Tag Archives: Université du Québec à Montréal

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest
mysteries


Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively
soon.”

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,

Tickets:

  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30

Date:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)

Schedule:

  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Program:

9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors.

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

Nanomaterials, toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health

Thanks to a reader who provided me with a link, I found a document (titled Evidence) about a ‘nanomaterials’ hearing held by Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on June 10, 2010 and chaired by Joyce Murray, Member of Parliament, Vancouver Quadra. It makes for interesting reading and you can find it here.

The official title for the hearing was Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology, which I found out after much digging around. The purpose for the *hearing*  seemed to be the education of the committee members about nanotechnology both generally (what is it? is there anything good about it?) and about its possible toxicology.

For information about the committee and the meeting, go here to find the minutes, the evidence (direct link provided in 1st para.), and your choice of webcasts (English version, French version, and floor version). One comment before you go, keep scrolling down past the sidebar and the giant white box to find the list of meetings along with appropriate links and if you choose to listen to the webcast, wait at least 1 minute for the audio to start. There’s a list of the committee members here, again scroll down past the giant white box to find the information.

I am going to make a few comments about this hearing. I will have to confine myself to a few points as the committee covered quite a bit of ground in the proceedings as they grappled with understanding something about nanotechnology, health and safety issues, benefits, and regulatory frameworks, amongst other issues.

It was unexpected to find that Mihail Roco, a well known figure in the US nanotechnology field, was speaking via videoconference (from the document),

Dr. Mihail Roco (Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology, National Nanotechnology Initiative, National Science Foundation, As an Individual) (p. 1 in print version, p. 3 in PDF)

He did have this to say,

First of all, I would like to present an overview of different themes in the United States, and thereafter make some recommendations, some ideas for the future. [emphasis mine] (p. 5 in print version, p. 7 in PDF)

I have to say my eyebrows raised at Roco’s “… make some recommendations …” comment. While appreciative of his experience and perspective, I’ve sometimes found that speakers from the US tend to give recommendations that are better geared to their own situation and less so to the Canadian one. Thankfully,  he offered unexceptional advice that I heartily agree with,

I would like to say, in conclusion, that it’s important to have an anticipatory, participatory, and adaptive governance approach to nanotechnology in order to capture the new developments and also to prepare people, tools, and organizations for the future. (p. 6 in print version, p. 8 in PDF)

The Canadian guests are not as well known to me save for Dr. Nils Petersen who heads up Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology. Here is a list of the Canadian guest speakers,

Mr. (sometimes referred to as Dr. in the document) Claude Ostiguy (Director, Research and Expertise Support Department, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail) (p. 1 in print version, p. 3 in PDF)

Dr. Nils Petersen (Director General, National Research Council Canada, National Institute for Nanotechnology) (p. 2 in print version, p. 4 in PDF)

Dr. Claude Emond (Toxicologist, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Université de Montréal) (p. 3 in print version, p. 5 in PDF)

Ms. Françoise Maniet (Lecturer and Research Agent, Centre de recherche interdisciplinaire sur la biologie, la santé, la société et l’environnement (CINBIOSE) et Groupe de recherche en droit international et comparé de la consommation (GREDICC), Université du Québec à Montréal) (p. 4 in print version, p. 6 in PDF)

Emond spoke to the need for a national nanotechnology development strategy. He also mentioned communication although I’m not sure he and would agree much beyond the point that some communication programmes are necessary,

The different meetings I attend point out the necessity to integrate the social communication transparency education aspect in nanotechnology development, so many structures already exist around the words. As I said before with OECD, NNI, we also have ISO 229. Now we have a network called NE3LS in Quebec, and we also have this international team we created a few years ago, which I spoke about earlier [he leads an international team in nano safety with members from France, Japan, US, Germany, and Canada].

A Canadian strategy initiative in nanotechnology can be inspired by a group above. In closing the discussion, I want to say there is an urgent need to coordinate the national development of nanotechnology and more particularly in parallel with the nanosafety issue, including research, characterization exposure, toxicology, and assessment. I would like to conclude by saying that Canada has to assume leadership in nanosafety and contribute to this international community rather than wait and see.

The NE3LS in Québec is new to me and I wonder if  they liaise with the team in Alberta last mentioned here in connection with Alberta’s Nanotechnology Asset Map.

