Tag Archives: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest

Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)

The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,


  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30


Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)


  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.


9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors.

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

Key to quantum electronics could be germanium-bonded aluminium

I have not seen aluminum called aluminium in quite some time. (I’ve always had a fondness for that extra syllable.) I first saw notice of this work from Austria in an October 11, 2021 news item on Nanowerk,

A novel electronic component from TU Wien (Vienna) could be an important key to the era of quantum information technology: Using a special manufacturing process, pure germanium is bonded with aluminium in a way that atomically sharp interfaces are created. This results in a so-called monolithic metal-semiconductor-metal heterostructure.

This structure shows unique effects that are particularly evident at low temperatures. The aluminium becomes superconducting – but not only that, this property is also transferred to the adjacent germanium semiconductor and can be specifically controlled with electric fields. This makes it excellently suited for complex applications in quantum technology, such as processing quantum bits.

A particular advantage is that using this approach, it is not necessary to develop completely new technologies. Instead, mature and well established semiconductor fabrication techniqueses can be used to enable germanium-based quantum electronics.

An October 6, 2021 Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien) press release (also on EurekAlert but published October 12, 2021), which originated the news item, delves into the technical details and the importance of temperature,

Germanium: difficult to form high-quality contacts

“Germanium is a material which will definitely play an important role in semiconductor technology for the development of faster and more energy-efficient components,” says Dr. Masiar Sistani from the Institute for Solid State Electronics at TU Wien. However, if it is used to produce components on a nanometre scale, major problems arise: the material makes it extremely difficult to produce high-quality electrical contacts. This is related to the high impact of even smallest impurities at the contact points that significantly alter the electrical properties. “We have therefore set ourselves the task of developing a new manufacturing method that enables reliable and reproducible contact properties”, says Masiar Sistani.

Diffusing atoms

The key is temperature: when nanometre-structured germanium and aluminium are brought into contact and heated, the atoms of both materials begin to diffuse into the neighbouring material – but to very different extents: the germanium atoms move rapidly into the aluminium, whereas aluminium hardly diffuses into the germanium at all. “Thus, if you connect two aluminium contacts to a thin germanium nanowire and raise the temperature to 350 degrees Celsius, the germanium atoms diffuse off the edge of the nanowire. This creates empty spaces into which the aluminium can then easily penetrate,” explains Masiar Sistani. “In the end, only a few nanometre area in the middle of the nanowire consists of germanium, the rest has been filled up by aluminium.”

Normally, aluminium is made up of tiny crystal grains, but this novel fabrication method forms a perfect single crystal in which the aluminium atoms are arranged in a uniform pattern. As can be seen under the transmission electron microscope, a perfectly clean and atomically sharp transition is formed between germanium and aluminium, with no disordered region in between. In contrast to conventional methods where electrical contacts are applied to a semiconductor, for example by evaporating a metal, no oxides can form at the boundary layer.

Quantum transport in Grenoble

In order to take a closer look at the properties of this monolithic metal-semiconductor heterostructure of germanium and aluminium at low temperature, we collaborated with Dr. Olivier Buisson and Dr. Cécile Naud from the quantum electronics circuits group at Néel Institute – CNRS-UGA [Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Université Grenoble Alpes] in Grenoble. It turned out that the novel structure indeed has quite remarkable properties: “Not only were we able to demonstrate superconductivity in pure, undoped germanium for the first time, we were also able to show that this structure can be switched between quite different operating states using electric fields. Such a germanium quantum dot device can not only be superconducting but also completely insulating, or it can behave like a Josephson transistor, an important basic element of quantum electronic circuits,” explains Masiar Sistani.

This new heterostructure combines a whole range of advantages: The structure has excellent physical properties needed for quantum technologies, such as high carrier mobility and excellent manipulability with electric fields, and it has the additional advantage of fitting well with already established microelectronics technologies: Germanium is already used in current chip architectures and the temperatures required for heterostructure formation are compatible with well-established semiconductor processing schemes. The novel structures not only have theoretically interesting quantum properties, but also opens up a technologically very realistic possibility of enabling further novel and energy-saving devices.

