It was not long ago that we reported on IEEE Young Professionals in Iraq and their struggles. With this article we wanted to update all IEEE members on the situation there and some their activities. Despite the raging war and instability our IEEE members are still making the best of their time.
IEEE Iraq section and Young Professionals team in collaboration with American University of Iraq, Sulaimaniya (AUIS) ran a scientific workshop in late October based on the topic of “Robotics Sciences”. The purpose of the workshop was to gather all robotics experts and students to share the latest developments in the field. The workshop was conducted in coordination with IEEE Iraq Section represented by Dr. Eng. Sattar B. Sadkhan, Vice chairman of IEEE in Iraq who emphasised the importance of IEEE Robotics society, benefits of being IEEE member to motivate new students of AUIS to join IEEE family. The importance of robotics in disaster recovery was also discussed. Mr. Suhail Al-Awis, IEEE Young Professional and doctoral Candidate from University of Technology, presented the on the use of neural networks in robotics and explained the concept around the investment into neural networks in the implementation of autonomous vehicles.
The topics covered advanced concepts and applications of robotics in general and the role of IEEE in supporting local activities in this field. The interaction created stimulating discussions as well as brainstorming for possible future collaborations and activities in the field of robotics.
The event was concluded with celebrations of IEEE Day 2015. All attendees shared the special IEEE cake in spirit to encourage new volunteers in serving the society by scientific or humanitarian activities which reflect. So dear friends of IEEE, we are well and we are continuing to operate with smiles on our faces. We will continue to contribute in developing technology for the advancement of humanity.
How do we use bacteria that can eat and breathe electricity using renewable resources to produce something we can use? This could potentially be very powerful here in Australia as we have abundance of land, sun and wind but in areas that aren’t populated” says Dr Ashley Franks.
Dr. Ashley Franks is a researcher at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) use bacteria to convert organic waste material into electrical energy. This environmentally-friendly process produces electricity without the combustion of fossil fuels. MFCs have various practical applications such as in breweries, domestic wastewater treatment, desalination plants, hydrogen production, remote sensing, and pollution remediation, and they can be used as a remote power source. Widespread use of MFCs in these areas can take our waste products and transform them into energy.
Today I am going to tell you about my big fat idea and I’ll be talking to you about bacteria that can eat and breathe electricity. When we talk about electricity with bacteria what we’re actually talking about is the way they can gain energy. And while the idea might seem sort of quite interesting and unusual it all goes back to the way that all living organisms can gain energy. When we gain energy, we have a nice meat pie, have some tomato sauce, we actually eat this, it’s organic food, but what we do is we breathe oxygen so we take in our organics, it has energy, we transfer energy to oxygen and form carbon dioxide. Without the oxygen we don’t really do very well, we end up dying and we call this respiration. But there’s lots of bacteria all around our world that can actually keep on surviving and respiring without oxygen. So what these bacteria are able to do is use what we call alternate electronic acceptors. Oxygen for us accepts our electrons, these bacteria can use different things.
One of the interesting bacterias that my lab is interested in is ones … is bacteria that can actually breathe metals. So this is a lump of iron oxide, solid bit of rust. It is metal but the bacteria you see sitting on the surface in green are actually breathing the metal. So they’re eating the organics, eating their pie but they’re able to breathe the metal. The difference here is that the metal is a big lump of something outside itself. So to breathe you’d have to go up and touch it, it can’t breathe in oxygen like we do, it has to go and touch the actual lump of metal and give up electricity this way. So the reason why this is interesting to us is because you can actually gather that electricity the bacteria is breathing if you give it an electrode. If you put an electrode into this system this bacteria then will breathe the electrons onto the electrode and you can gather this as an electrical current.
Ashley Franks’ eyes light up – a current flows from pond muck
So the interesting thing here is not only meat pies but all different types of organics from around the world these bacteria can actually use. And it’s actually very beneficial because once you put it into a system like a system what we call here is a microbial fuel cell, this can actually operate like a battery. So bacteria, eating, breathing, they’re electricity, we can actually put into a system and it works together to actually form a small amount of electricity. And these bacteria you can find anywhere in the world. Usually they’re under the ground where there’s no oxygen, there’s lots of them and they use lots of different organics which they can break down and provide us with electricity. People quite often think that this is really exciting ‘cause now we can actually save our electricity problems around the world ‘cause we can just get bacteria to eat our garbage and produce it. But our problem is is that bacteria are only small and they only make a small amount of electricity. So the current and voltage output that they do is quite small but it can still have some very, very beneficial processes.
