Tag Archives: Egypt

Prawn (shrimp) shopping bags and saving the earth

Using a material (shrimp shells) that is disposed of as waste to create a biodegradable product (shopping bags) can only be described as a major win. A Jan. 10, 2017 news item on Nanowerk makes the announcement,

Bioengineers at The University of Nottingham are trialling how to use shrimp shells to make biodegradable shopping bags, as a ‘green’ alternative to oil-based plastic, and as a new food packaging material to extend product shelf life.

The new material for these affordable ‘eco-friendly’ bags is being optimised for Egyptian conditions, as effective waste management is one of the country’s biggest challenges.

An expert in testing the properties of materials, Dr Nicola Everitt from the Faculty of Engineering at Nottingham, is leading the research together with academics at Nile University in Egypt.

“Non-degradable plastic packaging is causing environmental and public health problems in Egypt, including contamination of water supplies which particularly affects living conditions of the poor,” explains Dr Everitt.

Natural biopolymer products made from plant materials are a ‘green’ alternative growing in popularity, but with competition for land with food crops, it is not a viable solution in Egypt.

A Jan. 10, 2017 University of Nottingham press release, which originated the news item,expands on the theme,

This new project aims to turn shrimp shells, which are a part of the country’s waste problem into part of the solution.

Dr Everitt said: “Use of a degradable biopolymer made of prawn shells for carrier bags would lead to lower carbon emissions and reduce food and packaging waste accumulating in the streets or at illegal dump sites. It could also make exports more acceptable to a foreign market within a 10-15-year time frame. All priorities at a national level in Egypt.”

Degradable nanocomposite material

The research is being undertaken to produce an innovative biopolymer nanocomposite material which is degradable, affordable and suitable for shopping bags and food packaging.

Chitosan is a man-made polymer derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from shrimp shells, first using acid (to remove the calcium carbonate “backbone” of the crustacean shell) and then alkali (to produce the long molecular chains which make up the biopolymer).

The dried chitosan flakes can then be dissolved into solution and polymer film made by conventional processing techniques.

Chitosan was chosen because it is a promising biodegradable polymer already used in pharmaceutical packaging due to its antimicrobial, antibacterial and biocompatible properties. The second strand of the project is to develop an active polymer film that absorbs oxygen.

Enhancing food shelf life and cutting food waste

This future generation food packaging could have the ability to enhance food shelf life with high efficiency and low energy consumption, making a positive impact on food wastage in many countries.

If successful, Dr Everitt plans to approach UK packaging manufacturers with the product.

Additionally, the research aims to identify a production route by which these degradable biopolymer materials for shopping bags and food packaging could be manufactured.

I also found the funding for this project to be of interest (from the press release),

The project is sponsored by the Newton Fund and the Newton-Mosharafa Fund grant and is one of 13 Newton-funded collaborations for The University of Nottingham.

The collaborations, which are designed to tackle community issues through science and innovation, with links formed with countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Philippines and Indonesia.

Since the Newton Fund was established in 2014, the University has been awarded a total of £4.5m in funding. It also boasts the highest number of institutional-led collaborations.

Professor Nick Miles Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global Engagement said: “The University of Nottingham has a long and established record in global collaboration and research.

The Newton Fund plays to these strengths and enables us to work with institutions around the world to solve some of the most pressing issues facing communities.”

From a total of 68 universities, The University of Nottingham has emerged as the top awardee of British Council Newton Fund Institutional Links grants (13) and is joint top awardee from a total of 160 institutions competing for British Council Newton Fund Researcher Links Workshop awards (6).

Professor Miles added: “This is testament to the incredible research taking place across the University – both here in the UK and in the campuses in Malaysia and China – and underlines the strength of our research partnerships around the world.”

That’s it!

NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration), one of the world’s largest hackathons, and women

Elizabeth Segran’s April 19, 2016 article for Fast Company profiles some work being done at NASA (US National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to encourage more women to participate in their hackathons (Note: A link has been removed),

For the past four years, NASA has hosted the Space Apps Challenge, one of the biggest hackathons on the planet. Last year, 14,264 people gathered in 133 locations for 48 to 72 hours to create apps using NASA’s data. A team in Lome, Togo, built a clean water mapping app; one in Bangalore, India, created a desktop planetarium; another in Pasadena, California, created a pocket assistant for astronauts. This year’s hackathon happens this upcoming weekend [April 22 – 24, 2016].