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

Al–Ge–Al Nanowire Heterostructure: From Single-Hole Quantum Dot to Josephson Effect by Jovian Delaforce, Masiar Sistani, Roman B. G. Kramer, Minh A. Luong, Nicolas Roch, Walter M. Weber, Martien I. den Hertog, Eric Robin, Cecile Naud, Alois Lugstein, Olivier Buisson. Advanced Materials Volume 33, Issue 39 October 1, 2021 2101989 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202101989 First published [online]: 08 August 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Artificial ionic neuron for electronic memories

This venture into brain-like (neuromorphic) computing comes from France according to an August 17, 2021 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Brain-inspired electronics are the subject of intense research. Scientists from CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique; French National Centre for Scientific Research) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure – PSL have theorized how to develop artificial neurons using, as nerve cells, ions to carry the information.

Their work, published in Science (“Modeling of emergent memory and voltage spiking in ionic transport through angstrom-scale slits”), reports that devices made of a single layer of water transporting ions within graphene nanoslits have the same transmission capacity as a neuron.

Caption Artificial neuron prototype: nanofluidic slits can play the role of ion channels and allow neurons to communicate. Ion clusters achieve the ion transport that causes this communication. Credit © Paul Robin, ENS Laboratoire de Physique (CNRS/ENS-PSL/Sorbonne Université/Université de Paris).

Au August 16, 2021 CNRS press release (also on EurekAlert but published August 6, 2021), which originated the news item, provides insight into the international interest in neuromorphic computing along with a few technical details about this latest research,

With an energy consumption equivalent to two bananas per day, the human brain can perform many complex tasks. Its high energy efficiency depends in particular on its base unit, the neuron, which has a membrane with nanometric pores called ion channels, which open and close according to the stimuli received. The resulting ion flows create an electric current responsible for the emission of action potentials, signals that allow neurons to communicate with each other.

Artificial intelligence can do all of these tasks but only at the cost of energy consumption tens of thousands of times that of the human brain. So the entire research challenge today is to design electronic systems that are as energy efficient as the human brain, for example, by using ions, not electrons, to carry the information. For this, nanofluidics, the study of how fluids behave in channels less than 100 nanometers wide, offer many perspectives. In a new study, a team from the ENS Laboratoire de Physique (CNRS/ENS-PSL/Sorbonne Université/Université de Paris) shows how to construct a prototype of an artificial neuron formed of extremely thin graphene slits containing a single layer of water molecules1. The scientists have shown that, under the effect of an electric field, the ions from this layer of water assemble into elongated clusters and develop a property known as the memristor effect: these clusters retain some of the stimuli that have been received in the past. To repeat the comparison with the brain, the graphene slits reproduce the ion channels, clusters and ion flows. And, using theoretical and digital tools, scientists have shown how to assemble these clusters to reproduce the physical mechanism of emission of action potentials, and thus the transmission of information.

This theoretical work continues experimentally within the French team, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Manchester (UK). The goal now is to prove experimentally that such systems can implement simple learning algorithms that can serve as the basis for tomorrow’s electronic memories.

1 Recently invented in Manchester by the group of André Geim (Nobel Prize in Physics 2010)

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

Modeling of emergent memory and voltage spiking in ionic transport through angstrom-scale slits by Paul Robin, Nikita Kavokine, Lydéric Bocquet. Science 06 Aug 2021: Vol. 373, Issue 6555, pp. 687-691 DOI: 10.1126/science.abf7923

This paper is behind a paywall.

Virgin birth in a Sardinian aquarium and whistled languages could help us understand dolphins

A virgin birth story seems particularly apt at this time of the year (as I was taught the story, Jesus was born of a virgin birth on Christmas Day). As for the whistled language story, that’s pure self-indulgence.

Virgin shark birth

From an August 26, 2021 article by Harry Baker for Live Science (Note: Links have been removed),

A shark’s rare “virgin birth” in an Italian aquarium may be the first of its kind, scientists say.

The female baby smoothhound shark (Mustelus mustelus) — known as Ispera, or “hope” in *Sardinian* — was recently born at the Cala Gonone Aquarium in Sardinia to a mother that has spent the past decade sharing a tank with one other female and no males, Newsweek reported.

This rare phenomenon, known as parthenogenesis, is the result of females’ ability to self-fertilize their own eggs in extreme scenarios. Parthenogenesis has been observed in more than 80 vertebrate species — including sharks, fish and reptiles — but this may be the first documented occurrence in a smoothhound shark, according to Newsweek.

