Tag Archives: Deakin University

Robots in Vancouver and in Canada (one of two)

This piece just started growing. It started with robot ethics, moved on to sexbots and news of an upcoming Canadian robotics roadmap. Then, it became a two-part posting with the robotics strategy (roadmap) moving to part two along with robots and popular culture and a further  exploration of robot and AI ethics issues..

What is a robot?

There are lots of robots, some are macroscale and others are at the micro and nanoscales (see my Sept. 22, 2017 posting for the latest nanobot). Here’s a definition from the Robot Wikipedia entry that covers all the scales. (Note: Links have been removed),

A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer— capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.[2] Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within. Robots may be constructed to take on human form but most robots are machines designed to perform a task with no regard to how they look.

Robots can be autonomous or semi-autonomous and range from humanoids such as Honda’s Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility (ASIMO) and TOSY’s TOSY Ping Pong Playing Robot (TOPIO) to industrial robots, medical operating robots, patient assist robots, dog therapy robots, collectively programmed swarm robots, UAV drones such as General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, and even microscopic nano robots. [emphasis mine] By mimicking a lifelike appearance or automating movements, a robot may convey a sense of intelligence or thought of its own.

We may think we’ve invented robots but the idea has been around for a very long time (from the Robot Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Many ancient mythologies, and most modern religions include artificial people, such as the mechanical servants built by the Greek god Hephaestus[18] (Vulcan to the Romans), the clay golems of Jewish legend and clay giants of Norse legend, and Galatea, the mythical statue of Pygmalion that came to life. Since circa 400 BC, myths of Crete include Talos, a man of bronze who guarded the Cretan island of Europa from pirates.

In ancient Greece, the Greek engineer Ctesibius (c. 270 BC) “applied a knowledge of pneumatics and hydraulics to produce the first organ and water clocks with moving figures.”[19][20] In the 4th century BC, the Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum postulated a mechanical steam-operated bird he called “The Pigeon”. Hero of Alexandria (10–70 AD), a Greek mathematician and inventor, created numerous user-configurable automated devices, and described machines powered by air pressure, steam and water.[21]

The 11th century Lokapannatti tells of how the Buddha’s relics were protected by mechanical robots (bhuta vahana yanta), from the kingdom of Roma visaya (Rome); until they were disarmed by King Ashoka. [22] [23]

In ancient China, the 3rd century text of the Lie Zi describes an account of humanoid automata, involving a much earlier encounter between Chinese emperor King Mu of Zhou and a mechanical engineer known as Yan Shi, an ‘artificer’. Yan Shi proudly presented the king with a life-size, human-shaped figure of his mechanical ‘handiwork’ made of leather, wood, and artificial organs.[14] There are also accounts of flying automata in the Han Fei Zi and other texts, which attributes the 5th century BC Mohist philosopher Mozi and his contemporary Lu Ban with the invention of artificial wooden birds (ma yuan) that could successfully fly.[17] In 1066, the Chinese inventor Su Song built a water clock in the form of a tower which featured mechanical figurines which chimed the hours.

The beginning of automata is associated with the invention of early Su Song’s astronomical clock tower featured mechanical figurines that chimed the hours.[24][25][26] His mechanism had a programmable drum machine with pegs (cams) that bumped into little levers that operated percussion instruments. The drummer could be made to play different rhythms and different drum patterns by moving the pegs to different locations.[26]

In Renaissance Italy, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) sketched plans for a humanoid robot around 1495. Da Vinci’s notebooks, rediscovered in the 1950s, contained detailed drawings of a mechanical knight now known as Leonardo’s robot, able to sit up, wave its arms and move its head and jaw.[28] The design was probably based on anatomical research recorded in his Vitruvian Man. It is not known whether he attempted to build it.

In Japan, complex animal and human automata were built between the 17th to 19th centuries, with many described in the 18th century Karakuri zui (Illustrated Machinery, 1796). One such automaton was the karakuri ningyō, a mechanized puppet.[29] Different variations of the karakuri existed: the Butai karakuri, which were used in theatre, the Zashiki karakuri, which were small and used in homes, and the Dashi karakuri which were used in religious festivals, where the puppets were used to perform reenactments of traditional myths and legends.

