B-MRS members are editors of a MRS journal focus issue on nanomaterials for biomedical applications.

Four young B-MRS members are part of the team of invited editors of the latest issue of the Journal of Materials Research, a journal of the Materials Research Society (MRS). They are Bruno Vinícius Manzolli Rodrigues (Brazil University), Jorge Augusto de Moura Delezuk (IFPR), Mariana Amorim Fraga (Unifesp) and Rodrigo Sávio Pessoa (ITA).

The issue, which was published online June 14, is devoted to articles on nanomaterials for medical applications. Entitled “(Nano)materials for Biomedical Applications,” the edition can be accessed at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-materials-research/latest-issue.

From the left, Bruno Vinícius Manzolli Rodrigues (Universidade Brasil), Jorge Augusto de Moura Delezuk (IFPR), Mariana Amorim Fraga (Unifesp), and Rodrigo Sávio Pessoa (ITA).
From the left, Bruno Vinícius Manzolli Rodrigues (Universidade Brasil), Jorge Augusto de Moura Delezuk (IFPR), Mariana Amorim Fraga (Unifesp), and Rodrigo Sávio Pessoa (ITA).

From idea to innovation: nanotechnology for sustainable and productive agriculture.

krilltechUsing nanotechnology to solve important human problems has for many years been a personal goal of Marcelo Oliveira Rodrigues, a professor at the University of Brasília (UnB) and a partner at Krilltech. One of these problems is undoubtedly the problem of food production. Data from the UN and FAO show that food demand will grow by more than 50% by 2050, while the expansion of areas available for agriculture will not keep pace with this growth.

Krilltech was launched on the market this year as the culmination of seven years of research, development and testing. The startup will soon be able to make its contribution, through nanotechnology, to a more productive and ecologically correct agriculture, which produces foods with better nutritional quality. “Our technology is a revolution in the modes of production and the way in which sustainable agriculture is done,” says Rodrigues.

In addition to some projects under development, the startup already has a portfolio of products, which includes a line adaptable to customer needs. The products can be applied to the soil or leaves of plants, or even in water, in the case of hydroponic crops. Krilltech products increase the photosynthesis rates of cultivated plants, make their water consumption more efficient and accelerate their metabolism (biostimulants). At the same time, they act as fertilizers to provide micro and macro nutrients that are necessary for plant growth (nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, potassium, and others). “Our nanoproducts are multifunctional,” says Rodrigues. The startup also has a product line to incorporate mineral salts such as zinc and iron into grains and vegetables. “Producing potatoes, corn, lentils and chickpeas enriched with iron and zinc will contribute to resolving public health problems associated with the deficiency of essential minerals,” exemplifies the professor – researcher – entrepreneur.

Because they are based on nanotechnology, these biostimulants–fertilizers overcome the limitations of conventional technologies and are able to deliver much more nutrients to the crops. “Stabilizing in aqueous media all macro and micronutrients in a solution requires a high surface area and extremely hydrophilic material. Without nanotechnology this is an extremely difficult task,” explains Rodrigues.

According to him, Krilltech’s products do not affect the biota of soils and bodies of water, they do not accumulate in plant tissues (they are metabolized), and are not toxic to fungi, bacteria and animals. In order to guarantee the non-toxicity of its products, Krilltech counts on results of tests carried out with larvae, worms, fungi, bacteria, fish, several lineages of healthy and tumor cells and mice.

As for Krilltech’s production processes, they are of relatively low costs, partly due to the lean system adopted by the startup, based on leveling production according to demand and focusing on increasing efficiency and avoiding waste in production processes. “We work with sophisticated products, but production processes are efficient and we do not need imported equipment for our production,” says Rodrigues. In addition, Krilltech does not use toxic reagents in its processes and does not generate waste, says Rodrigues.

With these characteristics of its technology, production processes and products, Krilltech wants to gain a place in the growing biostimulant market, currently dominated by multinational companies headquartered mainly in Europe, North America and India. According to estimates reported by Krilltech, the demand for biostimulants will increase mainly in Asia and South America. It is estimated that this market will move around US$ 3.5 billion in 2022.

Emergence of the startup: a partnership between an university and a state-owned research corporation 

Krilltech partners. Above: Ataílson Oliveira (technology director), Rogério Faria (industrial director) and Carime Vitória (R&D diretor), all doctoral students in Chemistry at UnB. Below: Marcelo Rodrigues and Marcelo Henrique (professors at UnB).
Krilltech partners. Above: Ataílson Oliveira (technology director), Rogério Faria (industrial director) and Carime Vitória (R&D diretor), all doctoral students in Chemistry at UnB. Below: Marcelo Rodrigues and Marcelo Henrique (professors at UnB).

“Transforming scientific research into technologies absorbed by the consumer market has always been a personal desire,” says Professor Rodrigues. So in 2012, shortly after joining UnB as an adjunct professor, he identified projects from his research group that had the potential to become innovations. By 2016, the group had developed a nanoformulation based on a high-cost drug, used in the Brazilian public system to treat fungal infections. “We were able to reduce the toxicity and cost of the drug by about 40 percent, but we were frustrated by the lack of resources to advance pre-clinical studies according to the Brazilian health regulatory agency standards,” says Rodrigues.

Also in 2016, the group began discussions with a unit of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, Embrapa. Initially, the goal was the development of plastics with special optical properties for use in protected cultivation (greenhouse and similar). “The conversations with Dr. Juscimar Silva (Embrapa) have evolved toward the development of our nanobiostimulants,” says Rodrigues.

The laboratory development of the technology was carried out at UnB, with the participation of undergraduate and graduate students, and with the support of the Brazilian government agencies FAP-DF, CNPq and Capes through scholarships and resources for consumables. “Public funding was essential for the early stages of development,” emphasizes Rodrigues. With support from Embrapa, the technology was tested on tomato, pepper and lettuce. “We are currently evaluating our products in the large monocultures of the country in partnership with national and multinational companies,” says the partner of Krilltech.

In 2018, the startup entered the pre-incubation program of the Technological Development Support Center (CDT) of UnB, which aims to assist in the development of the business model and the formalization of the future company.

Currently, Krilltech, together with UnB and Embrapa, is in the final stage of filing the patent application for the technology used in the products. “Krilltech has the exclusive right to exploit the technologies,” states Rodrigues.

Confident in the high performance of its products and agility in the development of innovations, Krilltech already has new partners and new projects. The startup has a partnership to enable hops culture in the center of Brasil. Also, Krilltech is testing its technology in microgravity conditions to contribute to farming projects outside the planet Earth (space farming). In addition, Rodrigues adds, a second startup will soon be created to explore nanobiopesticides of very low toxicity developed by the group.

See our brief interview with Rodrigues, PhD in Chemistry (2010) from the Brazilian Federal University of Pernambuco.

B-MRS Newsletter: What were the most important factors in enabling the creation and development of the startup?

Marcelo Oliveira Rodrigues:  Undoubtedly, the support offered by UnB, the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication and EMBRAPA in terms of technology protections, consulting and training were fundamental to the creation of Krilltech. However, I would like to emphasize that the crisis which Brazilian science has been subjected to and the difficulties of entering into cooperation agreements between the University and the private sector were two factors that contributed greatly to initiate this undertaking.