“It has been documented in quite a few species of sharks and rays now,” Demian Chapman, director of the sharks and rays conservation program at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Florida, told Live Science. “But it is difficult to detect in the wild, so we really only know about it from captive animals,” said Chapman, who has led several studies on shark parthenogenesis.

A September 2, 2021 article by Louisa Wright for DW.com provides additional details (Note: Links have been removed),

To procreate, most species require an egg to be fertilized by a sperm. That’s the case with sharks, too. But some animals can produce offspring all by themselves. This is called parthenogenesis.

The term comes from the Greek words parthenos, meaning “virgin,” and genesis, meaning “origin.”

The case in Italy could be the first time this “immaculate conception” has occurred in smooth-hound sharks, at least in captivity.

… scientists still don’t know how often it happens, says Kevin Feldheim, a researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago, who researches the mating habits of sharks.”We don’t know how common it is and the handful of cases we have seen have mostly taken place in an aquarium setting,” Feldheim told DW.

One study from the Field Museum discovered parthenogenesis in a wild population of smalltooth sawfish, a type of ray. This was the first time a vertebrate (animals with backbones inside their body), which usually reproduces the conventional way with a mate, was found to reproduce asexually in the wild, Feldheim said.

Whistling could give insight into dolphin communication

A September 21, 2021 news item on phys.org announces research into how whistled languages might help us understand dolphins better,

Whistling while you work isn’t just a distraction for some people. More than 80 cultures employ a whistled form of their native language to communicate over long distances. A multidisciplinary team of scientists believe that some of these whistled languages can serve as a model for elucidating how information may be encoded in dolphin whistle communication. They made their case in a new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

A September 21, 2021 Frontiers [open access publishers] news release on EurekAlert explains how whistled languages might provide a key to understanding dolphin communication,

Whistled human speech mostly evolved in places where people live in rugged terrain, such as mountains or dense forest, because the sounds carry much farther than ordinary speech or even shouting. While these whistled languages vary by region and culture, the basic principle is the same: People simplify words, syllable by syllable, into whistled melodies.

Trained whistlers can understand an amazing amount of information. In whistled Turkish, for example, common whistled sentences are understood up to 90 percent of the time. This ability to extract meaning from whistled speech has attracted linguists and other researchers interested in investigating the intricacies of how the human brain processes and even creates language.

The idea that human whistled speech could also be a model for how mammals like bottlenose dolphins communicate first emerged in the 1960s with work by René-Guy Busnel, a French researcher who pioneered the study of whistled languages. More recently, some of Busnel’s former colleagues have teamed up to explore the potential synergy between bottlenose dolphins and humans, which have largest brain relative to body size on the planet.

While humans and dolphins produce sounds and convey information differently, the structure and attributes found across human whistle languages may provide insights as to how bottlenose dolphins encode complex information, according to coauthor Dr Diana Reiss, a professor of psychology at Hunter College in the United States whose research focuses on understanding cognition and communication in dolphins and other cetaceans.

Lead author Dr Julien Meyer, a linguist in the Gipsa Lab at the French national research center (CNRS), offered this example: The ability of a listener to decode human language or whistled speech relies on the listener’s language competency, such as understanding phonemes, a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another. However, images of sounds called sonograms are not always segmented by silences between these units in human whistled speech.

“By contrast, scientists trying to decode the whistled communication of dolphins and other whistling species often categorize whistles based on the silent intervals between whistles,” Reiss noted. In other words, researchers may need to rethink how they categorize whistled animal communication based on what the sonograms reveal about how information is conveyed structurally in human whistled speech.

Meyer, Reiss and coauthor Dr Marcelo Magnasco, a biophysicist and professor at Rockefeller University, plan to apply this and other insights discussed in their paper to develop new techniques to analyze dolphin whistles. They will leverage dolphin whistle data compiled by Reiss and Magnasco with a database on whistled speech that Meyer has been collecting since 2003 with the CNRS, the Collegium of Lyon, the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi in Brazil and several nonprofit research associations focused on whistled and instrumental speech (The World Whistles, Yo Silbo, Silbo herreño). 

“On these data, for example, we will develop new algorithms and test some hypotheses about combinatorial structure,” Meyer said, referring to the building blocks of language like phonemes that can be combined to impart meaning. 

