her company, MetaOptima Inc., a former SFU Venture Connection client. The product was unveiled at the World Congress of Dermatology in 2015 and is also now available at the consumer level. Molescope enables people to monitor their moles and manage skin health.

 

Technology Showcase

 

• Engineering science professors Siamak Arzanpour and Edward Park will showcase their Wearable Lower Limb Anthropomorphic Exoskeleton (WLLAE) – a lightweight, battery-operated and ergonomic robotic system to help those with mobility issues improve their lives. The exoskeleton features joints and links that correspond to those of a human body and sync with motion. SFU has designed, manufactured and tested a proof-of-concept prototype and the current version can mimic all the motions of hip joints. Researchers anticipate the next generation of this system early this year. The prototype will be live-demoed as an example of a breakthrough innovation.

 

Venture Capital Presentations

 

Several SFU-affiliated companies were selected to present investment pitches to local and international venture capitalists at the summit, including:

 

H+ Technology, creator of Holus, an interactive, tabletop holographic platform that converts any digital content from your tablet, smartphone, PC or Mac into a 360-degree holographic experience. H+ was co-founded by three SFU alumni and was a former client company of the SFU incubator at the Harbour Centre campus.

 

Optigo Networks, a VentureLabs® client company that delivers next-generation security for the commercial Internet of Things.

 

Saltworks Technologies Inc., provider of advanced water treatment solutions and a company founded by two graduates of SFU’s Management of Technology MBA program.

 

Semios, a VentureLabs® client company and emerging leader in agricultural technology innovation.

 

VeloMetro Mobility Inc., a former SFU Venture Connection and current VentureLabs® client company with the mission to provide people with human-powered vehicles that parallel automobile functionality for urban use.

 

SFU Innovates Trade Show will include:

 

• H+ Technology (see above)

 

Shield X Technology, creators of Brainshield™, an impact-diverting decal for sports helmets that is the result of six years of R&D at SFU’s School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering at the Surrey campus. An SFU spinout, it is a current VentureLabs® client company.

 

• Acceleration Innovations, creator of Birth Alert, the first ever app-enabled, automatic and wireless contraction-monitoring device. Acceleration Innovations was founded by a team of students from the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU program.

 

ORA Scents, a mobile device company created by an SFU Beedie School of Business undergrad student, that is introducing the world’s first app-enabled scent diffuser that enables users to create, control and share personalized scents in real-time. [Sounds like oPhone mentioned in my June 18, 2014 posting.)

 

Also presenting at the VentureLabs area within the BC Accelerator Network Pavilion will be: PHEMI Health Systems, Semios, XCo, U R In Control, TeamFit, Instant, Wearable Therapeutics, V7 Entertainment, ThinkValue, and Aspect Biosystems. Lungpacer Medical and Metacreative, both companies formed around SFU faculty research, will also have exhibits.

 

Prize draws will be held for projects from RADIUS Slingshot ventures The Capilano Tea House & Botanical Soda Co. and Naked Snacks.

I’m particularly interested in what 4D Labs is doing these days. (They used to brand themselves as a nanotechnology laboratory but they’ve moved on to what they see as more sophisticated branding. I’m just curious. Have they changed focus or is it nanotechnology under a new name?)

Nanotechnology is an enabling technology not an industry sector

Over the years I’ve heard people point out that nanotechnology isn’t really a technology in the traditional sense. It is instead a means of describing applied science performed at the molecular level.  In short, chemistry, physics, engineering, and biology at the molecular level.

An Oct. 9, 2015 article by Kevin Kelleher for Time magazine points that fact out in detail focusing largely on the business end of things (Note: Links have been removed),

Of all the investment fads and manias over the past few decades, none have been as big of a fizzle as the craze for nanotech stocks. Ten years ago, venture capitalists were scrambling for investments, startups with “nano” in their names flourished and even a few nanotech funds launched hoping to track a rising industry.

