Tag Archives: Chalmers University of Technology

3D printed nanocellulose for green architectural applications

It’s not happening next week but it is a promising step forward if you’re looking for nancellulose applications. From a February 7, 2024 news item on Nanowerk, Note: A link has been removed,

For the first time, a hydrogel material made of nanocellulose and algae has been tested as an alternative, greener architectural material. The study, from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, shows how the abundant sustainable material can be 3D printed into a wide array of architectural components, using much less energy than conventional construction methods.

Caption: 3D printed nanocellulose upscaled for green architectural applications. Credit: Chalmers University of Technology | Emma Fry

A February 6, 2024 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert but published February 7, 2024), which originated the news item,

The construction industry today consumes 50 percent of the world’s fossil resources, generates 40 percent of global waste and causes 39 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. There is a growing line of research into biomaterials and their applications, in order to transition to a greener future in line with, for example, the European Green Deal.

Nanocellulose is not a new biomaterial, and its properties as a hydrogel are known within the field of biomedicine, where it can be 3D printed into scaffolds for tissue and cell growth, due to its biocompatibility and wetness. But it has never been dried and used as an architectural material before.

“For the first time we have explored an architectural application of nanocellulose hydrogel. Specifically, we provided the so far missing knowledge on its design-related features, and showcased, with the help of our samples and prototypes, the tuneability of these features through custom digital design and robotic 3D printing,” says Malgorzata Zboinska, lead author of the study from Chalmers University of Technology.

The team used nanocellulose fibres and water, with the addition of an algae-based material called alginate. The alginate allowed the researchers to produce a 3D printable material, since the alginate added an extra flexibility to the material when it dried.

Cellulose is coined as the most abundant eco-friendly alternative to plastic, as it is one of the byproducts of the world’s largest industries. “The nanocellulose used in this study can be acquired from forestry, agriculture, paper mills and straw residues from agriculture. It is a very abundant material in that sense,” says Malgorzata Zboinska.

3D printing and nanocellulose/ A resource efficient technique

The architectural industry is today surrounded by access to digital technologies which allows for a wider range of new techniques to be used, but there is a gap in the knowledge of how these techniques can be applied. According to the European Green Deal, as of 2030, buildings in Europe must be more resource-efficient, and this can be achieved through elevated reuse and recycling of materials, such as with nanocellulose, an upcycled, byproduct from industry. At the same time as buildings are to become more circular, cutting-edge digital techniques are highlighted as important leverages for achieving these goals.

“3D printing is a very resource efficient technique. It allows us to make products without other things such as dies and casting forms, so there is less waste material. It is also very energy efficient. The robotic 3D printing system we employ does not use heat, just air pressure. This saves a lot of energy as we are only working at room temperature,” says Malgorzata Zboinska.

The energy efficient process relies on the shear thinning properties of the nanocellulose hydrogel. When you apply pressure it liquifies allowing it to be 3D printed, but when you take away the pressure it maintains its shape. This allows the researchers to work without the energy intensive processes that are commonplace in the construction industry.

Malgorzata Zboinska and her team designed many different toolpaths to be used in the robotic 3D printing process to see how the nanocellulose hydrogel would behave when it dried in different shapes and patterns. These dried shapes could then be applied as a basis to design a wide array of architectural standalone components, such as lightweight room dividers, blinds, and wall panel systems. They could also form the basis for coatings of existing building components, such as tiles to clad walls, acoustic elements for damping sound, and combined with other materials to clad skeleton walls.

The future of greener building materials

“Traditional building materials are designed to last for hundreds of years. Usually, they have predictable behaviours and homogenous properties. We have concrete, glass and all kinds of hard materials that endure and we know how they will age over time. Contrary to this, biobased materials contain organic matter, that is from the outset designed to biodegrade and cycle back into nature. We, therefore, need to acquire completely new knowledge on how we could apply them in architecture, and how we could embrace their shorter life cycle loops and heterogenous behaviour patterns, resembling more those found in nature rather than in an artificial and fully controlled environment. Design researchers and architects are now intensely searching for ways of designing products made from these materials, both for function and for aesthetics,” says Malgorzata Zboinska.

This study provides the first steps to demonstrate the upscaling potentials of ambient-dried, 3D-printed nanocellulose membrane constructs, as well as a new understanding of the relationship between the design of the material’s deposition pathways via 3D printing, and the dimensional, textural, and geometric effects in the final constructs. This knowledge is a necessary stepping stone that will allow Malgorzata Zboinska and her team to develop, through further research, applications of nanocellulose in architectural products that need to meet specific functional and aesthetic user requirements.  

“The yet not fully known properties of novel biobased materials prompt architectural researchers to establish alternative approaches to designing these new products, not only in terms of the functional qualities, but also the acceptance from the users. The aesthetics of biobased materials are an important part of this. If we are to propose these biobased materials to society and people, we need to work with the design as well. This becomes a very strong element for the acceptance of these materials. If people do not accept them, we will not reach the goals of a circular economy and sustainable built environment”.

More about the research:

The research is presented in a paper: “Robotically 3D printed architectural membranes from ambient dried cellulose nanofibril-alginate hydrogel”, published in the journal Materials and Design.

The researchers involved in the study are Malgorzata A. Zboinska, Sanna Sämfors and Paul Gatenholm. The researchers were active at Chalmers University of Technology and the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, both in Sweden, at the time of the study.

This work was supported by Adlerbertska Research Foundation and Chalmers University of Technology’s Area of Advance Materials Science. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation is gratefully acknowledged for funding the Wallenberg Wood Science Center. The authors would also like to recognise the contribution of Karl Åhlund, who assisted in the robotic extrusion system development.

Fact box – previous research:

Printing with nanocellulose was first developed at Chalmers University of Technology within the Wallenberg Wood Science Center in 2015. This is the first time this technology is being scaled up towards applications in buildings.

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

Robotically 3D printed architectural membranes from ambient dried cellulose nanofibril-alginate hydrogel by Malgorzata A. Zboinska, Sanna Sämfors, Paul Gatenholm. Materials & Design Volume 236, December 2023, 112472 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.matdes.2023.112472

This paper appears to be open access.

For the curious, here’s The European Green Deal.

Reducing toxicity of Alzheimer’s proteins with graphene oxide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graphene Oxide Attenuates Toxicity of Amyloid-β Aggregates in Yeast by Promoting Disassembly and Boosting Cellular Stress Response by Xin Chen, Santosh Pandit, Lei Shi, Vaishnavi Ravikumar, Julie Bonne Køhler, Ema Svetlicic, Zhejian Cao, Abhroop Garg, Dina Petranovic, Ivan Mijakovic. Advanced Functional Materials Volume 33, Issue 45 November 2, 2023 2304053 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202304053 First published online: 07 July 2023

This paper is open access.

10 years of the European Union’s roll of the dice: €1B or 1billion euros each for the Human Brain Project (HBP) and the Graphene Flagship

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

Human Brain Project (HBP)

A September 12, 2023 Human Brain Project (HBP) press release (also on EurekAlert) summarizes the ten year research effort and the achievements,

The EU-funded Human Brain Project (HBP) comes to an end in September and celebrates its successful conclusion today with a scientific symposium at Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ). The HBP was one of the first flagship projects and, with 155 cooperating institutions from 19 countries and a total budget of 607 million euros, one of the largest research projects in Europe. Forschungszentrum Jülich, with its world-leading brain research institute and the Jülich Supercomputing Centre, played an important role in the ten-year project.

“Understanding the complexity of the human brain and explaining its functionality are major challenges of brain research today”, says Astrid Lambrecht, Chair of the Board of Directors of Forschungszentrum Jülich. “The instruments of brain research have developed considerably in the last ten years. The Human Brain Project has been instrumental in driving this development – and not only gained new insights for brain research, but also provided important impulses for information technologies.”

HBP researchers have employed highly advanced methods from computing, neuroinformatics and artificial intelligence in a truly integrative approach to understanding the brain as a multi-level system. The project has contributed to a deeper understanding of the complex structure and function of the brain and enabled novel applications in medicine and technological advances.

Among the project’s highlight achievements are a three-dimensional, digital atlas of the human brain with unprecedented detail, personalised virtual models of patient brains with conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson’s, breakthroughs in the field of artificial intelligence, and an open digital research infrastructure – EBRAINS – that will remain an invaluable resource for the entire neuroscience community beyond the end of the HBP.

Researchers at the HBP have presented scientific results in over 3000 publications, as well as advanced medical and technical applications and over 160 freely accessible digital tools for neuroscience research.

“The Human Brain Project has a pioneering role for digital brain research with a unique interdisciplinary approach at the interface of neuroscience, computing and technology,” says Katrin Amunts, Director of the HBP and of the Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine at FZJ. “EBRAINS will continue to power this new way of investigating the brain and foster developments in brain medicine.”

“The impact of what you achieved in digital science goes beyond the neuroscientific community”, said Gustav Kalbe, CNECT, Acting Director of Digital Excellence and Science Infrastructures at the European Commission during the opening of the event. “The infrastructure that the Human Brain Project has established is already seen as a key building block to facilitate cooperation and research across geographical boundaries, but also across communities.”

Further information about the Human Brain Project as well as photos from research can be found here: https://fz-juelich.sciebo.de/s/hWJkNCC1Hi1PdQ5.

Results highlights and event photos in the online press release.

Results overviews:
– “Human Brain Project: Spotlights on major achievements” and “A closer Look on Scientific
Advances”

– “Human Brain Project: An extensive guide to the tools developed”

Examples of results from the Human Brain Project:

As the “Google Maps of the brain” [emphasis mine], the Human Brain Project makes the most comprehensive digital brain atlas to date available to all researchers worldwide. The atlas by Jülich researchers and collaborators combines high-resolution data of neurons, fibre connections, receptors and functional specialisations in the brain, and is designed as a constantly growing system.

13 hospitals in France are currently testing the new “Virtual Epileptic Patient” – a platform developed at the University of Marseille [Aix-Marseille University?] in the Human Brain Project. It creates personalised simulation models of brain dynamics to provide surgeons with predictions for the success of different surgical treatment strategies. The approach was presented this year in the journals Science Translational Medicine and The Lancet Neurology.



SpiNNaker2 is a “neuromorphic” [brainlike] computer developed by the University of Manchester and TU Dresden within the Human Brain Project. The company SpiNNcloud Systems in Dresden is commercialising the approach for AI applications. (Image: Sprind.org)

As an openly accessible digital infrastructure, EBRAINS offers scientists easy access to the best techniques for complex research questions.

[https://www.ebrains.eu/]

There was a Canadian connection at one time; Montréal Neuro at Canada’s McGill University was involved in developing a computational platform for neuroscience (CBRAIN) for HBP according to an announcement in my January 29, 2013 posting. However, there’s no mention of the EU project on the CBRAIN website nor is there mention of a Canadian partner on the EBRAINS website, which seemed the most likely successor to the CBRAIN portion of the HBP project originally mentioned in 2013.

I couldn’t resist “Google maps of the brain.”

In any event, the statement from Astrid Lambrecht offers an interesting contrast to that offered by the leader of the other project.

Graphene Flagship

In fact, the Graphene Flagship has been celebrating its 10th anniversary since last year; see my September 1, 2022 posting titled “Graphene Week (September 5 – 9, 2022) is a celebration of 10 years of the Graphene Flagship.”

The flagship’s lead institution, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, issued an August 28, 2023 press release by Lisa Gahnertz (also on the Graphene Flagship website but published September 4, 2023) touting its achievement with an ebullience I am more accustomed to seeing in US news releases,

Chalmers steers Europe’s major graphene venture to success

For the past decade, the Graphene Flagship, the EU’s largest ever research programme, has been coordinated from Chalmers with Jari Kinaret at the helm. As the project reaches the ten-year mark, expectations have been realised, a strong European research field on graphene has been established, and the journey will continue.

‘Have we delivered what we promised?’ asks Graphene Flagship Director Jari Kinaret from his office in the physics department at Chalmers, overlooking the skyline of central Gothenburg.

‘Yes, we have delivered more than anyone had a right to expect,’ [emphasis mine] he says. ‘In our analysis for the conclusion of the project, we read the documents that were written at the start. What we promised then were over a hundred specific things. Some of them were scientific and technological promises, and they have all been fulfilled. Others were for specific applications, and here 60–70 per cent of what was promised has been delivered. We have also delivered applications we did not promise from the start, but these are more difficult to quantify.’

The autumn of 2013 saw the launch of the massive ten-year Science, Technology and Innovation research programme on graphene and other related two-dimensional materials. Joint funding from the European Commission and EU Member States totalled a staggering €1,000 million. A decade later, it is clear that the large-scale initiative has succeeded in its endeavours. According to a report by the research institute WifOR, the Graphene Flagship will have created a total contribution to GDP of €3,800 million and 38,400 new jobs in the 27 EU countries between 2014 and 2030.

Exceeded expectations

‘Per euro invested and compared to other EU projects, the flagship has performed 13 times better than expected in terms of patent applications, and seven times better for scientific publications. We have 17 spin-off companies that have received over €130 million in private funding – people investing their own money is a real example of trust in the fact that the technology works,’ says Jari Kinaret.

He emphasises that the long time span has been crucial in developing the concepts of the various flagship projects.

‘When it comes to new projects, the ability to work on a long timescale is a must and is more important than a large budget. It takes a long time to build trust, both in one another within a team and in the technology on the part of investors, industry and the wider community. The size of the project has also been significant. There has been an ecosystem around the material, with many graphene manufacturers and other organisations involved. It builds robustness, which means you have the courage to invest in the material and develop it.’

From lab to application

In 2010, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their pioneering experiments isolating the ultra-light and ultra-thin material graphene. It was the first known 2D material and stunned the world with its ‘exceptional properties originating in the strange world of quantum physics’ according to the Nobel Foundation’s press release. Many potential applications were identified for this electrically conductive, heat-resistant and light-transmitting material. Jari Kinaret’s research team had been exploring the material since 2006, and when Kinaret learned of the European Commission’s call for a ten-year research programme, it prompted him to submit an application. The Graphene Flagship was initiated to ensure that Europe would maintain its leading position in graphene research and innovation, and its coordination and administration fell to Chalmers.

Is it a staggering thought that your initiative became the biggest EU research project of all time?

‘The fact that the three-minute presentation I gave at a meeting in Brussels has grown into an activity in 22 countries, with 170 organisations and 1,300 people involved … You can’t think about things like that because it can easily become overwhelming. Sometimes you just have to go for it,’ says Jari Kinaret.

One of the objectives of the Graphene Flagship was to take the hopes for this material and move them from lab to application. What has happened so far?

‘We are well on track with 100 products priced and on their way to the market. Many of them are business-to-business products that are not something we ordinary consumers are going to buy, but which may affect us indirectly.’

‘It’s important to remember that getting products to the application stage is a complex process. For a researcher, it may take ten working prototypes; for industry, ten million. Everything has to click into place, on a large scale. All components must work identically and in exactly the same way, and be compatible with existing production in manufacturing as you cannot rebuild an entire factory for a new material. In short, it requires reliability, reproducibility and manufacturability.’

Applications in a wide range of areas

Graphene’s extraordinary properties are being used to deliver the next generation of technologies in a wide range of fields, such as sensors for self-driving cars, advanced batteries, new water purification methods and sophisticated instruments for use in neuroscience. When asked if there are any applications that Jani Kinaret himself would like to highlight, he mentions, among other things, the applications that are underway in the automotive industry – such as sensors to detect obstacles for self-driving cars. Thanks to graphene, they will be so cost-effective to produce that it will be possible to make them available in more than just the most expensive car models.

He also highlights the aerospace industry, where a graphene material for removing ice from aircraft and helicopter wings is under development for the Airbus company. Another favourite, which he has followed from basic research to application, is the development of an air cleaner for Lufthansa passenger aircraft, based on a kind of ‘graphene foam’. Because graphene foam is very light, it can be heated extremely quickly. A pulse of electricity lasting one thousandth of a second is enough to raise the temperature to 300 degrees, thus killing micro-organisms and effectively cleaning the air in the aircraft.

He also mentions the Swedish company ABB, which has developed a graphene composite for circuit breakers in switchgear. These circuit breakers are used to protect the electricity network and must be safe to use. The graphene composite replaces the manual lubrication of the circuit breakers, resulting in significant cost savings.

‘We also see graphene being used in medical technology, but its application requires many years of testing and approval by various bodies. For example, graphene technology can more effectively map the brain before neurosurgery, as it provides a more detailed image. Another aspect of graphene is that it is soft and pliable. This means it can be used for electrodes that are implanted in the brain to treat tremors in Parkinson’s patients, without the electrodes causing scarring,’ says Jari Kinaret.

Coordinated by Chalmers

Jari Kinaret sees the fact that the EU chose Chalmers as the coordinating university as a favourable factor for the Graphene Flagship.

‘Hundreds of millions of SEK [Swedish Kroner] have gone into Chalmers research, but what has perhaps been more important is that we have become well-known and visible in certain areas. We also have the 2D-Tech competence centre and the SIO Grafen programme, both funded by Vinnova and coordinated by Chalmers and Chalmers industriteknik respectively. I think it is excellent that Chalmers was selected, as there could have been too much focus on the coordinating organisation if it had been more firmly established in graphene research at the outset.’

What challenges have been encountered during the project?

‘With so many stakeholders involved, we are not always in agreement. But that is a good thing. A management book I once read said that if two parties always agree, then one is redundant. At the start of the project, it was also interesting to see the major cultural differences we had in our communications and that different cultures read different things between the lines; it took time to realise that we should be brutally straightforward in our communications with one another.’

What has it been like to have the coordinating role that you have had?

‘Obviously, I’ve had to worry about things an ordinary physics professor doesn’t have to worry about, like a phone call at four in the morning after the Brexit vote or helping various parties with intellectual property rights. I have read more legal contracts than I thought I would ever have to read as a professor. As a researcher, your approach when you go into a role is narrow and deep, here it was rather all about breadth. I would have liked to have both, but there are only 26 hours in a day,’ jokes Jari Kinaret.

New phase for the project and EU jobs to come

A new assignment now awaits Jari Kinaret outside Chalmers as Chief Executive Officer of the EU initiative KDT JU (Key Digital Technologies Joint Undertaking, soon to become Chips JU), where industry and the public sector interact to drive the development of new electronic components and systems.

The Graphene Flagship may have reached its destination in its current form, but the work started is progressing in a form more akin to a flotilla. About a dozen projects will continue to live on under the auspices of the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme. Chalmers is going to coordinate a smaller CSA project called GrapheneEU, where CSA stands for ‘Coordination and Support Action’. It will act as a cohesive force between the research and innovation projects that make up the next phase of the flagship, offering them a range of support and services, including communication, innovation and standardisation.

The Graphene Flagship is about to turn ten. If the project had been a ten-year-old child, what kind of child would it have been?

‘It would have been a very diverse organism. Different aspirations are beginning to emerge – perhaps it is adolescence that is approaching. In addition, within the project we have also studied other related 2D materials, and we found that there are 6,000 distinct materials of this type, of which only about 100 have been studied. So, it’s the younger siblings that are starting to arrive now.’

Facts about the Graphene Flagship:

The Graphene Flagship is the first European flagship for future and emerging technologies. It has been coordinated and administered from the Department of Physics at Chalmers, and as the project enters its next phase, GrapheneEU, coordination will continue to be carried out by staff currently working on the flagship led by Chalmers Professor Patrik Johansson.

The project has proved highly successful in developing graphene-based technology in Europe, resulting in 17 new companies, around 100 new products, nearly 500 patent applications and thousands of scientific papers. All in all, the project has exceeded the EU’s targets for utilisation from research projects by a factor of ten. According to the assessment of the EU research programme Horizon 2020, Chalmers’ coordination of the flagship has been identified as one of the key factors behind its success.

Graphene Week will be held at the Svenska Mässan in Gothenburg from 4 to 8 September 2023. Graphene Week is an international conference, which also marks the finale of the ten-year anniversary of the Graphene Flagship. The conference will be jointly led by academia and industry – Professor Patrik Johansson from Chalmers and Dr Anna Andersson from ABB – and is expected to attract over 400 researchers from Sweden, Europe and the rest of the world. The programme includes an exhibition, press conference and media activities, special sessions on innovation, diversity and ethics, and several technical sessions. The full programme is available here.

Read the press release on Graphene Week from 4 to 8 September and the overall results of the Graphene Flagship. …

Ten years and €1B each. Congratulations to the organizers on such massive undertakings. As for whether or not (and how they’ve been successful), I imagine time will tell.

Remove 80 percent of dye pollutants from wastewater with wood nanocrystals

They’re usually known as cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) but the term wood nanocrystals works too. From a March 23, 2023 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have developed a new method that can easily purify contaminated water using a cellulose-based material. This discovery could have implications for countries with poor water treatment technologies and combat the widespread problem of toxic dye discharge from the textile industry.

Clean water is a prerequisite for our health and living environment, but far from a given for everyone. According to the World Health Organization, WHO, there are currently over two billion people living with limited or no access to clean water.

This global challenge is at the centre of a research group at Chalmers University of Technology, which has developed a method to easily remove pollutants from water. The group, led by Gunnar Westman, Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry focuses on new uses for cellulose and wood-based products and is part of the Wallenberg Wood Science Center.

The researchers have built up solid knowledge about cellulose nanocrystals* – and this is where the key to water purification lies. These tiny nanoparticles have an outstanding adsorption capacity, which the researchers have now found a way to utilise.

“We have taken a unique holistic approach to these cellulose nanocrystals, examining their properties and potential applications. We have now created a biobased material, a form of cellulose powder with excellent purification properties that we can adapt and modify depending on the types of pollutants to be removed,” says Gunnar Westman.

Caption: Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have developed a new biobased material, a form of powder based on cellulose nanocrystals to purify water from pollutants, including textile dyes. When the polluted water passes through the filter with cellulose powder, the pollutants are absorbed, and the sunlight entering the treatment system causes them to break down quickly and efficiently. Laboratory tests have shown that at least 80 percent of the dye pollutants are removed with the new method and material, and the researchers see good opportunities to further increase the degree of purification. Credit: Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden | David Ljungberg

A March 23, 2023 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the water treatment in more detail including how it will be tested in field conditions,

Absorbs and breaks down toxins
In a study recently published in the scientific journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, the researchers show how toxic dyes can be filtered out of wastewater using the method and material developed by the group. The research was conducted in collaboration with the Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur in India, where dye pollutants in textile industry wastewater are a widespread problem.

The treatment requires neither pressure nor heat and uses sunlight to catalyse the process. Gunnar Westman likens the method to pouring raspberry juice into a glass with grains of rice, which soak up the juice to make the water transparent again. 

“Imagine a simple purification system, like a portable box connected to the sewage pipe. As the contaminated water passes through the cellulose powder filter, the pollutants are absorbed and the sunlight entering the treatment system causes them to break down quickly and efficiently. It is a cost-effective and simple system to set up and use, and we see that it could be of great benefit in countries that currently have poor or non-existent water treatment,” he says. 

The method will be tested in India
India is one of the developing countries in Asia with extensive textile production, where large amounts of dyes are released into lakes, rivers and streams every year. The consequences for humans and the environment are serious. Water contaminant contains dyes and heavy metals and can cause skin damage with direct contact and increase the risk of cancer and organ damage when they enter into the food chain. Additionally, nature is affected in several ways, including the impairment of photosynthesis and plant growth.

Conducting field studies in India is an important next step, and the Chalmers researchers are now supporting their Indian colleagues in their efforts to get some of the country’s small-scale industries to test the method in reality. So far, laboratory tests with industrial water have shown that more than 80 percent of the dye pollutants are removed with the new method, and Gunnar Westman sees good opportunities to further increase the degree of purification.

“Going from discharging completely untreated water to removing 80 percent of the pollutants is a huge improvement, and means significantly less destruction of nature and harm to humans. In addition, by optimising the pH and treatment time, we see an opportunity to further improve the process so that we can produce both irrigation and drinking water. It would be fantastic if we can help these industries to get a water treatment system that works, so that people in the surrounding area can use the water without risking their health,” he says.

Can be used against other types of pollutants
Gunnar Westman also sees great opportunities to use cellulose nanocrystals for the treatment of other water pollutants than dyes. In a previous study, the research group has shown that pollutants of toxic hexavalent chromium, which is common in wastewater from mining, leather and metal industries, could be successfully removed with a similar type of cellulose-based material. The group is also exploring how the research area can contribute to the purification of antibiotic residues.

“There is great potential to find good water purification opportunities with this material, and in addition to the basic knowledge we have built up at Chalmers, an important key to success is the collective expertise available at the Wallenberg Wood Science Center,” he says.

More about the scientific article
Read the full article in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research: Cellulose nanocrystals derived from microcrystalline cellulose for selective removal of Janus Green Azo Dye. The authors of the article are Gunnar Westman and Amit Kumar Sonker of Chalmers University of Technology, and Ruchi Aggarwal, Anjali Kumari Garg, Deepika Saini, and Sumit Kumar Sonkar of Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur in India. The research is funded by the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, WWSC and the Indian group research is funded by Science and Engineering Research Board under Department of Science and Technology (DST-SERB) Government of India. 

*Nanocrystals 
Nanocrystals are nanoparticles in crystal form that are extremely small: a nanoparticle is between 1 and 100 nanometres in at least one dimension, i.e. along one axis. (one nanometre = one billionth of a metre).

Wallenberg Wood Science Center
•    The Wallenberg Wood Science Center, WWSC, is a research centre that aims to develop new sustainable biobased materials using raw materials from the forest. The WWSC is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Linköping University, and is based on a donation from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.
•    The centre involves about 95 researchers and faculty members and 50 doctoral students. Eight research groups from Chalmers are part of the centre.

About dye pollutants and access to clean water
•    Over two billion people in the world live with limited or no access to clean water. It is estimated that over 3.5 million people die each year from lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation.
•    The global textile industry, which is concentrated in Asia, contributes to widespread water pollution. Production often takes place in low-wage countries, where much of the technology is antiquated and environmental legislation and oversight may be lacking.
•    Emissions contribute to eutrophication and toxic effects in water and soil. There are examples in China and India where groundwater has been contaminated by dye and processing chemicals.
•    Producing one kilogram of new textiles requires between 7,000 and 29,000 litres of water, and between 1.5 and 6.9 kg of chemicals.
•    In 2021, around 327 thousand tonnes of dyes and pigments were produced in India. A large proportion of the country’s dye pollutants is discharged untreated.

Sources 

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.naturvardsverket.se/amnesomraden/textil/dagens-textila-floden-ar-en-global-miljoutmaning/ 

WHO: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water

A critical review on the treatment of dye-containing wastewater: Ecotoxicological and health concerns of textile dyes and possible remediation approaches for environmental safety. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, February 2022

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0147651321012720

Effects of textile dyes on health and the environment and bioremediation potential of living organisms. Biotechnology Research and Innovation, July–December 2019

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452072119300413

Swedish Chemicals Agency: https://www.kemi.se/kemiska-amnen-och-material/nanomaterial

Statista: https://www.statista.com/statistics/726947/india-dyes-and-pigments-production-volume/#:~:text=In%20fiscal%20year%202021%2C%20the,around%20327%20thousand%20metric%20tons

Even though there’s a link to the research in the press release, here’s my link to and citation for the paper, which specifies a particular dye suggesting this is not a universal treatment,

Cellulose Nanocrystals Derived from Microcrystalline Cellulose for Selective Removal of Janus Green Azo Dye by Ruchi Aggarwal, Anjali Kumari Garg, Deepika Saini, Sumit Kumar Sonkar, Amit Kumar Sonker, and Gunnar Westman. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2023, 62, 1, 649–659 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.iecr.2c03365 Publication Date: December 26, 2022 Copyright © 2022 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Graphene goes to the moon

The people behind the European Union’s Graphene Flagship programme (if you need a brief explanation, keep scrolling down to the “What is the Graphene Flagship?” subhead) and the United Arab Emirates have got to be very excited about the announcement made in a November 29, 2022 news item on Nanowerk, Note: Canadians too have reason to be excited as of April 3, 2023 when it was announced that Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen was selected to be part of the team on NASA’s [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] Artemis II to orbit the moon (April 3, 2023 CBC news online article by Nicole Mortillaro) ·

Graphene Flagship Partners University of Cambridge (UK) and Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB, Belgium) paired up with the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC, United Arab Emirates), and the European Space Agency (ESA) to test graphene on the Moon. This joint effort sees the involvement of many international partners, such as Airbus Defense and Space, Khalifa University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Technische Universität Dortmund, University of Oslo, and Tohoku University.