Magnasco noted that scientists already use machine learning and AI to help track dolphins in videos and even to identify dolphin calls. However, Reiss said, to have an AI algorithm capable of “deciphering” dolphin whistle communication, “we would need to know what the minimum unit of meaningful sound is, how they are organized, and how they function.”

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

The Relevance of Human Whistled Languages for the Analysis and Decoding of Dolphin Communication by Julien Meyer, Marcelo O. Magnasco, and Diana Reiss. Front. Psychol., 21 September 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.689501

This paper is open access.

*December 30, 2021: “The female baby smoothhound shark (Mustelus mustelus) — known as Ispera, or “hope” in Maltese …” was corrected to “hope” in Sardinian … .” When you think about it, it makes a lot more sense than naming a special baby shark in a language not native to where it was born. Thank you to Carla and her partner who is from Sardinia!*

Canadian and Guadeloupean oysters: exposure to nanoplastics and arsenic

A May 27, 2021 news item on phys.org describes research into oysters and nanoplastics,

Oysters’ exposure to plastics is concerning, particularly because these materials can accumulate and release metals which are then absorbed by the mollusks. According to a recent study published in the journal Chemosphere, the combined presence of nanoplastics and arsenic affects the biological functions of oysters. This study was conducted by the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Québec City and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Bordeaux in France

A May 27, 2021 INRS news release (French language version here and an English language version on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides fascinating details,

The international research team chose to study arsenic, since it is one of the most common metals absorbed by the plastic debris collected from the beaches of Guadeloupe. “Oysters easily accumulate metals from the environment into their tissues. We therefore wanted to test whether the combined exposure to nanoplastics and arsenic would increase the bioaccumulation of this contaminant,” reported Marc Lebordais, the Master’s student in charge of the research.

The scientists proved that the bioaccumulation of arsenic does not increase when nanoplastics are also present. However, it remained higher in the gills of the Canadian Crassostrea virginica oyster [emphasis mine] than in the Isognomon alatus oyster, found in Guadeloupe. These results are the first to highlight the diverging sensitivity of different species. [emphasis mine]

Gene deregulation

In addition to bioaccumulation, the team also observed an overexpression of genes responsible for cell death and the number of mitochondria–a cell’s energy centres–in C. virginica. In I. alatus, the expression of these same genes was less significant.

“Evaluating the expression of genes involved in important functions, such as cell death and detoxification, gives us information on the toxicity of nanoplastics and arsenic on a cellular level,” explained the young researcher, who is co-directed by Professors Valérie Langlois of INRS and Magalie Baudrimont of the University of Bordeaux.

The food chain

The next step, after characterizing the presence of nanoplastics and arsenic in oysters, would be to study how these contaminants are transferred through the food chain.

“Analytical tools are currently being developed to quantify the presence of nanoplastics in biological tissues,” said Marc Lebordais. “Understanding the amount of nanoplastics in farmed oysters currently boils down to a technical issue.” ?

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

Molecular impacts of dietary exposure to nanoplastics combined with arsenic in Canadian oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and bioaccumulation comparison with Caribbean oysters (Isognomon alatus) by Marc Lebordais, Juan Manuel Gutierrez-Villagomez, Julien Gigault, Magalie Baudrimont, and Valérie Langlois. Chemosphere Volume 277, August 2021, 130331 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2021.130331 First published online 19 March 2021.

This paper is open access.

EuroScience Open Forum in Toulouse, France from July 9 to July 14, 2018

A March 22, 2018 EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2018 announcement (received via email) trumpets some of the latest news for this event being held July 9 to July 14, 2018 in Toulouse, France. (Located in the south in the region known as the Occitanie, it’s the fourth largest city in France. Toulouse is situated on the River Garonne. See more in its Wikipedia entry.) Here’s the latest from the announcement,

ESOF 2018 Plenary Sessions

Top speakers and hot topics confirmed for the Plenary Sessions at ESOF 2018

Lorna Hughes, Professor at the University of Glasgow, Chair of the Europeana Research Advisory Board, will give a plenary keynote on “Digital humanities”. John Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine and of Health Research and Policy at Stanford University, famous for his PLoS Medicine paper on “Why most Published Research Findings are False”, will talk about “Reproducibility”. A third plenary will involve Marìa Teresa Ruiz, a Chilean astronomer and the 2017 L’Oreal UNESCO award for Women in Science: she will talk about exoplanets.


