Tag Archives: General Electric

R.I.P. Mildred Dresselhaus, Queen of Carbon

I’ve been hearing about Mildred Dresselhaus, professor emerita (retired professor) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), just about as long as I’ve been researching and writing about nanotechnology (about 10 years including the work for my master’s project with the almost eight years on this blog).

She died on Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 at the age of 86 having broken through barriers for those of her gender, barriers for her subject area, and barriers for her age.

Mark Anderson in his Feb. 22, 2017 obituary for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum website provides a brief overview of her extraordinary life and accomplishments,

Called the “Queen of Carbon Science,” Dresselhaus pioneered the study of carbon nanostructures at a time when studying physical and material properties of commonplace atoms like carbon was out of favor. Her visionary perspectives on the sixth atom in the periodic table—including exploring individual layers of carbon atoms (precursors to graphene), developing carbon fibers stronger than steel, and revealing new carbon structures that were ultimately developed into buckyballs and nanotubes—invigorated the field.

“Millie Dresselhaus began life as the child of poor Polish immigrants in the Bronx; by the end, she was Institute Professor Emerita, the highest distinction awarded by the MIT faculty. A physicist, materials scientist, and electrical engineer, she was known as the ‘Queen of Carbon’ because her work paved the way for much of today’s carbon-based nanotechnology,” MIT president Rafael Reif said in a prepared statement.

Friends and colleagues describe Dresselhaus as a gifted instructor as well as a tireless and inspired researcher. And her boundless generosity toward colleagues, students, and girls and women pursuing careers in science is legendary.

In 1963, Dresselhaus began her own career studying carbon by publishing a paper on graphite in the IBM Journal for Research and Development, a foundational work in the history of nanotechnology. To this day, her studies of the electronic structure of this material serve as a reference point for explorations of the electronic structure of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. Coauthor, with her husband Gene Dresselhaus, of a leading book on carbon fibers, she began studying the laser vaporation of carbon and the “carbon clusters” that resulted. Researchers who followed her lead discovered a 60-carbon structure that was soon identified as the icosahedral “soccer ball” molecular configuration known as buckminsterfullerene, or buckyball. In 1991, Dresselhaus further suggested that fullerene could be elongated as a tube, and she outlined these imagined objects’ symmetries. Not long after, researchers announced the discovery of carbon nanotubes.

When she began her nearly half-century career at MIT, as a visiting professor, women consisted of just 4 percent of the undergraduate student population.  So Dresselhaus began working toward the improvement of living conditions for women students at the university. Through her leadership, MIT adopted an equal and joint admission process for women and men. (Previously, MIT had propounded the self-fulfilling prophecy of harboring more stringent requirements for women based on less dormitory space and perceived poorer performance.) And so promoting women in STEM—before it was ever called STEM—became one of her passions. Serving as president of the American Physical Society, she spearheaded and launched initiatives like the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics and the society’s more informal committees of visiting women physicists on campuses around the United States, which have increased the female faculty and student populations on the campuses they visit.

If you have the time, please read Anderson’s piece in its entirety.

One fact that has impressed me greatly is that Dresselhaus kept working into her eighties. I featured a paper she published in an April 27, 2012 posting at the age of 82 and she was described in the MIT write up at the time as a professor, not a professor emerita. I later featured Dresselhaus in a May 31, 2012 posting when she was awarded the Kavli Prize for Nanoscience.

It seems she worked almost to the end. Recently, GE (General Electric) posted a video “What If Scientists Were Celebrities?” starring Mildred Dresselhaus,

H/t Mark Anderson’s obituary Feb. 22, 2017 piece. The video was posted on Feb. 8, 2017.

Goodbye to the Queen of Carbon!

Graphene and silly putty combined to create ultra sensitive sensors

One of my favourite kinds of science story is the one where scientists turn to a children’s toy for their research. In this case, it’s silly putty. Before launching into the science part of this story, here’s more about silly putty from its Wikipedia entry (Note: A ll links have been removed),

During World War II, Japan invaded rubber-producing countries as they expanded their sphere of influence in the Pacific Rim. Rubber was vital for the production of rafts, tires, vehicle and aircraft parts, gas masks, and boots. In the U.S., all rubber products were rationed; citizens were encouraged to make their rubber products last until the end of the war and to donate spare tires, boots, and coats. Meanwhile, the government funded research into synthetic rubber compounds to attempt to solve this shortage.[10]

