Searching for Global Water and Food Solutions: MIT


1-mit-john-lienhard_0John Lienhard leads coordinated interdisciplinary research efforts to confront resource challenges at the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab.

MIT Industrial Liaison Program
November 4, 2014

 

 

 

As world population continues to grow, so does the need for water and food. It would be easy if the fix were laying down more pipes and cultivating more crops. But it’s not that simple. The global climate is becoming unevenly warmer and more people are moving into cities. Both conditions put stress onto already-limited resources. These complex issues need complex solutions, and, for that, MIT has created the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab.

Started in the fall of 2014 under the direction of Professor John Lienhard, the lab will be able to support and coordinate research all over campus, helping at once industries trying to improve their productivity and localities trying to thrive. As Lienhard says, it’s the interdisciplinary approach, coupled with MIT’s unique capabilities, that will set the lab apart and bring innovative solutions to bear.

Taking on each region

The lab was established through a gift from Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel ’78, a civil engineering graduate, with the intent of tackling world food and water issues and the interplay of factors that affect them. As an example, in the Arabian Gulf States, conditions are arid with little agricultural capacity. Most of the water comes from desalinated seawater, and much of the food is imported. It’s an area that will become warmer and drier and be subjected to extreme weather in the coming years, with a population that is rapidly growing, Lienhard says.

Along the equator, climate change will particularly affect agricultural regions. Some of these areas are going to warm faster, but Lienhard says that the bigger issue is that food productivity will shift, making some crops less viable in equatorial areas and more productive closer to the poles, changing what can be grown, and turning strong producers into weaker ones and vice versa. Since food always requires water, one question is whether changing management practices can be the answer to increased production. Fertilizer is a known commodity and would be an easy solution, but, as Lienhard says, it brings with it runoff into waterways and resulting damage to ecosystems.

These specific considerations are reflective of the inherent nature of what the lab faces. “Each of these issues is a regional problem that needs to be looked at in its own context,” says Lienhard, adding, “There is no single answer that’s going to come from a neat invention and a new technology.”

The lab will address this complexity by engaging faculty from across schools, including science, engineering, architecture and urban planning, humanities, arts and social sciences, and management, and by drawing upon work being done in various labs — for example, graphene membranes that can be used for desalination and wireless communication signals that can identify pipe leaks. “When we put people from different disciplines together, we get radically new ideas and approaches to the problems,” he says.

The entry into food

One particular opportunity the lab will provide MIT is having a clear presence in solving global food needs. The impact of population growth is a central issue. In 1960, the world had 3 billion people. Today, it’s 7 billion, and in 2050, the estimate is 9 billion. With that three-fold increase and ongoing development, 50, possibly 70, percent more food will be needed by 2050 than is produced today, Lienhard says. The challenge is that more than one-third of the world’s ice-free land is already being used for farming. Since converting more land to farms through practices such as cutting down rainforests isn’t viable, the answer may lie in more efficient production techniques or different food choices. As he says, one-third of all crops are used for livestock, and producing beef takes 15 times more water than producing an equivalent amount of grain.

Another issue is the rise in urbanization. More than 50 percent of the population already lives in cities. By 2050, it’s estimated that 86 percent of the developed world and 64 percent of the developing one will be there, Lienhard says. Most food, accordingly, is consumed in cities, and so another question is whether urban agriculture can be developed as a water and energy efficient approach to some portion of the food supply.

Many of these issues are known and studied, but a course of action hasn’t been established, let alone enacted. While the lab will be able to identify already-existing food technology on campus to address a problem, one other benefit is it can help identify work that wasn’t conceived for food-related uses but which nonetheless can be applied.

Take food spoilage: One MIT program in nanotechnology has developed sensors that can detect chemical weapons. But these sensors can also be used to detect ripening or rotting food. This could provide the chance to improve food distribution and reduce waste and spoilage along the supply chain. If that can be done, a significant obstacle can be cleared, since estimates suggest that wasted food is four times the amount needed to feed the world’s hungry people, Lienhard says.

In search of partnersChildren and globe

The next step, and the essential one, is collaboration, not only within the university but also with industry. Lienhard says that the lab is looking for partners around the world who can develop and implement new water and food technologies and approaches. But more than that, the lab will help partners address their own business challenges. Some companies want to make their environmental footprints smaller. Others face product struggles in international markets, such as beverages and water. They have to contend with a different quality while also competing for it with locals. Lienhard says the lab can help find an equitable balance between commerce and sharing resources for domestic use.