B-MRS Newsletter: What were the main difficulties the startup has faced thus far?

Marcelo Oliveira Rodrigues:  Leaving the comfort zone implies difficulties that need to be overcome. Learning to undertake this endeavor required a cultural change in the way we planned and developed our projects; I think that was the great difficulty we have overcome.

B-MRS Newsletter: What, in your opinion, is the startup’s main contribution to society?

Marcelo Oliveira Rodrigues: Our technology contributes to reduce the environmental impact caused by the application of conventional fertilizers. For example, when fertilizer phosphorus and nitrogen are improperly leached to rivers, lakes and oceans, they can induce the formation of dead-zones, as the eutrophication process can induce excessive growth of algae that depletes water oxygen.

Unlike conventional nanomaterials (metal nanoparticles and metal oxides, polymer micelles, etc.), our technology enables the use of nanotechnology in agriculture. Krilltech has contributed to reformulating the fertilizer and phytostimulant industry, since our technology represents:

-The development of sustainable agriculture based on ecological agrochemicals;

-Contribute to eliminate and reduce the use of inputs and practices of hazardous agrochemicals (less hazardous chemical inputs);

-Mitigate environmental and human health risks due to non-toxicity of our products (design of safer chemicals);

-Elimination of the adverse impact of trophic transfer of conventional nanoparticles in the food chain;

-A disruptive paradigm needed for innovation in food production based on green nanomaterials.

B-MRS Newsletter: What is your goal/dream for the startup?

Marcelo Oliveira Rodrigues:  We will have Krilltech units scattered around the world, we will see our technology contribute to sustainable development and we will contribute to reduce the impact of nutritional erosion and malnutrition.

B-MRS Newsletter: Leave a message to our newsletter readers and social network followers that assess the possibility of creating a startup.

Marcelo Oliveira Rodrigues:  You should master the technology well, know the market and do not give up in the face of difficulties. The innovation environment in Brazil is unhealthy and standing out in these conditions increases the chances of success.

Featured paper: Nanoclays to overcome toxicity.

[Paper: Reaching Biocompatibility with Nanoclays: Eliminating the Cytotoxicity of Ir(III) Complexes. Malte C. Grüner, Kassio P. S. Zanoni, Camila F. Borgognoni, Cristiane C. Melo, Valtencir Zucolotto, and Andrea S. S. de CamargoACS Applied Materials & Interfaces 2018 10 (32), 26830-26834DOI: 10.1021/acsami.8b10842.]

Nanoclays to overcome toxicity

Working in laboratories of the São Carlos Institute of Physics (IFSC – USP), a scientific team developed a strategy that eliminates the cytotoxicity (ability to destroy cells) of a group of compounds with very interesting photophysical properties for health applications . The study made viable the use of these substances, once toxic, in the study of living organisms and in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. In addition to eliminating cytotoxicity, the strategy modifies some properties of compounds by adding new functions that can be harnessed for intracellular oxygen sensing and to improve the efficiency of luminescent devices such as OLEDs.

The work was reported in an article recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces (impact factor 8,097).

It all started in an informal conversation between three postdoctoral fellows linked to IFSC-USP laboratories: Malte C. Grüner and Kassio P. S. Zanoni, both linked to the Laboratory of Functional Materials Spectroscopy (LEMAF), and Camila F. Borgognoni of the Group of Nanomedicine and Nanotoxicology (Gnano). Zanoni had worked with iridium (III) complexes during his doctorate, and wanted to take advantage of some properties of these compounds to use them as photodynamic therapy agents. Such therapy refers to a set of treatments for diseased tissues, such as those affected by cancer, in which an external radiation source is used for the activation at the appropriate time of a compound inserted into the body, which is responsible to destroy the cells that need to be eliminated.

The post-doc Zanoni’s desire, however, came up against the high cytotoxicity of iridium (III) complexes. The postdoc Grüner then had the innovative idea of trying to use laponites (materials he had studied in his doctorate) to inhibit the cytotoxicity of the compounds. From this idea, Grüner and Zanoni carried out the preparation and characterization of the materials in LEMAF, coordinated by Prof. Andrea S. S. de Camargo. At GNano, coordinated by Prof. Valtencir Zucolotto, the post-doc Borgognoni and the student Cristiane Melo were in charge to investigate the interactions of the nanoparticles with the cells.

The authors of the paper. From the left: Kassio Zanoni, Camila Borgognoni, Malte Grüner, Cristiane Melo, Valtencir Zucolotto, and Andrea de Camargo.
The authors of the paper. From the left: Kassio Zanoni, Camila Borgognoni, Malte Grüner, Cristiane Melo, Valtencir Zucolotto, and Andrea de Camargo.

Strategy and applications

Illustration of the adsorption of Ir (III) complexes (blue spheres) on the surface of laponite nanodisks (yellow disks), in solution.
Illustration of the adsorption of Ir (III) complexes (blue spheres) on the surface of laponite nanodisks (yellow disks), in solution.

One of the main properties of iridium (III) complexes is their intense luminescence (emission of light not resulting from heat) in a wide range of colors. This feature may be useful for illuminating cells within living organisms in bioimaging techniques, used for both research and for diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

In turn, laponites, which are synthetic nanoclays fully compatible with living tissues, have often been proposed in the scientific literature as nanoplataforms for transporting drugs and other compounds within living organisms. The laponites are about 25 nm in length and only 1 nm in height.

In the work of the IFSC-USP team, a new material was developed as a result of the adsorption of iridium (III) complex molecules on the surface of laponite nanodiscs.

The researchers found in the laboratory (in vitro) the ability of the new material to be absorbed by cells, its luminescence within cells and its low citotoxicity. For this, they used liver cells and observed their interaction with the new nanomaterial, comparing it with the interaction with the pure iridium (III) complex. The results were highly favorable to iridium (III) laponite nanodiscs, which proved to be harmless to the cells, besides presenting good penetration and high luminescence – characteristics that make them very suitable for application in bioimaging techniques.

Light emission in various colors of the developed nanomaterials (Ir (III) complexes adsorbed on laponite) distributed in xerogels (upper part) and in liver tissue cells (lower part).
Light emission in various colors of the developed nanomaterials (Ir (III) complexes adsorbed on laponite) distributed in xerogels (upper part) and in liver tissue cells (lower part).

“In this work, it was demonstrated for the first time that the adsorption of iridium (III) complexes (in general, highly toxic) on the surface of laponite nanodisks is capable to completely extinguish the cytotoxicity of these compounds “, summarizes the post-doc Kassio Zanoni , who in 2017 was the winner of B-MRS Young Researcher Award. “This makes it highly feasible to use previously toxic compounds in cell media without impairing the integrity of the medium and therefore has the potential to expand the research of new biocompatible materials for use in cell mapping, theranostics and photodynamic therapy”, he adds.

According to the authors, the new nanomaterial could act as a photodynamic therapy drug, since, when irradiated with certain types of radiation, it produces a molecule (the singlet oxygen) that acts in the destruction of cancer cells. In this way, the nanomaterial also becomes promising in the field of theranostics, which proposes the combination, on the same platform, of the diagnosis of diseases by bioimaging with its cure through photodynamic therapies.