ESOF under the spotlights

French President’s high patronage: ESOF is at the top of the institutional agendas in 2018.

“Sharing science”. But also putting science at the highest level making it a real political and societal issue in a changing world. ESOF 2018 has officially received the “High Patronage” from the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron. ESOF 2018 has also been listed by the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs among the 27 priority events for France.

A constellation of satellites around the ESOF planet!

Second focus on Satellite events:
4th GEO Blue Planet Symposium organised 4-6 July by Mercator Ocean.
ECSJ 2018, 5th European Conference of Science Journalists, co-organised by the French Association of Science Journalists in the News Press (AJSPI) and the Union of European Science Journalists’ Associations (EUSJA) on 8 July.
– Esprit de Découvertes (Discovery spirit) organised by the Académie des Sciences, Inscriptions et Belles Lettres de Toulouse on 8 July.

More Satellite events to come! Don’t forget to stay long enough in order to participate in these focused Satellite Events and … to discover the city.

The programme for ESOF 2018 can be found here.

Science meets poetry

As has become usual, there is a European City of Science event being held in Toulouse in concert (more or less) with and in celebration of the ESOF event. The City of Science event is being held from July 7 – July 16, 2018.

Organizers have not announced much in the way of programming for the City of Science other than a ‘Science meets Poetry’ meeting,

A unique feature of ESOF is the Science meets Poetry day, which is held at every Forum and brings poets and scientists together.

Indeed, there is today a real artistic movement of poets connected with ESOF. Famous participants from earlier meetings include contributors such as the late Seamus Heaney, Roald Hoffmann [sic] Jean-Pierre Luminet and Prince Henrik of Denmark, but many young and aspiring poets are also involved.

The meeting is in two parts:

  • lectures on subjects involving science with poetry
  • a poster session for contributed poems

There are competitions associated with the event and every Science meets Poetry day gives rise to the publication of Proceedings in book form.

In Toulouse, the event will be staged by EuroScience in collaboration with the Académie des Jeux Floraux of Toulouse, the Société des Poètes Français and the European Academy of Sciences Arts and Letters, under patronage of UNESCO. The full programme will be announced later, but includes such themes as a celebration of the number 7 in honour of the seven Troubadours of Toulouse, who held the first Jeux Floraux in the year 1323, Space Travel and the first poets and scientists who wrote about it (including Cyrano de Bergerac and Johannes Kepler), from Metrodorus and Diophantes of Alexandria to Fermat’s Last Theorem, the Poetry of Ecology, Lafayette’s ship the Hermione seen from America and many other thought-provoking subjects.

The meeting will be held in the Hôtel d’Assézat, one of the finest old buildings of the ancient city of Toulouse.

Exceptionally, it will be open to registered participants from ESOF and also to some members of the public within the limits of available space.

Tentative Programme for the Science meets Poetry day on the 12th of July 2018

(some Speakers are still to be confirmed)

  • 09:00 – 09:30 A welcome for the poets : The legendary Troubadours of Toulouse and the poetry of the number 7 (Philippe Dazet-Brun, Académie des Jeux Floraux)
  • 09:30 – 10:00 The science and the poetry of violets from Toulouse (Marie-Thérèse Esquerré-Tugayé  Laboratoire de Recherche en Sciences Végétales, Université Toulouse III-CNRS)
  • 10:00 –10:30  The true Cyrano de Bergerac, gascon poet, and his celebrated travels to the Moon (Jean-Charles Dorge, Société des Poètes Français)
  • 10:30 – 11:00  Coffee Break (with poems as posters)
  • 11:00 – 11:30 Kepler the author and the imaginary travels of the famous astronomer to the Moon. (Uli Rothfuss, die Kogge International Society of German-language authors )
  • 11:30 – 12:00  Spoutnik and Space in Russian Literature (Alla-Valeria Mikhalevitch, Laboratory of the Russian Academy of Sciences  Saint-Petersburg)
  • 12:00 – 12:30  Poems for the planet Mars (James Philip Kotsybar, the ‘Bard of Mars’, California and NASA USA)
  • 12:30 – 14:00  Lunch and meetings of the Juries of poetry competitions
  • 14:00 – 14:30  The voyage of the Hermione and « Lafayette, here we come ! » seen by an American poet (Nick Norwood, University of Columbus Ohio)
  • 14:30 –  15:00 Alexandria, Toulouse and Oxford : the poem rendered by Eutrope and Fermat’s Last Theorem (Chaunes [Jean-Patrick Connerade], European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, UNESCO)
  • 15:00 –15:30  How biology is celebrated in contemporary poetry (Assumpcio Forcada, biologist and poet from Barcelona)
  • 15:30 – 16:00  A book of poems around ecology : a central subject in modern poetry (Sam Illingworth, Metropolitan University of Manchester)
  • 16:00 – 16:30  Coffee break (with poems as posters)
  • 16:30 – 17:00 Toulouse and Europe : poetry at the crossroads of European Languages (Stefka Hrusanova (Bulgarian Academy and Linguaggi-Di-Versi)
  • 17:00 – 17:30 Round Table : seven poets from Toulouse give their views on the theme : Languages, invisible frontiers within both science and poetry
  • 17:30 – 18:00 The winners of the poetry competitions are announced
  • 18:00 – 18:15 Chaunes. Closing remarks

