Tag Archives: Pat Roy Mooney

Get better protection from a sunscreen with a ‘flamenco dancing’ molecule?

Caption: illustrative image for the University of Warwick research on ‘Flamenco dancing’ molecule could lead to better-protecting sunscreen created by Dr. Michael Horbury. Credit:: created by Dr Michael Horbury

There are high hopes (more about why later) for a plant-based ‘flamenco dancing molecule’ and its inclusion in sunscreens as described in an October 18, 2019 University of Warwick press release (also on EurekAlert),

A molecule that protects plants from overexposure to harmful sunlight thanks to its flamenco-style twist could form the basis for a new longer-lasting sunscreen, chemists at the University of Warwick have found, in collaboration with colleagues in France and Spain. Research on the green molecule by the scientists has revealed that it absorbs ultraviolet light and then disperses it in a ‘flamenco-style’ dance, making it ideal for use as a UV filter in sunscreens.

The team of scientists report today, Friday 18th October 2019, in the journal Nature Communications that, as well as being plant-inspired, this molecule is also among a small number of suitable substances that are effective in absorbing light in the Ultraviolet A (UVA) region of wavelengths. It opens up the possibility of developing a naturally-derived and eco-friendly sunscreen that protects against the full range of harmful wavelengths of light from the sun.

The UV filters in a sunscreen are the ingredients that predominantly provide the protection from the sun’s rays. In addition to UV filters, sunscreens will typically also include:

Emollients, used for moisturising and lubricating the skin
Thickening agents
Emulsifiers to bind all the ingredients
Other components that improve aesthetics, water resistance, etc.

The researchers tested a molecule called diethyl sinapate, a close mimic to a molecule that is commonly found in the leaves of plants, which is responsible for protecting them from overexposure to UV light while they absorb visible light for photosynthesis.

They first exposed the molecule to a number of different solvents to determine whether that had any impact on its (principally) light absorbing behaviour. They then deposited a sample of the molecule on an industry standard human skin mimic (VITRO-CORNEUM®) where it was irradiated with different wavelengths of UV light. They used the state-of-the-art laser facilities within the Warwick Centre for Ultrafast Spectroscopy to take images of the molecule at extremely high speeds, to observe what happens to the light’s energy when it’s absorbed in the molecule in the very early stages (millionths of millionths of a second). Other techniques were also used to establish longer term (many hours) properties of diethyl sinapate, such as endocrine disruption activity and antioxidant potential.

Professor Vasilios Stavros from the University of Warwick, Department of Chemistry, who was part of the research team, explains: “A really good sunscreen absorbs light and converts it to harmless heat. A bad sunscreen is one that absorbs light and then, for example, breaks down potentially inducing other chemistry that you don’t want. Diethyl sinapate generates lots of heat, and that’s really crucial.”

When irradiated the molecule absorbs light and goes into an excited state but that energy then has to be disposed of somehow. The team of researchers observed that it does a kind of molecular ‘dance’ a mere 10 picoseconds (ten millionths of a millionth of a second) long: a twist in a similar fashion to the filigranas and floreos hand movements of flamenco dancers. That causes it to come back to its original ground state and convert that energy into vibrational energy, or heat.

It is this ‘flamenco dance’ that gives the molecule its long-lasting qualities. When the scientists bombarded the molecule with UVA light they found that it degraded only 3% over two hours, compared to the industry requirement of 30%.

Dr Michael Horbury, who was a Postgraduate Research Fellow at The University Warwick when he undertook this research (and now at the University of Leeds) adds: “We have shown that by studying the molecular dance on such a short time-scale, the information that you gain can have tremendous repercussions on how you design future sunscreens.
Emily Holt, a PhD student in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick who was part of the research team, said: “The next step would be to test it on human skin, then to mix it with other ingredients that you find in a sunscreen to see how those affect its characteristics.”