The term robot was coined by a Czech writer (from the Robot Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed)

‘Robot’ was first applied as a term for artificial automata in a 1920 play R.U.R. by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. However, Josef Čapek was named by his brother Karel as the true inventor of the term robot.[6][7] The word ‘robot’ itself was not new, having been in Slavic language as robota (forced laborer), a term which classified those peasants obligated to compulsory service under the feudal system widespread in 19th century Europe (see: Robot Patent).[37][38] Čapek’s fictional story postulated the technological creation of artificial human bodies without souls, and the old theme of the feudal robota class eloquently fit the imagination of a new class of manufactured, artificial workers.

I’m particularly fascinated by how long humans have been imagining and creating robots.

Robot ethics in Vancouver

The Westender, has run what I believe is the first article by a local (Vancouver, Canada) mainstream media outlet on the topic of robots and ethics. Tessa Vikander’s Sept. 14, 2017 article highlights two local researchers, Ajung Moon and Mark Schmidt, and a local social media company’s (Hootsuite), analytics director, Nik Pai. Vikander opens her piece with an ethical dilemma (Note: Links have been removed),

Emma is 68, in poor health and an alcoholic who has been told by her doctor to stop drinking. She lives with a care robot, which helps her with household tasks.

Unable to fix herself a drink, she asks the robot to do it for her. What should the robot do? Would the answer be different if Emma owns the robot, or if she’s borrowing it from the hospital?

This is the type of hypothetical, ethical question that Ajung Moon, director of the Open Roboethics Initiative [ORI], is trying to answer.

According to an ORI study, half of respondents said ownership should make a difference, and half said it shouldn’t. With society so torn on the question, Moon is trying to figure out how engineers should be programming this type of robot.

A Vancouver resident, Moon is dedicating her life to helping those in the decision-chair make the right choice. The question of the care robot is but one ethical dilemma in the quickly advancing world of artificial intelligence.

At the most sensationalist end of the scale, one form of AI that’s recently made headlines is the sex robot, which has a human-like appearance. A report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics says that intimacy with sex robots could lead to greater social isolation [emphasis mine] because they desensitize people to the empathy learned through human interaction and mutually consenting relationships.

I’ll get back to the impact that robots might have on us in part two but first,

Sexbots, could they kill?

For more about sexbots in general, Alessandra Maldonado wrote an Aug. 10, 2017 article for salon.com about them (Note: A link has been removed),

Artificial intelligence has given people the ability to have conversations with machines like never before, such as speaking to Amazon’s personal assistant Alexa or asking Siri for directions on your iPhone. But now, one company has widened the scope of what it means to connect with a technological device and created a whole new breed of A.I. — specifically for sex-bots.

Abyss Creations has been in the business of making hyperrealistic dolls for 20 years, and by the end of 2017, they’ll unveil their newest product, an anatomically correct robotic sex toy. Matt McMullen, the company’s founder and CEO, explains the goal of sex robots is companionship, not only a physical partnership. “Imagine if you were completely lonely and you just wanted someone to talk to, and yes, someone to be intimate with,” he said in a video depicting the sculpting process of the dolls. “What is so wrong with that? It doesn’t hurt anybody.”

Maldonado also embedded this video into her piece,

A friend of mine described it as creepy. Specifically we were discussing why someone would want to programme ‘insecurity’ as a  desirable trait in a sexbot.

Marc Beaulieu’s concept of a desirable trait in a sexbot is one that won’t kill him according to his Sept. 25, 2017 article on Canadian Broadcasting News (CBC) online (Note: Links have been removed),

Harmony has a charming Scottish lilt, albeit a bit staccato and canny. Her eyes dart around the room, her chin dips as her eyebrows raise in coquettish fashion. Her face manages expressions that are impressively lifelike. That face comes in 31 different shapes and 5 skin tones, with or without freckles and it sticks to her cyber-skull with magnets. Just peel it off and switch it out at will. In fact, you can choose Harmony’s eye colour, body shape (in great detail) and change her hair too. Harmony, of course, is a sex bot. A very advanced one. How advanced is she? Well, if you have $12,332 CAD to put towards a talkative new home appliance, REALBOTIX says you could be having a “conversation” and relations with her come January. Happy New Year.