Back in 2005, the year when nanotech mania peaked, a gold rush mentality took hold. There were 1,200 nanotech startups worldwide, half of them in the U.S. VCs invested more than $1 billion in nanotech in the first half of the decade. Draper Fisher Jurvetson had nearly a fifth of its portfolio in the nanotech sector, and Steve Jurvetson proclaimed it “the next great technology wave.”

Ten years on, precious few of the nanotech stocks and venture-backed startups have delivered on their investment promise. Harris & Harris and Arrowhead are both trading at less than a tenth of their respective peaks of the last decade. Invesco liquidated its PowerShares Lux Nanotech ETF in 2014, after it underperformed the S&P 500 for seven of the previous eight years.

And many of the surviving companies that touted their nanotech credentials or put “nano” in their names now describe themselves as materials companies, or semiconductor companies, or – like Arrowhead – biopharma companies, if they haven’t changed their names entirely.

The rebranding process has been an interesting one to observe. I had Neil Branda  (professor at Simon Fraser University [Vancouver, Canada] and executive director of their 4D Labs) explain to me last year (2014) that nanotechnology was a passé term, it is now all about advanced materials.

They’re right and they’re wrong. I think rebranding companies is possible and a good idea. Locally, Pangaea Ventures is now an Advanced Materials venture capitalism company. Coincidentally, Neil Branda’s startup (scroll down about 15% of the way), Switch Materials, is in their portfolio.

However, the term nanotechnology is some 40 years old and represents an enormous social capital investment. While it’s possible it will disappear that won’t be happening for a long, long time.

Big bucks for soft materials research at Simon Fraser University (Canada)

4D Labs at Simon Fraser University (SFU; Vancouver), one of Canada’s nanoscienceish labs, will be hosting a new centre, according to a Dec. 18, 2013 SFU news release,

A new Centre for Soft Materials for Simon Fraser University’s 4D LABS facility will be established with a federal government investment of more than $4.3 million. The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, made the announcement today [Dec. 18, 2013] at SFU.

The Western Economic Diversification Canada support will enhance SFU’s research infrastructure by creating an applications-driven research institute for the design, development, demonstration and delivery of advanced functional materials and nanoscale devices aimed at soft materials.

Here’s what they expect to be receiving and what they will be doing with it (from the news release),

The suite of sophisticated equipment includes two electron microscopes. These will allow local companies and innovators from a variety of sectors to more accurately visualize and analyze their advanced soft materials, while preserving nano-scale features within these materials. [emphasis mine]

These capabilities are critical to understanding and improving the performance of soft materials in real-world conditions, while also enabling a detailed understanding of new materials and products that will greatly reduce their time to market.

The Centre will also provide students with hands-on training and use of advanced microscopy and complementary tooling that was previously unavailable in Canada. [emphasis mine]

It would seem the first order of importance is industry (local companies and innovators) with students falling into second place. Some years ago I commented on a possible conflict of interest when universities attempt to cater to industry/business needs and student needs. It’s a situation where business can afford to pay more or offer incentives that students (and professors) cannot hope to match in a potential competition for access to equipment and resources.

This project has attracted matching funds (from the news release),

The Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation (AFCC) is contributing an additional $1.9 million to the project and funding is being further matched by $2.4 million from SFU.

AFCC Chief Financial Officer Tim Bovich says the partnership “sets an example of how cooperation among government, industry and academia can promote Canada, and British Columbia in particular, as the premier location for fuel cell stack producers and their many suppliers.” These technologies will also be accessible to many other sectors, including lighting, information technology, medicine, measurement and controls, electronics, clean energy, and security.

“Through this investment from the Government of Canada, and SFU’s ongoing partnership with the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, 4D LABS is now able to expand its capabilities. We can enable a more accurate nano-scale visualization and chemical analysis of a diverse range of soft materials, that include biological tissues, composites and membranes, whose function depends on the distribution of water, polymers, and other matrices within the material,” says SFU Chemistry Associate Professor Byron Gates, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Surface Chemistry.

“Academic, industrial and government researchers across Western Canada will benefit from the addition of this Centre, which will facilitate further product innovation and economic development in the region.” {emphasis mine]

Congratulations to the folks at 4D Labs!