In addition, the nanomaterial can be used as a sensor to accurately determine the amount of oxygen distributed inside a cell. “As demonstrated in our work, the emission intensity of this nanomaterial is a variable as a function of the concentration of oxygen”, justifies Zanoni.

Finally, the nanomaterial, in the form of a thin nanometric film, could also be applied to organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) – devices that are already used, for example, in cellular screens. “This is because the iridium (III) complex adsorbed on laponite aggregates photophysical, photochemical and electrochemical properties that are strategic for the development of more efficient devices”, explains Zanoni.

This research was carried out with funding from The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Scientific director of B-MRS is the new associate editor of ACS Applied Nano Materials.

Prof. Mônica Cotta.
Prof. Mônica Cotta.

Professor Mônica Alonso Cotta (Gleb Wataghin Institute of Physics, UNICAMP) has undertaken the position of associate editor of ACS Applied Nano Materials, a scientific journal of the American Chemical Society publishing house (ACS Publications), which was launched in early 2018. The journal is interdisciplinary and covers topics related to nanomaterial applications.

Professor Cotta, who holds her second term as scientific director of B-MRS and was chair of the XV B-MRS Meeting, joined in July of this year the team of associate editors of the journal, formed by four other scientists from the United States, South Korea, China and Singapore.

Brief interviews with scientists: Joan Ramón Morante Lleonart (Institut de Recerca en Energia de Catalunya, Spain).

Prof. Joan Ramón Morante Lleonart
Prof. Joan Ramón Morante Lleonart

Villain of global warming and ocean acidification, the excess of carbon dioxide generated by human activities can be used to produce very useful compounds.

One example is the production of fuels from carbon dioxide, water and sunlight through photosynthesis-like processes, in which catalytic materials can play a key role in significantly increasing the efficiency of reactions.

Scientists from several countries are currently addressing a number of scientific and technological challenges related to the “recycling” of carbon dioxide. Their ultimate objective is to enable the so-called circular carbon economy, a system based on the use of carbon dioxide, renewable energy and environmentally friendly materials, and on the principle of minimizing waste and maximizing reuse.

One of these scientists is Joan Ramón Morante Lleonart, director of the Institute of Energy Research of Catalonia (IREC) and Professor of the Faculty of Physics of the University of Barcelona. Morante, who holds a PhD in Physics from the University of Barcelona, is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics (IOP Publishing). According to Google Scholar, his scientific production has more than 24,000 citations and his h-index is 82.

This Spanish scientist will be in September at the XVII B-MRS Meeting, where he will offer a plenary lecture entitled “Catalyst materials for solar refineries, synthetic fuels and procedures for a circular economy of the CO2”.

See our brief interview with Professor Morante.

B-MRS Newsletter: – Which materials can play an important role in circular economy of the CO2?

The circular CO2 economy implies different materials. First, the CO2 itself that must be captured and purified. These processes are not direct and even require the improvement of these steps, especially the development of materials for membranes that help to properly separate the CO2 from other components that, although smaller, such as sulfur can degrade the catalytic materials.

This is necessary both for the capture of CO2 from the carbon consumption of fossil origin and for the CO2 contained in the processes of fermentation and putrefaction that produce biogas.

However, apart from the caking process, the most critical point that requires the contribution of a deep knowledge of the materials is the step of the catalytic transformation of CO2 to achieve its direct reduction to products such as CO, methanol, formic acid, etc. . or its transformation, using other feed-stock, to methane (synthetic methane) or other products for example by hydrogenation of CO2 (methanation according to the reaction named reaction of Paul Sabatier).

These processes require not only the development of efficient catalysts but also materials for new reactors that combine their resistance to use, being able to resist corrosive conditions together with their thermal dissipation capacity in some cases, or electrical conductivity in other cases, or the lighting conditions for those cases in which the solution passes through the direct transformation of CO2 using the photons of the sun.

The development of these materials offers a magnificent opportunity to apply nanomaterials, being necessary to have large active surfaces per gram of material and controlled characteristics at the nanometer level avoiding degradation phenomena.

All these features constitute a great opportunity for developing science and technology promoting, at the same time, the transfer of science toward larger knowledge as well as new business opportunities giving answers to a truly problem of our society as it is the consumption of fossil energy sources that generate climatic change.

B-MRS Newsletter: – We want to know your work a little more. Choose your favorite scientific contribution and describe it briefly, in addition to sharing the reference.

Some years ago I was working on the compatibility of different materials with the microelectronics processes just looking for the integration of different functionalities (sensors and actuators) together with the processing units. In a way, it is a biomimetic activity because the scientific community tries to do something similar to living beings, that is, put the senses (sensors) to have a signal as information and connect it to a brain (processors) to process it.

In these activities it was necessary to generate electrical signals and control them. From this, I moved to generate electrical signals in different environments but now considered not as a signal of information but as a source of energy.

Again, the best features are achieved by controlling these phenomena on a nanometric scale and that is why now my activities are focused on “nano energy” in order to produce GWh.

Currently, I am focused in the mechanisms of energy transfer in solid interfaces involving electrons, photons and phonons as well as chemicals.

Likewise, I am specialized in the development of renewable energy devices and systems for applications in the field of energy and environment based on nano structures and their functionalization. So I have paid my attention on advanced materials and structures for artificial photosynthesis including the production of hydrogen and fuels at solar refineries. One of my main objectives is how to storage the electrical energy beyond the hydraulic pumping or the limited capacity by using batteries. Chemical storage using hydrogen or synthetic methane or biomethane constitute my main goal although I am also working on electrochemical batteries.

So if I check my last published papers, from one hand, I could highlight “Recent developments in organic redox flow batteries: A critical review” published in J. of Power Sources which is going beyond the lithium ion approaches for batteries , but from the other hand, I would like to underline “Enhanced photoelectrochemical water splitting of hematite multilayer nanowire photoanodes by tuning the surface state via bottom-up interfacial engineering” or “A prototype reactor for highly selective solar-driven CO2 reduction to synthesis gas using nanosized earth-abundant catalysts and silicon photovoltaics” both published in Energy and Environmental Science. Especially the last one is very representative of the above discussed issues.

B-MRS Newsletter: – Choose also a technological contribution that you have participated in: a case of transfer to the industry or a patent, for example, and make a brief description.

Our institute promotes and encourages the transfer of technology and the generation of patents only linked to its industrial exploitation.

During these last years we have patented some aspects of the technology to produce industrial solar or synthetic fuels. So with one of our industrial collaborators some patents have been carried out as “filter-press photoelectrochemical water oxidation and CO2 reduction cell” or “substrate-electrode interface illuminated photoelectrodes and their photoelectrolechemical cells”.

However I would like to indicate another of the patents made in collaboration with other groups that open a new perspective to the catalytic materials for the catalytic conversion of CO2. Its title is “procedure for the reduction of carbon dioxide to methane by catalytic activated by DBD plasma” and deals with the development of new concepts of catalytic materials that are subjected to the action of a plasma which changes all the conditions of the chemical reactions that take place on the surface of the catalyst at the same time that the own plasma contributes a complementary energy to have a different catalytic behavior. This allows to develop other behaviors and concepts. Thus, it has been achieved under adiabatic conditions to have a conversion rate of CO2 at room temperature comparable to that of a standard isothermal thermochemical conversion process at 300-400 °C. This opens new routes to implement more economical and high performance reactors.