Professor Florent Allais and Dr Louis Mouterde, URD Agro-Biotechnologies Industrielles at AgroParisTech (Pomacle, France) commented: “What we have developed together is a molecule based upon a UV photoprotective molecule found in the surface of leaves on a plant and refunctionalised it using greener synthetic procedures. Indeed, this molecule has excellent long-term properties while exhibiting low endocrine disruption and valuable antioxidant properties.”

Professor Laurent Blasco, Global Technical Manager (Skin Essentials) at Lubrizol and Honorary Professor at the University of Warwick commented: “In sunscreen formulations at the moment there is a lack of broad-spectrum protection from a single UV filter. Our collaboration has gone some way towards developing a next generation broad-spectrum UV filter inspired by nature. Our collaboration has also highlighted the importance of academia and industry working together towards a common goal.”

Professor Vasilios Stavros added, “Amidst escalating concerns about their impact on human toxicity (e.g. endocrine disruption) and ecotoxicity (e.g. coral bleaching), developing new UV filters is essential. We have demonstrated that a highly attractive avenue is ‘nature-inspired’ UV filters, which provide a front-line defence against skin cancer and premature skin aging.”

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

Towards symmetry driven and nature inspired UV filter design by Michael D. Horbury, Emily L. Holt, Louis M. M. Mouterde, Patrick Balaguer, Juan Cebrián, Laurent Blasco, Florent Allais & Vasilios G. Stavros. Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 4748 (2019) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12719-z

This paper is open access.

Why the high hopes?

Briefly (the long story stretches over 10 years), the most recommended sunscreens today (2020) are ‘mineral-based’. This is painfully amusing because civil society groups (activists) such as Friends of the Earth (in particular the Australia chapter under Georgia Miller’s leadership) and Canada’s own ETC Group had campaigned against these same sunscreen when they were billed as being based on metal oxide nanoparticles such zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide. The ETC Group under Pat Roy Mooney’s leadership didn’t press the campaign after an initial push. As for Australia and Friend of the Earth, their anti-metallic oxide nanoparticle sunscreen campaign didn’t work out well as I noted in a February 9, 2012 posting and with a follow-up in an October 31, 2012 posting.

The only civil society group to give approval (very reluctantly) was the Environmental Working Group (EWG) as I noted in a July 9, 2009 posting. They had concerns about the fact that these ingredients are metallic but after a thorough of then available research, EWG gave the sunscreens a passing grade and noted, in their report, that they had more concerns about the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens. That latter concern has since been flagged by others (e.g., the state of Hawai’i) as noted in my July 6, 2018 posting.

So, rebranding metallic oxides as minerals has allowed the various civil society groups to support the very same sunscreens many of them were advocating against.

In the meantime, scientists continue work on developing plant-based sunscreens as an improvement to the ‘mineral-based’ sunscreens used now.

Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements at the 4th annual S.NET conference

My proposal, Zombies, brains, collapsing boundaries, and entanglements, for the 4th annual S.NET (Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies) conference was accepted. Mentioned in my Feb. 9, 2012 posting, the conference will be held at the University of Twente (Netherlands) from Oct. 22 – 25, 2012.

Here’s the abstract I provided,

The convergence between popular culture’s current fascination with zombies and their appetite for human brains (first established in the 1985 movie, Night of the Living Dead) and an extraordinarily high level of engagement in brain research by various medical and engineering groups around the world is no coincidence

Amongst other recent discoveries, the memristor (a concept from nanoelectronics) is collapsing the boundaries between humans and machines/robots and ushering in an age where humanistic discourse must grapple with cognitive entanglements.

Perceptible only at the level of molecular electronics (nanoelectronics), the memristor was a theoretical concept until 2008. Traditionally in electrical engineering, there are three circuit elements: resistors, inductors, and capacitors. The new circuit element, the memristor, was postulated in a paper by Dr. Leon Chua in 1971 to account for anomalies that had been experienced and described in the literature since the 1950s.