While NASA has been able to attract participants from all corners of the globe, it has consistently struggled to get women involved. NASA is working very hard to change this. “The attendance is generally 80% male,” says Beth Beck, NASA’s open innovation project manager, who runs the Space Apps Hackathon. “It’s more everyman than everywoman.”

There is a mention of a 2015 Canadian hackathon and an observation Beth Beck made at the time (from the Segran article),

Beck noticed that female participation in hackathons seemed to drop after the middle school years. At last year’s hackathon in Toronto, for instance, there were two sections: one for students and one for adults. Girls made up at least half of the student participants. “The middle school girls looked like honey bees, running around in little packs to learn about the technology,” she says. “But in the main hacking area, it was all guys. I wanted to know what happens that makes them lose their curiosity and enthusiasm.”

Beck’s further observations led to these conclusions,

It turns out that women are not significantly more interested in certain subjects than others. What they cared about most was being able to explore these topics in a space that felt friendly and supportive. “They are looking for signals that they will be in a safe space where they feel like they belong,” Beck says. Often, these signals are very straightforward: they seek out pictures of women on the event’s webpage and look for women’s names on the speaker panels and planning committees. …

Another interesting thing that Beck discovered is that women who are brave enough to attend these events want to go a day early to get the lay of the land and perhaps form a team in advance. They want to become more comfortable with the physical space where the hackathon will take place and learn as much as possible about the topics. “When the hackathon then becomes flooded with men, they feel ready for it,” she says.

While men described hacking as something that they did in their spare time, the research showed that many women often had many other family responsibilities and couldn’t just attend a hackathon for fun. And this wasn’t just true in developing countries, where girls were often tasked with childcare and chores, while boys could focus on science. In the U.S., events where there was childcare provided were much more highly attended by women than those that did not have that option. …

NASA’s hackathons are open to people with diverse skill sets—not just people who know code. Beck has found that men are more likely to participate because they are interested in space; they simply show up with ideas. Women, on the other hand, need to feel like they have the appropriate battery of skills to contribute. With this knowledge, Beck has found it helpful to make it clear that each team needs strong storytellers who can explain the value of the app. …

The folks at NASA are still working at implementing these ideas and Segran’s article describes the initiatives and includes this story (Note: A link has been removed),

Last year [2015], for instance, two female students in Cairo noticed that the hackathon has specifically called out to women and they wanted to host a local chapter of the hackathon. Their professor, however, told them that women could not host the event. The women reached out to NASA themselves and Beck wrote to them personally, saying that she highly encouraged them to create their own event. That Cairo event ended up being the largest Space Apps hackathon in the world, with 700 participants and a wait list of 300. …

Kudos to Beth Beck, NASA, and those two women in Cairo.

For anyone (male/female) interested in the 2016 hackathon, it’s being held this weekend (April 22 – 24, 2016), from the NASA Space Apps Challenge homepage,

For 48-72 hours across the world, problem solvers like you join us for NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge, one of the largest hackathons in the universe. Empowered by open data, you collaborate with strangers, colleagues, friends, and family to solve perplexing challenges in new and unexpected ways — from designing an interactive space glove to natural language processing to clean water mapping. Join us on our open data mission, and show us how you innovate.

Not Just For Coders

Beginners, students, experts, engineers, makers, artists, storytellers — Space Apps is for you! We welcome all passionate problem solvers to join our community of innovators. Citizens like you have already created thousands of open-source solutions together through code, data visualizations, hardware and design. How will you make your global impact?

It’s too late to become a host for the hackathon but you may be able to find a location for one somewhere near you on the hackathon website’s Locations page. There are three locations in Canada for the 2016 edition: Toronto (waitlist), Winnipeg (still open), and Waterloo (waitlist).

Wound healing with cellulose acetate nanofibres

This work on cellulose acetate nanofibres and wound healing (tested on mice) comes from Egypt according to an Aug. 10, 2015 news item on ScienceDaily,

People with diabetes mellitus often suffer from impaired wound healing. Now, scientists in Egypt have developed antibacterial nanofibres of cellulose acetate loaded with silver that could be used in a new type of dressing to promote tissue repair.