In response to a question from the committee member, Mrs. Cathy McLeod, Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo,

First, because I am someone who is somewhat new to the understanding of this issue, could we take an example of either a cosmetic or a food or something that’s commonplace and follow it through from development into the product so I could understand the pathway of a nanoparticle in a cosmetic product or food? (p. 6 in print version, p. 8 in PDF)

The example Dr. Ostiguy used for his response was titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreens and his focus was occupational safety, i.e., what happens to people working to produce these sunscreens.  The surprising moment came when I saw Dr. Petersen’s response as he added,

In the case of cosmetics, they take that nanoparticle and put it into the cream formulation at a factory site. Then it normally comes out to the consumer encapsulated or protected in one way or another. [emphasis mine]

In general, in those kinds of manufacturing environments the risks are at the start of the process, when you are making the particles and incorporating them into a material, and possibly at the end of the product’s life, when you’re disposing of it. It might then be released in ways that you might not have anticipated—for example, through the wearing down or opening of the cassette of toner or whatever.

I think those are the two areas. Most consumers would see a product in which nanoparticles are encapsulated or incorporated— maybe inside a cellphone, or something like that—and often not be exposed in that way. (p. 7 in print version, p. 9 in PDF)

As I understand Petersen’s comments, he believes that the nanoparticles in sunscreens (and other cosmetics) do not make direct contact as they are somehow incorporated into a shell or capsule. He then makes a comparison to cell phones to prove his point. This is incorrect. Yes, any nanomaterials in a cell phone are bound to the product (cell phones are not rubbed onto the skin) but the nanoparticles in sunscreens make direct contact and *penetrate the skin. *ETA June 28, 2010: It has not been unequivocally proved that nanoparticles penetrate healthy adult skin. I apologize for the error. ** ETA July 19, 2010: As per the July 18, 2010 posting on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science blog, the evidence so far suggests that there is no skin penetration by nanoparticles in sunscreens.

I have posted extensively about nanoparticles and sunscreens and will try later to lay in some links either to my posts or to more informed parties as to safety issues regarding consumers.

There was an interesting development towards the end of the meeting with Carolyn Bennett, St. Paul’s,

Firstly, I wanted to apologize for being late. I think some of you know it was the tenth anniversary of CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] this morning, the breakfast, and some of us who were there at the birth were supposed to be there at the birthday party. So my apologies.

What happened on the way in to the breakfast was that I ran into Liz Dowdeswell, from the Council of Canadian Academies, and it seems that they have just done a review of nanotechnology in terms of pros and cons. [emphasis mine]So I would first ask the clerk and the analyst to circulate that report to the committee, because I think it might be very helpful to us, and then I think it would be interesting to know if the witnesses had seen it and whether they had further comments on whether you felt it was taking Canada in the right direction.

The report mentioned by Bennett was released in July 8, 2008 (news release). You can find the full report here and the abridged version here.

I wouldn’t describe this report as having just been “done” but I think that as a primer it stands up well. (You can read my 2008 comments here.)

I do find it sad that neither this committee nor Peter Julian the Member of Parliament who earlier this year tabled the first bill concerned with nanotechnology were aware of the report’s existence. It adds weight to an issue (nobody in Ottawa seems to be aware of their work) for the Council of Canadian Academies mentioned on this blog here (where you will find links to a more informed discussion by Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind and the folks at The Black Hole).

I’m glad to see there’s some interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa and I hope they continue to dig for more information.

I have sent Joyce Murray a set of questions which I hope she’ll answer about the committee’s interest in nanotechnology and about the science resources and advice available to the Members of Parliament.

ETA June 30, 2010: I received this correction from Mr. Julian’s office today:

I would like to bring to your attention incorrect information provided in the Frogheart posting on June 23, Nanomaterials, Toxicity, and Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Of particular concern are the closing comments:

“I do find it sad that neither this committee nor Peter Julian the Member of Parliament who earlier this year tabled the first bill concerned with nanotechnology were aware of the report’s existence. It adds weight to an issue (nobody in Ottawa seems to be aware of their work) for the Council of Canadian Academies mentioned on this blog here (where you will find links to a more informed discussion by Rob Annan at Don’t leave Canada behind and the folks at The Black Hole). I’m glad to see there’s some interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa and I hope they continue to dig for more information.”

Mr. Julian is indeed aware of the Council of Canadian Academies excellent report on nanotechnology in 2008. The document is one of many that formed the basis of Mr. Julian’s Bill C-494 which was tabled in Parliament on March 10. It is incorrect to assume that Mr. Julian was not aware of the report’s existence.

There is indeed interest in nanotechnology in Ottawa. Canadians should expect sustained interest when the House of Commons reconvenes in September with a focus on better ensuring that nanotechnology’s benefits are safely produced in the marketplace.

I apologize for the error and I shouldn’t have made the assumption. I am puzzled that the Council of Canadian Academies report was not mentioned in the interview Mr. Julian very kindly gave me and where I explicitly requested some recommendations for Canadians who want to read up about nanotechnology. Mr. Julian’s reply (part 2 of the interview) did not include a reference to the Council’s nanotechnology report, which I consider more readable than some of the suggestions offered.

*’haring’ changed to ‘hearing’ on July 26, 2016.

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.