According to Chua’s theory and confirmed by the research team headed by R. Stanley Williams, the memristor remembers how much and when current has been flowing. The memristor is capable of an in-between state similar to certain brain states and this capacity lends itself to learning. As some have described it, the memristor is a synapse on a chip making neural computing a reality and/or the possibility of repairing brains stricken with neurological conditions. In other words, with post-human engineering exploiting discoveries such as the memristor we will have machines/robots that can learn and think and human brains that could incorporate machines.

As Jacques Derrida used the zombie to describe a state that this is neither life nor death as undecidable, the memristor can be described as an agent of transformation conferring robots with the ability to learn (a human trait) thereby rendering them as undecidable, i.e., neither machine nor life. Mirroring its transformative agency in robots, the memristor could also confer the human brain with machine/robot status and undecidability when used for repair or enhancement.

The memristor moves us past Jacques Derrida’s notion of undecidability as largely theoretical to a world where we confront this reality in a type of cognitive entanglement on a daily basis.

You can find the preliminary programme here.  My talk is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 in one of the last sessions for the conference, 11 – 12:30 pm in the Tracing Transhuman Narratives strand.

I do see a few names I recognize, Wickson, Pat (Roy)  Mooney and Youtie. I believe Wickson is Fern Wickson from the University of Bergen last mentioned here in a Jul;y 7, 2010 posting about nature, nanotechnology, and metaphors. Pat Roy Mooney is from The ETC Group (an activist or civil society group) and was last mentioned here in my Oct. 7, 2011 posting), and I believe Youtie is Jan Youtie who wss mentioned in my March 29, 2012 posting about nanotechnology, economic impacts, and full life cycle assessments.

Sort of secret summit for international nanotechnology activists

Apparently, global activists are meeting for the 4th International Nanotechnology Activist Summit in Berlin, Oct. 6 – 7, 2011. I did a quick search and was unable to find a website for the summit or find any additional information about it on the Friends of the Earth nano website or the ETC Group website, both represented at the summit. The source for the Oct. 7, 2011 news item on Nanowerk is the European Environmental Bureau (one of the activist groups at the Summit). From the news item on Nanowerk,

Some 30 activists representing 14 environmental, technology assessment and consumer organisations from Europe, the United States, Canada and Latin America met for the 4th International Nanotechnology Activist Summit in Berlin on October 6 and 7.

Jaydee Hanson from the International Center for Technology Assessment, which has filed legal challenges to the US Environmental Policy Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, called “for the protection of workers and the public from exposure to nanomaterials that have not been proven safe.”

Paolo Martins, Coordinator of the Brazilian Research Network in Nanotechnology, Society and the Environment called for review of nanotechnologies that will have wide-ranging effects on workers and consumers in the developing world. He noted that there must be, “full consideration of the ethical and social impacts of these technologies.”

Ian Illuminato of Friends of the Earth [FoE]-US demanded that “a full lifecycle analysis must be completed prior to any commercialization of nano-products.” [emphasis mine]

Dorothée Browaeys, Director General of VivAgora (France) noted that “nanomaterials must be classified as new substances and subject to nano-specific regulation. France has initiated mandatory declaration for producers and importers, this should be expanded to include all formulators and retailers of products containing nanomaterials. Other countries should do likewise.”

Pat Mooney, Executive Director of the ETC Group, with offices in Canada, the Philippines, Mexico, and the US called for a moratorium on the commercialization of nano-products, but noted that all “Nano-industries must be fully accountable for liabilities caused by their products if they come on the market.”

Given the carbon footprint from the travel for these 14 individuals, these quotes seem like fairly standard rhetoric. I hope there’s more news forthcoming from this meeting otherwise it would seem to be a waste of time and resources.

As for Ian Illuminato (what a marvelous name!), I’m surprised he heads up the FoE-US arm of the organization since, according to a July 21, 2011 news article by Alex Roslin for Vancouver’s (Canada) Georgia Straight, Illuminato has a “home office in Victoria (Canada).” Is this a new trend? Live in Canada and head up a US organization? Note: I wrote a commentary about Roslin’s article on nanoparticles in my July 26, 2011 posting.

