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Summary of the Nov. 25th Meeting of the NanoScience Exchange
"Applications to Combat Biological and Chemical Weapons"
Overview by Jim Hurd of recent nanotech developments
1- Presentation by David Oppenheimer, Advanced Detection Corporation
2- Presentation by Kevin O'Brien, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory
3- Presentation by Craig Coombs, AVAcore, Inc.
Jim Hurd, founder of the NanoScience Exchange, opened the meeting by reviewing some recent nanotechnology developments.
A- Jim talked about the release that day of Michael Crichton's newest book, "Prey." The book is about a swarm of "smart dust" that escapes a Nevada corporate lab and eats animals and humans, getting exponentially smarter and larger with each day. Given that HarperCollins, the publisher, paid $30 million for the book, and that a major motion picture will be released in the summer of '03, a discussion of the downside of nanotech is sure to ensue. It could be useful for leading nanotech organizations to have well-thought out guidelines on the potential downside of nanotech, to anticipate such a discussion and shape it positively, rather than be caught off-guard by it. The Foresight Institute has had a set of guidelines for quite some time now - and it could be good for a wide range of leading nanotech organizations to also have such guidelines.
Major reviews of Crichton's book had been printed on Sunday, 11/24, in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle, among others, and Parade Magazine had run a large article the same day by Crichton on the science of nanotech, which included some background and a picture of Eric Drexler.
Links to various articles and reviews on "Prey" can be also be accessed at www.NanoScienceExchange.org/preydiscussion.html
B- Jim also gave a quick overview of a meeting he attended the previous Tuesday, 11/19/02, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, http://wwics.si.edu, a leading bi-partisan think tank located in Washington DC. The topic was "Nanotechnology and the Environment Avoiding the ‘Wow’ to ‘Yuck’ Trajectory"
The Center is planning to make a streaming video version of the meeting available by mid-December, much like the one it did on "Who Owns the Genome, which looked at genomics patents and the US PTO and can be found at www.geneticage.org. The event on manotech and the environment focused on, "A number of people and organizations have begun to raise serious questions about the potential social and environmental impacts of nanotechnology. How much do we know about the environmental impacts of nanotechnology? Who is looking at these issues and who should be? How do we separate science from pseudoscience and hype? And what can we do to ensure that the public and policy-makers do not become so fearful of nanotechnology’s risks that they reject or restrict its promise?"
Dr. Vicki Colvin of Rice University talked about the possible negative effects of nanoparticles in the environment. "Understanding how nanomaterials and the environment interact is a 'huge, complex, interdisciplinary problem', Colvin said. Little work has been done to examine nanomaterials in the environment, even as the science has propelled technologies out of labs and into factories. Nanotubes and fullerenes, for example, are entirely new types of matter that are now being produced, yet little is known about how they interact with the environment."
Deepak Srivastava of NASA Ames said at the meeting that NASA Johnson has some guidelines developed in this area.
C- During his visit to Washington, DC in mid-November, Jim met with the science and nanotech staffers to Senators George Allen (R-VA), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Conrad Burns (R-WY) and John Edwards, (D-NC). Senator Allen takes over in January as the Chairman of the Senate Science and Technology Sub-Committee from Senator Wyden. This sub-committee is where the Senate nanotech bill originates from. It is expected that Senator Allen may make some changes to the nanotech bill to reflect current Republican perspectives. Passage of the bill is expected in the first quarter of '03. A House version of the bill is expected to pass during the first quarter as well.
D- We reviewed some recent developments regarding the formation of a regional Northern California Nanotech Initiative. Bo Varga of NanoSig gave an update. The initiative plans to have about 500 people from participate eventually. There is a web site, in early stages, at www.norcalnano.org. 100,000 nanotech jobs are expected to be located in the Northern California region in next ten years. There are a number of nanotechnology initiatives around the U.S., (NY, TX, VA are just a few examples of leading initiatives) and Northern California needs to stay current. The region runs the risk of not being a major player.
E- It is interesting to watch recent developments in Albany, NY. Alot is happening there.
Governor Pataki announced on November 21st that an additional $300 million R&D facility for computer chips would be built at Albany. TEL, a Japanese company which is the second largest manufacturer of computer chip-making tools, and its partners will invest $200 million in the project. The state will contribute $100 million during the next seven years.
Gov. Pataki had been instrumental in working with Univ of Albany's nanotech program - www.albanynanotech.org - to land an earlier semiconductor initiative that was announced this past August for a new 300 mm state-of-the-art wafer fabrication plant led by IBM - with $210 million from NY State, $45 million from Sematech, the international consortium of leading semiconductor companies and $150 million from IBM.