Simon Fraser University scientists peer deeply into fuel cells while University of Toronto experts debate nanotechnoloy: revolution or evolution?

An Oct. 25, 2013 Simon Fraser University (SFU; Vancouver, Canada) news release touts a new centre and a very snazzy piece of equipment (Nano X-ray Computed Tomography [NXCT]) that scientists will be able to build and purchase courtesy of a new grant (Note: Links have been removed),

Powerful scanners that give scientists a direct line of sight into hydrogen fuel cells are the latest tools Simon Fraser University researchers will use to help Ballard Power Systems Inc create more durable, lower-cost fuel cells. Use of these fuel cells in vehicles can substantially reduce harmful emissions in the transportation sector.

The new Nano X-ray Computed Tomography (NXCT) tools will become part of a nationally unique fuel cell testing and characterization facility. The new four-year, $6.5 million project is receiving $3.39 million in funding from Automotive Partnership Canada (APC).

It’s one of 10 university-industry partnerships receiving a total of more than $52 million ($30 million from APC, leveraged by more than $22 million from industry and other partners) announced today by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Research carried out in the new visualization facility, expected to be operational by spring, will further the ongoing research collaboration between Ballard and SFU.

“This will be an unprecedented, world-class testing facility dedicated entirely to this project over the next four years,” says principal investigator Erik Kjeang, an internationally known fuel cell expert and director of SFU’s Fuel Cell Research Laboratory (FCRel). “Beyond its capabilities, that’s a strength in itself.”

Says Ballard’s Research Manager Shanna Knights: “It’s a unique opportunity, to have dedicated access to highly specialized equipment and access to university experts who are focused on Ballard’s needs.”

Researchers will use the facility to develop and advance the technology required for the company’s next generation of fuel cell products, helping to meet its targets related to extending fuel cell life while improving efficiency.

Kjeang, an assistant professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, says the new, sophisticated nano-scale scanning capabilities will enable researchers to see inside the fuel cell micro-structure and track how its components degrade over time. The research will play an important role in the university’s focus on advancing clean energy initiatives.

“Partnerships with leading companies such as Ballard solidify SFU’s reputation as a world-class innovator in fuel cell research,” says Nimal Rajapakse, dean and professor, Faculty of Applied Sciences. “This unique fuel cell testing facility will be used for cutting edge research and training of HQP (highly qualified personnel) that will help to strengthen the competitiveness of the Canadian automotive and clean energy industry. We are grateful that Automotive Partnership Canada has provided this second round of funding to support the SFU-Ballard research collaboration.”

Adds Kjeang: “Thanks to the APC program, and the support NSERC has provided over the years, I have been able to both explore the fundamentals of fuel cell technology and to successfully work with companies who are making globally leading advances in green automotive technology.”

A former research engineer who began his career at Ballard in 2008, Kjeang came to SFU to continue his own research interests while keeping a foot in industry. He also continues to lead a complementary project with Ballard that involves nearly 40 students and researchers working to improve the durability of heavy-duty bus fuel cells.

You can find the news release with all its links intact here.  I am a little surprised that there isn’t any mention of SFU’s 4D Labs (their nanotechnology showcase project), especially since one of the areas of interest is this (from the 4D Labs Research Areas webpage),

Cleaner Energy
New materials innvovation is critical to lower the costs and improve the performance of promising technologies such as photovoltaics, fuel cells and passive energy control sytems. [emphasis mine]

Meanwhile, experts gathered at the University of Toronto debated nanotechnology by asking this question: revolution or evolution? as  part of a celebratory event extending from Oct. 23 to Oct. 24, 2013. From a University of Toronto Oct. 23, 2013 news release (H/T Hispanic Business.com),

A panel of nanotechnology experts, moderated by U of T Materials Science & Engineering Professor Doug Perovic will explore the possibilities of the technology as part of a celebration marking the University of Toronto’s  Department of Materials Science & Engineering’s 100-year anniversary.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating atoms and molecules on a scale so small they can’t be seen with an ordinary microscope. It’s about coaxing them into displaying unusual properties, such as a material 10 times as strong as steel, but a fraction of its weight, or solar panels that produce fuel rather than electricity.