Caveat emptor though: one novel bonus feature you might also get with Harmony is her ability to eventually murder you in your sleep. And not because she wants to.

Dr Nick Patterson, faculty of Science Engineering and Built Technology at Deakin University in Australia is lending his voice to a slew of others warning us to slow down and be cautious as we steadily approach Westworldian levels of human verisimilitude with AI tech. Surprisingly, Patterson didn’t regurgitate the narrative we recognize from the popular sci-fi (increasingly non-fi actually) trope of a dystopian society’s futile resistance to a robocalypse. He doesn’t think Harmony will want to kill you. He thinks she’ll be hacked by a code savvy ne’er-do-well who’ll want to snuff you out instead. …

Embedded in Beaulieu’s article is another video of the same sexbot profiled earlier. Her programmer seems to have learned a thing or two (he no longer inputs any traits as you’re watching),

I guess you could get one for Christmas this year if you’re willing to wait for an early 2018 delivery and aren’t worried about hackers turning your sexbot into a killer. While the killer aspect might seem farfetched, it turns out it’s not the only sexbot/hacker issue.

Sexbots as spies

This Oct. 5, 2017 story by Karl Bode for Techdirt points out that sex toys that are ‘smart’ can easily be hacked for any reason including some mischief (Note: Links have been removed),

One “smart dildo” manufacturer was recently forced to shell out $3.75 million after it was caught collecting, err, “usage habits” of the company’s customers. According to the lawsuit, Standard Innovation’s We-Vibe vibrator collected sensitive data about customer usage, including “selected vibration settings,” the device’s battery life, and even the vibrator’s “temperature.” At no point did the company apparently think it was a good idea to clearly inform users of this data collection.

But security is also lacking elsewhere in the world of internet-connected sex toys. Alex Lomas of Pentest Partners recently took a look at the security in many internet-connected sex toys, and walked away arguably unimpressed. Using a Bluetooth “dongle” and antenna, Lomas drove around Berlin looking for openly accessible sex toys (he calls it “screwdriving,” in a riff off of wardriving). He subsequently found it’s relatively trivial to discover and hijack everything from vibrators to smart butt plugs — thanks to the way Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity works:

“The only protection you have is that BLE devices will generally only pair with one device at a time, but range is limited and if the user walks out of range of their smartphone or the phone battery dies, the adult toy will become available for others to connect to without any authentication. I should say at this point that this is purely passive reconnaissance based on the BLE advertisements the device sends out – attempting to connect to the device and actually control it without consent is not something I or you should do. But now one could drive the Hush’s motor to full speed, and as long as the attacker remains connected over BLE and not the victim, there is no way they can stop the vibrations.”

Does that make you think twice about a sexbot?

Robots and artificial intelligence

Getting back to the Vikander article (Sept. 14, 2017), Moon or Vikander or both seem to have conflated artificial intelligence with robots in this section of the article,

As for the building blocks that have thrust these questions [care robot quandary mentioned earlier] into the spotlight, Moon explains that AI in its basic form is when a machine uses data sets or an algorithm to make a decision.

“It’s essentially a piece of output that either affects your decision, or replaces a particular decision, or supports you in making a decision.” With AI, we are delegating decision-making skills or thinking to a machine, she says.

Although we’re not currently surrounded by walking, talking, independently thinking robots, the use of AI [emphasis mine] in our daily lives has become widespread.

For Vikander, the conflation may have been due to concerns about maintaining her word count and for Moon, it may have been one of convenience or a consequence of how the jargon is evolving with ‘robot’ meaning a machine specifically or, sometimes, a machine with AI or AI only.

To be precise, not all robots have AI and not all AI is found in robots. It’s a distinction that may be more important for people developing robots and/or AI but it also seems to make a difference where funding is concerned. In a March 24, 2017 posting about the 2017 Canadian federal budget I noticed this,

… The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will receive $93.7 million [emphasis mine] to “launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy … (to) position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in artificial intelligence and innovation.”

This brings me to a recent set of meetings held in Vancouver to devise a Canadian robotics roadmap, which suggests the robotics folks feel they need specific representation and funding.

See: part two for the rest.