Credit for the invention of Silly Putty is disputed[11] and has been attributed variously to Earl Warrick,[12] of the then newly formed Dow Corning; Harvey Chin; and James Wright, a Scottish-born inventor working for General Electric in New Haven, Connecticut.[13] Throughout his life, Warrick insisted that he and his colleague, Rob Roy McGregor, received the patent for Silly Putty before Wright did; but Crayola’s history of Silly Putty states that Wright first invented it in 1943.[10][14][15] Both researchers independently discovered that reacting boric acid with silicone oil would produce a gooey, bouncy material with several unique properties. The non-toxic putty would bounce when dropped, could stretch farther than regular rubber, would not go moldy, and had a very high melting temperature. However, the substance did not have all the properties needed to replace rubber.[1]

In 1949 toy store owner Ruth Fallgatter came across the putty. She contacted marketing consultant Peter C.L. Hodgson (1912-1976).[16] The two decided to market the bouncing putty by selling it in a clear case. Although it sold well, Fallgatter did not pursue it further. However, Hodgson saw its potential.[1][3]

Already US$12,000 in debt, Hodgson borrowed US$147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack 1 oz (28 g) portions into plastic eggs for US$1, calling it Silly Putty. Initially, sales were poor, but after a New Yorker article mentioned it, Hodgson sold over 250,000 eggs of silly putty in three days.[3] However, Hodgson was almost put out of business in 1951 by the Korean War. Silicone, the main ingredient in silly putty, was put on ration, harming his business. A year later the restriction on silicone was lifted and the production of Silly Putty resumed.[17][9] Initially, it was primarily targeted towards adults. However, by 1955 the majority of its customers were aged 6 to 12. In 1957, Hodgson produced the first televised commercial for Silly Putty, which aired during the Howdy Doody Show.[18]

In 1961 Silly Putty went worldwide, becoming a hit in the Soviet Union and Europe. In 1968 it was taken into lunar orbit by the Apollo 8 astronauts.[17]

Peter Hodgson died in 1976. A year later, Binney & Smith, the makers of Crayola products, acquired the rights to Silly Putty. As of 2005, annual Silly Putty sales exceeded six million eggs.[19]

Silly Putty was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame on May 28, 2001. [20]

I had no idea silly putty had its origins in World War II era research. At any rate, it’s made its way back to the research lab to be united with graphene according to a Dec. 8, 2016 news item  on Nanowerk,

Researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have used graphene to make the novelty children’s material silly putty® (polysilicone) conduct electricity, creating extremely sensitive sensors. This world first research, led by Professor Jonathan Coleman from TCD and in collaboration with Prof Robert Young of the University of Manchester, potentially offers exciting possibilities for applications in new, inexpensive devices and diagnostics in medicine and other sectors.

A Dec. 9, 2016 Trinity College Dublin press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes their ‘G-putty’ in more detail,

Prof Coleman, Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Physics along with postdoctoral researcher Conor Boland, discovered that the electrical resistance of putty infused with graphene (“G-putty”) was extremely sensitive to the slightest deformation or impact. They mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of human subjects and used it to measure breathing, pulse and even blood pressure. It showed unprecedented sensitivity as a sensor for strain and pressure, hundreds of times more sensitive than normal sensors. The G-putty also works as a very sensitive impact sensor, able to detect the footsteps of small spiders. It is believed that this material will find applications in a range of medical devices.

Prof Coleman said, “What we are excited about is the unexpected behaviour we found when we added graphene to the polymer, a cross-linked polysilicone. This material as well known as the children’s toy silly putty. It is different from familiar materials in that it flows like a viscous liquid when deformed slowly but bounces like an elastic solid when thrown against a surface. When we added the graphene to the silly putty, it caused it to conduct electricity, but in a very unusual way. The electrical resistance of the G-putty was very sensitive to deformation with the resistance increasing sharply on even the slightest strain or impact. Unusually, the resistance slowly returned close to its original value as the putty self-healed over time.”

He continued, “While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises. The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

Dexter Johnson in a Dec. 14, 2016 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]) puts this research into context,

For all the talk and research that has gone into exploiting graphene’s pliant properties for use in wearable and flexible electronics, most of the polymer composites it has been mixed with to date have been on the hard and inflexible side.

It took a team of researchers in Ireland to combine graphene with the children’s toy Silly Putty to set the nanomaterial community ablaze with excitement. The combination makes a new composite that promises to make a super-sensitive strain sensor with potential medical diagnostic applications.

“Ablaze with excitement,” eh? As Dexter rarely slips into hyperbole, this must be a big deal.

The researchers have made this video available,

For the very interested, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Sensitive electromechanical sensors using viscoelastic graphene-polymer nanocomposites by Conor S. Boland, Umar Khan, Gavin Ryan, Sebastian Barwich, Romina Charifou, Andrew Harvey, Claudia Backes, Zheling Li, Mauro S. Ferreira, Matthias E. Möbius, Robert J. Young, Jonathan N. Coleman. Science  09 Dec 2016: Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1257-1260 DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2879

This paper is behind a paywall.