While nanotech has the potential to transform society in ways no one ever thought of before, it’s also been the subject of much hype.

“Some would say it has not met expectations,” says Professor Perovic, Canada’s ‘nabob of nanotechnology.’ “While it hasn’t taken off in the areas people predicted it would take off, it has become huge in unpredictable areas.”

Some of the world’s top nanotechnology experts will be part of the panel and give the big picture.

WHAT: Nanotechnology panel featuring several experts

WHERE: Room#: BA 1130, Bahen Centre for Information Technology, University of Toronto, 40 St. George Street (Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/tXBxP)

WHEN: 10am, Thursday (October 24)

WHO:
Michael F. Ashby
Royal Society Research Professor
Department of Engineering
University of Cambridge

Shawn Qu | MMS PhD 9T5
Chairman, President & CEO
Canadian Solar Inc.

Polina Snugovsky
Chief Metallurgist, Celestica Inc.
Robert B. Storey | MMS 7T7
Managing Partner, Bereskin & Parr LLP

Gino Palumbo
MMS 8T3, MASc 8T5, PhD 8T9
President & CEO, Integran Technologies Inc

Donald R. Sadoway
EngSci 7T2, MMS MASc 7T3, PhD 7T7
John F. Elliot Professor of Materials Chemistry
Department of Materials Science & Engineering, MIT

David S. Wilkinson
EngSci 7T2, MMS MASc 7T4
Vice-President & Provost, Academic
McMaster University

I wonder if the experts came to any conclusions.

PEALD at Simon Fraser University’s 4D LABS

Cambridge NanoTech and 4D LABS, located in Vancouver, Canada, have made a deal. (The PEALD in the title for this posting stands for Plasma-enhanced Atomic Layer Deposition system.) From the Sept. 13, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

4D LABS, a research institute for innovation in the design, development, demonstration and delivery of advanced materials research at Simon Fraser University (SFU), and Cambridge NanoTech announced today a strategic partnership as they work together to develop new and novel precursor applications for real world use. 4D LABS’ Nanofabrication Facility through the financial support of NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council], CFI [Canada Foundation for Innovation], BCKDF, and SFU expands their capabilities with the addition of Cambridge NanoTech’s Fiji Plasma-enhanced Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) system.

This is very exciting as it builds on my July 11, 2011 posting which featured the development of the PEALD process. It had just been announced that researchers at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) developed it collaboratively with the Finnish company, Picosun Oy.

Here’s more about the equipment SFU’s (Simon Fraser University) 4D LABS have purchased from Cambridge NanoTech,

The Fiji, capable of both thermal and plasma processing, will enable users of the 4D LABS Nanofabrication Facility, a Class 100/ISO 5 clean room, to develop new thin film technologies and processes. “This is the first ALD system as part of an open access user facility in British Columbia and will be available to users from a diverse range of fields,” explains Byron Gates, Director of the Nanofabrication Facility at 4D LABS. “We support both academic and industrial users in 4D LABS, assisting them with their materials research and development needs by working with them on a one-on-one basis. These needs can span from a new material or component, to a final device or system. Plasma ALD offers even more options in terms of the range and the quality of the films we can deliver.”

As for future collaboration,

The collaboration includes plans to further advance material development by creating new chemical precursor and processes for ALD to be co-developed by Cambridge NanoTech, SFU’s Department of Chemistry, and 4D LABS. “We’ve already begun planning our first films development project,” explained Eric Deguns, Senior Research Scientist at Cambridge NanoTech. “Our films development will be focused on electronics and clean energy applications, and films that will be finely tuned to meet specific device needs. By expanding our precursor applications, we will be able offer new materials that can be deposited through ALD onto everyday products.” These materials are being sought for their novel electro-optical, photo-elastic, piezoelectric, and non-linear properties.