Boron nitride sponges for oil spill cleanups

The best part of the news is that the scientists are ready to test these sponges in industrial trials but first here’s why the Australians are so excited about the work from a Dec. 1, 2015 news item on Azonano,

Deakin University scientists have manufactured a revolutionary material that can clean up oil spills, which could save the earth from potential future disasters such as any repeat of the 2010 Gulf Coast BP disaster that wreaked environmental havoc and cost a reported $40 billion.

The major breakthrough material, which literally absorbs the oil like a sponge, is the result of support from the Australian Research Council and is now ready to be trialled by industry after two years of refinement in the laboratory at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM).

Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen, the lead author on a paper which outlines the team’s breakthrough in today’s edition of Nature Communications, said the material was the most exciting advancement in oil spill clean-up technology in decades.

Oil spills are a global problem and wreak havoc on our aquatic ecosystems, not to mention cost billions of dollars in damage.

“Everyone remembers the Gulf Coast disaster, but here in Australia they are a regular problem, and not just in our waters. Oil spills from trucks and other vehicles can close freeways for an entire day, again amounting to large economic losses. Professor Chen

But current methods of cleaning up oil spills are inefficient and unsophisticated, taking too long, causing ongoing and expensive damage, which is why the development of our technology was supported by the Australian Research Council.

“We are so excited to have finally got to this stage after two years of trying to work out how to turn what we knew was a good material into something that could be practically used.

A Nov. 30, 2015 Deakin University media release, which originated the news item, provides some technical details,

“In 2013 we developed the first stage of the material, but it was simply a powder. This powder had absorption capabilities, but you cannot simply throw powder onto oil – you need to be able to bind that powder into a sponge so that we can soak the oil up, and also separate it from water.”

The lead author on the paper, IFM scientist Dr Weiwei Lei,) an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Awardee, said turning the powder into a sponge was a big challenge.

“But we have finally done it by developing a new production technique,” Dr Lei said.

“The ground-breaking material is called a boron nitride nanosheet, which is made up of flakes which are just several nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in thickness with tiny holes which can increase its surface area per gram to effectively the size of 5.5 tennis courts.”

The research team, which included scientists from Drexel University, Philadelphia, and Missouri University of Science and Technology, started with boron nitride powder known as “white graphite” and broke it into atomically thin sheets that were used to make a sponge.

“The pores in the nanosheets provide the surface area to absorb oils and organic solvents up to 33 times its own weight,” Dr Lei said.

Professor Yury Gogotsi from Drexel University said boron nitride nanosheets did not burn, could withstand flame, and be used in flexible and transparent electrical and heat insulation, as well as many other applications.

“We are delighted that support from the Australian Research Council allowed us to participate in this interesting study and we could help our IFM colleagues to model and better understand this wonderful material, ” Professor Gogotsi said.

Professor Vadym Mochalin from Missouri University of Science and Technology said the mechanochemical technique developed meant it was possible to produce high-concentration stable aqueous colloidal solutions of boron nitride sheets, which could then be transformed into the ultralight porous aerogels and membranes for oil clean-up.

“The use of computational modelling helped us to understand the intimate details of this novel mechanochemical exfoliation process. It is a nice illustration of the power, which combined experimental plus modelling approach offers researchers nowadays.”

The research team is now ready to have their “sponge” trialled by industry. [emphasis mine]

The nanotechnology team at IFM has been working on boron nitride nanomaterials for two decades and is an internationally recognised leader in boron nitride nanotubes and nanosheets.

There was at least one other team working on  sponges, all these are composed of carbon nanotubes, for oil spills (mentioned in my April 17, 2012 posting) but they don’t seem to have been able to get their work out of the laboratory.

Here’s a link to and a citation for boron nitride sponges,

Boron nitride colloidal solutions, ultralight aerogels and freestanding membranes through one-step exfoliation and functionalization by Weiwei Lei, Vadym N. Mochalin, Dan Liu, Si Qin, Yury Gogotsi, & Ying Chen. Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8849 doi:10.1038/ncomms9849 Published 27 November 2015

This is an open access paper.

Mop up the oil spills with nanosheets from Deakin University and The Conversation

Researchers from Deakin University (Australia) have developed a new material, boron-based nanosheets, which can mop up oil spills more efficiently than current methods and are recyclable. From the May 1, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, (Note: A link has been removed)

In Nature Communications today (“Porous boron nitride nanosheets for effective water cleaning”), we showed how we produced, probably for the first time, nanosheets that could revolutionise oil spill clean ups and water purification.