Because the lab is new, Lienhard says there’s an unknown element to what the work will look like. But for potential partners, there is also a certainty. “They get MIT,” says Lienhard. They know, in other words, that they’ll be working in a context where there are world-recognized faculty members, a large population of graduate and postdoctoral researchers, approximately 120 United States patents issued to Institute-related projects annually, and 20 spinoff companies per year, he says.

There is also the overall guiding philosophy of MIT’s approach. It’s a place that doesn’t keep its work in the lab but instead focuses on translating research to real-world use. Supplying sufficient water and food as the population grows and the climate changes is a large task, but Lienhard says that’s precisely the nature of what MIT does. “We take basic science. We apply it to human needs, and we solve problems.”

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Dutch Researchers Develop Smart Membranes


1-Porous_membrane_small-300x179Sat, Nov 1st, 2014 | Polymer chemistry | By BioNews

The pore size of the smart membranes can be adjusted from the outside: this is very attractive in applications like biosensors or chemical analysis. The ‘Swiss cheese’ structure is characteristic of many polymer membranes and is now modified by introducing iron within the polymer. Using an electric signal or a chemical reaction, the pore size can be adjusted. The key to this is controlled adding or extracting of electrons to and from iron.

Thanks to this adjustable pore size, the permeability and selectivity of the membrane can be tuned, for separation purposes or controlled release. The UT scientists see possibilities in analysis and separation of proteins, for example. An extra advantage of the new membranes is the change in colour that takes place. The process of protein detection and analysis becomes visible in an easy way, which may lead to a cheap type of biosensor.

1-Porous_membrane_small-300x179

Changing membrane pore size by oxidation and reduction (Image Credit: University of Twente

Another application of the smart membrane is in catalysis. Here, it is possible to kill two birds with one stone. Whilst the pore size and permeabiliteit can be altered using a chemical reaction with silver salt, nanosize particles of silver are deposited on the membrane at the same time. Silver is an important catalyst in many applications.

The membrane research is conducted by the Materials Science and Technology of Polymers group, led by Prof. Julius Vancso. This group is part of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology of the University of Twente.

Scientific Summary from PubMed:

Redox-responsive porous membranes can be readily formed by electrostatic complexation between redox active poly(ferrocenylsilane) PFS-based poly(ionic liquid)s and organic acids. Redox-induced changes on this membrane demonstrated reversible switching between more open and more closed porous structures. By taking advantage of the structure changes in the oxidized and reduced states, the porous membrane exhibits reversible permeability control and shows great potential in gated filtration, catalysis, and controlled release.

Reference:
Kaihuan Zhang, Xueling Feng, Dr. Xiaofeng Sui, Dr. Mark A. Hempenius and Prof. G. Julius Vancso, Breathing Pores on Command: Redox-Responsive Spongy Membranes from Poly(ferrocenylsilane)s, Angewandte Chemie International Edition, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201408010

Revolutionary system monitors water pollution


Water PollutionToxic microalgae, viruses and are floating in our waters. These pose a to the livelihood of the sea dwellers. Especially the aquaculture is affected by this rising problem.

 

According to the European Commission nowadays already 24 percent of the fishes come from the EU aquacultures, which soon will surpass wild fisheries as the main source of seafood.

Current methods of measurements need too much time, so that farmer´s cannot take action and at worst they could lose their whole stock.

Scientists of the EU-funded project Enviguard are now developing a real time monitoring system for offshore aquacultures. Applied on a moored buoy, the small device undertakes the same functions as a fully equipped laboratory. Three different sensors can allow a simultaneous monitoring of different threats. With this technology fish farmers can be warned timely, and prevent an epidemic in their aquacultures.