In addition, on Nov. 21st, an international delegation toured the Albany center. Senator Hillary Clinton hosted the nanotechnology forum at the University at Albany. The delegation included representatives from Canada, France, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Albany and its regional initiative appears at this point to be further along than any other in the U.S.
Presenter 1 - David Oppenheimer of Advanced Biotection Corporation. The company provides solutions to monitor, detect, analyze and report on a range of biological (bacterial, viral and toxin) agents which are 90% faster that currently available solutions.
David took a brief look at some events in the history of bio-warfare, which goes back to when the Assyrians poisoned enemy wells by throwing ergot into the wells, killing all who drank the water.
-- In the 1300's soldiers threw bodies infected with plague over walls of their enemies as a biological weapon.
-- Then we jump to September of 1984, when a follower of Bagwan Shri Rajneesh, in Oregon, to contaminated a salad bar with salmonella (sic?) in order to disrupt an election that day - when it was desired to keep the frequenters of that salad bar from voting.
-- Then the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinri-kyo. This is probably one of the most well-thought out and dangerous executions of a bio-weapon to date. They were well funded and had availability to anthrax, ebola and botulism toxin. Only due to the surefootedness of others did those not get used.
-- Most recently we had the anthrax letters episode on the East Coast last year. This created a wide-ranging government shut-down. Washington is still strongly affected, as you can't effectively send mail through the system. It gets irradiated or sits in bins for months.
What makes a biologic agent weapons-grade? There is no clear-cut answer but these are important components:
-- it's about the purity of the substance (not occurring in that form in nature)
-- it's about the particle size of the substance (not occurring in nature)
-- a blend of materials that naturally do not occur in nature
-- it's about alteration
Then, what makes a weapons-grade biologic agent a "weapon of mass destruction" - a WMD?
-- Creating a mechanism where the live agent can be stored outside of a laboratory environment. It is not a weapon if it can't be stored outside a laboratory.
-- Creating a mechanism to deploy the live agent and ensure large-scale exposure to a large population in sufficient density to cause infection.
All of the above factors are complex problems. Each is built upon each other.
Why is this such a big problem today? Because the development time to get to a working weapon is decreasing rapidly. In 1991 it took about two years to create a weapon of mass destruction. Today it takes a little less than one year. The amount of time it takes to obtain the knowledge and to obtain the materials and the systems goes way down. This is due to the availability of knowledge on the Internet and it is due to the reduction of costs in the biotech industry.
Who can obtain a biologic weapon?
-- Domestic terror group
-- A lone wolf, a single individual
-- A bad lab employee
In order to make a biologic weapon, you need to have five things occur. Without all five, it is not a true WMD.
-- Research - what you want to do and how you want to do it
-- Procurement - obtaining the bug and the growth medium
-- Facilities to house it and the ability to test it
-- Ability to weaponize it - putting it into a device or mechanism where it doesn't die on its own
-- Deploying the weapon
It is not a simple process to execute a WMD. It takes alot of different disciplines to execute a WMD.
Now, when an event occurs, leadership doesn't know what the threat is. They don't know how severe it is. They don't know how large it is. They are simply guessing. We saw it happen at the Hart Senate Building and we've seen it in Silicon Valley when letters come to corporate leaders with tainted material on them. Even when there is nothing there, we go into a meltdown mode.
What we do at Advanced Detection Corporation is to provide you with systems that give you fast and accurate detection. That allows you to:
-- control events
-- reduce the deaths
-- diminsh economic disruption and
-- alleviate public panic and preserve faith in government which is what terrorists seek to do, to destroy the link between you and your government.
We talk about the threats today. There is a list today of approximately 30 bugs. Alot of them are toxins, instead of bacteria. When it comes down to it, only a handful can be delivered through the mail, for instance. So what do you need to be concerned about?
-- Anthrax is number one - primarily through the mail.
-- Someone who has weaponized one of the others through the mail. Hanta virus is one, bubonic plague is another.
Currently responding firefighters don't know what they are dealing with until a series of tests are done by a regional lab. It takes up to 24-48 hours to do a PCR test so they have a clear idea of what they are dealing with. A recent article in the Washington Post said that none of the tests that are used today in the field, by fire departments and the like, really work.
Lets focus on anthrax for now. Today it takes 48 hours to get to 99% answer. The catch is that after 24 hours of exposure your chance of recovering goes to near zero. So you have to go on Cipro before you have any clear information from the tests. Cipro is not a pleasant drug, at all, to take and they put you on a sixty day course.