Artificial intelligence and industrial applications

This is take on artificial intelligence that I haven’t encountered before. Sean Captain’s Nov. 15, 2016 article for Fast Company profiles industry giant GE (General Electric) and its foray into that world (Note: Links have been removed),

When you hear the term “artificial intelligence,” you may think of tech giants Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, or Facebook. Industrial powerhouse General Electric is now aiming to be included on that short list. It may not have a chipper digital assistant like Cortana or Alexa. It won’t sort through selfies, but it will look through X-rays. It won’t recommend movies, but it will suggest how to care for a diesel locomotive. Today, GE announced a pair of acquisitions and new services that will bring machine learning AI to the kinds of products it’s known for, including planes, trains, X-ray machines, and power plants.

The effort started in 2015 when GE announced Predix Cloud—an online platform to network and collect data from sensors on industrial machinery such as gas turbines or windmills. At the time, GE touted the benefits of using machine learning to find patterns in sensor data that could lead to energy savings or preventative maintenance before a breakdown. Predix Cloud opened up to customers in February [2016?], but GE is still building up the AI capabilities to fulfill the promise. “We were using machine learning, but I would call it in a custom way,” says Bill Ruh, GE’s chief digital officer and CEO of its GE Digital business (GE calls its division heads CEOs). “And we hadn’t gotten to a general-purpose framework in machine learning.”

Today [Nov. 15, 2016] GE revealed the purchase of two AI companies that Ruh says will get them there. Bit Stew Systems, founded in 2005, was already doing much of what Predix Cloud promises—collecting and analyzing sensor data from power utilities, oil and gas companies, aviation, and factories. (GE Ventures has funded the company.) Customers include BC Hydro, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Scottish & Southern Energy.

The second purchase, Wise.io is a less obvious purchase. Founded by astrophysics and AI experts using machine learning to study the heavens, the company reapplied the tech to streamlining a company’s customer support systems, picking up clients like Pinterest, Twilio, and TaskRabbit. GE believes the technology will transfer yet again, to managing industrial machines. “I think by the middle of next year we will have a full machine learning stack,” says Ruh.

Though young, Predix is growing fast, with 270 partner companies using the platform, according to GE, which expects revenue on software and services to grow over 25% this year, to more than $7 billion. Ruh calls Predix a “significant part” of that extra money. And he’s ready to brag, taking a jab at IBM Watson for being a “general-purpose” machine-learning provider without the deep knowledge of the industries it serves. “We have domain algorithms, on machine learning, that’ll know what a power plant is and all the depth of that, that a general-purpose machine learning will never really understand,” he says.

One especially dull-sounding new Predix service—Predictive Corrosion Management—touches on a very hot political issue: giant oil and gas pipeline projects. Over 400 people have been arrested in months of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois. The issue is very complicated, but one concern of protestors is that a pipeline rupture would contaminate drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“I think absolutely this is aimed at that problem. If you look at why pipelines spill, it’s corrosion,” says Ruh. “We believe that 10 years from now, we can detect a leak before it occurs and fix it before you see it happen.” Given how political battles over pipelines drag on, 10 years might not be so long to wait.

I recommend reading the article in its entirety if you have the time. And, for those of us in British Columbia, Canada, it was a surprise to see BC Hydro on the list of customers for one of GE’s new acquisitions. As well, that business about the pipelines hits home hard given the current debates (Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines) here. *ETA Dec. 27, 2016: This was originally edited just prior to publication to include information about the announcement by the Trudeau cabinet approving two pipelines for TransMountain  and Enbridge respectively while rejecting the Northern Gateway pipeline (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation [CBC] online news Nov. 29, 2016).  I trust this second edit will stick.*

It seems GE is splashing out in a big way. There’s a second piece on Fast Company, a Nov. 16, 2016 article by Sean Captain (again) this time featuring a chat between an engineer and a robotic power plant,

We are entering the era of talking machines—and it’s about more than just asking Amazon’s Alexa to turn down the music. General Electric has built a digital assistant into its cloud service for managing power plants, jet engines, locomotives, and the other heavy equipment it builds. Over the internet, an engineer can ask a machine—even one hundreds of miles away—how it’s doing and what it needs. …

Voice controls are built on top of GE’s Digital Twin program, which uses sensor readings from machinery to create virtual models in cyberspace. “That model is constantly getting a stream of data, both operational and environmental,” says Colin Parris, VP at GE Software Research. “So it’s adapting itself to that type of data.” The machines live virtual lives online, allowing engineers to see how efficiently each is running and if they are wearing down.

GE partnered with Microsoft on the interface, using the Bing Speech API (the same tech powering the Cortana digital assistant), with special training on key terms like “rotor.” The twin had little trouble understanding the Mandarin Chinese accent of Bo Yu, one of the researchers who built the system; nor did it stumble on Parris’s Trinidad accent. Digital Twin will also work with Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality goggles, allowing someone to step into a 3D image of the equipment.

I can’t help wondering if there are some jobs that were eliminated with this technology.

Recycling your cyclotron—medical isotopes for everyone—a step forward

Last year on June 9, 2013 Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, TRIUMF, announced a better way to produce medical isotopes. From my June 9, 2013 posting,

The possibility medical isotopes could be produced with cyclotrons  is dazzling, especially in light of the reports a few years ago when it was discovered that the Chalk River facility (Ontario, Canada), the source for one 1/3 of the world’s medical isotopes, was badly deteriorated (my July 2, 2010 posting). Today, Sunday, June 9, 2013, TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, and its partners announced that they have devised a technique for producing medical isotopes that is not dependent on materials from nuclear reactors.  …

“The approach taken by our consortium has established the feasibility of producing appreciable quantities of Tc-99m on Canada’s existing cyclotron network. These same machines are also producing additional isotopes used in a growing number of alternative imaging procedures. The net effect is that Canada will remain on the forefront of medical-isotope technology for the foreseeable future,” said John Valliant, Scientific Director and CEO of the CPDC in Hamilton.

Exactly one year later on June 9, 2014 the team responsible for this new means of producing medical isotopes presented an update of their work at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging’s (SNMMI) annual conference (from a June 9, 2014 TRIUMF news release),,

… a Canadian team with members from TRIUMF, the BC Cancer Agency, the Centre for Probe Development & Commercialization, and Lawson Health Research Institute announced that they have dramatically advanced technology for addressing the medical-isotope crisis.  The key medical isotope, technetium-99m (Tc-99m), can now be produced in meaningful quantities on the world’s most popular cyclotrons, many of which are already installed across Canada and around the world.

Patients, doctors, and hospitals have been concerned about a supply shortage of the workhorse medical isotopes used in cardiac tests and cancer scans as the world moves away from uranium-based nuclear reactors to create these exotic, short-lived, life-saving compounds.  The Canadian team has demonstrated the successful production of Tc-99m on a standard cyclotron manufactured by GE Healthcare, confirming that this alternative technology can be used by roughly half of the world’s already-installed cyclotrons. [emphasis mine]

Speaking for the consortium, Dr. Frank Prato of the Lawson Health Research Institute said, “This achievement is based on the efforts of the entire team and showcases our progress; we have a technology that can be applied in jurisdictions across Canada and around the world to produce this important isotope.”

Last summer [2013], the team set a world record for production of the critical isotope, Tc-99m, on a Made-in-Canada medical cyclotron; today, the team showed record production of Tc-99m using a GE [General Electric] PETtrace cyclotron at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario.  This demonstration, along with the work being done at a similar GE cyclotron in Hamilton, ON, validates the business proposition that conventional cyclotrons around the world can be upgraded to produce Tc-99m for their region.

The Government of Canada has articulated an intention to shift away from reactor-based production of medical isotopes in order to diversify the supply, remove uranium from the supply chain, and halt Canadian taxpayer subsidization of isotopes used in other countries.  [emphasis mine] Through a sequence of programs at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, and now Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian government has invested in the research, development, and deployment of alternative accelerator-based technologies for the production of Tc-99m.

Next steps in deploying this technology for Canadian patients will include regulatory approval and working with provincial governments to make the choices required to diversify the supply chain and strengthen healthcare systems.  The Canadian team is working to license its proprietary technology and to be positioned to market and supply the essential ingredients to cyclotrons around the world to enable their Tc-99m production.

It’s good to know that this technology allows cyclotrons around the world to be used in the production of medical isotopes. I imagine it’s a great relief know you won’t have to rely on some other country’s production facilities. However, it would have nice to have seen a little less chest-beating. Yes, this technology was developed in Canada but you don’t have to keep repeating Canada/Canadian over and over and over.

As for the Government of Canada’s intention to “halt Canadian taxpayer subsidization of isotopes used in other countries,” that seems somewhat harsh, although not out of line with the Harper government’s ethos.

I hope some thought has been applied to the implications of this policy as it is implemented. For example, do all the countries that need and use medical isotopes produced in Canada have their own cyclotrons? If so, will they be forced to purchase Canadian technology? And, what about the countries that don’t have their own cyclotrons? Are they going to be left out in the cold?

As for taxpayers and subsidies, it should be noted that TRIUMF and, at least one of its partners, BC [British Columbia] Cancer Agency are heavily supported by taxpayers. For example, there’s this Feb. 11, 2014 TRIUMF funding announcement,

In its Economic Action Plan for 2014-2015 released today, the Government of Canada has renewed its commitment to TRIUMF’s existing world-leading research and international partnership activities. The budget secures a base level for existing operations, proposing $222 million for the five years beginning 2015-2016. [emphasis mine]  The announcement of this commitment comes a year in advance and gives TRIUMF a six-year planning horizon for the first time, a strategic advantage for Canada in the highly competitive world of international science.

If I understand things correctly, this is their base funding. There are many other programs and instances where TRIUMF gets additional funding as per this May 21, 2014 posting about a new NSERC program and its funding award to TRIUMF for the ISOSIM program which is jointly run with the University of British Columbia.

Getting back to this latest news release, it seems clear the consortium will be selling this technology although there’s no mention as to how this will be done. Have they created a company with this one mission in mind or are they going to make use of a business entity that is already in existence? And, should this be a successful endeavour, will taxpayers see their support/investment returned to them? Given the Canadian business model, it is much more likely that the company will be grown to a point where it becomes an attractive purchase to a business entity based in another country.

Nanotechnology-enabled football helmets could help to determine if players have a concussion

Here’s a video from Brigham Young University (BYU, located in Utah, US) describing their researchers’ football helmet innovation (Note: Within the first 30 seconds the speaker makes what sounds like an error, nanoparticles can range from 1/60,000 to 1/100,000 of the size of a hair not 1/100 as he seems to state),

A Nov. 6, 2013 news item on Nanowerk describes why researchers felt it was important to create ‘smart’ foam that can detect the severity of an impact,

Concussions in college and professional football are under the microscope more than ever these days, but they don’t seem to be slowing down in frequency.

Nearly every game produces an incident where a player suffers “concussion-like symptoms.” According to the CDC [US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], more than 1.6 million sports-related concussions happen annually, with football being the sport with the highest concussion risk.

The Nov. 5, 2013 Brigham Young University (BYU) news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the motivations for this research (Note: A link has been removed),

While the NFL [US National Football League] and NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] are trying to address the mounting concerns, BYU student Jake Merrell is developing technology that may change the concussion game.

Combining nanotechnology with foam, Merrell has created a smart-foam that can be placed inside a football helmet to measure the impact of each hit. When compressed, the self-powered foam generates electrical signals that are transmitted wirelessly to a tablet or computer in the hands of a coach or trainer.

“A coach will know within seconds exactly how hard their player just got hit,” Merrell said. “Even if a player pops up and acts fine, the folks on the sidelines will have data showing that maybe he isn’t OK.”

Merrell’s working prototype recently won a top three finish (and $2,000) at BYU’s Student Innovator of the Year competition. To read more about the other SIOY winners . …

While companies such as Riddell and Schutt are trying to make helmets that reduce the risk of concussion, a study from the University of Wisconsin shows that no brand is actually succeeding.

The NFL and helmet makers have recently thrown more resources at investigating concussions, but current technology only provides data through bulky accelerometers in the crown of a helmet. Merrell’s piezoelectric foam accounts for both force and acceleration to measure actual impact.

Working under the tutelage of BYU mechanical engineering professor David Fullwood, Merrell was researching silicone-based motion sensors when he decided to combine a conductive mixture to foam to see what happened. To his surprise, the foam created a voltage.

“Jake is the one who pushed testing the sensors in silicon foam and he is the one who discovered that it is piezoelectric – that it creates voltage when compressed,” Fullwood said. “Jake is very proactive, talking to people in the industry and pushing hard to make it work.”

As part of his efforts, Merrell plans to submit a proposal to the upcoming Head Health Challenge sponsored by GE [General Electric], the NFL and Under Armour. The challenge was created to find new ways to measure football impact in real time to improve player safety.

Already, Merrell’s research on the nano-foam has landed him National Science Foundation funding, and a top paper award at an American Society of Mechanical Engineers conference.

Beyond football, Merrell hopes his piezoelectric self-sensing foam is able to transform any foam into an impact sensor for a wide range of applications, from law enforcement to the automotive industry.

It would have been nice to have had more technical details about the ‘smart’ foam for which I can see applications such as bicycle helmets, construction hard hats, baby seats, soldiers’ helmets, and more. I wish the researchers good luck with the idea.

Making a graphene micro-supercapacitor with a home DVD burner

Not all science research and breakthroughs require massive investments of money, sometimes all you need is a home DVD burner as this Feb. 19, 2013 news release on EurekAlert notes,

While the demand for ever-smaller electronic devices has spurred the miniaturization of a variety of technologies, one area has lagged behind in this downsizing revolution: energy-storage units, such as batteries and capacitors.

Now, Richard Kaner, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Maher El-Kady, a graduate student in Kaner’s laboratory, may have changed the game.

The UCLA researchers have developed a groundbreaking technique that uses a DVD burner to fabricate micro-scale graphene-based supercapacitors — devices that can charge and discharge a hundred to a thousand times faster than standard batteries. These micro-supercapacitors, made from a one-atom–thick layer of graphitic carbon, can be easily manufactured and readily integrated into small devices such as next-generation pacemakers.

The new cost-effective fabrication method, described in a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications, holds promise for the mass production of these supercapacitors, which have the potential to transform electronics and other fields.

“Traditional methods for the fabrication of micro-supercapacitors involve labor-intensive lithographic techniques that have proven difficult for building cost-effective devices, thus limiting their commercial application,” El-Kady said. “Instead, we used a consumer-grade LightScribe DVD burner to produce graphene micro-supercapacitors over large areas at a fraction of the cost of traditional devices. [emphasis mine] Using this technique, we have been able to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in less than 30 minutes, using inexpensive materials.”

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Feb. 19, 2013 news release written by David Malasarn, the origin of the EurekAlert news release, features more information about the process,

The process of miniaturization often relies on flattening technology, making devices thinner and more like a geometric plane that has only two dimensions. In developing their new micro-supercapacitor, Kaner and El-Kady used a two-dimensional sheet of carbon, known as graphene, which only has the thickness of a single atom in the third dimension.
Kaner and El-Kady took advantage of a new structural design during the fabrication. For any supercapacitor to be effective, two separated electrodes have to be positioned so that the available surface area between them is maximized. This allows the supercapacitor to store a greater charge. A previous design stacked the layers of graphene serving as electrodes, like the slices of bread on a sandwich. While this design was functional, however, it was not compatible with integrated circuits.
In their new design, the researchers placed the electrodes side by side using an interdigitated pattern, akin to interwoven fingers. This helped to maximize the accessible surface area available for each of the two electrodes while also reducing the path over which ions in the electrolyte would need to diffuse. As a result, the new supercapacitors have more charge capacity and rate capability than their stacked counterparts.
Interestingly, the researchers found that by placing more electrodes per unit area, they boosted the micro-supercapacitor’s ability to store even more charge.
Kaner and El-Kady were able to fabricate these intricate supercapacitors using an affordable and scalable technique that they had developed earlier. They glued a layer of plastic onto the surface of a DVD and then coated the plastic with a layer of graphite oxide. Then, they simply inserted the coated disc into a commercially available LightScribe optical drive — traditionally used to label DVDs — and took advantage of the drive’s own laser to create the interdigitated pattern. The laser scribing is so precise that none of the “interwoven fingers” touch each other, which would short-circuit the supercapacitor.
“To label discs using LightScribe, the surface of the disc is coated with a reactive dye that changes color on exposure to the laser light. Instead of printing on this specialized coating, our approach is to coat the disc with a film of graphite oxide, which then can be directly printed on,” Kaner said. “We previously found an unusual photo-thermal effect in which graphite oxide absorbs the laser light and is converted into graphene in a similar fashion to the commercial LightScribe process. With the precision of the laser, the drive renders the computer-designed pattern onto the graphite oxide film to produce the desired graphene circuits.”
“The process is straightforward, cost-effective and can be done at home,” El-Kady said. “One only needs a DVD burner and graphite oxide dispersion in water, which is commercially available at a moderate cost.”
The new micro-supercapacitors are also highly bendable and twistable, making them potentially useful as energy-storage devices in flexible electronics like roll-up displays and TVs, e-paper, and even wearable electronics.

The reference to e-paper and roll-up displays calls to mind work being done at Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada) and Roel Vertegaal’s work on bendable, flexible phones and computers (my Jan. 9, 2013 posting). Could this work on micro-supercapacitors have an impact on that work?

Here’s an image (supplied by UCLA) of the micro-supercapacitors ,

Kaner and El-Kady's micro-supercapacitors

Kaner and El-Kady’s micro-supercapacitors

UCLA has  also supplied a video of Kaner and El-Kady discussing their work,

Interestingly this video has been supported by GE (General Electric), a company which seems to be doing a great deal to be seen on the internet these days as per my Feb. 11, 2013 posting titled, Visualizing nanotechnology data with Seed Media Group and GE (General Electric).

Getting back to the researchers, they are looking for industry partners as per Malasarn’s news release.

Visualizing nanotechnology data with Seed Media Group and GE (General Electric)

University of Washington (UW) researchers have uploaded a number of nanotechnology infographics on the visualizing.org website, from the UW Division of Design 2010: Nanotechnology Infographics webpage,

There are more than 1/2 dozen of these nanotechnology-themed infographics available on the page. This particular infographic, Nanotechnology:  Size Really is Everything,  has the following credit line,

By Kim Shedrick. Faculty: Karen Cheng, Marco Rolandi. Part of a series of infographics explaining nanotechnology through scale, how it has integrated into society, and what products it is being used in today.

Cheng and Rolandi have been mentioned here before in a Feb. 22, 2012 posting about their University of Washington Design Help Desk and their effort to match up scientists with designers in the interest of producing better science graphics.

I have nothing against better science graphics but I would like to know what information/data is supporting this and their other visualizations. I did resize the graphic to look more closely at the text but there were no references or citations.

Btw, The website handles ‘zooming’ in to see details clumsily. Rather than a click on the zooming tool resulting in a larger image, you are presented with an infographic which is now held within an Adobe PDF reader before you can magnify the image.

For those generally interested in infographics and visualizing date, there’s a lot to choose from on the Visualizing.org website. For those who like to dig a bit deeper, this site is a public relations ploy by General Electric and Seed Media Group. From the About Visualizing.org webpage,

Visualizing.org was created by GE and Seed Media Group to help make data visualization more accessible to the general public; to promote information literacy through the creation, sharing, and discussion of data visualizations; and to provide a unique resource to help simplify complex issues through design.

Seed Media seems to be an outgrowth (pun intended) of SEED Magazine. The magazine, which was founded by Adam Bly when he lived in Montréal, Canada, has always been focused on science and culture.  Headquarters for the magazine were moved to New York and, either at the same time or later, the magazine became a strictly online publication. From the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links have been removed),

Seed (subtitled Science Is Culture; originally Beneath the Surface) is an online science magazine published by Seed Media Group. The magazine looks at big ideas in science, important issues at the intersection of science and society, and the people driving global science culture. Seed was founded in Montreal by Adam Bly and the magazine is now headquartered in New York with bureaus around the world. May/June 2009 (Issue No. 22) was the last print issue. Content continues to be published on the website.

(I first mentioned SEED magazine in a Sept. 18, 2009 posting.) Interestingly, Seed Media which publishes the magazine makes no mention of it (that I could find) on its website. From Seed Media Group’s Learn webpage,

Scientific ThinkingTM

It’s a different way of looking at the world. It’s about using data to uncover patterns and design to confront complexity. It’s about connecting things to reveal systems. It’s about traversing scales and disregarding disciplines, applying neuroscience to economics, math to global health, virology to manufacturing, and genetics to law… It’s about experimenting all the way to understanding. It’s about changing your mind with new evidence – and getting as close to truth as humanly possible.

Getting 7 billion people to think scientifically has never been a small mission. And it has never been more important.

Since 2005, we have offered ideas and stories to help people think scientifically. Now we’re taking the next big step in this journey by creating tools and services to help institutions – companies, governments, and international organizations – do the same. We’re taking our way of seeing and thinking to parliaments, courtrooms, hospitals, construction sites, boardrooms… around the world – to catalyze scientific thinking at scale.

I’m not sure how one would go about trademarking ‘scientific thinking’ as this is  a very commonly used phrase and I’m pretty sure a case could be made that it has been common language for centuries.  This oddity had me going back to the Visualizing.org for their terms and conditions, which are largely unexceptionable,

These are the general terms of use. For terms and conditions regarding the uploading of work, please read the Visualization Submission Agreement.

This Web site is owned by General Electric Company (“GE”) and operated by Seed Media Group, LLC (“Seed”). Throughout the site, the terms “we,” “us” and “our” refer collectively to GE and Seed. We offer this Web site, including all information, tools and services available from this site, to you, the user, conditioned upon your acceptance of all the terms, conditions, policies and notices stated here. Your use of this site constitutes your agreement to these Terms of Use.

When you submit material other than a Visualization, you grant us and our affiliates an unrestricted, nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute and display such material throughout the world in any media. You further agree that we are free to use any ideas, concepts, know-how that you or individuals acting on your behalf provide to us. [emphasis mine] You grant us and our affiliates the right to use the name you submit in connection with such material, if we so choose. All personal information provided via this site will be handled in accordance with the site’s online Privacy Policy. You represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all the rights to the content you post; that the content is accurate; that use of the content you supply does not violate any provision herein and will not cause injury to any person or entity; and that you will indemnify us for all claims resulting from content you supply.

Interesting, non? This has me wondering if it’s possible that  these folks (GE & Seed Media) might decide to use a concept from the visualization without any permission needed. If I understand this rightly, the promise is the visualization won’t be used, all they need is the idea or concept and either company (GE/Seed) or their affiliates can find someone else to illustrate or visualize it.  I find a company (Seed) that’s trying to trademark ‘scientific thinking’ might have some credibility issues regarding their stated terms and conditions for this visualizing.org website.