An Aug. 10, 2015 Inderscience Publishers press release on the Alpha Galileo website, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research,

Thanaa Ibrahim Shalaby and colleagues, Nivan Mahmoud Fekry, Amal Sobhy El Sodfy, Amel Gaber El Sheredy and Maisa El Sayed Sayed Ahmed Moustafa, at Alexandria University, prepared nanofibres from cellulose acetate, an inexpensive and easily fabricated, semisynthetic polymer used in everything from photographic film to coatings for eyeglasses and even cigarette filters. It can be spun into fibres and thus used to make an absorbent and safe wound dressing. Shalaby and co-workers used various analytical techniques including scanning electron microscope (SEM) and Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to characterise their fibres in which they incorporated silver nanoparticles.

Having characterised the material the team then successfully tested its antibacterial activity against various strains of bacteria that might infect an open wound. They next used the material as a dressing on skin wounds on mice with diabetes and determined how quickly the wound healed with and without the nano dressing. The dressing absorbs fluids exuded by the wound, but also protects the wound from infectious agents while being permeable to air and moisture, the team reports. The use of this dressing also promotes collagen production as the wound heals, which helps to recreate normal skin strength and texture something that is lacking in unassisted wound healing in diabetes mellitus.

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

Preparation and characterisation of antibacterial silver-containing nanofibres for wound healing in diabetic mice by Thanaa Ibrahim Shalaby; Nivan Mahmoud Fekry; Amal Sobhy El Sodfy; Amel Gaber El Sheredy; Maisa El Sayed Sayed Ahmed Moustafa. International Journal of Nanoparticles (IJNP), Vol. 8, No. 1, p. 82 2015 DOI: 10.1504/IJNP.2015.070346

This paper is behind a paywall although there are some exceptions.

Egypt and enhanced oil recovery

Egypt and its nanotechnology efforts do pop up here from time to time. In this instance, there’s a bonus, the item in question concerns oil, a topic of some interest to Canadians, especially anyone who lives close to the oil sands and the province of Alberta.

Getting back to Egypt, a May 21, 2015 article by Rachel Williamson for WAMDA describes the energy situation in the country and research that may make a big difference (Note: Links have been removed),

Nanotechnology has been used in the oil and gas sector for decades, but in the last 15 years companies have been investing bigger sums than ever into the technology.

As Egypt struggles through an energy shortage, one scientist is hoping an entrepreneurial oil executive will notice – and utilize – his research on nanotechnology, and allow the field to finally take off in his country.

Dr. Adel Salem is only months into a new position at the brand new Future University in Cairo, where he heads research on ‘enhanced oil recovery,’ or EOR as it’s known in oil sector parlance, using nanoparticles.

That research could add 10-­20 percent more oil to Egypt’s current production, he believes, which has been in decline since 1996. That’s between 70,000 and 140,000 extra barrels of oil per day. To put that in context, total production in major gas operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq has grown steadily to reach 70,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Here’s a description of the science,

Salem is currently testing a sandstone core sample from an oil reservoir near the Bahariya formation in central Egypt. The plan is to find out the ultimate recovery factor using nanoparticles. These nanoparticles have been created from sand – silica – between one and 100 nanometers (very small). This nanomaterial is dissolved in a saltwater solution and the fluid is flushed through the core sample. The recovery factor from that experiment is compared to the same process using water and polymer flooding. Salem says the result is promising and could open a new era in enhanced oil recovery.

The researcher goes to provide more details about exactly how this material acts to increase recovery from an oil reservoir,

“If this is a bubble of oil and this is a solution containing some nano, for example, if this tiny particle moves with a certain force, it can invade this boundary interfacial tension [on the oil bubble], and another one invade here, and here… which means that at the end of the day it will break down the interfacial tension between the oil and water,” Salem said.

After the oil bubble is split into smaller droplets, the liquid can more easily move through the reservoir and into the well after it’s flooded once more with normal water.

Furthermore, nanoparticles ‘dissolved’ in steam have the ability to transfer heat from the earth’s surface down to the reservoir, which can make the oil less viscous and more likely to flow easily.

What this means is it’s easier to extract oil from a reservoir. It also means more oil can be extracted in a shorter period of time, reducing costs and allowing a company to use its equipment and staff more effectively.

“The challenges in this field are the size, the material type, and concentration of these nanoparticles. It’s a big challenge, the nano-material itself [be it] silica, aluminum, or zinc oxides,” Salem said. “The other is the concentration. We have to determine the optimum material, the optimum size, the optimum concentration, because all of these can provoke or can hinder or can damage the reservoir. For each reservoir people have to experiment to determine all of these factors.”

For the curious, Salem uses silicon nanoparticles purchased from China. Lab results show a 90% recovery rate which Salem suspects will translate to 50% – 60% in the field.

The researcher wants to commercialize this technology (from Williamson’s article),

… although Salem wants to commercialize his findings, regulations can prevent university staff from profiting from their research. He’s relying on an open-minded businessman or woman to realize the benefits of nanotechnology and introduce it to Egypt.

I recommend reading Williamson’s article in its entirety.

Egypt steps it up nanowise with a Center for Nanotechnology

Dec. 16, 2014 Egypt’s Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab along with other ministers and Dr. Ahmed Zewail, Chairman of the board of Zewail City of Science and Technology (this seems to be a campus with a university and a number of research institutes), announced Egypt’s Center for Nanotechnology (from a Zewail City of Science and Technology Dec. 16, 2014 press release),

The Center, funded by the National Bank of Egypt, cost over $ 100 Million and is, till this moment, the biggest research Center Egypt has seen. This center is hailed as a turning point in the development of scientific research in Egypt as it will allow researchers to develop nanoparticles and nanostructured applications that will improve, even revolutionize, many technology and industry sectors including: information technology, energy, environmental science, medicine, and food safety among many others.

During the visit, Dr. Zewail gave Mahlab and the Cabinet members a brief introduction about the City’s constituents, achievements, and how it is going to improve Egypt’s economic development.

Impressed by the magnitude of Zewail City, Mahalab expressed his excitement about the effect this project is going to have on the future of scientific research in Egypt.

Following the opening ceremony, they all moved to the construction site of the soon-to-be Zewail City new premises, in Hadayk October, to evaluate the progress of the construction process. This construction work is the result of the presidential decree issued on April 9, 2014 to allocate 200 acres for Zewail City in 6th of October City. The construction work is expected to be done by the end of 2015, and will approximately cost $ 1.5 billion.

The end of 2015 is a very ambitious goal for completion of this center but these projects can sometimes inspire people to extraordinary efforts and there seems to be quite a bit of excitement about this one if the video is any indication. From a Dec. 22, 2014 posting by Makula Dunbar, which features a CCTV Africa clip, on AFKInsider,

I was interested to learn from the clip that Egypt’s new constitution mandates at least 1% of the GDP (gross domestic product) must be earmarked for scientific research.

As for Ahmed Zewail, in addition to being Chairman of the board of Zewail City of Science and Technology, he is also a professor at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech). From his CalTech biography page (Note: A link has been removed),

Ahmed Zewail is the Linus Pauling Chair professor of chemistry and professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). For ten years, he served as the Director of the National Science Foundation’s Laboratory for Molecular Sciences (LMS), and is currently the Director of the Moore Foundation’s Center for Physical Biology at Caltech.

On April 27, 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and in November of the same year, he was named the First United States Science Envoy to the Middle East.

The CalTech bio page is a bit modest, Zewail’s Wikipedia entry gives a better sense of this researcher’s eminence (Note: Links have been removed),

Ahmed Hassan Zewail (Arabic: أحمد حسن زويل‎, IPA: [ˈæħmæd ˈħæsæn zeˈweːl]; born February 26, 1946) is an Egyptian- American scientist, known as the “father of femtochemistry”, he won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on femtochemistry and became the first Egyptian scientist to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. …

If you watched the video, you may have heard a reference to ‘other universities’. The comment comes into better focus after reading about the dispute between Nile University and Zewail City (from the Wikipedia entry),

Nile University has been fighting with Zewail City of Science and Technology, established by Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, for more than two years over a piece of land that both universities claim to be their own.

A March 22, 2014 ruling turned down challenges to a verdict issued in April 2013 submitted by Zewail City. The court also ruled in favour of the return of Nile University students to the contested buildings.