I look forward to hearing more about 4D LABS as this collaboration progresses.

Smart windows in The Netherlands and in Vancouver

Michael Berger at Nanowerk has written a good primer on smart windows while discussing a specific project from The Netherlands. From Berger’s article,

‘Smart’ windows, or smart glass, refers to glass technology that includes electrochromic devices, suspended particle devices, micro-blinds and liquid crystal devices. Their major feature is that they can control the amount of light passing through the glass and increase energy efficiency of the room by reducing costs for heating or air-conditioning. In the case of self-powered smart windows the glass even generates the energy needed to electrically switch its transparency.

Smart windows can be electrochromic and/or photochromic. From an article by Alan Chen, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, titled, New Photochromic Material Could Advance Energy-Efficient Windows,

A photochromic material is one that changes from transparent to a color when it is exposed to light, and reverts to transparency when the light is dimmed or blocked. An electrochromic material changes color when a small electric charge is passed through it. Both photochromic and electrochromic materials have potential applications in many types of devices.

As for how both materials could have applications appropriate for windows, Berger’s article describes a smart window that sounds like it’s both electrochromic and photochromics and has the added benefit of being able to power itself,

A new type of smart window proposed by researchers in The Netherlands makes use of a luminescent dye-doped liquid-crystal solution sandwiched in between electrically conductive plates as an energy-generating window.

The dye absorbs a variable amount of light depending on its orientation, and re-emits this light, of which a significant fraction is trapped by total internal reflection at the glass/air interface.

(For more details about this specific project, please read Berger’s full article.)

A few months ago I chanced across a local (Vancouver, Canada-based) start-up company, SWITCH Materials, that features technology for smart windows. From the company website (Technology page),

SWITCH’s advanced materials are based on novel organic molecules that react to both solar and electrical stimulation. Smart windows and lenses are the first commercial application under development at SWITCH. They darken when exposed to the sun and rapidly bleach on command when stimulated by electricity.

While competitive technologies rely on either photochromism or electrochromism, SWITCH’s hybrid technology offers the advantages of both, providing enhanced control and lower cost manufacturing.

• SWITCH’s technology also operates without requiring a continuous charge, and as a result has great potential for significant cost savings in many applications.

• The organic compounds in SWITCH’s materials are thermally stable and remain in their coloured state until electricity reverses the chemical transformation.

As far as I can tell, one of the big differences between this Canadian company’s approach and the Dutch research team’s is the Canadian’s use of organic compounds. Also, one of the key advantages (in addition to the ability to generate electricity) to the Dutch team’s approach is that users can control the window’s transmission of light.

I don’t know how close either the Canadian company (SWITCH) or the Dutch research team is to a commercial application but there is this excerpt from the Jan. 14, 2010 news release (on the Pangaea Ventures website),

SWITCH Materials Inc., an advanced materials company developing energy saving SMART window solutions, has raised $7.5M in Series B financing. The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC Venture Capital) led the investment, with participation from existing investors GrowthWorks, Pangaea Ventures and Ventures West. Proceeds will be used for continuing R&D and to complete product commercialization.

“I am excited that an up and coming Canadian clean tech company will be added to our portfolio,” said Geoff Catherwood, Director of Venture Capital at BDC. “The technology being developed at SWITCH carries tremendous potential to address the burgeoning demand for a new generation of window technology. Producing a SMART window solution that can meet the price point required for significant market penetration will enable SWITCH to gain a leadership position in a large untapped market.” In conjunction with the financing, Mr. Catherwood will join the company’s Board of Directors.

I notice the news release makes no mention of a timeline for possible commercial applications or of competitors for that matter. In addition to the Dutch research team (there’s a Dutch company [I blogged about them here {scroll down}] that is producing something remarkably similar [it too offers control for transmission of light] to the Dutch research team’s smart windows profiled by Berger), there’s competition from the Americans who, recently, through their federal Dept. of Energy invested $72M (a loan guarantee added to previous investments) in SAGE Electrochromics.

