Archive for August 2010
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I just received the sad news that one of the legends of materials science and of science, in general, Rustum Roy, passed away last week. Although he was a stellar researcher, he considered himself to be a citizen-scientist and urged his colleagues to deeply consider how science, society, art and education can interact in productive and nonproductive ways.
It is difficult to summarize Roy’s influence on the world of science, let alone just the fields of ceramics and glass. He held five professorships: three at Pennsylvania State University, one at Arizona State University and one at the University of Arizona. He was a 32-year member of the National Academy of Engineering, with the rare distinction also of having been elected to the National Academies of Science/Engineering of Russia, Japan, Sweden and India.
In 2003, the Institute for Scientific Information ranked Penn State’s Materials Research Laboratory, which he founded in 1962 and directed for a quarter century, first in the world on the basis of the number of highly cited scientists in the lab.
Roy left a permanent mark on the materials field, starting with its most fundamental base: phase diagrams and crystal chemistry. His discovery and championing of a new materials processing method — the sol–gel process — has been utilized (not only cited) in over 50,000 papers. His work in hydrothermal reaction, microwave processing, nucleation in glass, radioactive wastes, nanocomposites and superconductors have also left a permanent legacy.
Roy became a Fellow of The American Ceramic Society in 1961 and elevated to Distinguished Life Member in 1993. He had also sponsored one of the most anticipated annual lectures of ACerS: The Frontiers of Science Rustum Roy Lecture series that has been a fixture of the Society’s Annual Meetings.
Roy authored or coauthored hundreds of papers, founded and edited numerous newsletters and journals in materials science and engineering education. One of his recent papers appeared in the first issue of ACerS’ new International Journal of Applied Glass Science, “Glass Science and Glassmaking: A Personal Perspective,” [ed. note - this paper is available at no cost] and represents something of a tour de force of his career:
“This paper demonstrates how glass has provided one of the earliest, and still rare, examples of controlled use of science at the nanolevel in a well-established gigatechnology. The glass community - from the Venetian glass makers (and the science of luminaries such as Michael Faraday and Isaac Newton) down through major industrial successes such as glass-ceramics - are examples of excellent nanoengineers practicing clever applications of manipulation of matter at the nano and subnano scale. This paper describes the evolution of the understanding of nanoheterogeneity of the structure (and composition of virtually all useful glasses) that has been the key evolutionary ‘invention’ in this process. It then makes the case that glass (and polymer) technology has an enormous advantage over all of the nanomaterial technologies that are confronted with the enormous barrier of assembling large numbers of very small particles into useful products on a large scale, as recognized by the recently anointed patron saint of the present nanofever, Richard Feynman, in his only paper in the field. Finally, this paper introduces glass scientists to a radically new opportunity via a totally new way to convert crystalline matter into glasses (noncrystalline solids)-for all scientists interested in the glassy state.”
Roy also chaired the Science Advisory Committee of the Friends of Health, a nonprofit group that examines a range of disruptive innovations in human healing based on materials science and physics.
In an obituary on Penn State’s website, one of Roy’s colleagues, Carlo Pantano, had this to say:
“Rustum Roy made a difference for the field of materials science and for Penn State. He had a tremendous publication record extending back 60 years that people still refer to in their research. At every step of the way he seemed to be ahead of the curve, in research as well as in the way he managed the scientific enterprise. He was well-known to be an enthusiastic and provocative lecturer by students and colleagues alike. His crystal chemistry course was on every graduate student’s course list, in addition to numerous special topics courses he created in concert with the latest and hottest research topics in materials science.”
Roy was interested in science policy as much as science, itself, and he served as a science policy fellow at the Brookings Institution from 1982 to 1983 and was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., from 1980 to 1985.
He was also a lay preacher and served on the board of the National Council of Churches and helped found the Sycamore Community church.
Finally, it is important to note Roy’s long-time marriage to fellow materials scientist Della Martin Roy, another legendary figure in the world of material science and policy.
Here is Roy’s formal obituary from the Centre Daily Times:
Rustum Roy, 86, of State College, died Thursday, August 26, 2010 at Foxdale Village.
Born on July 3, 1924, in Ranchi, India, he was the seventh child of the late Narendra Kumar and Rajkumari Roy. On June 8, 1948, he married Della Martin, who survives.
Also surviving are three children, Neill R. Roy and his wife, Evelina Francis, of State College, Jeremy R. Roy and his wife, Lydia, of Arlington, Tex., and Ronnen A. Roy and his wife, Sinaly, of Bethesda, Md.; two grandchildren, Simone and Naren; a brother, Prodipto Roy of India, and a sister Ioni Dipti Sisodia of Georgia; and by numerous nieces and nephews.