In a statement released by Nile University’s Student Union before Saturday’s decision, the students stated that the verdict would test the current government’s respect to the judiciary and its rulings.

Zewail City, meanwhile, stressed in a statement released on Saturday that the recent verdict rules on an urgent level; the substantive level of the case is yet to be ruled on. Sherif Fouad, Zewail City’s spokesman and media adviser, said the verdict “adds nothing new.” It is impossible for Zewail City to implement Saturday’s verdict and take Nile University students into the buildings currently occupied by Zewail City students, he said.

If I understand things rightly, the government has pushed forward with this Zewail City initiative (Center for Nanotechnology) while the ‘City’ is still in a dispute over students and buildings with Nile University. This should make for some interesting dynamics (tension) for students, instructors, and administrators of both the institutions and may not result in those dearly hoped for scientific advances that the government is promoting. Hopefully, the institutions will resolve their conflict in the interest of promoting good research.

Social and/or scientific unrest in Spain, Canada, the UK, Egypt, and Turkey

The latest scientist protest took place in Spain on Friday, June 14, 2013 according to Michele Catanzaro’s June 14, 2013 article for Nature magazine,

Scientists gathered in public meetings in 19 Spanish cities this morning under the slogan ‘Let’s save research’. The gatherings were called by the Letter for Science movement, a coalition that includes the main scientific organizations of the country.

According to the movement, 5,000 scientists in Madrid marched …

Scientists, after seeing Spain’s investment in science double from the late 1990s to 2009, have watched as budgets have been cut and the science ministry has been eliminated (2011). Earlier this year, the government announced that science funding would not be increased until 2014. A recent June 4,2013 announcement that science projects would receive some additional funding does not appear to have appeased scientists.

While Spanish scientists are the latest to protest, they are not alone.

In Canada, there was a July 10, 2012 protest, the Death of Evidence Rally, which attracted either 1,500 or several hundred protestors (as is often the case, police estimates were considerably lower than organizers’ estimates). I have coverage from the day of the event in my July 10, 2013 posting and a roundup of  post-event commentary in my July 13, 2013 posting. Again, the issue was funding but the situation seems to have been exacerbated by the ‘muzzle’ put on Canadian government scientists.

For anyone not familiar with the situation, scientists working for various government departments have been informed over a period of years (muzzle edicts have been handed out in a staggered fashion to various departments; there’s a brief description in my Sept. 16, 2010 posting; and, there’s an update about the current legal action regarding the ‘muzzle’ in my April 8, 2013 posting [scroll down about 75% of the way])  that they could no longer speak directly to media. Since this is often a Canadian scientist’s primary form of public outreach, having to to hand all requests to the communications section of their department means that someone not familiar with the science may be crafting the messages or simply refusing to answer any or all questions for reasons that may not be clear to the scientist or the person asking the questions.

Getting back to last year’s Canadian rally, it seems to have been modeled on a UK protest where scientists gathered in London and staged a mock funeral to protest science funding policies, according to Adam Smith in a May 15, 2012 article for the Guardian newspaper.

Egyptian scientists too have expressed their displeasure. In 2011, they contributed to the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising against Hosni Mubarak as I noted in my Feb. 4, 2011 posting. For an insider’s perspective, you may want to check out, Eyptian journalist and Nature Middle East editor, Mohammed Yahia’s Feb. 2, 2011 article for Nature Middle East,

Anti-Mubarak protests continued into their eighth day across Egypt yesterday culminating in mass demonstrations in Egypt’s three main cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. While the academic community did not kick-start the popular uprising, academics joined the ranks of protesters on the streets to demand political reform and an end to President Mubarak’s three decades in power.

Several senior academics took to the streets of Cairo to have their voices heard. Nature Middle East was on the ground to hear what they had to say on the state of science under Mubarak’s regime and what hopes they have for science under any new government.

Also in 2011, there was a situation with scientists in Turkey. According to my Sept. 9, 2011 posting, Turkish scientists were threatening to “resign en masse” from the Turkish Academy of Sciences when the government stripped the academy of its autonomy. The current protests in Turkey do not feature scientists and are focused on other issues (according to a June 17, 2013 article by Graham E. Fuller for the Christian Science Monitor). In Egypt, they were protesting a dictatorship; in Turkey, they are protesting an arrogant prime minister’s actions.  Although I have to wonder how Turkey’s Prime Minister and/or its military are going to react as the protests are continuing; I can’t be the only person concerned that a coup may be in Turkey’s near future.

Getting to my point and eliminating the segues, it seems that over the last two years scientists in various countries have been taking political action of one kind or another and my impression is that this represents a substantive shift in how scientists view their role in society.

600 BCE (before the common era) was a very good year for French wine

It’s quite the detective story, almost 20 years to unravel the mystery of where and when viniculture started in France. A Penn Museum June 3 (?), 2013 news release (also found on EurekAlert) provides some fascinating detail about the detective work and about wine,

9,000-year-old ancient Near Eastern ‘wine culture,’ traveling land and sea, reaches southern coastal France, via ancient Etruscans of Italy, in 6th-5th century BCE

Imported ancient Etruscan amphoras and a limestone press platform, discovered at the ancient port site of Lattara in southern France, have provided the earliest known biomolecular archaeological evidence of grape wine and winemaking—and point to the beginnings of a Celtic or Gallic vinicultural industry in France circa 500-400 BCE. Details of the discovery are published as “The Beginning of Viniculture in France” in the June 3, 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Dr. Patrick McGovern, Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and author of Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University Press, 2006) is the lead author on the paper, which was researched and written in collaboration with colleagues from France and the United States.

For Dr. McGovern, much of whose career has been spent examining the archaeological data, developing the chemical analyses, and following the trail of the Eurasian grapevine (Vitis vinifera) in the wild and its domestication by humans, this confirmation of the earliest evidence of viniculture in France is a key step in understanding the ongoing development of what he calls the “wine culture” of the world—one that began in the Turkey’s Taurus Mountains, [sic[ the Caucasus Mountains, and/or the Zagros Mountains of Iran about 9,000 years ago.

“Now we know that the ancient Etruscans lured the Gauls into the Mediterranean wine culture by importing wine into southern France. This built up a demand that could only be met by establishing a native industry, likely done by transplanting the domesticated vine from Italy, and enlisting the requisite winemaking expertise from the Etruscans.”

The news release provides a high level (general with too few details for my taste) description of the technology used for this research,

After sample extraction, ancient organic compounds were identified by a combination of state-of-the-art chemical techniques, including infrared spectrometry, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, solid phase microextraction, ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, and one of the most sensitive techniques now available, used here for the first time to analyze ancient wine and grape samples, liquid chromatography-Orbitrap mass spectrometry.

All the samples were positive for tartaric acid/tartrate (the biomarker or fingerprint compound for the Eurasian grape and wine in the Middle East and Mediterranean), as well as compounds deriving from pine tree resin. Herbal additives to the wine were also identified, including rosemary, basil and/or thyme, which are native to central Italy where the wine was likely made. (Alcoholic beverages, in which resinous and herbal compounds are more easily put into solution, were the principle medications of antiquity.)

Nearby, an ancient pressing platform, made of limestone and dated circa 425 BCE, was discovered. Its function had previously been uncertain. Tartaric acid/tartrate was detected in the limestone, demonstrating that the installation was indeed a winepress. Masses of several thousand domesticated grape seeds, pedicels, and even skin, excavated from an earlier context near the press, further attest to its use for crushing transplanted, domesticated grapes and local wine production. Olives were extremely rare in the archaeobotanical corpus at Lattara until Roman times. This is the first clear evidence of winemaking on French soil.

Here’s what the ancient wine press looks like,

Caption: This is an ancient pressing platform from Lattara, seen from above. Note the spout for drawing off a liquid. It was raised off the courtyard floor by four stones. Masses of grape remains were found nearby. Credit: Photograph courtesy of Michael Py, copyright l'Unité de Fouilles et de Recherches Archéologiques de Lattes.

Caption: This is an ancient pressing platform from Lattara, seen from above. Note the spout for drawing off a liquid. It was raised off the courtyard floor by four stones. Masses of grape remains were found nearby.
Credit: Photograph courtesy of Michael Py, copyright l’Unité de Fouilles et de Recherches Archéologiques de Lattes.