Nanotechnology and sunscreens: recalibrating positions and the excruciating business of getting it as right as possible

I’ve been waiting for Andrew Maynard’s comments (on his 2020 Science blog) about the Friends of the Earth (FoE) guest bloggers’ (Georgia Miller and Ian Illuminato) response (ETA June 6, 2016: Just how risky can nanoparticles in sunscreens be? Friends of the Earth respond; a 2020 Science blog June 15, 2010 posting) to his posting (Just how risky could nanoparticles in sunscreens be?) where he challenged them to quantify the nanosunscreen risk to consumers.  His reflections on the FoE response and the subsequent discussion are well worth reading. From Andrew’s posting, The safety of nanotechnology-based sunscreens – some reflections,

Getting nanomaterials’ use in context. First, Georgia and Ian, very appropriately in my opinion, brought up the societal context within which new technologies and products are developed and used:

“why not support a discussion about the role of the precautionary principle in the management of uncertain new risks associated with emerging technologies? Why not explore the importance of public choice in the exposure to these risks? Why not contribute to a critical discussion about whose interests are served by the premature commercialisation of products about whose safety we know so little, when there is preliminary evidence of risk and very limited public benefit.”

Andrew again,

… we need to think carefully about how we use scientific knowledge and data – “evidence” – in making decisions.

As he goes on to point out, cherrypicking data isn’t a substantive means of supporting your position over the long run.

Unfortunately it’s a common practice on all sides ranging from policymakers, politicians, civil society groups, consumers, medical institutions, etc. and these days we don’t have the luxury, ignorance about downsides such as pollution and chemical poisoning on a global scale for example, that previous generations enjoyed.

Three of the scientists whose work was cited by FoE as proof that nanosunscreens are dangerous either posted directly or asked Andrew to post comments which clarified the situation with exquisite care,

Despite FoE’s implications that nanoparticles in sunscreens might cause cancer because they are photoactive, Peter Dobson points out that there are nanomaterials used in sunscreens that are designed not to be photoactive. Brian Gulson, who’s work on zinc skin penetration was cited by FoE, points out that his studies only show conclusively that zinc atoms or ions can pass through the skin, not that nanoparticles can pass through. He also notes that the amount of zinc penetration from zinc-based sunscreens is very much lower than the level of zinc people have in their body in the first place. Tilman Butz, who led one of the largest projects on nanoparticle penetration through skin to date, points out that – based on current understanding – the nanoparticles used in sunscreens are too large to penetrate through the skin.

These three comments alone begin to cast the potential risks associated with nanomaterials in sunscreens in a very different light to that presented by FoE. Certainly there are still uncertainties about the possible consequences of using these materials – no-one is denying that. But the weight of evidence suggests that nanomaterials within sunscreens – if engineered and used appropriately – do not present a clear and present threat to human health.

Go to the comments section of the 2020 Science blog for the full text of Peter Dobson’s response, Brian Gulson’s response posted by Andrew on Gulson’s behalf, and Tilman Butz’s response posted by Andrew on Butz’s behalf. (I found these comments very helpful as I had made the mistake of assuming that there was proof that nanoparticles do penetrate the skin barrier [as per my posting of June 23, 2010].)

I want to point out that the stakes are quite high despite the fact that sunscreens are classified as a cosmetic. I’ve heard at least one commentator (Pat Roy Mooney of The ETC Group, Interview at 2009 Elevate Festival at 4:32) scoff because nanotechnology is being used in cosmetics as if it’s frivolous. Given the important role sunscreens play in our health these days, a safe sunscreen has to be high on the list of most people’s priorities but this leads to a question.

Should we stop developing more effective nanotechnology-enabled sunscreens (and by extension, other nanotechnology-enabled products) due to concern that we may cause more harm than good?

Andrew goes on to provide some interesting insight into the issue citing the Precautionary Principle and supplementing his comments with some of Richard Jones’ (author of Soft Machines book and blog and consultant to UK government on various nanotechnology topics) suggestions to refine the Precautionary Principle guidelines,

1. what are the benefits that the new technology provides – what are the risks and uncertainties associated with not realising these benefits?