 

Toxic microalgae, viruses and chemical contaminants are floating in our waters. These hazardous materials pose a high risk to the livelihood of the sea dwellers. Especially the aquaculture is affected by this rising problem. According to the European Commission nowadays already 24 percent of the fishes come from the EU aquacultures, which soon will surpass wild fisheries as the main source of seafood. Credit: Ute de Groot

 

Genesis Nanotech ‘News and Updates’ – September 9, 2014


Nano Sensor for Cancer 50006

Genesis Nanotech ‘News and Updates’ – September 9, 2014

Follow This Link: https://paper.li/GenesisNanoTech/1354215819#

Or by Individual Articles:

Transfer Printing Methods for Flexible Thin Film Solar Cells: Basic Concepts and Working Principles – ACS Nano (ACS Publications)

Nanotechnology to slash NOx and “cancerous” emissions

Tumor-Homing, Size-Tunable Clustered Nanoparticles for Anticancer Therapeutics – ACS Nano (ACS Publications)

New Detector Capable of Capturing Terahertz Waves at Room Temperature

Quotable Coach: Plug In And Participate – The Multiplier Mindset: Insights & Tips for Entrepreneurs

Genesis Nanotechnology – “Great Things from Small Things!”

The World Of Tomorrow: Nanotechnology: Interview with PhD and Attorney D.M. Vernon


Bricks and Mortar chemistsdemoThe Editor interviews Deborah M. VernonPhD, Partner in McCarter & English, LLP’s Boston office.

 

 

 

Why It Matters –

” … I would say the two most interesting areas in the last year or two have been in 3-D printing and nanotechnology. 3-D printing is an additive technology in which one is able to make a three-dimensional product, such as a screw, by adding material rather than using a traditional reduction process, like a CNC (milling) process or a grinding-away process.

The other interesting area has been nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science of materials and structures that have a dimension in the nanometer range (1-1,000 nm) – that is, on the atomic or molecular scale. A fascinating aspect of nanomaterials is that they can have vastly different material properties (e.g., chemical, electrical, mechanical properties) than their larger-scale counterparts. As a result, these materials can be used in applications where their larger-scale counterparts have traditionally not been utilized.”

nanotech

Editor: Deborah, please tell us about the specific practice areas of intellectual property in which you participate.

 

 

Vernon: My practice has been directed to helping clients assess, build, maintain and enforce their intellectual property, especially in the technology areas of material science, analytical chemistry and mechanical engineering. Prior to entering the practice of law, I studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate and I obtained a PhD in material science engineering, where I focused on creating composite materials with improved mechanical properties.

Editor: Please describe some of the new areas of biological and chemical research into which your practice takes you, such as nanotechnology, three-dimensional printing technology, and other areas.

Vernon: I would say the two most interesting areas in the last year or two have been in 3-D printing and nanotechnology. 3-D printing is an additive technology in which one is able to make a three-dimensional product, such as a screw, by adding material rather than using a traditional reduction process, like a CNC (milling) process or a grinding-away process. The other interesting area has been nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the science of materials and structures that have a dimension in the nanometer range (1-1,000 nm) – that is, on the atomic or molecular scale.

A fascinating aspect of nanomaterials is that they can have vastly different material properties (e.g., chemical, electrical, mechanical properties) than their larger-scale counterparts. As a result, these materials can be used in applications where their larger-scale counterparts have traditionally not been utilized.

Organ on a chip organx250

I was fortunate to work in the nanotech field in graduate school. During this time, I investigated and developed methods for forming ceramic composites, which maintain a nanoscale grain size even after sintering. Sintering is the process used to form fully dense ceramic materials. The problem with sintering is that it adds energy to a system, resulting in grain growth of the ceramic materials. In order to maintain the advantageous properties of the nanosized grains, I worked on methods that pinned the ceramic grain boundaries to reduce growth during sintering.

The methods I developed not only involved handling of nanosized ceramic particles, but also the deposition of nanofilms into a porous ceramic material to create nanocomposites. I have been able to apply this experience in my IP practice to assist clients in obtaining and assessing IP in the areas of nanolaminates and coatings, nanosized particles and nanostructures, such as carbon nanotubes, nano fluidic devices, which are very small devices which transport fluids, and 3D structures formed from nanomaterials, such as woven nanofibers.

Editor: I understand that some of the components of the new Boeing 787 are examples of nanotechnology.

Vernon: The design objective behind the 787 is that lighter, better-performing materials will reduce the weight of the aircraft, resulting in longer possible flight times and decreased operating costs. Boeing reports that approximately 50 percent of the materials in the 787 are composite materials, and that nanotechnology will play an important role in achieving and exceeding the design objective. (See, http://www.nasc.com/nanometa/Plenary%20Talk%20Chong.pdf).

