Tag Archives: Raincoaster

Interview with Dr. David T. Cramb; venture capital and nano and microsystems; NanoBusiness Alliance roundtable; science and artists

March 3, 2010, I posted about Dr. David Cramb, director of the Nanoscience Program and professor in the department of Chemistry at the University of Calgary, and his colleagues. They had just published a paper (Measuring properties of nanoparticles in embryonic blood vessels: Towards a physicochemical basis for nanotoxicity)  in Chemical Physics Letters about a new methodology they are developing to measure the impact of nanoparticles  on human health and the environment. Dr. Cramb very kindly answered some email questions about the study (abstract is here, article is behind a paywall).

  • Is this work on nanoparticles and blood vessels part of a larger project? i.e. Is this an OECD project; is there going to be an international report; is this part of a cross-Canada investigation into nanoparticles and their impact on health?

This is a collaborative project, but the reports that we generate will be available to Environment Canada and Health Canada. We have collaborators from both agencies.

  • In reading the abstract (for the article, which is behind a paywall and probably too technical for me), it seemed to me that this is a preliminary study which sets the stage for a nanoparticle study. In fact, you were studying quantum dots (CdSe/ZnS) and establishing that a particular kind of spectroscopy could be used to track the accumulation of nanoparticles in chicken embryos. Is this correct? And if so, why not study the nanoparticles directly?

A quantum dot is a type of nanoparticle.  So, in principle, we can apply our techniques to any other nanoparticle of interest.

  • What does CdSe/ZnS stand for?

cadmium selenide (in the centre of the nanoparticle) / zinc sulfide (coating on the outside)

  • What kind or kinds of nanoparticles are going to be used for the study moving forward from this one?

Similar but different sizes and surface chemistries. We want to understand what properties affect uptake into tissues and distribution in organs. That way we can predict risk.

  • From reading the abstract (and thanks to the person who wrote the explanation), I have a pretty good idea why chicken embryos are being used. [I’ll insert the description from the abstract here with attributions.] In another context, I have come across the notion that chickens in the US at least, I don’t know about Canada, have been so thoroughly compromised genetically that using their embryos for research is problematic. (brief note: I attended a lecture by Susan Squier, a noted academic, who had a respondent [a US scientist] claiming he moved to the UK because he didn’t feel confident experimenting with US chicken embryos.) What are your thoughts on this?

We aren’t doing genetic studies, so knowing the lineage of the embryos isn’t critical for us.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nanoparticles are being used in many areas from cosmetics to pharmaceutical to energy. As yet, there is no evidence that the nanoscale formulation adds any risk to these applications. We in nanoscience believe that we must maintain due diligence to asess future risk and to make nanotechnology as green as possible.

Thank you Dr. Cramb for taking the time to explain your work.

On a completely other front, Harris & Harris Group a venture capital group that invests in nanotechnology and microsystems is holding a fourth quarter conference call on Friday, March 12, 2010.  From the Harris & Harris Group website,

With over 30 nanotechnology companies in our portfolio, Harris & Harris Group, Inc., is one of the most active nanotechnology investors in the world. We have funded companies developing nanoscale-enabled solutions in solid state lighting, emerging memory devices, printable electronics, photovoltaics, battery technologies, thermal and power management, next-generation semiconductor devices and equipment, quantum computing, as well as in various life-science applications of nano-structured materials.

We consider a company to fit our investment thesis if the company employs, intends to employ or enables technology that we consider to be at the microscale, nanoscale or smaller and if the employment of that technology is material to its business plan. We are interested in funding entrepreneurs with energy, vision and the desire to build great companies.

From the news release on CNN announcing the conference call,

The management of Harris & Harris Group, Inc. (Nasdaq:TINY) will hold a conference call to discuss the Company’s financial results for its fiscal fourth quarter and full year 2009, to update shareholders and analysts on our business and to answer questions, on Friday, March 19, 2010, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

For details about accessing the webcast, please follow the link to the news release.