This is where our detection system will work - it will detect in thirty minutes or under to the same level as that lab does now in 48 hours.
Now on the subject of detection, there are four techniques:
-- Chemical (good for chemical weapons, not good for biologicals)
-- Electroscatter (still early in its development)
-- DNA/PCR testing - the most standard (testing destroys the sample, making it unavailable for future tests)
-- Cellular, which is what we use.
The advantages to cellular - we can profile the nature of the bug we are after. We can tell you specifically the size of it, and whether it is live and viable, and we can preserve the sample for additional tests. The size of the equipment for cellular testing is much more manageable.
We are heading for sensor fusion - merging together a number of these technologies that together will form a better answer in dealing with these problems.
We are headed for real-time detection.
We are headed for open air detection - there is nothing that gives you open air detection today.
In summary, the good news is:
-- it takes highly educated people to make effective weapons. The anthrax letters were by someone who was highly skilled.
-- the monetary costs are high to make effective weapons - and it takes equipment that is often very traceable
-- it takes multiple disciplines - beyond what a biologist has
The bad news is:
- the cost of development is decreasing by the hour
- access to knowledge is increasing by the hour - and the internet makes this knowledge readily available
- new technologies for synthetic viruses are developing quickly. This will go high order in the next few years
We need to move quickly to develop sensors to detect these agents before a major event occurs.
ABC (Advanced Biodetection Corporation) has raised seed funding and is now raising its Series A funding to get its prototype up and running over the coming months.
Kevin O'Brien - Presenter 2
Kevin gave an overview of a number of technologies for chemical, biological and nuclear detection. Most are in process of the licenses being completed to the companies who will commercialize them There are a couple of licenses that have not been licensed, which will be noted.
We at the lab have been involved in the areas of mems, nano and bio for the past ten years. As a result, when 9/11 occurred, we were one of the places where people wanted to go to, due to our reputation.
First, as an overview of our facilities, we have 8,000 employees and a $1.3 billion budget.
The Lab has its mission work, which is work given us by Congress. Then we have the dual use concept: mission work may have applications that would be of benefit to the private sector.
We originally developed a device for counter-bio-terrorism. This has now resulted in a device licensed to Cepheid.
They have just received major grant from the Post Office. The original technology had its origins at the lab.
Another good example is where we did some early stage work for in-situ detectors for weapons aging. That has resulted in licensing the technology to Mini-med - for non-invasive glucose monitors. Some weapons research that is now being used for bio applications.
It is important to have real time data acquisition - for chem or bio situations. And it is important to have something that can be used in the field. Can you take a reading in the field and identify the presence of a substance.
One example was when we licensed a technology to Cepheid. It is a PCR based, battery powered, suitcase or briefcase sized instrument. It is called HANNA - hand-held nucleic acid analyzer. We have worked with cities and government agencies and had very positive results - so they can get this out fast to first responders
Another example is the Automated Pathogen Detection System, better known as APDS. This is being licensed out currently for sampling large-scale air from buildings and detect the presence of pathogens.
Turning to technologies we have developed for chemical detection, here is one that has been licensed out to partners. It is a TLC device (thin layer chromatography) that is a portable GC mass spec. The unit weighs 30-40 lbs. In the future this will be mems-based, looking for the presence of chemical agents and be licensed out to municipalities.
From a nuclear perspective, we have a technology which has been licensed out to the private sector which is a mechanically cooled radiation detector which is hand held and has no need for liquid nitrogen, unlike its competitors. This is very useful for counter-terrorism applications
Finally, one technology which has not been licensed yet, which is a hand-held gas chromatagraph, which was used in counter-chem warfare. It is a mems-based GC column, as well as a mems-based detector, which can be held in your hand. So this is much smaller than the standard chromatagraph. Regarding speed, the older detectors took thirty minutes to process, while the current one takes forty seconds.
One of the key questions is how are you going to power these devices. We are working on a mems-based fuel cell instead of a battery pack. With this solution you are mixing hydrogen along with methane and generate power from the fuel cell. This has been licensed to a number of commercial partners, which will be used in camcorders and laptops, just to begin with.
In addition it is good to watch the further development of the NSF centers - and the additional funding they have just received for this next year. These NSF centers seem to be the wave of the future. It brings together a number of different institutes and enables them to truly collaborate.
Presenter 3 - Craig Coombs of AVAcore Technologies
Our solution is a microtechnology, not a nanotechnology, at this point. The Rapid Thermal Exchange (RTX) device provides the way that the heat dissipation of the micro-vasculature of your body can be amplified.