I’m fascinated as in all the years I’ve covered the European City of Science events I’ve never before tripped across a ‘Science meets Poetry’ meeting. Sadly, there’s no contact information for those organizers. However, you can sign up for a newsletter and there are contacts for the larger event, European City of Science or as they are calling it in Toulouse, the Science in the City Festival,


Camille Rossignol (Toulouse Métropole)


+33 (0)5 36 25 27 83

François Lafont (ESOF 2018 / So Toulouse)


+33 (0)5 61 14 58 47

Travel grants for media types

One last note and this is for journalists. It’s still possible to apply for a travel grant, which helps ease but not remove the pain of travel expenses. From the ESOF 2018 Media Travel Grants webpage,

ESOF 2018 – ECSJ 2018 Travel Grants

The 5th European Conference of Science Journalists (ECSJ2018) is offering 50 travel + accommodation grants of up to 400€ to international journalists interested in attending ECSJ and ESOF.

We are looking for active professional journalists who cover science or science policy regularly (not necessarily exclusively), with an interest in reflecting on their professional practices and ethics. Applicants can be freelancers or staff, and can work for print, web, or broadcast media.

More information

ESOF 2018 Nature Travel Grants

Springer Nature is a leading research, educational and professional publisher, providing quality content to its communities through a range of innovative platforms, products and services and is home of trusted brands including Nature Research.

Nature Research has supported ESOF since its very first meeting in 2004 and is funding the Nature Travel Grant Scheme for journalists to attend ESOF2018 with the aim of increasing the impact of ESOF. The Nature Travel Grant Scheme offers a lump sum of £400 for journalists based in Europe and £800 for journalists based outside of Europe, to help cover the costs of travel and accommodation to attend ESOF2018.

More information

Good luck!

(My previous posting about this ESOF 2018 was Sept. 4, 2017 [scroll down about 50% of the way] should you be curious.)

Nano-neurons from a French-Japanese-US research team

This news about nano-neurons comes from a Nov. 8, 2017 news item on defenceweb.co.za,

Researchers from the Joint Physics Unit CNRS/Thales, the Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Centre (CNRS/Université Paris Sud), in collaboration with American and Japanese researchers, have developed the world’s first artificial nano-neuron with the ability to recognise numbers spoken by different individuals. Just like the recent development of electronic synapses described in a Nature article, this electronic nano-neuron is a breakthrough in artificial intelligence and its potential applications.

A Sept. 19, 2017 Thales press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

The latest artificial intelligence algorithms are able to recognise visual and vocal cues with high levels of performance. But running these programs on conventional computers uses 10,000 times more energy than the human brain. To reduce electricity consumption, a new type of computer is needed. It is inspired by the human brain and comprises vast numbers of miniaturised neurons and synapses. Until now, however, it had not been possible to produce a stable enough artificial nano-neuron which would process the information reliably.

Today [Sept. 19, 2017 or July 27, 2017 when the paper was published in Nature?]], for the first time, researchers have developed a nano-neuron with the ability to recognise numbers spoken by different individuals with 99.6% accuracy. This breakthrough relied on the use of an exceptionally stable magnetic oscillator. Each gyration of this nano-compass generates an electrical output, which effectively imitates the electrical impulses produced by biological neurons. In the next few years, these magnetic nano-neurons could be interconnected via artificial synapses, such as those recently developed, for real-time big data analytics and classification.