The market for windows that could conceivably eliminate or seriously minimize the use of air conditioning is huge. In this era of concern about energy use and climate change, air conditioning is a problem as it uses a tremendous amount of energy, has a significant carbon footprint, and most importantly for business, it is expensive. Think of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Nairobi,  Toronto, New York, Montréal, Chicago, Paris, London, Belgrade, Berlin, etc. during their respective hot seasons and the advantages of smart windows become quite apparent.

One last thing I’d like to mention about the Canadian company, it’s a Simon Fraser University (SFU), spinoff with Neil Branda, director of SFU’s nanotechnology centre, 4D Labs as their chief technical officer. Dr. Branda’s research work was last mentioned on this blog in a posting that featured, SFU scientists their phasers on stun as part of the title.

SFU scientists set their phasers on stun; quantum biology and University of Toronto Chemists; P.R. and science journalism

Neil Branda and his colleagues from Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) 4D Labs have demonstrated that animals can be ‘switched off ‘ with exposure to ultra violet light then ‘switched on’ when exposed to standard light. From the news item on Nanowerk,

In an advance with overtones of Star Trek phasers and other sci-fi ray guns, scientists in Canada are reporting development of an internal on-off “switch” that paralyzes animals when exposed to a beam of ultraviolet light. The animals stay paralyzed even when the light is turned off. When exposed to ordinary light, the animals become unparalyzed and wake up.

In more Canadian news, chemists at the University of Toronto have observed quantum mechanics at work with marine algae.  From the news item on Nanowerk,

“There’s been a lot of excitement and speculation that nature may be using quantum mechanical practices,” says chemistry professor Greg Scholes, lead author of a new study published this week in Nature. “Our latest experiments show that normally functioning biological systems have the capacity to use quantum mechanics in order to optimize a process as essential to their survival as photosynthesis.”

Special proteins called light-harvesting complexes are used in photosynthesis to capture sunlight and funnel its energy to nature’s solar cells – other proteins known as reaction centres. Scholes and his colleagues isolated light-harvesting complexes from two different species of marine algae and studied their function under natural temperature conditions using a sophisticated laser experiment known as two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy.

… It also raises some other potentially fascinating questions, such as, have these organisms developed quantum-mechanical strategies for light-harvesting to gain an evolutionary advantage? It suggests that algae knew about quantum mechanics nearly two billion years before humans,” says Scholes.

Is Scholes suggesting the algae are more advanced with science than humans? I find that thought intriguing and perhaps useful if one believes that human beings are remarkably arrogant creatures who can benefit from a little humility.

On a completely different front, I’ve been doing some more thinking about science journalism and science public relations (I did refer to some of it in my series on science communication in Canada on this blog in Sept/Oct 2009 ) after last week’s posting about a science journalism study in the UK. In fact, my thinking on these matters was reignited by a posting Ruth Seeley made on her No Spin PR blog about why she calls her business ‘no spin’ and why she prefers the term ‘framing’,

Implicit in the word spin is the idea that deception is involved, facts are being turned on their heads, and/or there’s so much fast talking going on the truth would be unrecognizable even if it were part of the mix. The ‘truth’ is, it’s as much of an insult to call a public relations practitioner a ’spin doctor’ as it is to call a woman a ‘chick.’ And it is a female-dominated profession, although not yet at the most senior levels.

Despite the cross-fertilization that occurs between journalists and PR practitioners (since writing well is the foundation skill for both professions), there is also the perception that journalists are those who ferret out the truth and present it objectively, while PR folks do their best to deflect, disguise, and distract from the truth. The notion of the muck-racking journalist being free of bias is laughable in the 21st Century. We wouldn’t have populist, right-wing, and left-wing media outlets if bias weren’t inherent in every medium, whether it’s the way the headline is written, the fact that the story is covered at all, or the selective presentation of facts. The notion that objectivity is in disrepute is, thankfully, permeating the zeitgeist – and not a moment too soon.