2. what are the risks and uncertainties attached to any current ways we have of realising these benefits using existing technologies?

3. what are the risks and uncertainties of the new technology?

I strongly suggest that anyone interested in the issues around risk, the precautionary principle, emerging technologies, and the role of research read this posting (as well as its predecessors) and as much of the discussion as you can manage.

One additional thought which was posited in the comments section by Hilary Sutcliffe (you’ll need to scroll the comments as I haven’t figured out how to create a direct link to her comment) has to do with the role that companies have with regard to their research and making it available in the discussion about health, safety, and the environment (HSE),

… we need to be able to access ‘the best available information’ in order to make informed decisions in the face of uncertainty and enable the rounded assessment that Prof Richard Jones suggests. This is indeed essential, but ‘we’ are usually constrained by the lack of one very large chunk of ‘available information’ which is the HSE testing the companies themselves have done which leads them to judge the material or product they have developed is safe.

Further in the comment she goes on to discuss a project (What’s fair to share?) that her organization (MATTER) is planning where they want to discuss how companies can share their HSE data without giving away intellectual property and/or competitive advantages.

Finally, I want to paraphrase something I said elsewhere. While I am critical of the tactics used by the Friends of the Earth in this instance, there is no doubt in my mind that the organization and other civil society groups serve a very important role in raising much needed discussion about nanotechnology risks.

Canada and synthetic biology in the wake of the first ‘synthetic’ bacteria

Margaret Munro’s excellent article on Craig Venter’s recently published synthetic biology achievement provides some Canadian perspective on the field as a whole. Titled as Synthetic genome inspires both awe and apprehension in the Vancouver Sun’s (it was titled elsewise in other CanWest publications), May 21, 2010 edition, the article offers,

“It is a remarkable technological feat,” said University of Toronto bioengineer Elizabeth Edwards.

“It’s paradigm-shifting,” said University of Calgary bioethicist and biochemist Gregor Wolbring, adding the fast-moving field of synthetic biology is ushering in “cyber” cells and life.

It could be as “transformative” as the computer revolution, said Andrew Hessel, of the Pink Army Cooperative, an Albertabased initiative promoting doit-yourself bioengineering.

Hessel said Venter deserves the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in creating “a new branch on the evolutionary tree” — one where humans shape and control new species.

Munro also provides a strongly cautionary position from Pat Roy Mooney of the ETC Group (a civil society or, as I sometimes say, activist group) as well as a good explanation for what all the excitement is about.

Wolbring (quoted in Munro’s article) has long commented on issues around nanotechnology, human enhancement, synthetic biology and more. His blog is here and his Twitter feed is here.

Andrew Hessel’s Pink Army Cooperative can be found here. If you go, you will find that the organization’s aim is,

A new approach to developing breast cancer treatments. Pink Army is a community-driven, member owned Cooperative operating by open source principles. Using synthetic biology and virotherapy to bring individualized treatments tailored to each patient’s DNA and cancer, faster and cheaper than ever before.

The ETC Group has written a news release on this latest synthetic biology event,

As Craig Venter announces lab-made life, ETC Group calls for Global Moratorium on Synthetic Biology.

In a paper published today in the journal Science, the J. Craig Venter Institute and Synthetic Genomics Inc announced the laboratory creation of the world’s first self-reproducing organism whose entire genome was built from scratch by a machine.(1) The construction of this synthetic organism, anticipated and dubbed “Synthia” by the ETC Group three years ago, will stir a firestorm of controversy over the ethics of building artificial life and the implications of the largely unknown field of synthetic biology.

As for the state of synthetic biology research in Canada, that might be available in an international agency’s publication. As far as I’m aware, there is no national research agency although I did (recently) find this mention on the National Institute of Nanotechnology’s Nano Life Sciences page,

The Nano Life Sciences researchers investigate the fields of synthetic biology, computational biology, protein structure, intermolecular membrane dynamics and microfluidics devices for biological analysis. [emphasis mine]

I will continue digging and come back to this topic (synthetic biology in Canada) as I find out more.