While it is believed that nanocomposite materials are used in the fuselage of the 787, Boeing is investigating applying nanotechnology to reduce costs and increase performance not only in fuselage and aircraft structures, but also within energy, sensor and system controls of the aircraft.

Editor: What products have incorporated nanotechnology? What products are anticipated to incorporate its processes in the future?

Vernon: The products that people are the most familiar with are cosmetic products, such as hair products for thinning hair that deliver nutrients deep into the scalp, and sunscreen, which includes nanosized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to eliminate the white, pasty look of sunscreens. Sports products, such as fishing rods and tennis rackets, have incorporated a composite of carbon fiber and silica nanoparticles to add strength. Nano products are used in paints and coatings to prevent algae and corrosion on the hulls of boats and to help reduce mold and kill bacteria. We’re seeing nanotechnology used in filters to separate chemicals and in water filtration.

The textile industry has also started to use nano coatings to repel water and make fabrics flame resistant. The medical imaging industry is starting to use nanoparticles to tag certain areas of the body, allowing for enhanced MRI imaging. Developing areas include drug delivery, disease detection and therapeutics for oncology. Obviously, those are definitely in the future, but it is the direction of scientific thinking.

Editor: What liabilities can product manufacturers incur who are incorporating nanotechnology into their products? What kinds of health and safety risks are incurred in their manufacture or consumption?Nano Body II 43a262816377a448922f9811e069be13

Vernon: There are three different areas that we should think about: the manufacturing process, consumer use and environmental issues. In manufacturing there are potential safety issues with respect to the incorporation or delivery of nanomaterials. For example, inhalation of nanoparticles can cause serious respiratory issues, and contact of some nanoparticles with the skin or eyes may result in irritation. In terms of consumer use, nanomaterials may have different material properties from their larger counterparts.

As a result, we are not quite sure how these materials will affect the human body insofar as they might have a higher toxicity level than in their larger counterparts. With respect to an environmental impact, waste or recycled products may lead to the release of nanoparticles into bodies of water or impact wildlife. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has established the Nanotechnology Research Center to develop a strategic direction with respect to occupational safety and nanotechnology. Guidance and publications can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/nanotech.

Editor: The European Union requires the labeling of foods containing nanomaterials. What has been the position of the Food & Drug Administration and the EPA in the United States about food labeling?

Vernon: So far the FDA has taken the position that just because nanomaterials are smaller, they are not materially different from their larger counterparts, and therefore there have been no labeling requirements on food products. The FDA believes that their current standards for safety assessment are robust and flexible enough to handle a variety of different materials. That being said, the FDA has issued some guidelines for the food and cosmetic industries, but there has not been any requirement for food labeling as of now. The EPA has a nanotechnology division, which is also studying nanomaterials and their impact, but I haven’t seen anything that specifically requires a special registration process for nanomaterials.

Editor: What new regulations regarding nanotech products are expected? Should governmental regulations be adopted to prevent nanoparticles in foods and cosmetics from causing toxicity?

Vernon: The FDA has not telegraphed that any new regulations will be put into place. The agency is currently in the data collection stage to make sure that these materials are being safely delivered to people using current FDA standards – that materials are safe for human consumption or contact with humans. We won’t really understand whether or not regulations will be coming into place until we see data coming out that indicates that there are issues that are directly associated with nanomaterials. Rather than expecting regulations, I would suggest that we examine the data regarding nano products to optimize safe handling and use procedures.

Editor: Have there ever been any cases involving toxicity resulting from nano products?

Vernon: There are current investigations about the toxicity of carbon nano tubes, but the research is in its infancy. There is no evidence to show any potential harm from this technology. Unlike asbestos or silica exposure, the science is not there yet to demonstrate any toxicity link. The general understanding is that it may take decades for any potential harm to manifest. I believe my colleague, Patrick J. Comerford, head of McCarter’s product liability team in Boston, summarizes the situation well by noting that “if any supportable science was available, plaintiff’s bar would have already made this a high-profile target.”

Editor: While some biotech cases have failed the test of patentability before the courts, such as the case of Mayo v. Prometheus, what standard has been set forth for a biotech process to pass the test for patentability?