For more information on this speaker and the plenary talk he will deliver at the XVII B-MRS Meeting, click on the speaker’s photo and the title of the speech here https://www.sbpmat.org.br/17encontro/home/

Interview with Prof. Pulickel Ajayan (Rice University).

Pulickel Ajayan
Pulickel Ajayan

Despite all the knowledge on nanotechnology generated over the last few decades, applying nanomaterials to commercial products can still be a difficult task. At the XVI B-MRS Meeting, Professor Pulickel Ajayan, one of the world’s references in nanomaterials and nanostructures, will shed light on this problem. In the plenary lecture he will address in Gramado on the morning of September 14, Ajayan will discuss some challenges of the application of nanomaterials (particularly those of two dimensions) in systems and devices. He will address issues related to the synthesis, characterization and modification of these materials.

Ajayan and his collaborators have developed nanomaterials with diverse functionalities, applicable to fileds such as energy storage and conversion, catalysis, low consumption electronics, nanomedicine or environment care. Among his most famous contributions, are carbon nanotubes filled with molten material acting as nanowire moulds (1993); nanobrushes made of carbon nanotubes, highlighted by Guinness World Records as the smallest ones (2005); the paper battery, made of cellulose and nanotubes (2007); the ultra-dark nanotube carpet, which reflects only 0.045% of light (2008), and a reusable sponge of nanotubes capable of absorbing oil dispersed in water (2012).

Professor and director of the Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering at Rice University (USA), Ajayan has exceptional publication metrics: a h index of 144 and more than 95,000 citations according to Google Scholar.

Pulickel Madhavapanicker Ajayan was born in 1962 in India, in a small town in the southern state of Kerala. He attended primary school there and then went to the state capital, to a high school that aroused his enthusiasm for learning, his curiosity, and his interest in science.

In 1985, Ajayan graduated in Metallurgical Engineering at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), located in northeastern India and then went on to do a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University (USA). At that moment, he began to penetrate nanotechnology. In 1989, he defended his PhD thesis about very small gold particles that, some years later, would begin to be called “nanoparticles”.

In 1990, he moved to Japan to pursue a postdoctoral stage at the Fundamental Research Laboratory of the NEC Corporation, where he remained until 1993 in the group that was responsible for a series of seminal studies on carbon nanotubes – including the “discovery” of these nanomaterials, attributed to Sumio Iijima in 1991. During his postdoc, Ajayan obtained important results on the synthesis of nanotubes in large scale and on the filling of nanotubes with other materials.

From Japan, he went to France where he worked as a researcher at the Solid Physics Laboratory of the Université Paris-Sud for two years. Then he went to Germany, where he worked for a year and a half at the Max-Planck-Institut für Metallforschung. In 1997, he moved to the United States to become an assistant professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the nation’s oldest university of technological research, located in the state of New York. At RPI, he was the Henri Burlage chair Professor in Engineering and worked in the nanotechnology research group.

In 2007, he left RPI and joined the faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Rice University to be the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson professor of Engineering. In 2014, he also held the founding chair of the Department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering.

Currently, in addition to teaching and leading a research group of about 40 members at Rice University, Ajayan travels a lot, whether to share his knowledge on nanotechnology (he has delivered more than 350 invited lectures and has held visiting professor positions at universities around the world), or to take care of his scientific collaborations. In addition, Ajayan has acted on the boards of several journals, startups and international conferences of the materials and nanotechnology field.

The scientist has received important awards from a number of institutions including the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Germany), Materials Research Society (USA), Microscopic Society of America (USA). He also received distinctions of numerous universities around the world, including the doctorate honoris causa by the Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium). He is an elected member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Academies of Sciences of India and Mexico, among other scientific societies.

Here follows an interview with the scientist.

B-MRS newsletter: – We would like you to choose some of your contributions to nanotechnology, describe them briefly, and share the paper reference, if possible. Please choose:

– The one(s) you consider to have caused or will cause more social impact.

Pulickel Ajayan: – Several of our discoveries have commercial and social impact. In the past two decades some of the research highlights from our lab have been carbon nanotube arrays as extreme light absorbers (for thermo-photovoltaics), nanotube arrays as gecko-tapes, high conductivity carbon nanotube fibers, graphene oxide membranes for water filtration, carbon nanomaterials for energy storage, light weight polymer nanocomposites, development of two-dimensional materials for electronics and sensors, carbon based quantum dots as catalysis for example CO2 reduction etc.

– The one(s) that gave you more personal satisfaction.

Pulickel Ajayan: – One of the most exciting work was related to the conversion of carbon onions into diamond nanoparticles using electron irradiation. This work was done in collaboration with Prof. Florian Banhart when I was visiting as a post-doc at the Max Planck Institute for Metallforschung in Stuttgart in the mid-90’s. This work published in Nature magazine showed direct observation of graphite to diamond phase transition without application of any external pressure.

B-MRS newsletter: – Have any of your scientific/ technological contributions been transferred to a commercial product? If so, has this transfer occurred through patent licensing, start-up …?

Pulickel Ajayan: – Two start-up companies (Paper Battery Co. and Big Delta Systems) have come out of our work; both engage in unconventional energy storage technologies.

B-MRS newsletter – Leave an invitation to your plenary talk for our readers.

Pulickel Ajayan: – Nanotechnology is a paradigm changing approach on how we will be building materials of the future. It is at the core of bottom-up manufacturing and will impact several areas of future technologies. Our work in the past two decades have focused on creating nano-engineered materials with various types of nanoscale building blocks.

More information

On XVI B-MRS Meeting website, click on the photo of Pulickel Ajayan and see his mini CV and the abstract of his plenary lecture: http://sbpmat.org.br/16controter/home/

B-MRS at the annual meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC).

From the left, Marcos Pimenta, Glaura Goulart Silva (scientific director of SBPMat) and Aldo Zarbin in the panel on carbon nanostructures at the 60th Annual SBPC Meeting.
From the left, Marcos Pimenta, Glaura Goulart Silva (scientific director of SBPMat) and Aldo Zarbin in the panel on carbon nanostructures at the 60th Annual SBPC Meeting.

The Brazilian Materials Research Society (B-MRS) was present at the 69th Annual Meeting of the SBPC  (Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science), represented by one of its board members, Professor Glaura Goulart Silva (UFMG). A free event and open to society, the annual SBPC meeting has been held since 1948 in public universities in different Brazilian states. This year, the meeting was held at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), in Belo Horizonte (state of Minas Gerais), from July 16 to 22, with the central theme “Innovation –Diversity – Transformations.”

“The 69th Annual SBPC Meeting was an area of resistance to the dismantling of science and technology in Brazil,” declared B-MRS scientific director, Goulart Silva. “The Brazilian community actively involved in science, of all ages, origins and functions, has united in a clear message: science and education are investments, it is on this basis that we can build a future for our people,” she said.