He received B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from Patna University and received his Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University.
He was associated with Penn State for sixty-five years as a graduate student and faculty member. At Penn State he held positions as Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State, as Professor of S.T.S., and as Professor of Geochemistry. He also was a Distinguished Professor of Materials at Arizona State University, and a Visiting Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona. He was appointed and served for 23 years as the first director of an independent interdisciplinary Materials Research Laboratory in the U.S. He was elected to numerous national and international scientific academies including the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. He co-founded the pioneering nterdisciplinary scientific society - the Materials Research Society- and continued to advance the boundaries of science and technology up to the present, including seminal research in the emerging field of water science, as well as resonance effects in condensed matter.
An outstanding aspect of his life was his capacity and dedication to breaking artificial boundaries in order to integrate science, religion, education, health, art and social action for human benefit. As an eight year old, in his parent’s house he met Gandhi, who discussed with his father how personal change was more effective for human advancement than technological change. Professor Roy’s solution in life was to pursue both.
He was very active in ecumenical religious life for over 60 years and co-founded the interdenominational Sycamore Community. His insight into the world’s main religions led him to work to break down the boundaries between Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions. He served on the Executive Committee of the National Council of Churches, was a leader in the Kirkridge retreat center, and was the friend and colleague of many religious leaders including Bishop John Robinson, John Shelby Spong, Prof. Harvey Cox, Sister Joan Chittister and Reverend Gordon Cosby. He was also invited by the Pope to the Vatican committee regarding the rehabilitation of Galileo.
He was a champion of interdisciplinary K-12 schooling and was the driving force behind creation of the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology and Society. He served as Science Advisor to a number of successive Pennsylvania Governors and chaired for many years the Science and Society Sector of President Mikhail Gorbachev’s State of the World forum.
Professor Roy became a champion of integrative medicine, resulting in alliances with pioneering figures including Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra, Larry Dossey, B.M. Hegde, Marc Newkirk, Patrick Flanagan, Hans Peter Duerr, Vladimir Voeikov, and Yan Xin, with the purpose of bringing advances in the art and science of whole person healing to the wider public. He was founder and sponsor of Friends of Health, served as co-chair of the Chopra Foundation, and hosted a live Internet talk radio show on VoiceAmerica.com.
He was also a long time promoter of art and the field of art and science, and was responsible for bringing the works of artists, such as Barbara Hepworth, Max Bill, and Fredrick Franck, to the University.
Researchers at Polytechnic University (Hong Kong) demonstrated that sandwiching a simple layer of silver nanoparticles can significantly improve the performance of transistors found in consumer electronics. The findings were published in Applied Physics Letters.
Paddy Chan Kwok-leung, assistant professor of the department of mechanical engineering, and his co-researchers found that the thickness of the nanoparticle layer changes the memory device performance in a more predictable way, thereby optimizing transistor performance to meet application requirements.
According to a PolyU press release, transistors made with a 1-nanometer particle layer have stable memory which lasts for three hours, making it suitable for memory buffers. Transistors with a 5-nanometer-thick layer can retain their charge for a much longer time.
With the appropriate use of nanotechnology, the performance of transistors can be improved and their size can be made thinner. The technology is compatible with the low-cost, continuous roll-to-roll fabrication techniques used to make electronics.
Because of its flexibility and low cost of manufacturing, the researchers anticipate the technology adopted for use in memory devices.
I first covered ACerS member Roger Narayan’s work in the field of two-photon polymerization a little more than a year ago in a story for ACerS’ membership magazine, the Bulletin. For several years, Narayan, a professor in the Joint Biomedical Engineering Department that is connected with NC State’s College of Engineering and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been examining the use of this rapid prototyping approach using ceramic–polymer hybrid materials to create patient-specific microscale medical prostheses, scaffolds for tissue engineering and microscale medical devices.
One of set of applications he has been working on, in particular, is using two-photon polymerization to create arrays of fine microneedles. (Conceptually, Narayan’s polymerization process is like a 3D ink jet process that builds up structures on the nanoscale.)
Recently, Narayan coauthored a paper on the novel use of microneedles to deliver quantum dots into the skin. “Our findings are significant, in part, because this technology will potentially enable researchers to deliver quantum dots, suspended in solution, to deeper layers of skin. That could be useful for the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, among other conditions,” Narayan says in a news release from NCSU.
QDs, sometimes called “artificial atoms,” are semiconductor materials that fall into the category of nanocrystals, and they contain a variable number of electrons that occupy well-defined, discrete quantum states.