The Rashid rover is planned to be launched on 30 November 2022 [Note: the launch appears to have occurred on December 11, 2022; keep scrolling for more about that] from Cape Canaveral in Florida and will land on a geologically rich and, as yet, only remotely explored area on the Moon’s nearside – the side that always faces the Earth. During one lunar day, equivalent to approximately 14 days on Earth, Rashid will move on the lunar surface investigating interesting geological features.

A November 29, 2022 Graphene Flagship press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more details,

The Rashid rover wheels will be used for repeated exposure of different materials to the lunar surface. As part of this Material Adhesion and abrasion Detection experiment, graphene-based composites on the rover wheels will be used to understand if they can protect spacecraft against the harsh conditions on the Moon, and especially against regolith (also known as ‘lunar dust’).

Regolith is made of extremely sharp, tiny and sticky grains and, since the Apollo missions, it has been one of the biggest challenges lunar missions have had to overcome. Regolith is responsible for mechanical and electrostatic damage to equipment, and is therefore also hazardous for astronauts. It clogs spacesuits’ joints, obscures visors, erodes spacesuits and protective layers, and is a potential health hazard.  

University of Cambridge researchers from the Cambridge Graphene Centre produced graphene/polyether ether ketone (PEEK) composites. The interaction of these composites with the Moon regolith (soil) will be investigated. The samples will be monitored via an optical camera, which will record footage throughout the mission. ULB researchers will gather information during the mission and suggest adjustments to the path and orientation of the rover. Images obtained will be used to study the effects of the Moon environment and the regolith abrasive stresses on the samples.

This moon mission comes soon after the ESA announcement of the 2022 class of astronauts, including the Graphene Flagship’s own Meganne Christian, a researcher at Graphene Flagship Partner the Institute of Microelectronics and Microsystems (IMM) at the National Research Council of Italy.

“Being able to follow the Moon rover’s progress in real time will enable us to track how the lunar environment impacts various types of graphene-polymer composites, thereby allowing us to infer which of them is most resilient under such conditions. This will enhance our understanding of how graphene-based composites could be used in the construction of future lunar surface vessels,” says Sara Almaeeni, MBRSC science team lead, who designed Rashid’s communication system.

“New materials such as graphene have the potential to be game changers in space exploration. In combination with the resources available on the Moon, advanced materials will enable radiation protection, electronics shielding and mechanical resistance to the harshness of the Moon’s environment. The Rashid rover will be the first opportunity to gather data on the behavior of graphene composites within a lunar environment,” says Carlo Iorio, Graphene Flagship Space Champion, from ULB.

Leading up to the Moon mission, a variety of inks containing graphene and related materials, such as conducting graphene, insulating hexagonal boron nitride and graphene oxide, semiconducting molybdenum disulfide, prepared by the University of Cambridge and ULB were also tested on the MAterials Science Experiment Rocket 15 (MASER 15) mission, successfully launched on the 23rd of November 2022 from the Esrange Space Center in Sweden. This experiment, named ARLES-2 (Advanced Research on Liquid Evaporation in Space) and supported by European and UK space agencies (ESA, UKSA) included contributions from Graphene Flagship Partners University of Cambridge (UK), University of Pisa (Italy) and Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), with many international collaborators, including Aix-Marseille University (France), Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany), York University (Canada), Université de Liège (Belgium), University of Edinburgh and Loughborough.

This experiment will provide new information about the printing of GMR inks in weightless conditions, contributing to the development of new addictive manufacturing procedures in space such as 3d printing. Such procedures are key for space exploration, during which replacement components are often needed, and could be manufactured from functional inks.

“Our experiments on graphene and related materials deposition in microgravity pave the way addictive manufacturing in space. The study of the interaction of Moon regolith with graphene composites will address some key challenges brought about by the harsh lunar environment,” says Yarjan Abdul Samad, from the Universities of Cambridge and Khalifa, who prepared the samples and coordinated the interactions with the United Arab Emirates.    

“The Graphene Flagship is spearheading the investigation of graphene and related materials (GRMs) for space applications. In November 2022, we had the first member of the Graphene Flagship appointed to the ESA astronaut class. We saw the launch of a sounding rocket to test printing of a variety of GRMs in zero gravity conditions, and the launch of a lunar rover that will test the interaction of graphene—based composites with the Moon surface. Composites, coatings and foams based on GRMs have been at the core of the Graphene Flagship investigations since its beginning. It is thus quite telling that, leading up to the Flagship’s 10th anniversary, these innovative materials are now to be tested on the lunar surface. This is timely, given the ongoing effort to bring astronauts back to the Moon, with the aim of building lunar settlements. When combined with polymers, GRMs can tailor the mechanical, thermal, electrical properties of then host matrices. These pioneering experiments could pave the way for widespread adoption of GRM-enhanced materials for space exploration,” says Andrea Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer and Chair of the Management Panel of the Graphene Flagship. 

Caption: The MASER15 launch Credit: John-Charles Dupin

A pioneering graphene work and a first for the Arab World

A December 11, 2022 news item on Alarabiya news (and on CNN) describes the ‘graphene’ launch which was also marked the Arab World’s first mission to the moon,

The United Arab Emirates’ Rashid Rover – the Arab world’s first mission to the Moon – was launched on Sunday [December 11, 2022], the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) announced on its official Twitter account.

The launch came after it was previously postponed for “pre-flight checkouts.”

The launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the UAE’s Rashid rover successfully took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Rashid rover – built by Emirati engineers from the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) – is to be sent to regions of the Moon unexplored by humans.

What is the Graphene Flagship?

In 2013, the Graphene Flagship was chosen as one of two FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) funding projects (the other being the Human Brain Project) each receiving €1 billion to be paid out over 10 years. In effect, it’s a science funding programme specifically focused on research, development, and commercialization of graphene (a two-dimensional [it has length and width but no depth] material made of carbon atoms).

You can find out more about the flagship and about graphene here.

Brilliant colours in electronic paper displays

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) have taken a step forward towards making science fiction writers’ fantasies of reading paper-like electronic displays outdoors under the sun reality with a new technique that results in more brilliant colour displays.

Caption: A new design from Chalmers University of Technology could help produce e-readers, advertising signs and other digital screens with optimal colour display and minimal energy consumption Credit: Image:, Marika Gugole/Chalmers University of Technology

From a July 12, 2021 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert and received via email),

Imagine sitting out in the sun, reading a digital screen as thin as paper, but seeing the same image quality as if you were indoors. Thanks to research from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, it could soon be a reality. A new type of reflective screen – sometimes described as ‘electronic paper’ – offers optimal colour display, while using ambient light to keep energy consumption to a minimum.

Traditional digital screens use a backlight to illuminate the text or images displayed upon them. This is fine indoors, but we’ve all experienced the difficulties of viewing such screens in bright sunshine. Reflective screens, however, attempt to use the ambient light, mimicking the way our eyes respond to natural paper.

“For reflective screens to compete with the energy-intensive digital screens that we use today, images and colours must be reproduced with the same high quality. That will be the real breakthrough. Our research now shows how the technology can be optimised, making it attractive for commercial use,” says Marika Gugole, Doctoral Student at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology.

The researchers had already previously succeeded in developing an ultra-thin, flexible material that reproduces all the colours an LED screen can display, while requiring only a tenth of the energy that a standard tablet consumes. But in the earlier design the colours on the reflective screen did not display with optimal quality. Now the new study, published in the journal Nano Letters takes the material one step further. Using a previously researched, porous and nanostructured material, containing tungsten trioxide, gold and platinum, they tried a new tactic – inverting the design in such a way as to allow the colours to appear much more accurately on the screen.

Inverting the design for top quality colour
The inversion of the design represents a great step forward. They placed the component which makes the material electrically conductive underneath the pixelated nanostructure that reproduces the colours – instead of above it, as was previously the case. This new design means you look directly at the pixelated surface, therefore seeing the colours much more clearly.

In addition to the minimal energy consumption, reflective screens have other advantages. For example, they are much less tiring for the eyes compared to looking at a regular screen.

To make these reflective screens, certain rare metals are required – such as the gold and platinum – but because the final product is so thin, the amounts needed are very small. The researchers have high hopes that eventually, it will be possible to significantly reduce the quantities needed for production.

“Our main goal when developing these reflective screens, or ‘electronic paper’ as it is sometimes termed, is to find sustainable, energy-saving solutions. And in this case, energy consumption is almost zero because we simply use the ambient light of the surroundings,” explains research leader Andreas Dahlin, Professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers.

Flexible with a wide range of uses
Reflective screens are already available in some tablets today, but they only display the colours black and white well, which limits their use.