Not only do our nanosheets absorb 33 times their weight in oil, they’re also recyclable.

Ordinarily there’d be a news release from Deakin University but these researchers appear to have taken a different approach posting on a website called The Conversation. This is a very interesting science communicaton initiative from Australia and I will be digressing for a moment. Here’s a description of the initiative from their Who We Are page,

The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

Our team of professional editors work with university, CSIRO and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.

Access to independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversations.

We have introduced new protocols and controls to help rebuild trust in journalism. All authors and editors sign up to our Editorial Charter and Code of Ethics. And all contributors must abide by our Community Standards policy. We only allow authors to write on a subject on which they have proven expertise, which they must disclose alongside their article. Authors’ funding and potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed. Failure to do so carries a risk of being banned from contributing to the site.

Since our launch in March 2011, we’ve grown to become one of Australia’s largest independent news and commentary sites. Around 35% of our readers are from outside Australia.

We believe in open access and the free-flow of information. The Conversation is a free resource: free to read (we’ll never go behind a paywall), and free to share or republish under Creative Commons. All you need to do is follow our simple guidelines. We have also become an indispensable media resource: providing free content, ideas and talent to follow up for press, web, radio or TV.

They believe in open access and the free-flow of information as long as you don’t edit the article, etc. Here are five of the guidelines (from the Republishing guidelines page),

Republishing guidelines, for print and online

  1. Unless you have express permission from the author, you can’t edit our material, except to reflect relative changes in time, location and editorial style. (For example, “yesterday” can be changed to “last week,” and “Canberra, ACT.” to “Canberra” or “here”). If you need to materially edit our content, please contact our External Relations Manager.
  2. You have to credit our authors and partner institutions — ideally in the byline. We prefer “Author Name, Institution” (for example, Qing Wang, Warwick Business School).
  3. You have to credit The Conversation — ideally at the top of the article and include our logo — with a link back to either our home page, The Conversation, or (preferably) the specific article URL on The Conversation website.
  4. If space is tight, you can run the first few lines of the article and then say: “Read the full article at The Conversation” with a link back to the article page on our site.
  5. If you’re republishing online, you must use our page view counter, link to us, and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping image (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished, and gives our authors sense of the size of audience and which publications they’re reaching. It is a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the “republish” button that accompanies each article then you’ll capture our page counter.
  6. ….

Since I usually cut and paste parts of articles and news releases and often intersperse with my own comments and I don’t have the technical skills to use their page view counter, I won’t be using anything directly from The Conversation. I view my role as a curator (bringing together pieces of information from disparate sources) and a ‘connector’. To encourage connections, I don’t usually include a full news release or article as I suggest my readers look at the original or seek out the other sources I’ve included if they want more information.

Back to the boron nitride nanosheets and the news item on Nanowerk,

We found that porous boron nitride nanosheets have a couple of properties that make them particularly suitable for absorbing organic (carbon-based) contaminants, such as oil or dyes.

The nanosheets are made of a few layers of boron nitride atomic planes, and these sheets have a large number of holes.

It’s these holes that increase the surface area of the nanosheets to a huge 1,425m2 a gram.
This means one gram of porous boron nitride nanosheets has the same surface area as nearly 5.5 tennis courts – so plenty of surface for absorption.

Another advantage is that the saturated boron nitride nanosheets can be cleaned for reuse by simply heating in air for two hours.

The absorbed oil is burned off, leaving the nanosheets clean and free to absorb again.

To make our porous nanosheets, boron oxide powder and guanidine hydrochloride are mixed in methane and heated at 1,100C for several hours in nitrogen gas.

The news item on Nanowerk is illustrated with images and provides more detail as does the May 1, 2013 article (Don’t cry over spilled oil – use nanosheets) on The Conversation.

For those who’d like to read the published research, here’s a link to and a citation for it,

Porous boron nitride nanosheets for effective water cleaning by Weiwei Lei, David Portehault, Dan Liu, Si Qin, & Ying Chen. Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1777 doi:10.1038/ncomms2818 Published 30 April 2013

The article is behind a paywall.