As part of the event’s program, Professor Goulart Silva participated in the roundtable “Carbon Nanostructures: The Next Technological Revolution?” which took place on July 17 from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. The other members of the roundtable were Professor Aldo Zarbin (UFPR), President of the Brazilian Society of Chemistry (SBQ), and Professor Marcos Pimenta (UFMG), coordinator of the INCT of Carbon Nanomaterials and of the Center for Nanomaterials (CTNano), of which Professor Goulart Silva is vice-coordinator.

Carbon nanomaterials, their structure, properties and applications were presented at the roundtable, which had a large audience and many questions raised, focusing on their potential to contribute to various technological areas. “We discussed how nanotechnology can impact a new technological era that has sustainability as a fundamental requirement,” informed the scientific director of SBPMat. “The members and participants of the roundtable expounded on a joint vision that a wide range of nanomaterials will occupy relevant spaces in future technologies. Not only carbon nanomaterials, but also that carbon nanotubes and graphene are indisputably very important systems in this set,” she says.

According to Goulart Silva, all participants in the session emphasized the need for investments in science and technology in Brazil, so that the advances made in areas such as nanotechnology continue.

Special feature: Sirius, the latest generation Brazilian Synchrotron.

Before the end of this decade, the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS), located in Campinas (SP), will be receiving researchers from Brazil and from the rest of the world to use the Sirius, the fourth generation Brazilian synchrotron that will replace or supplement the UVX – the current second generation Brazilian synchrotron, which has been operating since 1997 and is the only synchrotron in Latin America.

Highly appreciated by the scientific community of Materials Science, and by many other areas, synchrotrons are the best sources of beams of X-rays and ultraviolet light, two very useful types of radiation in the study of matter. The process of producing radiation is achieved by the acceleration of electrons moving near the speed of light and subjected to deviations in its path. When diverted, the electrons lose some of their energy in the form of synchrotron light, which is filtered by monochromators that will release radiation by selectively passing the desired wavelength. Therefore, the X-ray beams or ultraviolet light are carried to the experimental stations or light lines, around the accelerator, which have various scientific instruments. The users of the synchrotron make use of the radiation to analyze its interaction with matter through the scientific instruments to obtain information about the structure and properties of the materials at micro and nanoscale.

Sirius, as its name suggests the brightest star in the night sky, will be able to generate extremely bright light beams (up to a billion times higher than the brightness of UVX) – a very important feature that will allow to perform more and better experiments.

This high-brightness radiation, together with advanced scientific instruments and powerful computers to quickly process large amounts of data, will allow performing a wide range of experiments that will generate scientific and technological results in sectors such as Agriculture, Biology, Geology, Energy and Health, and of course in the Materials Science area.

Synchrotron light sources in construction and operating around the world. Map provided by LNLS-CNPEM.

About 300 people are currently working on the project and construction of Sirius, a large-scale and complex project that involves many challenges. One is the development of the synchrotron light source. As a matter of fact, Sirius is one of the first fourth generation light sources in the world (there is only one more currently under construction in Sweden, but neither one operating). There are many challenges, such as developing a system for the monitoring, diagnosis and correction so that the sensitive electron beam trajectory remains stable. Even the construction of the building itself must meet very specific conditions, in order to ensure an almost complete absence of vibration, however small.

This large-scale Brazilian undertaking, whose value is estimated at 1.3 billion reais, is being conducted by LNLS, which developed the UVX and has taken care of its operation, maintenance and upgrades for 19 years. The general management and direction of the team is under the responsibility of the current director of LNLS, Antonio José Roque da Silva. Full Professor of the University of São Paulo (USP), Roque da Silva has an undergraduate and master’s degree in Physics from Unicamp, and a doctorate (PhD), also in Physics, from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of over 120 scientific papers published in indexed journals, many of them related to materials science studies. According to Google Scholar, his publications have over 4,400 citations.

The SBPMat Newsletter interviewed Roque da Silva on the technical characteristics of Sirius, the possibilities it offers to the materials science community, the progress of the project and the future of UVX, among other issues.

SBPMat: Newsletter – Sirius will be a high brightness synchrotron light source. What is the importance of brightness for research in Materials Science and Technology?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – For a given frequency of radiation, its brightness is directly proportional to the flux (number of photons per unit time) and inversely proportional to the product of the beam size times the beam divergence angle). The latter quantity is the beam emittance. Therefore, the lower the emittance, the higher the brightness.

The high-brightness affects the analysis of the materials in different ways:

a.  The higher the brightness of the light produced by the synchrotron, the higher the number of samples that can be analyzed within a time period; This allows performing experiments with temporal resolution, which allows to monitor the progress of reactions or processes, e.g., as a function of time.

b.  Higher brightness means a better signal-to-noise ratio of different analysis techniques.

c.  Low emittance, hence higher brightness, allows probing smaller spatial scales by analytical techniques. This opens study opportunities using nanometer-sized beams, important in areas such as nanotechnology, and other areas.

d. Higher brightness allows the emergence of new techniques or to explore them more effectively. This occurs, for example, with the Coherent Diffraction Imaging technique. Higher brightness will greatly benefit imaging techniques, tomography and microscopy.

The first 13 beamlines that will be installed in Sirius. Data provided by the LNLS-CNPEM.

SBPMat Newsletter: – What are the limitations of UVX synchrotron that will be overcome by Sirius? For example, will there be characterization techniques of materials in the experimental stations of Sirius that cannot be installed in UVX?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – The major difference between the two machines is the energy range in which they operate. The electrons in the storage ring of Sirius will be accelerated up to the energy of 3 GeV, more than double the energy of UVX. This results in producing higher energy X-rays and enables more in depth studies of materials such as steel, concrete and rock due to the penetration of X-rays up to a few centimeters, against some micrometers of the UVX.

Also because of the energy difference, the number of chemicals that may be studied by soft X-ray spectroscopic absorption is also different. In the UVX less than half of the chemicals can be studied, while almost all elements of the Periodic Table can be studied in the Sirius.

The low brightness and high emittance of UVX greatly limits the most modern synchrotron techniques available to the scientific community of the country. Nanotomography, coherent diffraction imaging, fluorescence nanomicroscopy, nanocrystals analysis, materials research under extreme conditions (high pressures and high temperatures), inelastic scattering, temporal monitoring of various processes, together with nanometer spatial resolution and chemical resolution (for example, important for catalytic processes), among many other techniques, cannot be performed in UVX or are carried out with great limitations, however they can all be carried out, with high standard, in the Sirius.

SBPMat Newsletter: – What will happen to the UVX?  Will it be dismantled?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: –  It should be emphasized that everything that the UVX does today can be done much better in Sirius. In addition to the large number of new experiments that cannot be performed in the UVX, as mentioned earlier. The LNLS has decided that during the commissioning period of the Sirius beamlines, the UVX will be kept operational to ensure that the community is not affected by any discontinuity. However, it is not known if after Sirius becomes fully operational the current machine will be preserved or disabled. We know that the scientific instrument available today in some experimental stations of UVX will be transferred to Sirius. Additionally, the cost and feasibility of maintaining the simultaneous operation of two synchrotron light sources must be assessed, as well as the staff (engineers, technicians, researchers and etc.) needed to operate both sources. It is also necessary to assess the users’ level of demand for the experimental stations of UVX once Sirius is fully operating.