This groups is attracted to the use of QDs because of their ability to serve as fluorophores and also work as drug delivery vehicles. QD-based fluorescent probes can be engineered to be superior to organic dye fluorophore by being brighter and having better photostability (can fluoresce after one hour of continuous excitation), signal-to-noise ratio, emission ranges and fluorescent lifetimes. Researchers report they can use their intense fluorescence to track individual molecules.
At this point, Narayan and the other researchers just are using the microneedles on pig skin and can capture images of the quantum dots entering the skin using multiphoton microscopy. Although this work is still preliminary, these images allow the researchers to verify the basic effectiveness of the microneedles as a delivery mechanism for quantum dots.
The hope is that multiphoton microscopy will have clinical applications using real-time imaging materials such as the quantum dots for faster diagnosis of cancers or other medical problems.
While I am on the subject about DOE’s misguided concern about decreasing the risk of fraud with its Recovery Act Funding, I see that Matthew Iglesias has also weighed-in on the same topic:
“[I]t’s worth noting that the Obama administration’s obsession with avoiding waste and fraud in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spending has arguably been counterproductive policy.
After all, what you’re ideally trying to do with stimulus funds is mobilize genuinely idle resources to go do something useful. But that can be a bit tricky. And as a second-best alternative, as long as the resources you’re mobilizing are genuinely idle then you’re helping to fight the recession even if your initiative isn’t all that useful in a conventional sense. Almost nothing is totally useless, and the mobilizing of resources will raise incomes and therefore demand for whatever it is that the market determines the income-earners want. But this can easily look like “waste.”
The other thing is that it’s obvious to everyone in a private sector context that the costs of fraud-prevention sometimes exceed the costs of fraud. At CAP, for example, there’s no system in place to prevent people from using the office printer for personal activities. Similarly, you can just walz into the copy room and poach some envelops. And, indeed, fraud and abuse of this sort do take place. But while it wouldn’t be beyond the intellectual capacity of CAP’s senior leadership to design a system to prevent this, preventing the fraud and abuse wouldn’t actually be worthwhile. If you try to do 100 projects well and quickly, you might find out that only 90 of them actually get done well. That might be ten instances of waste. But if the alternative is to avoid all the waste but only get 70 projects done at medium speed, that might be worse.
I am going to lunch with Secretary Steven Chu this coming week and I am anxious to know if he is even aware of these stats from his department, and, if so, does he plan on recalibrating his spending commitment. (And, yes, I do understand that wanting to “do things different” and actually figuring out how to do things different, especially when you are picking up the rubble from an anti-funding administration, is really really hard. But, at some point it becomes important for the DOE leaders to shift from talking about their commitment to funding science and focus, you know, on writing those checks.)
Actually, I am more interested if Chu is thinking about recalibrating his commitment to Matt Rodgers, who Chu specifically assigned to be responsible for establishing a new “process for issuing direct loans, loan guarantees and other funding to make it faster, simpler and more accountable.” Either Rodgers speaks up to reveal what the heck is going on behind the scenes and where the holdups are, or he needs to walk.
In an effort that strikes me as trying to put lipstick on a donkey, here is what Rodgers recently told Congress’s (from his July 14, 2010 testimony, emphasis added);
“The Department has outlaid more than 16 percent ($5.2 billion) of our Recovery Act funds, and our primary focus now is accelerating our outlay rates to our 5,000 recipients. . . . We will soon be operating out our target rate of $800 million a month. You might think of this process as analogous to accelerating onto the highway: go too quickly and you risk a mistake; go too slowly and you won’t get to your destination on time. At our optimal pace, we will be at able [sic] to minimize risk to taxpayers, while maximizing their return in jobs created or saved and projects accomplished. By the end of the fiscal year, we expect to have outlaid about $8 billion.“
Keep in mind that Chu promised Feb. 19, 2009, to “disperse 70 percent of the investment from the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan by the end of next year,” i.e., ~ $25 billion by Dec. 31, 2010. More importantly, everyone needs to be honest and acknowledge that there is minimal risk to taxpayers, and this one task is not equal to the other task of “maximizing the return in jobs created or saved and projects accomplished.” That confusion is part of the way double-dip recessions are ushered in. The Bush administration used “tax payer risk” as an excuse to never write checks to many in the science community. The old theme of “change” was supposed to invert a lot of this nonsense, not level the playing field of risk and return.
So here is where we are at, as of 8/27/2010:
DOE — now at 21% of the Recovery Act money actually distributed:
NSF — now also at 21% of the Recover Act money actually distributed: