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November 2010

What to include in an NSF Broader Impacts Statement

I attended the session this evening about what can be including in an NSF Broader Impacts statement, a requirement for all NSF grants.  Sue Whitsett, a 29-year high school biology teacher currently working as a fellow within NSF to determine effective approaches to K-12 outreach, really made her points.  She emphasized that we need to grab more children and get them interested in science and make sure they are not intimidated by science. Further, she emphasized that outreach to children can really be most efficiently accomplished by outreach to their teachers.  It was suggested that in writing the broader impacts statement, to look at it through the lens of the intellectual merit requirements.  Sue intimated that her slides would be available on the MRS website, and I would suggest checking them out if they show up.


This morning, I attended a talk about polyimide for long term neural implants.  In estimations of the device lifetime under biological conditions, it was shown that we need to be very careful in using accelerated testing.  Samples soaked in saline at 85C did not behave the same way, mechanically-speaking, as samples soaked at 37C.  The testing conditions played a larger role than simply speeding up processes that would occur at 37C.  I know that this would be even more apparent in testing of my devices, which are known to be more sensitive to temperature than polyimide. 

This afternoon I spent some time in Symposium A, in a session focused on diamond for bio-surfaces and implants.  A colleague gave a nice talk, and overall I learned more about diamond properties and applications.

The poster session was crowded and busy-- if space permitted, I would definitely suggest providing more aisle space between posters.  It can be very difficult to move around and discuss the posters when there are so many people.  I did enjoy, however, getting to see what others are working on.   I had some good discussions and learned some new things.

Insights from grad student award talks

I decided to skip the Turnbull lecture and take some time to summarize information gathered from some of the Grad Student Award talks I attended. There were several presentations dealing with magnetic materials like BiFeO3 or BFO.  Although BFO has been known for a very long time there now seems to be renewed interest in it. Both fundamental studies of this material and applications like development of high density non-volatile memory and spintronics were discussed.

I particularly enjoyed T. Babinec's talk about generating single photons from diamond nanowires.  The source of these photons are point defects inside the diamond that contain a substitutional nitrogen atom located next to a neutral carbon vacancy, also called Nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers. Applications of such single photon sources include secure communication technologies like  quantum cryptography. Guess diamonds are no longer just a girl's best friend.

Other topics presented include Hall-petch Effect in nanomaterials, Plasmonic lenses and tailoring the edges of carbon nanotubes (by Joule heating). All in all, I think the session went rather well.


Copyright, 1988

I visited Symposium OO and heard a talk on "Possible Degradation Mechanism of Zirconia Ceramic under Bio-medical Conditions" by Yoshimura. He started off the talk by stating that one of his most important papers was published in 1988, the year I was born! Since then he has expanded his work, but that paper from twenty years ago, "Phase Stability of Zirconia," is the groundwork for all of his later research.The talk was interesting because it is focused on when zirconia breaks down, and it explains how degradation occurs using fundamental knowledge.

Fun fact: Zirconia is used as material for "teeth screws"

More Science and Art (now with pictures)

Since this blog is a bit text heavy, I figured that I should post some of the pictures I took of the Science as Art exhibit.  I also wanted to point out another part of the Science as Art exhibit: caricature sketches!  I guess they would be scientists as art?


I apologize for my poor photography skills...go see them for yourself!

Super Small Sensors

Inspired by the Symposium X on bio-integrated electronics, I headed on over to Symposium PP: Materials and Sensors for Biomedical Applications. I heard the talk on "Miniaturization of Biomedical Sensing Platforms" by Professor Scherer from Caltech. The main goal of his research is to develop small, portable sensor devices that will have fast results. One thing i really liked about Professor Scherer's talk was his focus on not only making everything smaller, but to have everything automated into a single, simple system. In the talk, he also mentioned going towards implantable sensors. It seems like the combination of bio-integrated electronics and these miniature sensors would be something that could change the field of medical treatments dramatically. Doctors would be able to diagnose much more easily and perhaps perform surgeries more precisely with the help of miniature electronic tools.

Science as Art

For those of you that don't know, in Exhibit Hall C there is a Science as Art exhibit.  About 50 scientific images are on display that are as beautiful as they are scientific.  You can even vote for your favorite between 11 and 5:30 today (Tuesday) and between 11 and 6 tomorrow (Wednesday).

I tried to take some pictures, but they do not do these art-science works justice.  You will just have to stop by and see them for yourselves!

Highlights include:

-Photo entitled Harry Fibers in the font from the Harry Potter books

-A few pictures of flowers that are not flowers

-Something that looks like a nano-person walking across a tight-rope

-A dragon

Pick your favorite and vote!


Bio-integrated Electronics

Growing up, I would occasionally see semiconductor chips lying around the house (my father studied applied physics and works in the semiconductor chip industry). Being curious, and probably to my dad's disapproval, I would often pick them up and play with them, tracing the lines that formed beautiful patterns across the brittle surface. Having this association with chips, the pictures of flexible, stretchable silicon integrated circuits shown at Symposium X by John Rogers blew my mind, especially the picture of the glass pipet plunging into one without it breaking.

The applications of the ability to print a thin, stretchable layer of silicon onto essentially anything are insane! His research is focused on bio-integrated electronics, where these silicon circuits are printed onto thin layers of tissue. The speaker started by showing a video of thin cardiac sensor tapes placed on top of a pig's heart to sense the heart activity with high spatial resolution. Then, he continues to blow my mind by showing how the sensor tapes can be used to sense brain activity.

Just as I was wondering if it would be possible to have these sensors implanted in our bodies for a longer period of time, the speaker brings up bioresorbable electronics--printing the circuits on silk so that it will be readsorbed into the body. This will allow the circuits to wrap around the human brain much better and sense localized activity. Incredible! This has by far been my favorite talk of the conference so far!

Day 2 of Symposium NN

I gave you fair warning in my introductory post that I would probably be mentioning the Biomineralization and Bioinspired Symposium (NN).  I went back this morning both because of my interest in the subject matter as well as to see one of my professors from my undergraduate days.  What I found to be interesting was the consequence of having people with similar research interests sitting in the same room over different days.  Even though the room was not filled with the exact same group of people, the direction of conversation seemed to flow seamlessly from yesterday into today.  Similar observations in different talks led to comments and references about past talks.  The most striking of these trends was the reintroduction of the limitations of classic nucleation and growth (I believe the speakers exact words were "Classic nucleation theory is a failure.")

Of course, this is not terribly surprising, but certainly interesting.  I will have to return tomorrow and see if it continues.