“A large industrial player with the right technical competence could, in principle, start developing a product with the new technology within a couple of months,” says Andreas Dahlin, who envisions a number of further applications. In addition to smart phones and tablets, it could also be useful for outdoor advertising, offering energy and resource savings compared with both printed posters or moving digital screens.

More about the research

• Research on the nano-thin electronic paper has been ongoing for several years at Chalmers, and the work has been rewarded with both international attention and major strategic research grants. 

• The technology in Chalmers researchers’ reflective screens is based on the material’s ability to regulate how light is absorbed and reflected. In the current study, tungsten trioxide is the core material, but in previous studies, researchers also used polymers. The material that covers the surface conducts electronic signals throughout the screen and can be patterned to create high-resolution images.

• The scientific article Electrochromic Inorganic Nanostructures with High Chromaticity and Superior Brightness has been published in Nano Letters and is written by Marika Gugole, Oliver Olsson, Stefano Rossi, Magnus P. Jonsson and Andreas Dahlin. The researchers are active at Chalmers University of Technology and Linköping University, Sweden.

Since the title and list of authors is included just above in a format almost identical to my usual ‘citation’, I’ll add only some publication details,

Nano Lett. 2021, 21, 10, 4343–4350 Publication Date:May 10, 2021 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.1c00904 Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society

This paper appears to be open access.

Council of Canadian Academies and its expert panel for the AI for Science and Engineering project

There seems to be an explosion (metaphorically and only by Canadian standards) of interest in public perceptions/engagement/awareness of artificial intelligence (see my March 29, 2021 posting “Canada launches its AI dialogues” and these dialogues run until April 30, 2021 plus there’s this April 6, 2021 posting “UNESCO’s Call for Proposals to highlight blind spots in AI Development open ’til May 2, 2021” which was launched in cooperation with Mila-Québec Artificial Intelligence Institute).

Now there’s this, in a March 31, 2020 Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) news release, four new projects were announced. (Admittedly these are not ‘public engagement’ exercises as such but the reports are publicly available and utilized by policymakers.) These are the two projects of most interest to me,

Public Safety in the Digital Age

Information and communications technologies have profoundly changed almost every aspect of life and business in the last two decades. While the digital revolution has brought about many positive changes, it has also created opportunities for criminal organizations and malicious actors to target individuals, businesses, and systems.

This assessment will examine promising practices that could help to address threats to public safety related to the use of digital technologies while respecting human rights and privacy.

Sponsor: Public Safety Canada

AI for Science and Engineering

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in science and engineering has the potential to radically transform the nature of scientific inquiry and discovery and produce a wide range of social and economic benefits for Canadians. But, the adoption of these technologies also presents a number of potential challenges and risks.

This assessment will examine the legal/regulatory, ethical, policy and social challenges related to the use of AI technologies in scientific research and discovery.

Sponsor: National Research Council Canada [NRC] (co-sponsors: CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research], CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research], NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council], and SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council])

For today’s posting the focus will be on the AI project, specifically, the April 19, 2021 CCA news release announcing the project’s expert panel,

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine a broad range of factors related to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in scientific research and discovery in Canada. Teresa Scassa, SJD, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa, will serve as Chair of the Panel.  

“AI and machine learning may drastically change the fields of science and engineering by accelerating research and discovery,” said Dr. Scassa. “But these technologies also present challenges and risks. A better understanding of the implications of the use of AI in scientific research will help to inform decision-making in this area and I look forward to undertaking this assessment with my colleagues.”

As Chair, Dr. Scassa will lead a multidisciplinary group with extensive expertise in law, policy, ethics, philosophy, sociology, and AI technology. The Panel will answer the following question:

What are the legal/regulatory, ethical, policy and social challenges associated with deploying AI technologies to enable scientific/engineering research design and discovery in Canada?

“We’re delighted that Dr. Scassa, with her extensive experience in AI, the law and data governance, has taken on the role of Chair,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I anticipate the work of this outstanding panel will inform policy decisions about the development, regulation and adoption of AI technologies in scientific research, to the benefit of Canada.”

The CCA was asked by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), along with co-sponsors CIFAR, CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC, to address the question. More information can be found here.

The Expert Panel on AI for Science and Engineering:

Teresa Scassa (Chair), SJD, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law (Ottawa, ON)

Julien Billot, CEO, Scale AI (Montreal, QC)

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media and Professor of Communication, Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, BC)

Marc Antoine Dilhac, Professor (Philosophy), University of Montreal; Director of Ethics and Politics, Centre for Ethics (Montréal, QC)

B. Courtney Doagoo, AI and Society Fellow, Centre for Law, Technology and Society, University of Ottawa; Senior Manager, Risk Consulting Practice, KPMG Canada (Ottawa, ON)

Abhishek Gupta, Founder and Principal Researcher, Montreal AI Ethics Institute (Montréal, QC)

Richard Isnor, Associate Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies, St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, NS)

Ross D. King, Professor, Chalmers University of Technology (Göteborg, Sweden)

Sabina Leonelli, Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, University of Exeter (Exeter, United Kingdom)

Raymond J. Spiteri, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)

Who is the expert panel?

Putting together a Canadian panel is an interesting problem especially so when you’re trying to find people of expertise who can also represent various viewpoints both professionally and regionally. Then, there are gender, racial, linguistic, urban/rural, and ethnic considerations.

Statistics

Eight of the panelists could be said to be representing various regions of Canada. Five of those eight panelists are based in central Canada, specifically, Ontario (Ottawa) or Québec (Montréal). The sixth panelist is based in Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia), the seventh panelist is based in the Prairies (Saskatchewan), and the eighth panelist is based in western Canada, (Vancouver, British Columbia).

The two panelists bringing an international perspective to this project are both based in Europe, specifically, Sweden and the UK.

(sigh) It would be good to have representation from another part of the world. Asia springs to mind as researchers in that region are very advanced in their AI research and applications meaning that their experts and ethicists are likely to have valuable insights.

Four of the ten panelists are women, which is closer to equal representation than some of the other CCA panels I’ve looked at.

As for Indigenous and BIPOC representation, unless one or more of the panelists chooses to self-identify in that fashion, I cannot make any comments. It should be noted that more than one expert panelist focuses on social justice and/or bias in algorithms.

Network of relationships

As you can see, the CCA descriptions for the individual members of the expert panel are a little brief. So, I did a little digging and In my searches, I noticed what seems to be a pattern of relationships among some of these experts. In particular, take note of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada.

Individual panelists

Teresa Scassa (Ontario) whose SJD designation signifies a research doctorate in law chairs this panel. Offhand, I can recall only one or two other panels being chaired by women of the 10 or so I’ve reviewed. In addition to her profile page at the University of Ottawa, she hosts her own blog featuring posts such as “How Might Bill C-11 Affect the Outcome of a Clearview AI-type Complaint?” She writes clearly (I didn’t seen any jargon) for an audience that is somewhat informed on the topic.

Along with Dilhac, Teresa Scassa is a member of the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada. More about that group when you read Dilhac’s description.

Julien Billot (Québec) has provided a profile on LinkedIn and you can augment your view of M. Billot with this profile from the CreativeDestructionLab (CDL),

Mr. Billot is a member of the faculty at HEC Montréal [graduate business school of the Université de Montréal] as an adjunct professor of management and the lead for the CreativeDestructionLab (CDL) and NextAi program in Montreal.

Julien Billot has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Yellow Pages Group Corporation (Y.TO) in Montreal, Quebec. Previously, he was Executive Vice President, Head of Media and Member of the Executive Committee of Solocal Group (formerly PagesJaunes Groupe), the publicly traded and incumbent local search business in France. Earlier experience includes serving as CEO of the digital and new business group of Lagardère Active, a multimedia branch of Lagardère Group and 13 years in senior management positions at France Telecom, notably as Chief Marketing Officer for Orange, the company’s mobile subsidiary.

Mr. Billot is a graduate of École Polytechnique (Paris) and from Telecom Paris Tech. He holds a postgraduate diploma (DEA) in Industrial Economics from the University of Paris-Dauphine.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (British Columbia) has a profile on the Simon Fraser University (SFU) website, which provided one of the more interesting (to me personally) biographies,

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media at Simon Fraser University, and leads the Digital Democracies Institute which was launched in 2019. The Institute aims to integrate research in the humanities and data sciences to address questions of equality and social justice in order to combat the proliferation of online “echo chambers,” abusive language, discriminatory algorithms and mis/disinformation by fostering critical and creative user practices and alternative paradigms for connection. It has four distinct research streams all led by Dr. Chun: Beyond Verification which looks at authenticity and the spread of disinformation; From Hate to Agonism, focusing on fostering democratic exchange online; Desegregating Network Neighbourhoods, combatting homophily across platforms; and Discriminating Data: Neighbourhoods, Individuals and Proxies, investigating the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality [emphasis mine] to big data and network analytics.

I’m glad to see someone who has focused on ” … the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality to big data and network analytics.” Even more interesting to me was this from her CV (curriculum vitae),

Professor, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University, July 2010-June 2018

.•Affiliated Faculty, Multimedia & Electronic Music Experiments (MEME), Department of Music,2017.

•Affiliated Faculty, History of Art and Architecture, March 2012-

.•Graduate Field Faculty, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Sept 2008-.[sic]

….

[all emphases mine]

And these are some of her credentials,

Ph.D., English, Princeton University, 1999.
•Certificate, School of Criticism and Theory, Dartmouth College, Summer 1995.

M.A., English, Princeton University, 1994.

B.A.Sc., Systems Design Engineering and English, University of Waterloo, Canada, 1992.
•first class honours and a Senate Commendation for Excellence for being the first student to graduate from the School of Engineering with a double major

It’s about time the CCA started integrating some of kind of arts perspective into their projects. (Although, I can’t help wondering if this was by accident rather than by design.)

Marc Antoine Dilhac, an associate professor at l’Université de Montréal, he, like Billot, graduated from a French university, in his case, the Sorbonne. Here’s more from Dilhac’s profile on the Mila website,

Marc-Antoine Dilhac (Ph.D., Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) is a professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Université de Montréal and an associate member of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute. He currently holds a CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research] Chair in AI ethics (2019-2024), and was previously Canada Research Chair in Public Ethics and Political Theory 2014-2019. He specialized in theories of democracy and social justice, as well as in questions of applied ethics. He published two books on the politics of toleration and inclusion (2013, 2014). His current research focuses on the ethical and social impacts of AI and issues of governance and institutional design, with a particular emphasis on how new technologies are changing public relations and political structures.

In 2017, he instigated the project of the Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of AI and chaired its scientific committee. In 2020, as director of Algora Lab, he led an international deliberation process as part of UNESCO’s consultation on its recommendation on the ethics of AI.

In 2019, he founded Algora Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory advancing research on the ethics of AI and developing a deliberative approach to the governance of AI and digital technologies. He is co-director of Deliberation at the Observatory on the social impacts of AI and digital technologies (OBVIA), and contributes to the OECD Policy Observatory (OECD.AI) as a member of its expert network ONE.AI.

He sits on the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada and co-chair its Working Group on Public Awareness.

Formerly known as Mila only, Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute is a beneficiary of the 2017 Canadian federal budget’s inception of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which named CIFAR as an agency that would benefit as the hub and would also distribute funds for artificial intelligence research to (mainly) three agencies: Mila in Montréal, the Vector Institute in Toronto, and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII; Edmonton).

Consequently, Dilhac’s involvement with CIFAR is not unexpected but when added to his presence on the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada and his role as co-chair of its Working Group on Public Awareness, one of the co-sponsors for this future CCA report, you get a sense of just how small the Canadian AI ethics and public awareness community is.

Add in CIFAR’s Open Dialogue: AI in Canada series (ongoing until April 30, 2021) which is being held in partnership with the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada (see my March 29, 2021 posting for more details about the dialogues) amongst other familiar parties and you see a web of relations so tightly interwoven that if you could produce masks from it you’d have superior COVID-19 protection to N95 masks.

These kinds of connections are understandable and I have more to say about them in my final comments.

B. Courtney Doagoo has a profile page at the University of Ottawa, which fills in a few information gaps,

As a Fellow, Dr. Doagoo develops her research on the social, economic and cultural implications of AI with a particular focus on the role of laws, norms and policies [emphasis mine]. She also notably advises Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, CLTS Director, in the development of a new research initiative on those topical issues, and Dr. Jason Millar in the development of the Canadian Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Ethical Design Lab (CRAiEDL).

Dr. Doagoo completed her Ph.D. in Law at the University of Ottawa in 2017. In her interdisciplinary research, she used empirical methods to learn about and describe the use of intellectual property law and norms in creative communities. Following her doctoral research, she joined the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Coordination Office in New York as a legal intern and contributed to developing the joint initiative on gender and innovation in collaboration with UNESCO and UN Women. She later joined the International Law Research Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, where she conducted research in technology and law focusing on intellectual property law, artificial intelligence and data governance.

Dr. Doagoo completed her LL.L. at the University of Ottawa, and LL.M. in Intellectual Property Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law [a law school at Yeshiva University in New York City].  In between her academic pursuits, Dr. Doagoo has been involved with different technology start-ups, including the one she is currently leading aimed at facilitating access to legal services. She’s also an avid lover of the arts and designed a course on Arts and Cultural Heritage Law taught during her doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.

It’s probably because I don’t know enough but this “the role of laws, norms and policies” seems bland to the point of meaningless. The rest is more informative and brings it back to the arts with Wendy Hui Kyong Chun at SFU.

Doagoo’s LinkedIn profile offers an unexpected link to this expert panel’s chairperson, Teresa Scassa (in addition to both being lawyers whose specialties are in related fields and on faculty or fellow at the University of Ottawa),

Soft-funded Research Bursary

Dr. Teresa Scassa

2014

I’m not suggesting any conspiracies; it’s simply that this is a very small community with much of it located in central and eastern Canada and possible links into the US. For example, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, prior to her SFU appointment in December 2018, worked and studied in the eastern US for over 25 years after starting her academic career at the University of Waterloo (Ontario).

Abhishek Gupta provided me with a challenging search. His LinkedIn profile yielded some details (I’m not convinced the man sleeps), Note: I have made some formatting changes and removed the location, ‘Montréal area’ from some descriptions

Experience

Microsoft Graphic
Software Engineer II – Machine Learning
Microsoft

Jul 2018 – Present – 2 years 10 months

Machine Learning – Commercial Software Engineering team

Serves on the CSE Responsible AI Board

Founder and Principal Researcher
Montreal AI Ethics Institute

May 2018 – Present – 3 years

Institute creating tangible and practical research in the ethical, safe and inclusive development of AI. For more information, please visit https://montrealethics.ai

Visiting AI Ethics Researcher, Future of Work, International Visitor Leadership Program
U.S. Department of State

Aug 2019 – Present – 1 year 9 months

Selected to represent Canada on the future of work

Responsible AI Lead, Data Advisory Council
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Jun 2020 – Present – 11 months

Faculty Associate, Frankfurt Big Data Lab
Goethe University

Mar 2020 – Present – 1 year 2 months

Advisor for the Z-inspection project

Associate Member
LF AI Foundation

May 2020 – Present – 1 year

Author
MIT Technology Review

Sep 2020 – Present – 8 months

Founding Editorial Board Member, AI and Ethics Journal
Springer Nature

Jul 2020 – Present – 10 months

Education

McGill University Bachelor of Science (BS)Computer Science

2012 – 2015

Exhausting, eh? He also has an eponymous website and the Montreal AI Ethics Institute can found here where Gupta and his colleagues are “Democratizing AI ethics literacy.” My hat’s off to Gupta getting on an expert panel for CCA is quite an achievement for someone without the usual academic and/or industry trappings.

Richard Isnor, based in Nova Scotia and associate vice president of research & graduate studies at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX), seems to have some connection to northern Canada (see the reference to Nunavut Research Institute below); he’s certainly well connected to various federal government agencies according to his profile page,

Prior to joining StFX, he was Manager of the Atlantic Regional Office for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), based in Moncton, NB.  Previously, he was Director of Innovation Policy and Science at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa and also worked for three years with the National Research Council of Canada [NRC] managing Biotechnology Research Initiatives and the NRC Genomics and Health Initiative.

Richard holds a D. Phil. in Science and Technology Policy Studies from the University of Sussex, UK; a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University [Nova Scotia]; and a B. Sc. (Hons) in Biochemistry from Mount Allison University [New Burnswick].  His primary interest is in science policy and the public administration of research; he has worked in science and technology policy or research administrative positions for Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Privy Council Office, as well as the Nunavut Research Institute. [emphasis mine]

I don’t know what Dr. Isnor’s work is like but I’m hopeful he (along with Spiteri) will be able to provide a less ‘big city’ perspective to the proceedings.

(For those unfamiliar with Canadian cities, Montreal [three expert panelists] is the second largest city in the country, Ottawa [two expert panelists] as the capital has an outsize view of itself, Vancouver [one expert panelist] is the third or fourth largest city in the country for a total of six big city representatives out of eight Canadian expert panelists.)

Ross D. King, professor of machine intelligence at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, might be best known for Adam, also known as, Robot Scientist. Here’s more about King, from his Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

King completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology at the University of Aberdeen in 1983 and went on to study for a Master of Science degree in Computer Science at the University of Newcastle in 1985. Following this, he completed a PhD at The Turing Institute [emphasis mine] at the University of Strathclyde in 1989[3] for work on developing machine learning methods for protein structure prediction.[7]

King’s research interests are in the automation of science, drug design, AI, machine learning and synthetic biology.[8][9] He is probably best known for the Robot Scientist[4][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] project which has created a robot that can:

hypothesize to explain observations

devise experiments to test these hypotheses

physically run the experiments using laboratory robotics

interpret the results from the experiments

repeat the cycle as required

The Robot Scientist Wikipedia entry has this to add,

… a laboratory robot created and developed by a group of scientists including Ross King, Kenneth Whelan, Ffion Jones, Philip Reiser, Christopher Bryant, Stephen Muggleton, Douglas Kell and Steve Oliver.[2][6][7][8][9][10]

… Adam became the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators.[5][17][18]

Sabina Leonelli, professor of philosophy and history of science at the University of Exeter, is the only person for whom I found a Twitter feed (@SabinaLeonelli). Here’s a bit more from her Wikipedia entry Note: Links have been removed),

Originally from Italy, Leonelli moved to the UK for a BSc degree in History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science at University College London and a MSc degree in History and Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics. Her doctoral research was carried out in the Netherlands at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with Henk W. de Regt and Hans Radder. Before joining the Exeter faculty, she was a research officer under Mary S. Morgan at the Department of Economic History of the London School of Economics.