Interestingly scientists in China have developed an entirely different material with similar properties for mopping up oil spills as per my Feb. 27, 2013 posting titled, Bacterial cellulose could suck up pollutants from oil spills.

ETA May 6, 2013: Dexter Johnson has commented on an outstanding issue with the Deakin University research and other such initiatives: a lack of commercialization efforts. From his May 4, 2013 posting on his Nanoclast blog (found on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website), Note: A link has been removed,

In fact, there are a variety of nanomaterials for these applications [oil spill remediation and water purification]—so many of them that there are catalogues to guide you through them.  But not so fast. As yet, no one is bothering to commercialize them so that they are available for the next oil spill.

Dexter provides worthwhile context and some provocative comments on how to ‘encourage’ commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled oil spill remediation/water purification  products.

US Air Force takes baby steps toward shapeshifting materials

When I see information about US military futuristic projects it’s usually from the US Army’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).  Consequently, I was surprised to notice that this shapeshifting project is being funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research according to the July 11, 2012 news item on phys.org,

An international research team has received a $2.9 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to design nanomaterials whose internal structure changes shape in response to stimuli such as heat or light.

Each of these novel materials will be constructed from three types of components: inorganic nanoparticles with desired optical or electrical properties; peptides that bond to these nanoparticles; and special molecules called spacers, which sit between the peptides and bend in the presence of heat, light or other triggers.

When stimulated, the spacers will cause the arrangement of nanoparticles within the material to morph — a process that can lead to interesting and useful effects.

Shape-shifting materials of the kind the researchers are planning to create could have use in applications including color-changing sensors and plasmonic circuits that divert light in two directions.

The news item originated from a July 11, 2012 news release from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo,

The project is being led by Paras Prasad, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the University at Buffalo’s departments of chemistry, physics, electrical engineering and medicine, and executive director of UB’s Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB). …

Prasad’s fellow investigators include Aidong Zhang, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UB; Mark T. Swihart, professor of chemical and biological engineering at UB and director of the UB 2020 Integrated Nanostructured Systems Strategic Strength; Tiffany R. Walsh, associate professor at the Institute for Frontier Materials at Deakin University in Australia; and Marc R. Knecht, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Miami.

The palette of parts the team will use to build the nanomaterials includes spacers of different sizes, along with seven types of nanoparticles — gold, silver, silica, iron-oxide, iron-platinum, cadmium-sulfide and zinc-sulfide.

To identify the combinations of components that will produce the most interesting materials, the scientists will use high-throughput experiments and data-mining techniques to screen and analyze the vast number of possible combinations of nanostructures, biomolecular linking elements (the peptides) and assembly conditions.

“One of our goals is to contribute to the fundamental understanding of how the spatial arrangement of nanoscale components in materials affects their optical, magnetic and plasmonic properties,” Prasad said. “The high-throughput techniques we are using were pioneered in the field of bioinformatics, but also have extraordinary promise in the exploration of advanced materials.”

Zhang said, “The computational capabilities offered by informatics and data mining will enable us to maximize the value of our data regarding the nanoassemblies, to generate and to construct new assemblies that span a wide range of inorganic and bimolecular components so as to achieve desired combinatorics-based properties.”

It’s not exactly the shapeshifting one sees in science fiction but this will be the real stuff (not to be confused with The Right Stuff, a 1983 movie about the US space travel programme of the late 1950s to 1960s).

Get the gunk off

Tong Lin and his research team at Deakin University in Australia have developed a coating that is super hydrophopic, i. e., water repellent. Actually, it repels more than just water, from the April 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists are reporting development and successful testing of a fabric coating that would give new meaning to the phrase “stain-resistant” — a coating that would take an active role in sloughing off grease, dirt, strong acids and other gunk. The report, which shows that the coating is even more water-repellent than car wax or Teflon, appears in ACS’ journal Langmuir (“Photoreactive Azido-Containing Silica Nanoparticle/Polycation Multilayers: Durable Superhydrophobic Coating on Cotton Fabrics”).