For the icing on this visualization cake, here’s a video from Visualizing.org’s About page where there is much discussion about the importance of design and visualization of data but not one single scientist is featured,

Morpho butterflies detect heat for GE

One wonders if Morpho butterflies are going to decide that they need to protect their intellectual property. Yet another scientific group has found a way to exploit the nanostructures on the Morpho butterfly’s wing.  From the Feb. 13, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

GE [General Electric] scientists are exploring many potential thermal imaging and sensing applications with their new detection concept such as medical diagnostics, surveillance, non-destructive inspection and others, where visual heat maps of imaged areas serve as a valuable condition indicator. Some examples include:

  • Thermal Imaging for advanced medical diagnosis – to better visualize inflammation in the body and understand changes in a patient’s health earlier.
  • Advanced thermal vision – to see things at night and during the day in much greater detail than what is possible today.
  • Fire thermal Imaging – to aid firefighters with new handheld devices to enhance firefighter safety in operational situations
  • Thermal security surveillance – to improve public safety and homeland protection
  • Thermal characterization of wound infections – to facilitate early diagnosis.

“The iridescence of Morpho butterflies has inspired our team for yet another technological opportunity. This time we see the potential to develop the next generation of thermal imaging sensors that deliver higher sensitivity and faster response times in a more simplified, cost-effective design,” said Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, Principal Scientist at GE Global Research who leads GE’s bio-inspired photonics programs. “This new class of thermal imaging sensors promises significant improvements over existing detectors in their image quality, speed, sensitivity, size, power requirements, and cost.”

GE has provided a video and description that illustrates this newest biomimicry work. First the description then the video (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoaILSCzlTo&feature=youtu.be)

This is a thermographic video of a Morpho butterfly structure in response to heat pulses produced by breathing onto the whole butterfly structure (video part 1) and onto its localized areas (video part 2). Nanostructures on Morpho butterfly wings coated with carbon nanotubes can sense temperature chances down to .02 degrees Celsius, at a response rate of 1/40 of a second. This is a demonstration of how new bio-inspired designs by GE scientists could enable more advanced applications for industrial inspection, medical diagnostics and military. This video was filmed by Bryan Whalen in the Electronics Cooling Lab at GE Global Research.

This newest work seems to have its origins in a DARPA-funded (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) GE project. From the Aug. 12, 2010 GE news release,

Scientists at GE Global Research, GE’s technology development arm, in collaboration with Air Force Research Laboratory, State University at Albany, and University of Exeter, have received a four-year, $6.3 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop new bio-inspired nanostructured sensors that would enable faster, more selective detection of dangerous warfare agents and explosives.

Three years ago, GE scientists discovered that nanostructures from wing scales of butterflies exhibited acute chemical sensing properties. [emphasis bold] Since then, GE scientists have been developing a dynamic, new sensing platform that replicates these unique properties.  Recognizing the potential of GE’s sensing technologies for improving homeland protection, DARPA is supporting further research. [emphasis mine]

For anyone who’s particularly interested in the technical details, Dexter Johnson offers more in his Feb. 13, 2012 posting about this research on the Nanoclast blog for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Green nanotechnology in Alberta’s oil sands

GE (General Electric) has announced that it is partnering with the University of Alberta (UA) and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) to develop techniques that reduce carbon dioxide transmissions from extraction and upgrading processes and from the treatment process for the water generated during oil recovery. From the news item on Nanowerk,

In the quest to develop more cost-effective ways to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels, GE is partnering with the University of Alberta (UA) and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures (AITF) on a $4 million CO2 capture project supported by the Climate Change and Emissions Management (CCEMC) Corporation.

The technology is based on naturally occurring zeolites identified by UA. These materials are rocks with molecularly sized pores, which allow small molecules to enter while excluding larger molecules. Zeolites are widely used in the chemical industry as catalysts, and this project seeks to form these materials into membranes that can be used for high temperature gas separation. The materials also have the potential to be used as filters for contaminated water. The CCEMC is providing $2 million in support of this project, with an equal cost share from GE and its project partners.

[Anthony] Ku [chemical engineer and project leader for GE Global Research on the carbon dioxide capture project] noted that  successful commercialization and widespread adoption of this technology could reduce CO2 emissions from the production of synthetic crude oil from the Oil Sands by up to 25%.

I’m glad to see another initiative in Alberta aimed at reducing environmental impacts. Last year in Sept. 2009, Alberta’s Premier (Ed Steilmach) signed a memorandum of understanding with Rice University (based in Texas) to collaborate on initiatives similar to this. (Sept. 22, 2009 posting)