A new logo for the CCI…

As most large organisation, Liverpool Centre for Cell Imaging (CCI) has hired top communication consultants and spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money on the design of a new logo…

Liverpool Centre for Cell Imaging (CCI) is asking its users to vote on three proposed new logo designs, all conceived by students/post-doctoral researchers working in the facility.

I am not too sure which one to vote for so I am asking you, my readers for advice. Vote in the poll below and feel free also to add comments and suggestions.


#Chemophobia and #Nanophobia

In an excellent post entitled “How to recognize (and talk to) a chemophobe” (that I encourage you to read in full), Ash Jogalekar writes:

Chemophobes fear a technically nebulous entity called “chemicals” that’s all too real to them. The problem is that in the jargon of chemistry, “chemicals” essentially means everything in the material world, from fuels and plastics to human bodies and baby oil.

There is a strong parallel between the fear of chemicals and the fear of nanoparticles. If anything, the “nanoparticle” entity is an even broader, and therefore more nebulous, category than “chemicals”. Nanophobia, the fear of nanoparticles is just as irrational as chemophobia, not because all nanoparticles are benign (they are not), but because they constitute a category so broad that thinking in terms of the risks of nanoparticles does not help anyone asking the right scientific and epidemiological questions.

There is however a strong difference between chemophobia and nanophobia.

In the case of chemophobia, most of the scare comes from outside the scientific community, e.g. the Food Babe, and there is a challenge mounted within the scientific community with an attempt to bridge the gap, e.g. Chemistry blog, sense about science, etc.

In the case of nanophobia, many of the scare originate within the community, often with comments about the dangers of those highly nebulous entities called “nanoparticles” from studies that consider one particular material at one particular dose in one particular biological model. Those can take the form of press release, of reports or even be included in scientific articles. They are then build up in blogs and media by various organisations.

Instead of challenging the fear of this nebulous entity, we hear again and again that “more research is needed to understand the toxicological properties of nanomaterials”. We need toxicological research on new molecules and materials which are – or will be – in mass production. The reasearch focus needs to be on a reasonable scientifically sound evaluation of risks, not led by the irrational fear of a “trigger word” [see Ash again for introduction to this term].

To conclude, here is the key message of sense about science “Making sense of chemical storiesguide, adapted (minor changes) to nanoparticles:

The reality boils down to six points:

  • You can’t lead a nanoparticle-free life.
  • Natural isn’t always good for you and man-made nanoparticles are not inherently dangerous.
  • Synthetic nanoparticles are not causing many cancers and other diseases.
  • We need man-made nanoparticles.
  • We are not just subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled environment, there are checks in place.

European School On Nanosciences & Nanotechnologies #ESONN2015

Applications are open for the European School On Nanosciences & Nanotechnologies, Grenoble, August 23rd September 12th, 2015. I will be one of the lecturers in session B.

ESONN 2015 (12th edition) is a three-week course aimed at providing training for graduate students, post-doctoral and junior scientists in the field of nanosciences and nanotechnologies. The academic and practical courses will cover aspects such as the elaboration, characterization and functionalities of nano-objects.

You can download the poster as a pdf here.


#LearnIT: Blog it! Tweet It! Film It! Wiki It!

That was the name of a staff-student exchange forum which I attended earlier this week. Georgina Turner wrote a blog post on the event at the Digi Learn Blog.

My impression is that there are plenty of exciting opportunities to use social media in teaching but that we have not yet seen the take off. The barriers seem to be more cultural, for both staff and student, than technical. While I am looking forward to the 10 days of Twitter at the University of Liverpool (particularly the last three days as I am already a regular Twitter user), setting up a Twitter account, a YouTube channel or a blog does not require any particular advanced technical skills. It requires a desire to engage and experiment with these tools. There are plenty of open resources to help.