Leonelli is the Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences (Egenis)[3] and a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute [emphases mine] in London.[4] She is also Editor-in-Chief of the international journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences[5] and Associate Editor for the Harvard Data Science Review.[6] She serves as External Faculty for the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research.[7]

Notice that Ross King and Sabina Leonelli both have links to The Alan Turing Institute (“We believe data science and artificial intelligence will change the world”), although the institute’s link to the University of Strathclyde (Scotland) where King studied seems a bit tenuous.

Do check out Leonelli’s profile at the University of Exeter as it’s comprehensive.

Raymond J. Spiteri, professor and director of the Centre for High Performance Computing, Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan, has a profile page at the university the likes of which I haven’t seen in several years perhaps due to its 2013 origins. His other university profile page can best be described as minimalist.

His Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society (CAIMS) biography page could be described as less charming (to me) than the 2013 profile but it is easier to read,

Raymond Spiteri is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan. He performed his graduate work as a member of the Institute for Applied Mathematics at the University of British Columbia. He was a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University and held faculty positions at Acadia University and Dalhousie University before joining USask in 2004. He serves on the Executive Committee of the WestGrid High-Performance Computing Consortium with Compute/Calcul Canada. He was a MITACS Project Leader from 2004-2012 and served in the role of Mitacs Regional Scientific Director for the Prairie Provinces between 2008 and 2011.

Spiteri’s areas of research are numerical analysis, scientific computing, and high-performance computing. His area of specialization is the analysis and implementation of efficient time-stepping methods for differential equations. He actively collaborates with scientists, engineers, and medical experts of all flavours. He also has a long record of industry collaboration with companies such as IBM and Boeing.

Spiteri has been lifetime member of CAIMS/SCMAI since 2000. He helped co-organize the 2004 Annual Meeting at Dalhousie and served on the Cecil Graham Doctoral Dissertation Award Committee from 2005 to 2009, acting as chair from 2007. He has been an active participant in CAIMS, serving several times on the Scientific Committee for the Annual Meeting, as well as frequently attending and organizing mini-symposia. Spiteri believes it is important for applied mathematics to play a major role in the efforts to meet Canada’s most pressing societal challenges, including the sustainability of our healthcare system, our natural resources, and the environment.

A last look at Spiteri’s 2013 profile gave me this (Note: Links have been removed),

Another biographical note: I obtained my B.Sc. degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Ontario [also known as, Western University] in 1990. My advisor was Dr. M.A.H. (Paddy) Nerenberg, after whom the Nerenberg Lecture Series is named. Here is an excerpt from the description, put here is his honour, as a model for the rest of us:

The Nerenberg Lecture Series is first and foremost about people and ideas. Knowledge is the true treasure of humanity, accrued and passed down through the generations. Some of it, particularly science and its language, mathematics, is closed in practice to many because of technical barriers that can only be overcome at a high price. These technical barriers form part of the remarkable fractures that have formed in our legacy of knowledge. We are so used to those fractures that they have become almost invisible to us, but they are a source of profound confusion about what is known.

The Nerenberg Lecture is named after the late Morton (Paddy) Nerenberg, a much-loved professor and researcher born on 17 March– hence his nickname. He was a Professor at Western for more than a quarter century, and a founding member of the Department of Applied Mathematics there. A successful researcher and accomplished teacher, he believed in the unity of knowledge, that scientific and mathematical ideas belong to everyone, and that they are of human importance. He regretted that they had become inaccessible to so many, and anticipated serious consequences from it. [emphases mine] The series honors his appreciation for the democracy of ideas. He died in 1993 at the age of 57.

So, we have the expert panel.

Thoughts about the panel and the report

As I’ve noted previously here and elsewhere, assembling any panels whether they’re for a single event or for a longer term project such as producing a report is no easy task. Looking at the panel, there’s some arts representation, smaller urban centres are also represented, and some of the members have experience in more than one region in Canada. I was also much encouraged by Spiteri’s acknowledgement of his advisor’s, Morton (Paddy) Nerenberg, passionate commitment to the idea that “scientific and mathematical ideas belong to everyone.”

Kudos to the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) organizers.

That said, this looks like an exceptionally Eurocentric panel. Unusually, there’s no representation from the US unless you count Chun who has spent the majority of her career in the US with only a little over two years at Simon Fraser University on Canada’s West Coast.

There’s weakness to a strategy (none of the ten or so CCA reports I’ve reviewed here deviates from this pattern) that seems to favour international participants from Europe and/or the US (also, sometimes, Australia/New Zealand). This leaves out giant chunks of the international community and brings us dangerously close to an echo chamber.

The same problem exists regionally and with various Canadian communities, which are acknowledged more in spirit than in actuality, e.g., the North, rural, indigenous, arts, etc.

Getting back to the ‘big city’ emphsais noted earlier, two people from Ottawa and three from Montreal; half of the expert panel lives within a two hour train ride of each other. (For those who don’t know, that’s close by Canadian standards. For comparison, a train ride from Vancouver to Seattle [US] is about four hours, a short trip when compared to a 24 hour train trip to the closest large Canadian cities.)

I appreciate that it’s not a simple problem but my concern is that it’s never acknowledged by the CCA. Perhaps they could include a section in the report acknowledging the issues and how the expert panel attempted to address them , in other words, transparency. Coincidentally, transparency, which has been related to trust, have both been identified as big issues with artificial intelligence.

As for solutions, these reports get sent to external reviewers and, prior to the report, outside experts are sometimes brought in as the panel readies itself. That would be two opportunities afforded by their current processes.

Anyway, good luck with the report and I look forward to seeing it.

Living with a mind-controlled prosthetic

This could be described as the second half of an October 10, 2014 post (Mind-controlled prostheses ready for real world activities). Five and a half years later, Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology has announced mind-controlled prosthetics in daily use that feature the sense of touch. From an April 30, 2020 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert but published April 29, 2020) by Johanna Wilde,

For the first time, people with arm amputations can experience sensations of touch in a mind-controlled arm prosthesis that they use in everyday life. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports on three Swedish patients who have lived, for several years, with this new technology – one of the world’s most integrated interfaces between human and machine.

See the film: “The most natural robotic prosthesis in the world” [Should you not have Swedish language skills, you can click on the subtitle option in the video’s settings field]

The advance is unique: the patients have used a mind-controlled prosthesis in their everyday life for up to seven years. For the last few years, they have also lived with a new function – sensations of touch in the prosthetic hand. This is a new concept for artificial limbs, which are called neuromusculoskeletal prostheses – as they are connected to the user’s nerves, muscles, and skeleton.

The research was led by Max Ortiz Catalan, Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology, in collaboration with Sahlgrenska University Hospital, University of Gothenburg, and Integrum AB, all in Gothenburg, Sweden. Researchers at Medical University of Vienna in Austria and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA were also involved.

“Our study shows that a prosthetic hand, attached to the bone and controlled by electrodes implanted in nerves and muscles, can operate much more precisely than conventional prosthetic hands. We further improved the use of the prosthesis by integrating tactile sensory feedback that the patients use to mediate how hard to grab or squeeze an object. Over time, the ability of the patients to discern smaller changes in the intensity of sensations has improved,” says Max Ortiz Catalan.

“The most important contribution of this study was to demonstrate that this new type of prosthesis is a clinically viable replacement for a lost arm. No matter how sophisticated a neural interface becomes, it can only deliver real benefit to patients if the connection between the patient and the prosthesis is safe and reliable in the long term. Our results are the product of many years of work, and now we can finally present the first bionic arm prosthesis that can be reliably controlled using implanted electrodes, while also conveying sensations to the user in everyday life”, continues Max Ortiz Catalan.

Since receiving their prostheses, the patients have used them daily in all their professional and personal activities.

The new concept of a neuromusculoskeletal prosthesis is unique in that it delivers several different features which have not been presented together in any other prosthetic technology in the world:

[1] It has a direct connection to a person’s nerves, muscles, and skeleton.

[2] It is mind-controlled and delivers sensations that are perceived by the user as arising from the missing hand.

[3] It is self-contained; all electronics needed are contained within the prosthesis, so patients do not need to carry additional equipment or batteries.

[4] It is safe and stable in the long term; the technology has been used without interruption by patients during their everyday activities, without supervision from the researchers, and it is not restricted to confined or controlled environments.

The newest part of the technology, the sensation of touch, is possible through stimulation of the nerves that used to be connected to the biological hand before the amputation. Force sensors located in the thumb of the prosthesis measure contact and pressure applied to an object while grasping. This information is transmitted to the patients’ nerves leading to their brains. Patients can thus feel when they are touching an object, its characteristics, and how hard they are pressing it, which is crucial for imitating a biological hand.

“Currently, the sensors are not the obstacle for restoring sensation,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “The challenge is creating neural interfaces that can seamlessly transmit large amounts of artificially collected information to the nervous system, in a way that the user can experience sensations naturally and effortlessly.”
The implantation of this new technology took place at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, led by Professor Rickard Brånemark and Doctor Paolo Sassu. Over a million people worldwide suffer from limb loss, and the end goal for the research team, in collaboration with Integrum AB, is to develop a widely available product suitable for as many of these people as possible.

“Right now, patients in Sweden are participating in the clinical validation of this new prosthetic technology for arm amputation,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “We expect this system to become available outside Sweden within a couple of years, and we are also making considerable progress with a similar technology for leg prostheses, which we plan to implant in a first patient later this year.”