Vernon: There is no specified bright-line test for determining if a biotech process is patentable. But what the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has done is to issue some new examination guidelines with respect to the Mayo decision that help examiners figure out whether a biotech process is patent eligible. Specifically, the guidelines look to see if the biotech process (i.e., a process incorporating a law of nature) also includes at least one additional element or step. That additional element needs to be significant and not just a mental or correlation step. If a biotech process patent claim includes this significant additional step, there still needs to be a determination if the process is novel and non-obvious over the prior art. So while this might not be a bright-line test to help us figure out whether a biotech process is patentable, it at least gives us some direction about what the examiners are looking for in the patent claims.

Editor: What effect do you think the new America Invents Act will have in encouraging biotech companies to file early in the first stages of product development? Might that not run the risk that the courts could deny patentability as in the Ariad case where functional results of a process were described rather than the specific invention?

Vernon: The AIA goes into effect next month. What companies, especially biotech companies, need to do is file early. Companies need to submit applications supported by their research to include both a written description and enablement of the invention. Companies will need to be more focused on making sure that they are not only inventing in a timely manner but are also involving their patent counsel in planned and well-thought-out experiments to make sure that the supporting information is available in a timely fashion for patenting.

Editor: Have there been any recent cases relating to biotechnology or nanotechnology that our readers should be informed about?

Vernon: The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in April in the Myriad case. This case involves the BRCA gene, the breast cancer gene – and the issue is whether isolating a portion of a gene is patentable. While I am not a biotechnologist, I think this case will also impact nanotechnology as a whole. Applying for a patent on a portion of a gene is not too far distant from applying for a patent on a nanoparticle of a material that already exists but which has different properties from the original, larger-counterpart material. Would this nanosize material be patentable? This will be an important case to see what guidance the Supreme Court delivers this coming term.

Editor: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Vernon: I think the next couple of years for nanotech will be very interesting. As I mentioned, I did my PhD thesis in the nanotechnology area a few years ago. My studies, like those of many other students, were funded in part with government grants. There is a great deal of government money being poured into nanotechnology. In the next ten years we will start seeing more and more of this research being commercialized and adopted into our lives. To keep current of developments, readers can visit www.nano.gov.

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Rainfall: Dow’s Celebration of Water


Water 2.0 open_imgPublished on Jul 28, 2014

 

 

Storm clouds gather. Skies darken. A storm is unleashed and rain falls. So goes the water cycle, condensing moisture from all forms into the pure and wonderful process called rainfall. At Dow we cherish and celebrate rainfall and all forms of water. And where others see only storm clouds, we see hope and opportunity. It’s water, and it’s an essential ingredient of our planet’s sustainability, and for human progress. Visit us at http://www.dowwaterandprocess.com

“Genesis Nanotechnology – Great Things from Small Things!”

How Graphene Desalination Could Solve Our Planet’s Water Supply Problems: Video


2-graphenePublished on Jul 2, 2014 The Zero Line with Dr. Kent Moors
How Graphene could Increase Water Supplies for The Poorest Countries

 

More than 780 million people in the world need clean water. The desalination process has been a huge roadblock to solving this global water crisis — until now. Graphene Desalination is going to change the world for good.

Given most of earth is water & just 2.5% of that is fresh, this miracle material could have just unlocked our most abundant water source. That’s right. Up to now, the earths oceans have served very little in terms of drinking water. Now, graphene could make water scarcity a thing of the past. For the poorest countries & the most well-off, graphene could completely change the way we live.

What is Graphene Desalination & How could it Increase Water Supplies?

Graphene Desalination to Increase Water Supplies

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms that are bonded in a repeating pattern of hexagons like the image above. Graphene is approximately 1,000,000 times thinner than paper; so thin that it is actually considered two dimensional.

Graphene’s flat honeycomb pattern grants it many unusual characteristics, including the status of strongest material in the world.

Graphene’s mesh is so fine, it can be used to filter out the smallest particles. In this case, graphene would be used as a desalination filter. Because it’s so strong & resiliant tearing, it would serve as the worlds strongest, finest desalination filter with the durability to withstand massive ammounts of water pressure.

See (Video) how a defense company made a major breakthrough in water filtration using the miracle material of grapheme … “Genesis Nanotechnology … Great Things from Small Things!”

Surfer at Peahi Bay on Maui, Hawaii