The few things I picked up from the workshop because they resonate with my experience or things I want to do:

  • Students blog/videos etc: open platform or closed? As mentioned by Georgina, we heard from Dr Ian Walkington, and one of his students, Alistair Craig. Ian had asked students to create some videos about climate change (with an engineering angle; I don’t have the exact topic at hand – nor the videos…). They both emphasized that the exercise was an excuse to learn about an academic topic as well as learning how to use efficiently modern communication tools. Ian had made the decision to keep the videos private, i.e. hosted on our University VITAL platform, rather than say YouTube. Alistair seemed to regret that choice and I tend to agree with him that publishing those videos and sharing them more widely would be beneficial for everybody. A great example is the work of @Prof_Dave and his first year Chemistry student video channel. This experiment is further discussed in iTube, YouTube, WeTube: Social Media Videos in Chemistry Education and Outreach, J. Chem. Educ., 2014, 91 (10), pp 1594–1599. We are planning to do something similar for our Biochemistry students from next year as part of a third year module.
  • Georgina mentioned the use of Twitter walls to make lectures to large groups interactive. Sounds like a good idea which I might also experiment next year within another module (quantitative skills to first year biology students where I teach to about ~300 students). I have experimented with Polls Everywhere with some success but Twitter walls offer different possibilities. Georgina mentioned technical difficulties but it looks like our support team has this in hands.

Not discussed in the workshop, but something I have started experimenting with this year and I am very keen to push further in the years to come, is the use of open science notebooks for scientific research projects such as our Honours projects. Gemma Carolan (3rd year student), with the support of Dave Mason, image analyst in our Centre for Cell Imaging (and also new blogger) is currently live publishing her results here. Through this process, students would learn about the benefits of open science, get feedback on their work potentially from scientists around the world, disseminate their research, and also improve their digital literacy skills.

Elena to present at the MRS spring meeting in San Francisco

Just in case the last post made you think it is only the boss who travels… Elena Colangelo, who is spending two years of her PhD project in Singapore, will be giving a selected talk at the MRS Spring meeting in San Francisco, symposium GG: Foundations of Bio/Nano Interfaces─Synthesis, Modeling, Design Principles and Applications.

She will be speaking on Friday 10th of April. The title of her talk is: Characterizing the Organization and Investigating the Conformation of Peptide Self-Assembled Monolayers on Gold Nanoparticles: An Experimental and Computational Approach. The abstract can be found on the program page.

Not only, as the Rapha-z-lab rule demands will she write here about her meeting experience (she has done this beautifully before), the talks will apparently be recorded so you will be able to watch it through MRS OnDemand shortly after the conference!

250th ACS national meeting in Boston, August 16-20th

Thanks to the organizers (Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli, MIT, Clemens Burda, Case Western Reserve University, and Wolfgang Parak Univ. Marburg, Germany) of the symposium “Protein-Nanomaterial interfaces and protein coronas@ physical properties, biocompatibility and biological impact*for inviting me as one of their speakers. Abstract submission is now open. I have attended a couple of MRS national meetings, but for some reasons, I have never been to an ACS national meeting before. I am very much looking forward to this. Maybe leave a comment (or tweet or email) if you would like to meet up?

* symposium description:

The synergistic combination of nanotechnology and biology has resulted in numerous innovative approaches for therapy and biology. One of the biggest issues for effective use of nanoparticles in biology is the interface between the nanomaterial and its biological environment. When nanoparticles are introduced to biological fluids, the proteins and other species present non-specifically adsorb to their surfaces, forming a “protein corona.” The corona can block the surface of the nanoparticle, cause undesired side effects in targeting, biocompatibility, biodistribution, and other biological consequences. Probing the nanomaterial-protein interface poses unique challenges, as interactions are weak and constantly evolving. This symposium will focus on the interface of nanomaterials with biomolecules, cells, biological fluids, properties of protein coronas, protein- and DNA-nanoparticle interactions, as well as the impact of the nanomaterial-biological interface on biocompatibility, biodistribution, in vitro and in vivo toxicity.