SBPMat Newsletter: – Will the expertise of professionals (scientists, engineers, technicians) and Brazilian companies developed during the construction of UVX be used in Sirius? If yes, in what way?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – The Sirius project would not be possible without the expertise and skills of the professionals formed by LNLS over the years, particularly during the construction of UVX. This high-capacity and specialized professional body (scientists, engineers, technicians) formed over the past 30 years, is crucial to the success of Sirius. The amalgamation of experienced professionals that originated with the construction of UVX, including the young people, is a key strategy of the LNLS – for Sirius and for the future of the laboratory. From a technical point of view, the knowledge accumulated by our engineers and technicians during the construction and operation of UVX is what allowed to design a state of the art synchrotron such as Sirius. This experience will also be crucial to the operation of the new synchrotron. And the same goes for the scientists. The involvement with the construction and operation of the beamlines and the experimental stations of UVX is an important factor for the projects of the sophisticated beamlines of Sirius. The ongoing involvement of these researchers in training the new users, which is regularly performed by LNLS, is also fundamental, and which dates back to the beginning of the construction of UVX. We highlight that all of this knowledge acquired over the years also depends on a strong interaction with the international community of synchrotrons. The LNLS is strongly inserted in this community.

From a perspective of companies, the number of companies involved in the construction of the UVX was small. The UVX was not only designed by the LNLS but also mostly built within the LNLS. However, some companies which were important partners of UVX, as for instance Termomecânica, are also participating in the construction of Sirius. But LNLS successfully structured specific programs to involve Brazilian companies in the development and construction of various components for Sirius. These programs are in partnership with research funding agencies like FAPESP and FINEP. The development of partnerships with Brazilian companies will also be important for the future. Finally, the knowledge created by the Brazilian companies that cooperated (and that will continue to cooperate) with the project is extremely important and exceeds the limits of the project itself. This is why we consider Sirius to be a “structuring” project, whose developments will be reflected in new technologies, new products and processes that will bring benefits to the Brazilian high-technology supply chain.

SBPMat Newsletter: – Because it is a very complex, high standard and pioneer engineering project, (there is no other operating 4th generation synchrotron in the world), the construction of Sirius has unprecedented challenges, right? As project director, how do you address these challenges?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – We rely largely on the experience, knowledge and audacity of the team of scientists, engineers and technicians of the LNLS. The courage of this team to face such challenges is among the greatest legacies dating back to the construction of the UVX. The compelling story of the construction of UVX has already been addressed in other SBPMat newsletters [Newsletter Note: see here the first and second part of this story). The culture of “yes, we can do it”, which comes from the beginning of LNLS, it crucial to overcome the challenges. One strategy is to increase the professional personnel, fundamental given the size of Sirius, mixing young people with the more experienced professionals, ensuring to preserve the existing in-house culture and knowledge. In addition to this experience, competence and courage, the continuous interaction with other laboratories is a key factor. We invested heavily in this area, sending LNLS professionals abroad and bringing experts from abroad to visit the laboratory. In this respect, also important is the assessment of our solutions by leading international experts. This is done through evaluation committees that regularly come to LNLS, and through the presentation of our results in conferences and specialized workshops. Also important is the investment made in cutting-edge infrastructure in both manufacturing and metrology. Finally, an important part is in regard to management and coordination of the activities and staff, thereby ensuring the efficient implementation of the necessary processes.

SBPMat Newsletter: – Tell us about the participation of national and international external companies and institutions in CNPEM regarding the development of Sirius.

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – One of the goals of the Sirius project is to stimulate the development of the Brazilian industry, by promoting demands related to technological developments, services, raw materials, processes and equipment. The goal is to apply between 65% and 70% of the project’s funds in the country. We should bear in mind that the project is 100% Brazilian.

Among the already established partnerships, we mention as an example the partnership created with the company Termomecânica of São Paulo, which developed the process to manufacture the raw material for the vacuum chambers of the storage ring and also the hollow copper wires for the electromagnets that allow cooling the water circulating through the pipes (this development dates back to UVX). Another example is the company WEG Indústrias (SC), a traditional electric motors manufacturer, which will manufacture over 1350 electromagnets for Sirius, designed by the technical staff of LNL. This is an exceptional partnership related to the sophisticated development of production processes and which has been extremely successful.

There are also examples of partnerships with smaller companies, such as FCA Brasil (Campinas, SP), for the manufacture of booster vacuum chambers, and with the Company EXA-M Instrumentação do Nordeste (BA), for the development and manufacturing of the devices for heating the vacuum chamber of the storage ring, and with Engecer of São Carlos for the manufacture of special ceramic vacuum chambers.

To increase the participation of national companies in the Sirius project, other systematic initiatives were undertaken. In 2014, negotiations with FINEP and FAPESP culminated in the launching of the first public call to select São Paulo-based companies for the development of 20 technological demands of the Sirius project, with resources of R$ 40 million. These funds were made available under the PIPE/PAPPE grant program, so that each proposal could request up to R$ 1.5 million for its development. Eight companies were selected to develop 13 research projects to carry out the challenges proposed in the bidding process.

In 2015 a second public call for proposals was launched for the development of 13 new technological challenges, with resources amounting to R$ 20 million under the same program. February was the deadline for the submission of bids by the companies, which are currently under analysis by FAPESP. For the second half of 2016 we expect that at least thirteen other companies are approved to develop the challenges of the second FAPESP/Finep call to support the Sirius project.

From an international point of view, as already mentioned, the continuous interaction with several laboratories has been vital to the project. An interesting detail is that today, as we are at the frontier and with several innovative solutions, needless to say there are international groups interested in interacting with the LNLS. That is, Sirius is obviously an important international vector.

SBPMat Newsletter: – What are the funding sources of the project.

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – The project is mainly funded by the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, MCTI. It should also be mentioned that the Sirius project was recently included in the Growth Acceleration Program, better known as PAC, and is listed as one of the first MCTI projects to be part of the program.

Other important resources were provided by the State Government of São Paulo. For example, the land area of 150,000 square meters where Sirius will be installed was acquired by the State Government and granted to CNPEM.

Moreover, FAPESP has been an important partner in the interaction programs with companies and in supporting events and in the acquisition of scientific instruments that will be installed in the experimental stations (beamlines) of Sirius.

SBPMat Newsletter: – At what stage is the project now? What is the forecasted inauguration date of the light source and the first experimental stations?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – The construction work of the Sirius building is about 20% complete. Part of the superstructure of the main building and part of the metal structure of the cover of the main building has already been built. An important milestone is making the tunnel available to begin assembling the accelerators at the end of 2017.

Several components of the accelerator are in the production phase. All quadrupoles and correctors of the booster have already been manufactured (by WEG) and delivered. Last week the pilot-batch of sextupoles was delivered, and the manufacture of the sextupoles will begin in two weeks. The prototypes of the booster dipoles will be delivered by the end of March, and its production should begin in early May. The Linac linear accelerator is ready and undergoing tests at the Shanghai Institute of Physics. Additionally, other components have concluded the development stage and are awaiting approval to start production, such as the vacuum chambers of the booster and part of the vacuum chamber of the storage ring. The RF booster cavities have been ordered, and the RF cavities of the storage ring will be ordered. Several other subsystems are in the final prototyping or in the initial production phase.

With regard to the experimental stations (beamlines), their projects are entering the technical detailing and construction phase and/or components acquisition. The projects of the Ipê, Carnaúba, Ema and Cateretê lines are now entering a detailed components phase of the experimental stations, technical designs and construction/custom component orders, such as inverters and mirrors which have a delivery time of up to two and a half years. Basically all the important beamline prototypes will be completed by the end of 2016. Overall, the chronogram of Sirius is on schedule, and the first beam and initial commissioning phase is expected in 2018, that way in 2019 the machine can receive the first researchers.

SBPMat Newsletter: – Would you like to add any comments or information?

Antonio José Roque da Silva: – It should be highlighted that Sirius is a result of the evolution of both the internal capacity of the laboratory as well as the maturing of the scientific community in Brazil. The concept of an Open National Laboratory, which is the goal of LNLS to provide an extremely sophisticated and unique equipment to the ST&I community is at the heart of the culture in the laboratory. Its high performance operation requires constant investment to train this highly specialized human resources (scientists, engineers, technicians), for the maintenance of cutting-edge equipment and infrastructure (accelerators, beamlines, experimental stations, support groups, metrology, manufacturing techniques, etc.), for user training, for developing new technologies, excellence in communication and management. The synchrotron project in Brazil, from UVX to Sirius, is something that all Brazilians can and should be proud of, bearing in mind it began from “square one” and in thirty years has placed Brazil in the state of the art, with a significant effect on the formation of human resources, high-level science, innovation, high-technology development and internationalization.

Simulation of the Sirius building (round, on the left) at CNPEM campus. Provided by LNLS – CNPEM.

Featured paper: Gene Delivery with Functionalized Nanomaterials.

[Paper: Functionalized nanomaterials: are they effective to perform gene delivery to difficult-to-transfect cells with no cytotoxicity? Tonelli, F.M.P. ; Lacerda, S. M. S. N.; Paiva, N. C. O.; Pacheco, F. G.; Scalzo Junior, S. R. A.; de Macedo, F. H. P.; Cruz, J. S.; Pinto, M. C. X.; Correa Junior, J. D.; Ladeira, L. O.; França, L. R.; Guatimosim, S.; Resende, R. R. Nanoscale, 2015,7, 18036-18043. DOI: 10.1039/C5NR04173B]

Nanomaterials may be useful in processes in which one introduces genes (DNA segments) into particular cells in a controlled manner. These processes are called transfections and can be aimed at curing diseases caused by the lack of a certain gene (gene therapy) or obtaining transgenic organisms, to name but a few examples.

In a study conducted in Brazil by a multidisciplinary team, it was tested the efficiency of several nanomaterials in delivering genes into different types of rat and human cells, all considered difficult to be transfected (hard-to-transfect cells).

The study findings were recently published as a communication on the scientific journal Nanoscale and were the subject of patent applications to INPI (Brazilian Patent and Trademark Office).

The research, which was conducted in only six months, counting from the project design to the submission of the article, involved the work of thirteen scientists from the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), who were organized into a research network in nanobiotechnology initiated in partnership with FAPEMIG (Minas Gerais state research foundation). “The multidisciplinary approach of the group was instrumental in carrying out the work in a short period of time and in order for it to be accepted for publication in Nanoscale”, says Rodrigo Resende, a professor in the UFMG’s Department of Biochemistry and Immunology, and corresponding author of the article published on Nanoscale.

Photo panel of the authors of the article. From left to right and top to bottom: Fernanda Tonelli, Nicole Paiva, Mauro Xavier, Rodrigo Resende, Samyra Nassif, Luiz França, Sérgio Scalzo, Silvia Guatimosim, Flávia Pacheco, Luiz Ladeira, José Dias, Jader Cruz.

The idea that led to the research came from Fernanda Maria Policarpo Tonelli’s research thesis, conducted with Resende’s supervision in order to obtain her master’s degree in Biochemistry and Immunology. “The work involved spermatogonial stem cells from tilapias (primary culture), which are hard-to-transfect”, says the professor. “In trying to deliver genes of interest to these cells, we noticed that this was a difficult task”, he says. Once the student realized that the use of functionalized multi-walled carbon nanotubes made the process easier, it came up the idea of systematically checking the ability of a series of functionalized nanomaterials to deliver genes to hard-to-transfect cells.

Indeed, nanomaterials are interesting candidates to be gene delivery vehicles, not only by the variety of sizes, shapes and properties that can be obtained by the functionalization and the numerous methods of synthesis, but also because they provide high protection to the gene that they must deliver. “They prevent the deterioration of the nucleic acid during the extra and intracellular trafficking”, says Resende. “In addition, among the nanomaterials, the gold nanorods also provide a very useful feature to the gene delivery: the possibility of photothermal release; i.e., the release of genes can be induced to the nanocomplex with exposure to light at the proper wavelength”, adds the professor.

To conduct the experimental research that led to the article on Nanoscale, Resende and his colleagues manufactured some nanomaterials. Carbon nanotubes, gold nanorods, nanodiamonds and nano-graphene oxide were synthesized at the Nanomaterials Laboratory of the UFMG´s Institute of Exact Sciences and the UFMG´s Cell Signaling and Nanobiotechnology Laboratory, while phosphate nanocomposites were manufactured at the Laboratory of Chemical-Biological Interactions and Animal Reproduction of the Department of Morphology of said university.

Following the above mentioned, all nanomaterials were functionalized; i.e., groups of atoms were added to their surfaces so as to achieve specific chemical properties in the materials. This part of the research and almost all of the subsequent experiments were conducted at the Cell Signaling and Nanobiotechnology Laboratory of the Department of Biochemistry and Immunology and the Cell Biology Laboratory of the Department of Morphology, also at UFMG. The actual functionalization of the nanomaterials was confirmed by Fourier-Transform Near-Infrared (FT-NIR) spectroscopic analyzes, conducted at the Nuclear Technology Development Center, located in the UFMG’s campus. Thanks to the functionalization, the nanomaterials stuck to the DNA containing the gene of interest, forming nanocomplexes.

Then, the scientists exposed to the nanocomplexes the rat and human cells, obtained at laboratories of the UFMG’s departments of Physiology and Pharmacology and of Biochemistry and Immunology.

Finally, the researchers observed, for each material and for each type of cell studied, whether the gene of interest had entered the cell and was conducting its functions at the new address.

Scheme of the main stages of the study. The nanomaterials were functionalized to associate themselves with the plasmid DNA containing the gene of interest (in this case, the gene of the cyan fluorescent protein). The hard-to-transfect cells were then exposed to the nanocomplexes (functionalized nanomaterial – plasmid DNA), and it was observed the fluorescent protein expression.

The results published on Nanoscale show that, in general, the nanomaterials are good vehicles for delivering genes to hard-to-transfect cells, equaling or surpassing, in some cases, the capacity of commercially available reagents. Fact: the synthesis of the nanomaterials costs less than the purchase of some reagents.

In addition, the authors of the communication checked the cytotoxicity of each nanomaterial for each cell studied and were able to determine the relevant cell death rates. The scientists concluded that, in proper concentrations, the nanomaterials studied have low cytotoxicity.

These UFMG team’s findings can now be applied to researches involving gene delivery. “For example, if one wishes to study the function of a particular protein in cardiomyocytes and it is necessary to express this protein in these cells, using functionalized multi-walled carbon nanotubes is more efficient than the lipofection with the Lipofectamine 2000 commercial reagent”, illustrates the Resende.

“As for the slightly more distant applications, it is also a possibility to adapt the methodology aiming at the feasibility of gene therapy and transgenesis mediated by nanomaterials”, continues Resende, who says that his research group is already conducting further studies in vitro and in vivo to develop such applications.

According to Resende, another consequence of the article may arise given the difference in behavior observed in the different cells for different nanomaterials. “This offers the possibility of developing studies on how the delivered genes are internalized by each cell and for what reason there are differences in efficiency observed in our study”, says the professor.

The research was funded by Brazlian agenciesCNPq and APEMIG, the National Institute of Science and Technology in Carbon Nanomaterial and the Nanocell Institute, an independent organization founded by the Professor Rodrigo Resende’s research group, for the promotion of science and education.

SBPMat’ s community people: interview with Helio Chacham.

During his childhood and adolescence in Belo Horizonte, in the 1960s and 1970s, Helio Chacham had many incentives to become interested in science. After that, in higher education phase, Chacham first started Electrical Engineering but ended up choosing Physics. And that was the field he chose for his undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

Shortly after completing his doctorate program, he joined the UFMG as Associate Professor, and afterwards he left for the United States to engage in a nearly two-year postdoctoral stage at the University of California in Berkeley. Back in Minas Gerais, between 1995 and 1997, he coordinated the graduate program in Physics at UFMG. From 1999 to 2000, he returned to the United States to engage in a second postdoctoral stage at the University of Texas in Austin. In 2004, he became a Full Professor at UFMG.

Over 30 years of scientific activity, professor Chacham has studied various materials with theoretical research based on the intensive use of computations, although in many opportunities he has worked in collaboration with experimental research groups. Early in his career, Chacham made important contributions to the study of properties of materials under ultra-high pressure. Since the mid-1990s, the researcher has dedicated himself, together with his group and collaborators, to predicting, verifying and explaining phenomena occurring in nanomaterials and two-dimensional materials, also making significant contributions on the same subject.

Currently aged 55, Helio Chacham is a level 1A productivity fellow (the highest level) at the Brazilian National Research Foundation – CNPq. He is the author of around 100 papers published in international peer review journals, which have over 1,800 citations. Chacham is the sub-coordinator of the National Institute of Science and Technology (INCT) of Carbon Nanomaterials. In December 2014, he was elected member of the Brazilian Science Academy (ABC).

Below is an interview with the scientist.

SBPMat newsletter: – How did you become interested in science? What led you to become a scientist and to work in Condensed Matter Physics?

Helio Chacham – My childhood was during the 60s and 70s, a time when there was great interest in science and technology – in part due to the space race and the man going to the moon. As a child and teenager, I always had access to science books (I remember “The Universe” by Isaac Asimov) and also science fiction books (also several by Asimov). At this time I also collected science experiment kits that were sold at newsstands – they were great kits with materials and instructions for experiments, also including small texts on scientists associated with the experiments. The schools I attended as from the 5th grade (both linked to the Federal University of Minas Gerais, UFMG) had good laboratories and good science teachers, which also encouraged me in that direction.

Upon my entry at the University (UFMG), I started as an Electrical Engineering student, but after the first year, I found that my biggest interest was in the fields of Physics and Computer Science. So I switched to the Physics course and meanwhile, for some time, I performed research in Computer Science. Then I was accepted in master´s courses in both – Physics and Computer Science – and ended up choosing the former. Since then, I have devoted myself to research in Condensed Matter Physics, perhaps because it is somehow related to my previous interests (Engineering and Computer Science).

SBPMat newsletter: – In your own assessment, what are your main contributions to the field of Materials?

Helio Chacham – In the 90s I devoted myself primarily to theoretical investigation of properties of materials under ultra-high pressure. These properties are relevant, on the one hand, under the academic point of view, because they allow investigating conditions similar to those of planetary interiors. In addition, these properties determine the limits of hardness of materials, such as the diamond. My largest contributions in this field were the determination of the pressure above which hydrogen becomes a metal – which occurs within Jupiter – and the theoretical determination of one of the diamond hardness measurements, the optimum shear strength.

Since the mid-90s, I started a research line on nanomaterials. This has been one of the most active areas of research in materials since the discovery of fullerenes and carbon nanotubes. My first contributions in the area, in collaboration with students, were predicting morphologies of boron nitride fullerenes and predicting the transformation of electronic properties of carbon nanotube – from insulating into metallic – when subjected to compression. The latter phenomenon was only experimentally demonstrated several years later, in a collaborative work with experimental researchers in my own department – the UFMG Physics Department. These theoretical/experimental collaborations have had a fruitful continuing so far, which has allowed us to predict, verify and explain various new phenomena in carbon nanotubes, graphene and two-dimensional materials, phenomena such as: the negative dynamics compressibility in graphene; wrinkle crystallization in boron nitride; and talc exfoliation up to the single layer boundary, similar to that of the graphene, and determination of properties of this new two-dimensional material.

During all of these projects I was always concerned in training masters´ and doctors, whose theses dealt with electronic and structural properties of nanotubes, fullerenes, DNA, nanoparticles, nanowires, graphene and other two-dimensional materials. These former students are now professors and researchers at UFMG and other universities, and have carried out several projects, mainly in the nanomaterials field.

SBPMat newsletter: – Last year you were elected member of the Brazilian Science Academy (ABC). What that means to you? How do you see your role within the ABC?

Helio Chacham – I deeply appreciate the support of my colleagues of the Academy in the election. I will take office in May, and then, will be able to seek ways to contribute with ABC, whether by participating in committees or in specific projects of the Academy, or by collaborating with Science Academies in other countries, one of which I have already participated (Brazil/India) before joining as a member. As I have been providing service to the community, whether, for example, as a member of the advisory committee of the CNPq or by coordinating projects in nanomaterials, I believe that my election will allow me to continue to contribute with the research community in many ways.

SBPMat newsletter: – Leave a message for our readers who are starting their careers as scientists.

Helio Chacham: – Based on my professional experience so far, I may be able to give some advice – which can be useful or not depending on the personality of each person, of course:

a) Work on what you really enjoy – the researcher’s career is one of the few that allow you to do so.

b) Search research areas with many issues to be solved, or new materials being produced, and which are consistent with item (a) above. For that matter, it is important to always keep up with scientific literature.

c) Master the methods you use as deeply as possible. That will allow you to attack difficult and important issues.

d) Always be willing to study and learn new methods. That will give you the flexibility and the ability to search for new issues and research areas, as well as to collaborate with researchers using other methodologies. Science changes continuously and constantly.