Whether you view the world through rose-coloured glasses or not, whether you think all politicians are dishonest or revere those who occupy the corridors of delegated power, whether you’re a MacHead or a PC fan, we all have filters we apply to information, and these filters affect our decision-making processes.

There is nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical about choosing a frame. You need to be aware that there’s more than one framing choice. You need to consider the fact that others won’t choose the same frame as you. Ultimately, though, you will have to either pick one or leave the picture unframed. Choosing a frame and developing a strategy for its presentation is the heart of public relations. As a practitioner, aligning yourself with clients whose framing aligns with your beliefs and values is the soul of a successful PR consultancy.

Perception has never been reality. It just appears to be. That, I suspect, is a natural consequence of the human condition.

I mention Ruth in particular because her consultancy seems to be largely focused on science public relations (she does projects for Andrew Maynard [2020 Science] and, as you can see in her post, she is involved with the twitter science community).  Her comments reminded me of a rather provocative posting on Techdirt in May 2009,

One of the most common complaints about the trouble facing newspapers today is the woeful cry “but who will do investigative journalism?” Of course, that’s silly. There are plenty of new entities springing up everyday online that do investigative journalism — and do it well.

Romenesko points us to a column by Tim Cavanaugh taking this concept one step further: suggesting that a subset of PR people may end up taking on the role of investigative journalists . Now, I’m sure plenty of journalists are cringing at the concept — and certainly, as someone who gets bombarded daily with idiotic story pitches that are spun to such ridiculous levels I can only laugh at them (as I hit delete), it makes me cringe a bit. But some of his points are worth thinking about.

I went on to check Tim Cavanaugh’s article and after a brief description of the current publishing crisis and its effect on investigative journalism,

Here’s one hypothesis. Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that in the decade from 1998 through 2007, another field was outgrowing, and perhaps growing at the expense of, traditional journalism. The number of people working as “reporters and correspondents” declined slightly in that period, from 52,380 in 1998 to 51,620 in 2007. But the number of public relations specialists more than doubled, from 98,240 to 225,880. (Because job types and nomenclature change substantially, I have used only directly comparable jobs. The U.S. economy was still supporting 7,360 paste-up workers in 1998, for example, while in 2007 some 29,320 Americans were working under the already antique title “desktop publishers.”)

So are flacks the future, or even the present, of investigative journalism? This interpretation makes intuitive sense. Important data points by which we continue to live our lives— the number of jobs that were created or destroyed by NAFTA, the villainy of the Serbs in the Yugoslav breakup, all sorts of projected benefits or disasters in President Obama’s budget plans— are largely the inventions of P.R. workers.

And though it’s considered wise to believe the contrary, these communications types are not constructing all these news items entirely (or even mostly) by lying. Flackery requires putting together credible narratives from pools of verifiable data. This activity is not categorically different from journalism. Nor is the teaching value that flackery provides entirely different from that of journalism: Most of the content you hear senators and congressmen reading on C-SPAN is stuff flacks provided to staffers.

The debate itself is not all that new as the relationship between public relations and journalism is at least one century old. One of the earliest PR practitioners was a former journalist, Ivy Lee. As for borrowing from the social sciences (the term framing as used in Ruth’s posting is from the social sciences), that too can be traced backwards, in this case, to the 1920s and Edward Bernays who viewed public relations as having huge potential for social engineering.Towards the end of his life (1891 – 1995) he was quite disappointed, (according Stuart Ewen’s book, PR! A Social History of Spin) in how the field of public relations had evolved. Ewen (wikipedia entry) is highly critical of the profession as per this May 2000 interview with David Barsamian,

Part of why the history of PR is so interesting is because you see that it’s a history of a battle for what is reality and how people will see and understand reality. PR isn’t functioning in a vacuum. PR is usually functioning to try to protect itself against other ideas that are percolating within a society. So under no circumstances should what I’m saying about Bernays in terms of the use of social psychology indicate that these are automatic processes that always work. They don’t always work. They don’t always work because to some extent, despite what [Walter] Lippman said, people don’t just function by pictures in their heads. They also experience things from their own lives. Often their experiences are at odds with the propaganda that’s being pumped out there.