Nanomaterials and health: the good, the bad, and the ugly?

One of the things I’ve noticed about the nanomaterials safety debate is how quickly it devolves to:  nanomaterials are good (some media reporters, business and corporate lawyers) vs nanomaterials are bad (some media reporters and civil society groups). Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about nanomaterials and their possible effects on health and the environment but there is enough evidence to support a single position if you’re willing discount evidence that doesn’t support your case. There are even people (pro and con) who will use evidence that doesn’t support their case very well unless they leave out details.

Take for example, this interview with Pat Roy Mooney (executive director of the ETC Group) at the Elevate Festival, October 2009 in Austria. Much of what he has to say is quite right (more work needs to be done to ensure safety) but you might get the impression that all this nanotechnology research that’s been talked about has resulted only in consumer products such as sunscreens and cosmetics. At about 4 mins., 15 secs., the reporter challenges Mooney and points out that the research may be very helpful in cleaning water (vital in some areas of the world) and could have other benefits. Mooney concedes the point, grudgingly.

Oddly, Mooney spends quite a bit of time suggesting that gold nanoparticles are a problem. That may be  but the more concerning issue is with silver nanoparticles which are used extensively in clothing and which wash off easily. This means silver nanoparticles are ending up in the water supply and in our fish populations. Studies with zebrafish strongly suggest far more problems with silver nanoparticles than gold nanoparticles. You can check this paper (which compares the two nanoparticles), this paper (about silver only) and this paper (about silver only) or run a search.

Mooney goes on to describe problems with other nanomaterials that I’m unfamiliar with, but I don’t know how far I can trust the information he’s giving me.

Mooney isn’t the only one who likes to remove nuance and shading. In a recent interview on the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel website, one of the interview subjects, William S. Rogers, Jr., essentially dismisses concerns about carbon nanotubes with this:

Rogers: Before the EPA announcement in January, 2010 concerning the proposed SNUR, a series of studies was done beginning in the United Kingdom with a study led by Poland, et al. (2008). That study involved the injection of multi-walled nanotubes into the abdomen of mice, the mucosal lining of which is identical to the mesothelium of the pleura or chest. The injection directly into the abdomen was intended to simulate exposure of the mesothelium in the chest due to inhalation exposure. Approximately 90 days later they examined the biological changes who had taken place as a result of exposure of the abdominal mesolthelial lining to the carbon nanotubes. They reportedly found evidence of inflammation that was consistent with the type of inflammation that had traditionally been recognized in people who had inhalation exposure to asbestos fibers and who later developed mesothelioma. They did not find actual mesothelioma in the mice, but rather what were thought to be precursors to such cancers. The result of publication of these findings was an alarmist reaction that carbon nanotubes posed a danger to humans analogous to that of asbestos fibers. This became headline news.

Up to this point I could agree with him, but now Rogers goes on to point out the study’s shortcomings,

The problem with the study was that the mice were exposed to massive doses of nanotubes by injection, which is not a natural or likely cause of human exposure. The test methodologies were a poor analog for what likely human exposure would be in any setting. Many commentators criticized the study’s findings and suggested that its conclusions about a potential relationship between carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibers was flawed because it rested largely on their shape similarity (long and thin); however, for the last two years there has been talk in the popular media about whether the risks associated with all nanomaterials are akin to those associated with asbestos fibers. The only similarities between carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibers is their long aspect ratio, unlike other nanomaterials. There has been more focus on carbon nanotube toxicity than on other nanomaterial substances, which has percolated up to the EPA. EPA has now decided to treat carbon nanotubes separately from other nano-objects.