Whenever commanders need to reply to a particular threat, they need to know how many soldiers to place in the field. And yet, without even firing a shot, the enemy can severely reduce the effectiveness of troops in the field by forcing them into bio-chemical warfare (e.g., MOPP) suits. It was certainly found in the Persian Gulf that soldiers' effectiveness is diminished by 50%. Their cognition was diminished by 23%. Squad leaders are even more affected.
The reason why is pretty simple - the suits compromise the soldier's ability to cope - due to the heat buildup. The suits only allow 20 watts of heat to radiate out of the suit, and soldiers (or cleanup crews) engaged in moderate amounts of activity easily generate 200, 300 or even 400 watts of heat. Instead of six hours of combat activity, soldiers maybe active for about twenty minutes because the heat stress is so debilitating inside one of these suits.
So we've got some technology that is designed and proven to work with individuals that are highly insulated in very hot environments engaged in very high levels of activity. Where do you commonly find those kind of people - on the football field. The RTX solution really helps them in a way nothing else can. This proprietary technology can cool the body core 2 - 5 times faster than traditional surface treatments.
This technology was invented by two professors at Stanford, Dr. Dennis Grahn originally and the head of the Biology Department, Dr. Craig Heller. The patents are owned by Stanford and licensed to AVAcore.
I want to talk about the physiology - this is a way of cooling the body, which is something you haven't heard about before, yet has been around for millions of years.
The professors discovered this by first looking at bears. Bears up in Alaska are highly insulated, and come out of their den in the springtime, after having survived the winter, where the temperature in the den has gone down to 30 degrees below zero. They will run across a field, and tear logs apart looking for termites. It turns out that if you do the calculations, on how much heat is generated by a one ton animal transporting itself across a meadow, it should explode into a cloud of steam halfway across. Bears can't dissipate the heat through the fur, but they can through their tongue and the pads of their feet which are in contact with the cold ground.
In these particular areas all mammals have very specialized vascular structures (AVA's), which have direct connections between the arteries and the veins. Instead of the blood moving through the capillaries, which are only eight microns in diameter, these larger vascular structures open up, and they are twenty to forty microns in diameter, and they can allow a tremendous quantity of blood to flow through and provide cooling via the footpads and the tongue.
The body is not the same temperature throughout, and does not need to be. Your bones and skin and muscles are highly insulative to the body core.
The body core is brain and the heart and the lungs. If your arms or legs are off 98.6 degrees that's OK. Get your brain or heart off the 98.6 temperature - that's not so good. It turns out that this body core is not more than about five kilograms of material. So if you can keep that five kilograms of material at the right temperature, you are going to end up with a very effective cooling methodology.
So humans, as mammals, can access our core through our hands and our feet. We at AVAcore Technologies produce the RTX device that provides cooling to the core, via the hands, in a very rapid manner. It's in use by the San Francisco 49'ers and Stanford football team on the sidelines and in training this past year.
Conventional cooling methods feel cold but are ultimately not that effective - particularly when you compare them to the RTX cooling that AVAcore provides.
If you look at the recommendations of the American Red Cross for people with heat stroke or heat exhaustion - to put them in a cold, air-conditioned room, and take their clothes off and fan them - it should cool them off pretty fast, right? What you get is a massive vasoconstrictive effect - which causes a temperature spike up in most people. You've probably seen this in your own life - if you work out, then to get ready to go to a meeting or a dinner right afterwards, you take a quick cold shower, then get dressed. All of a sudden you are sweating profusely. You turned yourself into a thermos bottle, is what you did. Your core was not cooled down, only your skin surface. When you put on your clothes your skin vasodilates and all that stored internal heat causes profuse sweating.
In the same way, if you just plunged your hands into a bucket of ice water, your AVAs would constrict and little thermal energy would be released. All conditions must be just right to create this energy exchange across the AVAs. RTX creates these conditions and causes very rapid cooling of the body core without a temperature spike.
To look down the road at where you can apply this technology - the opportunities are enormous - across military and industrial uses - in addition to sports. It can be useful to road crews and roofers. Size of our device is down to a fanny pack. The next generation will be devices that are incorporated into a flexible glove so you can enjoy the technology while you're doing the activity. Bicyclists can bike for extended periods of time without heating up, using the device while biking.
We can also put heat back in to the body in cold environments, just as well as cooling a person in a warm environment. Through this RTX technology, we are amplifying what is happening naturally in your micro-vasculature.
AVAcore has raised $2 mil to date and is looking to raise $3 mil in its next round.
With that Jim Hurd adjourned this meeting of the NanoScience Exchange. Next meeting will be in mid-January. Stay tuned.