There is more information about the coating, including a video, in an April 26, 2012 article by Jason Palmer for BBC News online,

The new work hinges on what is known as layer-by-layer self-assembly – basically dipping a fabric into a solution over and over again to deposit multiple layers on it.The team from the Australian Future Fibres Research and Innovation Centre at Deakin University made their solution with tiny particles of silica – the same material as sand.

Crucially, they added a few chemical steps to coat the particles with long chemical tails ending in what are known as azido groups.

… baked under a source of UV light, the tails on the particles were made to interlink with one another, forming a far tougher structure within and across the layers.

Apparently the coating remains intact on the fibres for up to 50 laundry washings.There is more here about Dr. Lin and his work on fibres.

While searching for Tong Lin on the internet I came across a Buddhist practice, Tonglin or Tonglen.

Joint India-Australia nanobiotechnology research centre opens in India

I first wrote about the TERI-Deakin Nanobiotechnology Research Centre (a joint India-Australia partnership) in my Nov. 30, 2010 posting when the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was first signed. According to the Feb. 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk, the centre has recently opened,

Speaking at the inauguration of the new lab facilities, Hon’ble Louise Asher, MP and Minister for Innovation, Services & Small business, Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Australia said, “This outstanding facility is the result of a dynamic partnership between The Energy and Resources Institute of India (TERI) and Victoria’s [Australia] own Deakin University to augment research in the area of Nano Biotechnology, which will enable efficiency, effectiveness and provide solutions for a sustainable future.”

Highlighting the importance of TERI-DEAKIN partnership, Dr RK Pachauri, Director-General, TERI said, “Research at TERI seeks to find solutions to problems related to attaining sustainability and environmental degradation and has made a difference to the lives of many people. The organization’s commitment to these areas is a continuous process, and setting up the TERI-Deakin Nano Biotechnology Research Centre is one of the means through which, TERI plans to create capacity and expertise for technological solutions to problems of inefficient use of natural resources.”

Professor Jane den Hollander, Vice Chancellor, Deakin University said that the centre provided a hub for up to 50 PhD students who are undertaking research under the Deakin India Research Initiative (DIRI).

“What is particularly pleasing about this centre is that it is tackling research into global issues such as food security for a growing world population, sustainable agricultural practices and environmental sustainability,” she said.

The new facility opened in Gual Pahari, Gurgaon, approximately 35 mins. away (by car) from New Delhi, India (according to Feb. 24, 2012 article in the Asian Scientist about the new TERI-Deakin Nanobiotechnology Research Centre).

Nanobiotechnology research cooperation between India and Australia

The Nov. 28, 2010 news item on Nanowerk features a nanotechnology project which seems to have been 120 years in the making,

Professor Den Hollander Vice-Chancellor and President of Deakin University was excited as well about this partnership and said, ‘Alfred Deakin first recognized the possibilities of India and Australia working together nearly 120 years ago. It is pleasing for everyone at Deakin and TERI [The Energy and Resources Institute] to be involved in a partnership that not only fulfils his prophecies but which has mutual benefits for both nations,” She further added, ‘For Deakin to be partnered with such an organization led by a man of Dr. Pachauri’s [TERI, Director-General] standing is a massive complement. We hope to use the agreement with TERI as a model for other partners.’

Dr. R. K. Pachauri is a world-renowned economist and the head of the Nobel Prize winning UN Climate panel. TERI, The Energy and Resources Institute in India, and Deakin University in Australia have recently signed a memorandum of understanding,

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India and Deakin University, Australia signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to announce the setting up of a Centre of Excellence, the TERI-Deakin Nano Biotechnology Research Centre in the field of Nano Biotechnology in India. This development is an outcome of TERI’s core capability of knowledge creation and development of efficient, environment friendly technologies and Deakin’s India Research Initiative (DIRI) which is committed towards establishing a lasting association with industry partners in India to chart a vibrant culture of research and scholastic excellence.

The initiative is also aimed at bridging the gap between industry and academia through research and collaboration of world leading experts, which will enable efficiency, effectiveness and provide solutions for a sustainable future through the utilization of biotechnology. The TERI- Deakin Nano Biotechnology Research Centre will bring to the fore Deakin’s expertise in the design and characterization of novel nanomaterials while TERI’s Biotechnology and Management of Bioresource Division (BMBD) will bring their wealth of experience in biotech applications in pharmacology, food, agriculture and environmental areas.