More about: How the technology works:

The implant system for the arm prosthesis is called e-OPRA and is based on the OPRA implant system created by Integrum AB. The implant system anchors the prosthesis to the skeleton in the stump of the amputated limb, through a process called osseointegration (osseo = bone). Electrodes are implanted in muscles and nerves inside the amputation stump, and the e-OPRA system sends signals in both directions between the prosthesis and the brain, just like in a biological arm.

The prosthesis is mind-controlled, via the electrical muscle and nerve signals sent through the arm stump and captured by the electrodes. The signals are passed into the implant, which goes through the skin and connects to the prosthesis. The signals are then interpreted by an embedded control system developed by the researchers. The control system is small enough to fit inside the prosthesis and it processes the signals using sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms, resulting in control signals for the prosthetic hand’s movements.

The touch sensations arise from force sensors in the prosthetic thumb. The signals from the sensors are converted by the control system in the prosthesis into electrical signals which are sent to stimulate a nerve in the arm stump. The nerve leads to the brain, which then perceives the pressure levels against the hand.

The neuromusculoskeletal implant can connect to any commercially available arm prosthesis, allowing them to operate more effectively.

More about: How the artificial sensation is experienced:

People who lose an arm or leg often experience phantom sensations, as if the missing body part remains although not physically present. When the force sensors in the prosthetic thumb react, the patients in the study feel that the sensation comes from their phantom hand. Precisely where on the phantom hand varies between patients, depending on which nerves in the stump receive the signals. The lowest level of pressure can be compared to touching the skin with the tip of a pencil. As the pressure increases, the feeling becomes stronger and increasingly ‘electric’.

I have read elsewhere that one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a prosthetic is the loss of touch. This has to be exciting news for a lot of people. Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Self-Contained Neuromusculoskeletal Arm Prostheses by Max Ortiz-Catalan, Enzo Mastinu, Paolo Sassu, Oskar Aszmann, and Rickard Brånemark. N Engl J Med 2020; 382:1732-1738 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1917537 Published: April 30, 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Replacing human tissue with nanostructured rubber-like material?

The scientists started out with an idea for creating a bone-like material)and ended up with something completely different. A March 16, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces news about a new material that could be used to replace human tissue,

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have created a new, rubber-like material with a unique set of properties, which could act as a replacement for human tissue in medical procedures. The material has the potential to make a big difference to many people’s lives. The research was recently published in the highly regarded scientific journal ACS Nano.

In the development of medical technology products, there is a great demand for new naturalistic materials suitable for integration with the body. Introducing materials into the body comes with many risks, such as serious infections, among other things. Many of the substances used today, such as Botox, are very toxic. There is a need for new, more adaptable materials.

In the new study, the Chalmers researchers developed a material consisting solely of components that have already been shown to work well in the body.

A March 17, 2020 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert but published on March 16, 2020), which originated the news item, describes the scientists’ surprising discovery and how they shifted their focus,

The foundation of the material is the same as plexiglass, a material which is common in medical technology applications. Through redesigning its makeup, and through a process called nanostructuring, they gave the newly patented material a unique combination of properties. The researchers’ initial intention was to produce a hard bone-like material, but they were met with surprising results.

“We were really surprised that the material turned to be very soft, flexible and extremely elastic. It would not work as a bone replacement material, we concluded. But the new and unexpected properties made our discovery just as exciting,” says Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, PhD in Materials Science and one of the researchers behind the study.

The results showed that the new rubber-like material may be appropriate for many applications which require an uncommon combination of properties – high elasticity, easy processability, and suitability for medical uses.

“The first application we are looking at now is urinary catheters. The material can be constructed in such a way that prevents bacteria from growing on the surface, meaning it is very well suited for medical uses,” says Martin Andersson, research leader for the study and Professor of Chemistry at Chalmers.

The structure of the new nano-rubber material allows its surface to be treated so that it becomes antibacterial, in a natural, non-toxic way. This is achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides – small proteins which are part of our innate immune system – onto its surface. This can help reduce the need for antibiotics, an important contribution to the fight against growing antibiotic resistance.

Because the new material can be injected and inserted via keyhole surgery, it can also help reduce the need for drastic surgery and operations to rebuild parts of the body. The material can be injected via a standard cannula as a viscous fluid, so that it forms its own elastic structures within the body. Or, the material can also be 3D printed into specific structures as required.

“There are many diseases where the cartilage breaks down and friction results between bones, causing great pain for the affected person. This material could potentially act as a replacement in those cases,” Martin Andersson continues.

A further advantage of the material is that it contains three-dimensionally ordered nanopores. This means it can be loaded with medicine, for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation. This allows for localised treatment, avoiding, for example, having to treat the entire body with drugs, something that could help reduce problems associated with side effects. Since it is non-toxic, it also works well as a filler – the researchers see plastic surgery therefore as another very interesting potential area of application for the new material.

“I am now working full time with our newly founded company, Amferia, to get the research out to industry. I have been pleased to see a lot of real interest in our material. It’s promising in terms of achieving our goal, which is to provide real societal benefit,” Anand concludes.

The path of the research to societal benefit and commercialisation, through start-up company Amferia and Chalmers Ventures

In order for the discovery of the new material to be useful and commercialised, the researchers patented their innovation before the study was published. The patent is owned by start-up company Amferia, which was founded by Martin Andersson and Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, two of the researchers behind the study, as well as researcher Saba Atefyekta who recently completed a PhD in Materials Science at Chalmers. Anand is now CEO of Amferia and will drive the application of the new material and development of the company.

Amferia has previously been noted for an antibacterial wound patch developed by the same team. Amferia now has the innovation of both the new nano-rubber and the antibacterial wound patch. The development of the company and the innovations’ path to making profit are now being carried out in collaboration with Chalmers Ventures, a subsidiary of Chalmers University of Technology.

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

Tough Ordered Mesoporous Elastomeric Biomaterials Formed at Ambient Conditions by Anand K. Rajasekharan, Christoffer Gyllensten, Edvin Blomstrand, Marianne Liebi, Martin Andersson. ACS Nano 2020, 14, 1, 241-254 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.9b01924 Publication Date:December 17, 2019 Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Preserving art canvases (think Van Gogh, Picasso, Vermeer, and others) with nanomaterials

It has to be disconcerting to realize that your precious paintings are deteriorating day by day.  In a June 22, 2017 posting titled ‘Art masterpieces are turning into soap‘,

This piece of research has made a winding trek through the online science world. First it was featured in an April 20, 2017 American Chemical Society news release on EurekAlert,

A good art dealer can really clean up in today’s market, but not when some weird chemistry wreaks havoc on masterpieces [emphasis mine]. Art conservators started to notice microscopic pockmarks forming on the surfaces of treasured oil paintings that cause the images to look hazy. It turns out the marks are eruptions of paint caused, weirdly, by soap that forms via chemical reactions. Since you have no time to watch paint dry, we explain how paintings from Rembrandts to O’Keefes are threatened by their own compositions — and we don’t mean the imagery.

Here’s the video,


Now, for the latest: canavases are deteriorating too. A May 23, 2018 news item on Nanowerk announces the latest research on the ‘canvas issue’ (Note: A link has been removed),

Paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Johannes Vermeer have been delighting art lovers for years. But it turns out that these works of art might be their own worst enemy — the canvases they were painted on can deteriorate over time.

In an effort to combat this aging process, one group is reporting in ACS Applied Nano Materials (“Combined Nanocellulose/Nanosilica Approach for Multiscale Consolidation of Painting Canvases”) that nanomaterials can provide multiple layers of reinforcement.

A May 23, 2018 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,  expands on the theme,

One of the most important parts of a painting is the canvas, which is usually made from cellulose-based fibers. Over time, the canvas ages, resulting in discoloration, wrinkles, tears and moisture retention, all greatly affecting the artwork. To combat aging, painting conservators currently place a layer of adhesive and a lining on the back of a painting, but this treatment is invasive and difficult to reverse. In previous work, Romain Bordes and colleagues from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, investigated nanocellulose as a new way to strengthen painting canvases on their surfaces. In addition, together with Krzysztof Kolman, they showed that silica nanoparticles can strengthen individual paper and cotton fibers. So, they next wanted to combine these two methods to see if they could further strengthen aging canvas.

The team combined polyelectrolyte-treated silica nanoparticles (SNP) with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) for a one-step treatment. The researchers first treated canvases with acid and oxidizing conditions to simulate aging. When they applied the SNP-CNF treatment, the SNP penetrated and strengthened the individual fibers of the canvas, making it stiffer compared to untreated materials. The CNF strengthened the surface of the canvas and increased the canvas’s flexibility. The team notes that this treatment could be a good alternative to conventional methods.

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

Combined Nanocellulose/Nanosilica Approach for Multiscale Consolidation of Painting Canvases by Krzysztof Kolman, Oleksandr Nechyporchuk, Michael Persson, Krister Holmberg, and Romain Bordes. ACS Appl. Nano Mater., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.8b00262 Publication Date (Web): April 26, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This image illustrating the researchers’ solution accompanies the article,

Courtesy: ACS

The European Union’s NanoRestART project was mentioned here before they’d put together this introductory video, which provides a good overview of the research,

For more details about the problems with contemporary and modern art, there’s my April 4, 2016 posting when the NanoRestART project was first mentioned here and there’s my Jan. 10, 2017 posting which details research into 3D-printed art and some of the questions raised by the use of 3D printing and other emerging technologies in the field of contemporary art.