Rogers fails to mention that this was a pilot study which was intended to lay the basis for further research. Dr. Andrew Maynard, one of the authors of the study, noted in a March 26, 2009 posting on his blog (2020 Science) further work had been done,

I’m looking at an electron microscope image of a carbon nanotube – as I cannot show it here, you’ll have to imagine it. It shows a long, straight, multi-walled carbon nanotube, around 100 nanometers wide and 10 micrometers long. There is nothing particularly unusual about this. What is unusual is that the image also shows a section of the lining of a mouse’s lung. And the nanotube is sticking right through the lining, like a needle through a swatch of felt.

The image was shown at the annual Society of Toxicology meeting in Baltimore last week, and comes from a new study by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on the impact of inhaled multi-walled carbon nanotubes on mice. [You can find out more about the NIOSH study here]

It’s highly significant because it takes scientists a step closer to understanding whether carbon nanotubes that look like harmful asbestos fibers, could cause asbestos-like disease…

Both the carbon nanotube studies mentioned here are studies of long, multi-walled carbon nanotubes. This distinction is important as substances at the nanoscale can behave differently from each other depending on their shape and size. Both Maynard and the NIOSH researchers suggest that more study is required but clearly the evidence is mounting.

Interestingly, the Good Nano Guide (GNG)* page on carbon nanotubes mentions the Poland study but not the NIOSH Study. The page also notes that at least one study indicates issues with single-walled and multi-walled carbon nanotubes as well as C60 (fullerenes). I wonder if there’s a policy about including only studies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

(*a ‘best practices for nanomaterials’ wiki hosted by the International Council on Nanotechnology ETA (April 12, 2010: From Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, “As to your question about our policy for posting information at the GNG, there is no policy that states we only publish peer-reviewed papers.” Dr. KK has offered this and  more information about the GNG in the comments.)

The media also are playing a role in this discussion. I’ve noted before Andrew Schneider’s nanotechnology series for AOL News, from his article Obsession with Nanotech Growth Stymies Regulators,

Separately, the NIOSH team discovered that beyond the well-documented lung damage that comes from inhalation of carbon nanotubes, [emphasis mine] those heavily used carbon structures were causing inflammation of the brain in the test animals.

Except for the fact that “well-documented lung damage that comes from inhalation” is an over statement, Schneider’s article is a good read although as I’ve noted elsewhere I don’t know how far to trust his information. [ETA: April 21, 20010, Schneider also fails to note the the type of carbon nanotube (likely the long, multi-walled ones) on which he bases his unsubstantiated claim. ]

After writing all this, I’m torn. On the one hand,  I do think that if people like Schneider and Mooney had their way, none of us would be eating potatoes, tomatoes, or eggplants. After all, they’re members of the nightshade family and the ill effects of ingesting other members of that family, belladonna (deadly nightshade) and datura (jimson weed), are well documented. On the other hand, folks like William Rogers are all too willing dismiss some very troubling research as their clients strive to bring products to market, seemingly regardless of any consequences.

ETA: Happy Weekend!

Bacterial nanobots build a pyramid; solar cell breakthrough in Quebec; global nano regulatory framework conference at Northeastern University; Robert Fulford talks about the poetry of nanotechnology

Just when I was thinking that the Canadian nanotechnology scene was slowing down there’s this: A research team at the École Polytechnique de Montréal (Québec) has announced that they’ve trained bacteria to build structures shaped like pyramids. From the news item on Nanowerk,

Faster than lion tamers… More powerful than snake charmers… Make way for the bacteria trainers! Professor Sylvain Martel and his team at the École Polytechnique de Montréal NanoRobotics Laboratory have achieved a new world first: “training” living bacteria to build a nanopyramid.

These miniature construction workers are magnetotactic bacteria (MTB): they have their own internal compasses, allowing them to be pulled by magnetic fields. MTB possess flagella bundles enabling each individual to generate a thrust force of approximately 4 picoNewtons. Professor Martel’s team has succeeded in directing the motion of a group of such bacteria using computer-controlled magnetic fields. In an experiment conducted by Polytechnique researchers, the bacteria transported several epoxy nanobricks and assembled them into a step-pyramid structure, completing the task in just 15 minutes. The researchers have also managed to pilot a group of bacteria through the bloodstream of a rat using the same control apparatus.