Here’s how McGovern describes his work and its relationship to the history of viniculture in Europe and the ancient Near East, from the news release,

For nearly two decades, Dr. McGovern has been following the story of the origin and expansion of a worldwide “wine culture”—one that has its earliest known roots in the ancient Near East, circa 7000-6000 BCE, with chemical evidence for the earliest wine at the site of Hajji Firiz in what is now northern Iran, circa 5400-5000 BCE. Special pottery types for making, storing, serving and drinking wine were all early indicators of a nascent “wine culture.”

Viniculture—viticulture and winemaking—gradually expanded throughout the Near East. From the beginning, promiscuous domesticated grapevines crossed with wild vines, producing new cultivars. Dr. McGovern observes a common pattern for the spreading of the new wine culture: “First entice the rulers, who could afford to import and ostentatiously consume wine. Next, foreign specialists are commissioned to transplant vines and establish local industries,” he noted. “Over time, wine spreads to the larger population, and is integrated into social and religious life.”

Wine was first imported into Egypt from the Levant by the earliest rulers there, forerunners of the pharaohs, in Dynasty 0 (circa 3150 BCE). By 3000 BCE the Nile Delta was being planted with vines by Canaanite viniculturalists. As the earliest merchant seafarers, the Canaanites were also able to take the wine culture out across the Mediterranean Sea. Biomolecular archaeological evidence attests to a locally produced, resinated wine on the island of Crete by 2200 BCE.

“As the larger Greek world was drawn into the wine culture, “ McGovern noted, “the stage was set for commercial maritime enterprises in the western Mediterranean. Greeks and the Phoenicians—the Levantine successors to the Canaanites—vied for influence by establishing colonies on islands and along the coasts of North Africa, Italy, France, and Spain. The wine culture continued to take root in foreign soil—and the story continues today.”

Where wine went, so other cultural elements eventually followed—including technologies of all kinds and social and religious customs—even where another fermented beverage made from different natural products had long held sway. In the case of Celtic Europe, grape wine displaced a hybrid drink of honey, wheat/barley, and native wild fruits (e.g., lingonberry and apple) and herbs (such as bog myrtle, yarrow, and heath

I wonder why wine displaced Celtic Europe’s hybrid honey drink. Did wine taste better and/or did get folks drunk faster?

For anyone who’s interested in the research, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Beginning of viniculture in France by Patrick E. McGovern, Benjamin P. Luley, Nuria Rovira, Armen Mirzoiand, Michael P. Callahane, Karen E. Smithf, Gretchen R. Halla, Theodore Davidsona, and Joshua M. Henkina. Published online before print June 3, 2013, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216126110 PNAS June 3, 2013

The paper is behind a paywall.

“Egyptian blue” the first synthetic pigment in history inspires nanomaterials

Some chemists at the University of Georgia (US) have analyzed the blue pigment found in Egyptian monuments and elsewhere to discover that it has some unique properties at the nanoscale which ancient Egyptians and others capitalized on in their artworks. From the Feb. 20, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Tina T. Salguero [University of Georgia] and colleagues point out that Egyptian blue, regarded as humanity’s first artificial pigment, was used in paintings on tombs, statues and other objects throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Remnants have been found, for instance, on the statue of the messenger goddess Iris on the Parthenon and in the famous Pond in a Garden fresco in the tomb of Egyptian “scribe and counter of grain” Nebamun in Thebes.

They describe surprise in discovering that the calcium copper silicate in Egyptian blue breaks apart into nanosheets so thin that thousands would fit across the width of a human hair. The sheets produce invisible infrared (IR) radiation similar to the beams that communicate between remote controls and TVs, car door locks and other telecommunications devices.

The article can be found here,

Nanoscience of an Ancient Pigment by Darrah Johnson-McDaniel, Christopher A. Barrett, Asma Sharafi, and Tina T. Salguero. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2013, 135 (5), pp 1677–1679 DOI: 10.1021/ja310587c Publication Date (Web): December 10, 2012

Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

The article is behind a paywall but the abstract is open to everyone and there is this image,

Credit: Researchers at the University of Georgia [downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/doi/full/10.1021/ja310587c#]

Credit: Researchers at the University of Georgia [downloaded from http://pubs.acs.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/doi/full/10.1021/ja310587c#]

If I understand this rightly, Egyptian blue can be categorized as both a traditional pigment and a structural color due to nanoscale structures. (I recently wrote about structure, color, and the nanoscale in a Feb. 7, 2013 posting.)