As you can see, for Ewen PR is synonymous with propaganda which, by the way, was the title for a book by Edward Bernays.

I’ve worked in public relations and in marketing and find that the monolithic claims made by folks such as Ewen have elements of truth but that much of the analysis is simplistic. That said, I think the criticism is important and quite well placed as there have been some egregious and deeply false claims made by PR practitioners on behalf of their clients. Still, it bothers me that everyone is contaminated by the same brush.  Getting back to Ruth’s post: In a sense, we are all PR professionals. All of us choose our frames and we constantly communicate them to each other.

Happy weekend.

Thoughts on science funding and policy in Canada: Part 1

There’s a big discussion about the funding situation in Canada taking place on the ‘Researcher Forum, Don’t Leave Canada Behind‘ blog. I gather the site is a joint effort between the individuals who put together the letter with over 2000 signatures from Canadian researchers responding to the latest federal budget and science funding. Do check it out here.

I found the discussion a little challenging as I don’t keep up with the issues as closely as these folks do but thanks to their efforts, I think I’m starting to get a better handle on the issues.

I have been aware of the government’s claims that it is dedicating more funds than ever to research. The number is $5.1B. It sounds impressive but let’s consider a few things. A lot of that money is being dedicated to bricks and mortar, equipment, repairs, and operations (electricity, water, etc.). All of these are important and I’m glad that there will be places, equipment, and the power necessary to conduct research. Still, this is funding for infrastructure and does not mean that research of any type will be conducted.

And now for a comment I haven’t seen anywhere else yet. There’s a strong focus on the commercialization of these publicly funded science facilities (I’m not talking about commercialization of science which is also being hotly discussed). Let’s take the funding for Simon Fraser University’s  4 D Labs’ maskwriting facilities as an example. As I noted in my April 9, 2009 posting, this facility is intended, amongst other things,  to function as a revenue stream, i.e. local businesses will pay to use the facilities.  I’m curious as to how this will be implemented. If businesses are paying to use the facility, will their use take precedence over academic research?  Could academic researchers be placed in the position of having to outbid a local business who wants to use the facilities?

Plus, one of the criticisms in the government’s science policy document is that Canada does not have a lot of business research labs. What possible incentive would a business in Canada have to open such a facility if they can have access to the equipment at a local university?

IBM challenges Intel with its 28 nm processor and Simon Fraser University ensures safety in nanotechnology labs

A while back (Feb.11.2009), I posted about Intel’s $7B investment in production facilities for 32 nm processors. Yesterday, IBM announced this (from Beta News),

“… IBM and its alliance partners are helping to accelerate development of next-generation technology to achieve high-performance, energy-efficient chips at the 28 nm process level, maintaining our focus on technology leadership for our clients and partners,” stated IBM R&D chief Gary Patton …

The Beta News article provides an informative perspective (for neophytes like me) on the competition between the two companies.

Back to Simon Fraser University and their 4D Labs. I just got an announcement that,

4D LABS will be an example of how university-based research labs in Canada can meet semiconductor industry standards for ensuring personal safety as well as environmental protection from combustible and toxic gases.

(As far as I’m aware there is no standard for gases or anything else that is specific for nanotechnology fabrication in Canada or anywhere else for that matter. That said, Nanotech BC and other Canadian organizations have been quite involved in the International Council on Nanotechnology’s (ICON) occupation health and safety initiatives.) Again from the announcement,

SFU’s 4D LABS, science faculty and environmental health and safety (EHS) department collaborated on building a system to contain and neutralize gases. Designers had to integrate an extensive gas-piping network with thermal processing and neutralization equipment. The system uses a special burner and water treatment to break down, scrub and transform the gases into safe air emissions.

… “The design of this system is intended not only to protect the researchers and our environment, but also to raise environmental awareness of students, faculty, and visitors,” says Tom Cherng, 4D LABS’ process engineer.

Have a nice weekend.