Still on business-related nanotechnology news, the NanoBusiness Alliance will be holding its annual Washington, DC roundtable, March 15-17, 2010. From the news item on Nanowerk,

The NanoBusiness Alliance, the world’s leading nanotechnology trade association, today announced that it will convene numerous nanotechnology industry executives in Washington, D.C. from March 15 – 17 for its 9th annual “Washington DC Roundtable”. As in past years, NanoBusiness Alliance members will participate in three days of high-level meetings with Members of Congress, Administration officials, and key staff.

If you are interested in the NanoBusiness Alliance, their homepage is here.

For today’s almost final entry, I’m going back to science and its relationship to art, a topic alluded to just prior to my introduction of the Cheryl Geisler (dean of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology at Simon Fraser University, Canada) interview. At the time I noted that art, science and technology are interconnected to justify my inclusion of art topics in this blog and, specifically, my inclusion of the Geisler interview. I just read an entry by David Bruggeman (Pasco Phronesis blog) which describes the impact that art can have. From the post,

… McCall’s art is certainly an influence on why I’m involved with science and technology today. You may not know it, but it’s likely you’ve seen his work in connection with reports on space, or in works of science fiction for the page or the screen …

McCall is Robert McCall, an important space artist who recently died. His website is here and Bruggeman provides other links to McCall’s works.

This bit has nothing to do with anything other than I’ve always thought thought Emma Peel was Steed’s (The Avengers) best partner and found this tribute (clips of Diana Rigg as Peel set to The Kinks) on Raincoaster here. (Scroll down the page.)

Replacing Asimov’s Laws of Responsible Robotics?; more thoughts on innovation in Canada

David Woods, professor of integrated systems engineering at Ohio State University, and Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University propose three new robot laws in the current issue of IEEE Intelligent Systems in the media release on Science Daily. According to Woods,

“When you think about it, our cultural view of robots has always been anti-people, pro-robot,” … “The philosophy has been, ‘sure, people make mistakes, but robots will be better — a perfect version of ourselves.’ We wanted to write three new laws to get people thinking about the human-robot relationship in more realistic, grounded ways.”

This view contrasts somewhat with Mary King’s work on the differences between Japanese and Western perspectives on robots. She acknowledges the fascination and anti-people perspectives in the West but notes pervasive fears while contrasting them with Japanese perspectives on robots where they are viewed in a more purely beneficial way and as being related to nature. You can read her work here or you can check out my previous posts about Mary King’s work in my series on robots and human enhancement, July 22 and 23 2009 are particularly relevant.

Before looking at the new laws, here’s a refresher of Asimov’s three:

  • A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Woods points out that Asimov was a writer and his laws were developed as a literary device. Woods’ and Murpy’s proposed laws are these,

  • A human may not deploy a robot without the human-robot work system meeting the highest legal and professional standards of safety and ethics.
  • A robot must respond to humans as appropriate for their roles.
  • A robot must be endowed with sufficient situated autonomy to protect its own existence as long as such protection provides smooth transfer of control which does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

I see Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind has written some more on innovation in Canada. He highlights a couple of articles in MacLean’s magazine, one focusing on John Manley, former Liberal deputy Prime Minister in Jean Chretien’s cabinet, and a two-part series on Canada’s big five universities. Manley who’s in the process of becoming president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives has some rather pithy (compared to the usual) things to say about innovation and Canadian business. What makes this interesting is the group he will be leading has 150 members, the chief executives of Canada’s biggest corporations, who claim $3.5 trillion in assets and $800 billion in revenues.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Canada’s big five universities point out that Canadian business does not develop and promote its own research and development labs relying instead on university research. Do read Rob’s blog for more discussion about this.

And since it’s Friday, I’m going to mention Raincoaster’s upcoming 3-day novel workshop on Bowen Island (Vancouver, Canada) which will be held on the Labour Day Weekend. I don’t have any details but will post them as soon as I get them. If you’re curious about Raincoaster, you can check out the regular blog here or the blog that has information about other courses here.