Nanowerk also features a video of the magnetotactic bacteria at work.

Solar cell breakthrough?

More Canadian nano from Québec: a researcher (Professor Benoît Marsan) and his team at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) have provided solutions to two problems which have been inhibiting the development of the very promising Graetzel solar cell that was developed in the 1990s in Switzerland. From the news item on Nanowerk a description of the problems,

Most of the materials used to make this cell are low-cost, easy to manufacture and flexible, allowing them to be integrated into a wide variety of objects and materials. In theory, the Graetzel solar cell has tremendous possibilities. Unfortunately, despite the excellence of the concept, this type of cell has two major problems that have prevented its large-scale commercialisation:

– The electrolyte is: a) extremely corrosive, resulting in a lack of durability; b) densely coloured, preventing the efficient passage of light; and c) limits the device photovoltage to 0.7 volts.

– The cathode is covered with platinum, a material that is expensive, non-transparent and rare. Despite numerous attempts, until Professor Marsan’s recent contribution, no one had been able to find a satisfactory solution to these problem

Now a description of the solutions,

– For the electrolyte, entirely new molecules have been created in the laboratory whose concentration has been increased through the contribution of Professor Livain Breau, also of the Chemistry Department. The resulting liquid or gel is transparent and non-corrosive and can increase the photovoltage, thus improving the cell’s output and stability.

– For the cathode, the platinum can be replaced by cobalt sulphide, which is far less expensive. It is also more efficient, more stable and easier to produce in the laboratory.

More details about the work and publication of the study are at Nanowerk.

Northeastern University and nano regulatory frameworks

According to a news item on Azonano, Northeastern University’s (Boston, MA) School of Law will be hosting a two-day conference on international regulatory frameworks for nanotechnology.

Leading international experts on the global regulation of nanotechnologies, including scientists, lawyers, ethicists and officials from governments, industry stakeholders, and NGOs will join in a two-day conference May 7-8, 2010 at Northeastern University’s School of Law.

The conference will identify best practices that address the needs of industries, the public and regulators. Speakers include representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Brazil Ministry of Science and Technology, the Korean government, the International Conference of Chemicals Management and National Science Foundation-funded university-industry collaborations.

I checked out the law school’s conference website and noted a pretty good range of speakers from Asia, Europe, and North and South America. It can’t have been easy pulling such a diverse group together. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize names other than two Canadian ones: Dr. Mark Saner and Pat Roy Mooney.

Saner who’s from Carleton University (Ottawa, Ontario) co-wrote a paper cited by Peter Julian (Canadian Member of Parliament) as one of the materials he used for reference when drawing up his recently tabled bill on nanotechnology regulation. (You can see Julian’s list here.) Saner, when he worked with the Council of Canadian Academies, was charged with drawing together the expert panel that wrote the council’s paper on nanotechnology. That panel put together a report (Small is Different: A Science Perspective on the Regulatory Challenges of the Nanoscale) that does a thoughtful job of discussing nanotechnology, regulations, the precautionary principle, etc. and which you can find here. (As I recall I don’t agree with everything as written in the report but it is, as I noted, thoughtful.)

As for Pat Roy Mooney, he’s the executive director for the ETC Group which is a very well-known (to many scientists and businesses in the technology sectors) civil society group. There’s an Oct. 2009 interview with Mooney here where he discusses (in English) nanotechnology during a festival in Austria.

Robert Fulford and nanotechnology

Canadian journalist and author, Robert Fulford just penned an essay/article about nanotechnology for the National Post. From the article,

Fresh bulletins regularly bring news of startling developments in this era’s most surprising and perhaps most poetic form of science, nanotechnology, the study of the unthinkably small.

It’s a pleasure to read as a literary piece. Fulford mostly concerns himself with visions of what nanotechnology could accomplish and with a book (No small matter) by Felice Frankel and George Whitesides which I first saw mentioned by Andrew Maynard on his 2020 Science blog here.