As these things do from time to time, it reminded me of a song,

Enjoy!

Nanotechnology in the developing world/global south

Sometimes it’s called the ‘developing world’, sometimes it’s called the ‘global south’ and there have been other names before these. In any event, the organization, Nanotechnology for Development (Nano-dev) has released a policy brief about nanotechnology and emerging economies (?). Before discussing the brief, I have found a little information on the organization. From the Nano-dev home page,

Nanotechnology for development is a research project that aims at understanding how nanotechnology can contribute to development. By investigating way people deal with nanotechnology in Kenya, India and the Netherlands, the project will flesh out appropriate ways for governing nanotechnology for development.

Nanotechnology is a label for technologies at the nano-scale, roughly between 1 and 100 nanometers. This is extremely small. By comparison, the diameter of one human hair is about 60,000 nanometers. At this scale materials acquire all sorts of new characteristics that can be used in a wide range of novel applications. This potentially includes cheaper and more efficient technologies that can benefit the world’s poor, such as cheap water filters, efficient solar powered electricity, and portable diagnostic tests.

The four team members on the Nano-dev project are (from the Project Team page):

Pankaj Sekhsaria’s project seeks to understand the cultures of innovation in nanotechnology research in India, particularly in laboratories. He has a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University in India and a MA in Mass Communication from the Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi, India.

Trust Saidi’s research is on travelling nanotechnologies. He studied BSc in Geography and Environmental Studies at Zimbabwe Open University, BSc Honours in Geography at University of Zimbabwe, MSc in Public Policy and Human Development at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University.

Charity Urama’s project investigates the role of knowledge brokerage in nanotechnology for development. She obtained her BSc Botany from the faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and MSc from the school of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Life sciences, University of Aberdeen (UK).

Koen Beumer focuses on the democratic risk governance of nanotechnologies for development. Koen Beumer studied Arts and Culture (BA) and Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (MPhil, cum laude) at Maastricht University.

According to the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about the brief,

The key message of the policy brief is that nanotechnology can have both positive and negative consequences for countries in the global South. These should be pro-actively dealt with.

The positive consequences of nanotechnology include direct benefits in the form of solutions to the problems of the poor and indirect benefits in the form of economic growth. The negative consequences of nanotechnology include direct risks to human health and the environment and indirect risks such as a deepening of the global divide. Core challenges to harnessing nanotechnology for development include risk governance, cultures of innovation, knowledge brokerage and travelling technology.

What I found particularly interesting in the policy brief is the analysis of nanotechnology efforts in countries that are not usually mentioned  (from the policy brief),

There are large differences amongst countries in the global South. Some countries, like India, Egypt, Brazil and South Africa, have invested substantial sums of money through dedicated programs. Often these are large countries with emerging economies. Dedicated programs and strategies have been generated with strong political support.

In other countries in the global South things look different. Several African countries, like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe have expressed their interest in nanotechnologies and some activities can indeed be observed. But generally this activity does not exceed the level of individual researchers and incidental funding. [p. 3]

In addition to the usual concerns expressed over human health, they mention this risk,

Furthermore, properties at the nano-scale may be used to imitate the properties of rare minerals, thus affecting the export rates of their main producers, usually countries in the global South. Nanotechnologies may thus have reverse effects on material demands and consequently on the export of raw materials by countries in the global South (Schummer 2007). [p. 3]

Interesting thought that nanotechnology research could pose a risk to the economic welfare of countries that rely on the export of raw materials. Canada, anyone? If you think about it, all the excitement over nanocellulose doesn’t have to be an economic boon for ‘forestry-based’ countries. If cellulose is the most abundant polymer on earth what’s stop other countries from using their own nanocellulose. After all, Brazilian researchers are working on nanocellulose fibres derived from pineapples and bananas (my Mar. 28, 2011 and June 16, 2011 postings).

One final thing from the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The NANO-DEV project is partnership of three research institutes led by Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Besides Maastricht University, it includes the University of Hyderabad (India) and the African Technology Policy Studies Network (Kenya).