The project is a collaborative initiative between fundamental research laboratories and applied research partners. The long-term goal is to produce extremely energy-efficient miniaturised chips with the intelligence needed to learn from and adapt to the constantly ever-changing and ambiguous situations of the real world. These electronic chips will have many practical applications, such as providing smart guidance to robots or autonomous vehicles, helping doctors in their diagnosis’ and improving medical prostheses. This project included researchers from the Joint Physics Unit CNRS/Thales, the AIST, the CNS-NIST, and the Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Centre (CNRS/Université Paris-Sud).

About the CNRS
The French National Centre for Scientific Research is Europe’s largest public research institution. It produces knowledge for the benefit of society. With nearly 32,000 employees, a budget exceeding 3.2 billion euros in 2016, and offices throughout France, the CNRS is present in all scientific fields through its 1100 laboratories. With 21 Nobel laureates and 12 Fields Medal winners, the organization has a long tradition of excellence. It carries out research in mathematics, physics, information sciences and technologies, nuclear and particle physics, Earth sciences and astronomy, chemistry, biological sciences, the humanities and social sciences, engineering and the environment.

About the Université Paris-Saclay (France)
To meet global demand for higher education, research and innovation, 19 of France’s most renowned establishments have joined together to form the Université Paris-Saclay. The new university provides world-class teaching and research opportunities, from undergraduate courses to graduate schools and doctoral programmes, across most disciplines including life and natural sciences as well as social sciences. With 9,000 masters students, 5,500 doctoral candidates, an equivalent number of engineering students and an extensive undergraduate population, some 65,000 people now study at member establishments.

About the Center for Nanoscale Science & Technology (Maryland, USA)
The CNST is a national user facility purposely designed to accelerate innovation in nanotechnology-based commerce. Its mission is to operate a national, shared resource for nanoscale fabrication and measurement and develop innovative nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities to support researchers from industry, academia, NIST and other government agencies in advancing nanoscale technology from discovery to production. The Center, located in the Advanced Measurement Laboratory Complex on NIST’s Gaithersburg, MD campus, disseminates new nanoscale measurement methods by incorporating them into facility operations, collaborating and partnering with others and providing international leadership in nanotechnology.

About the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (Japan)
The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), one of the largest public research institutes in Japan, focuses on the creation and practical realization of technologies useful to Japanese industry and society, and on bridging the gap between innovative technological seeds and commercialization. For this, AIST is organized into 7 domains (Energy and Environment, Life Science and Biotechnology, Information Technology and Human Factors, Materials and Chemistry, Electronics and Manufacturing, Geological

About the Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (France)
Established on 1 June 2016, the Centre for Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies (C2N) was launched in the wake of the joint CNRS and Université Paris-Sud decision to merge and gather on the same campus site the Laboratory for Photonics and Nanostructures (LPN) and the Institut d’Electronique Fondamentale (IEF). Its location in the École Polytechnique district of the Paris-Saclay campus will be completed in 2017 while the new C2N buildings are under construction. The centre conducts research in material science, nanophotonics, nanoelectronics, nanobiotechnologies and microsystems, as well as in nanotechnologies.

There is a video featuring researcher Julie Grollier discussing their work but you will need your French language skills,

(If you’re interested, there is an English language video published on youtube on Feb. 19, 2017 with Julie Grollier speaking more generally about the field at the World Economic Forum about neuromorphic computing,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm2BGkTYFeQ

Here’s a link to and a citation for the team’s July 2017 paper,

Neuromorphic computing with nanoscale spintronic oscillators by Jacob Torrejon, Mathieu Riou, Flavio Abreu Araujo, Sumito Tsunegi, Guru Khalsa, Damien Querlioz, Paolo Bortolotti, Vincent Cros, Kay Yakushiji, Akio Fukushima, Hitoshi Kubota, Shinji Yuasa, Mark D. Stiles, & Julie Grollier. Nature 547, 428–431 (27 July 2017) doi:10.1038/nature23011 Published online 26 July 2017

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanocar Race winners: The US-Austrian team

Sadly, I didn’t stumble across the news about the US-Austrian team sooner but it was not published until a May 8, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

Rice University chemist James Tour and his international team have won the first Nanocar Race.

The Rice and University of Graz team finished first in the inaugural Nanocar Race in Toulouse, France, April 28, completing a 150-nanometer course — roughly a thousandth of the width of a human hair — in about 1½ hours. (The race was declared over after 30 hours.)

Interestingly the Rice University news release announcing the win was issued prior to the ‘winning’ Swiss team’s and it explains why the Swiss team was declared a co-winner despite the additional hours (6.5 hours as compared to 1.5 hours [see my May 9, 2017 posting: Nanocar Race winners! where the Swiss appear to claiming they raced 38 hours]) before completing the race. From an April 28, 2017 Rice University news release,

The team led by Tour and Graz physicist Leonhard Grill deployed a two-wheeled, single-molecule vehicle with adamantane tires on its home track in Graz, Austria, achieving an average speed of 95 nanometers per hour. Tour said the speed ranged from more than 300 to less than 1 nanometer per hour, depending upon the location along the course.

The Swiss Nano Dragster team finished next, five hours later. But organizers at the French National Center for Scientific Research declared them a co-winner of first place as they were tops among teams that raced on a gold track.

Because the scanning tunneling microscope track in Toulouse could only accommodate four cars, two of the six competing international teams — Ohio University and Rice-Graz — ran their vehicles on their home tracks (Ohio on gold) and operated them remotely from the Toulouse headquarters.

The Dipolar Racer designed at Rice.

The Dipolar Racer designed at Rice.

Five cars were driven across gold surfaces in a vacuum near absolute zero by electrons from the tips of microscopes in Toulouse and Ohio, but the Rice-Graz team got permission to use a silver track at Graz. “Gold was the surface of choice, so we tested it there, but it turns out it’s too fast,” Grill said. “It’s so fast, we can’t even image it.”

The team got permission from organizers in advance of the race to use the slower silver surface, but with an additional handicap. “We had to go 150 nanometers around two pylons instead of 100 nanometers since our car was so much faster,” Tour said.

Tour said the race directors used the Paris-Rouen auto race in 1894, considered by some to be the world’s first auto race, as precedent for their decision April 29. “I am told there will be two first prizes regardless of the time difference and handicap,” he said.

The Rice-Graz car, called the Dipolar Racer, was designed by Tour and former Rice graduate student Victor Garcia-Lopez and raced by the Graz team, which included postdoctoral researcher and pilot Grant Simpson and undergraduate and co-pilot Philipp Petermeier.

The silver track under the microscope. Two Rice nanocars are in the blue circle at top. The lower car was the first to run the race, finishing in an hour-and-a-half. The top car was put through the course later, finishing in 2 hours.

The silver track under the microscope. Two Rice nanocars are in the blue circle at top. The lower car was the first to run the race, finishing in a 1½ hours. The top car was put through the course later, finishing in 2 hours. Click on the image for a larger version.

The purpose of the competition, according to organizers, was to push the science of how single molecules can be manipulated as they interact with surfaces.

“We chose our fastest wheels and our strongest dipole so that it could be pulled by the electric field more efficiently,” said Tour, whose lab has been designing nanocars since 1998. ‘We gave it two (side-by-side) wheels to minimize interaction with the surface and to lower the molecular weight.

“We built in every possible design parameter that we could to optimize speed,” he said.

While details of the Dipolar Racer remained a closely held secret until race time, Tour and Grill said they will be revealed in a forthcoming paper.

“This is the beginning of our ability to demonstrate nanoscale manipulation with control around obstacles and speed and will pave the way for much faster paces and eventually for carrying cargo and doing bottom-up assembly.

“It’s a great day for nanotechnology,” Tour said. “And a great day for Rice University and the University of Graz.”

Clearly all the winners were very excited. Still, there’s a little shade being thrown (one of the scientists is just a tiny bit miffed) as you can see in James Tour’s quote given after noting the US-Austrian racer was too fast for the gold surface so the team used the slower silver surface and were given another handicap. As per the Rice University news release: ““I am told [emphasis mine] there will be two first prizes regardless of the time difference and handicap,” he said.” Of course, the Swiss team’s news release didn’t mention the US-Austrian team’s speedier finish nor did it name (Dipolar Racer) the US-Austrian racer. As I noted before, scientists are people too.