The US Navy uses these under … in the soil in the actual ocean bottom and having one that’s about 1m3 of these sort of electrodes, these have a big one, is they’re about the same as 30 diesel batteries per year. While it’s not very much electricity in power what this allows you to do is actually leave a device somewhere while the bacteria are happily eating and they keep on eating for a long, long, long time, you never have to go back and change batteries. So if you wanted to actually put sensors in a rainforest, if you wanted to put sensors in a river, if you wanted to power a small device somewhere you could put this into the actual mud and the bacteria will quite happily breathe their electricity onto your electrode and power your small device. And for us in our research lab one of our most interesting points that we like to look at is these bacteria that are breathing the electrode. So these bacteria get a wide different mix, these are just some pictures of some different types but what the bacteria do is they actually go up to this electrode, they touch the electrode and able to breathe it. So this would be like if you and me were able to hold hands across a room with no oxygen and someone can touch a wall and we all can breathe together. And the bacteria are able to do this because they produce this specialised pillon and cytochromes.
Chambered BMFC being deployed in Yaquina Bay Oregon in August 2011. The chamber is pushed into the sediment and in this semi-enclosed state, the inside volume goes anaerobic. Carbon brushes positioned inside the chamber serve as the BMFC anode. Another circular carbon brush, tied to the rope harness above the chamber, serves as the cathode. The BMFC is wired to a power management system inside the black acoustic modem that floats above the BMFC. Power from the BMFC maintains the modem and a chemical sensor (optode) interfaced with the modem. BMFCs of this design typically produce ~10 mW continuously. This can sustain longterm sensor measurements in the ocean and can power periodic data transmissions from the acoustic modem. We think this technology is ideal for extending sensor networks throughout the deep ocean becuase it eliminates the need for replacing instrument batteries. Image: Oregon State University
So these are like little appendages that come out from the bacteria. They have these proteins called cytochromes that can transfer electrons and they’re able to pass electrons from inside themselves to outside themselves. So these bacteria are now becoming like a material, a biological material that can actually transfer electrons over a long distance, a relative long distance. It’s only 60 micrometres which is very small but for bacteria that’s 60 bacteria. So if 60 of us could actually stand together and hold hands it would be actually like that, transferring the electrons all that way. And this is interesting especially when you’re moving into the field of bioelectronics ‘cause these bacteria can grow an electrical biofilm that can transfer electrons better than biopolymers that people are trying to produce artificially now.
But the other aspects where this is actually quite interesting is that the bacteria themselves can be used in areas such as oil spills where the problem is is you run out of oxygen. An example that people have quite often heard of is the Deep Well Horizon spill. It was in the ocean, it was underwater but oil is organics, bacteria can eat organics but the bacteria themselves out all the oxygen in that environment and they ran out of things to breathe. But knowing about these bacteria that can breathe an electrode, if we put an electrode into that actual environment we give them something more that they can breathe, they can keep on eating this oil and they can keep on breathing and we can get rid of this a lot faster. And these electrodes are just carbon, are just like a HB pencil, that’s all they are. So you put that in, the bacteria can breathe the electricity. You might have a red flashing light but you might not care about the electricity anymore ‘cause you can get rid of the oil spill.
Operational on the ocean floor
And another area that people are quite … don’t think about very often ‘cause when you flush your toilet you don’t want to, is wastewater treatment. So wastewater treatment when we do this now we use a lot of oxygen so this requires big tanks, you need to stir that tank, you need to pump oxygen through so the bacteria can eat all that organic waste, get rid of it so we don’t contaminate our rivers. But with these electric bacteria we don’t need that stirring, we don’t need that pumping and that’s just a huge saving in electrical power. So in some places like the US alone 7% of their electricity goes to treating wastewater so if you used electric bacteria instead you don’t really care about making energy but you’re saving a lot of energy.
But what I’d mentioned earlier on before is that we at the moment, this is bacteria eating … oh sorry, this is bacteria breathing electricity but now what I’ll mention is that bacteria can also eat electricity. Because what I was saying is that from the meat pie which is energy that went out to the electrode, this is a transfer of electricity or transfer of energy. But there are some bacteria we have found in the environment as well that can actually take that energy from the electrode in the form of electrons and what they can do is use that as their food source and their power source to do a whole bunch of processes. A lot of people think this sounds really quite strange, a bit like The Matrix but what you probably most commonly know this as is photosynthesis. So a plant gets sunlight in its chlorophyll and produces electrons that power fixing carbon dioxide and make us our organics. But we have found is that these bacteria, they don’t have photosynthesis but they can take electrons from an electrode so rather than needing sunlight now what we can do is actually feed them electricity and get them to produce some type of biological or organic material. And as I mentioned before something like petroleum is an organic material.
So these bacteria, we can feed electricity which we can produce from renewable resources and get them to produce something that we can use. And this is very important in somewhere like Australia because we have lots of places where we can have a lot of wind or we have wonderful amounts of sun but our problem is is that these areas are too far from our population, from Melbourne or Sydney or anywhere where people live to get high power electricity lines. So we can’t transfer electricity over long distances. But what we could do is we could make electricity here with solar panels, feed that to bacteria who could convert it into something like butanol and have that transferred to Melbourne where we can use it as we need. And the big advantage here as well is that we’re not taking away from somebody’s food supply so the land is not being used for food but it’s got a lot of sunlight, we can catch that and we can feed it to bacteria and have something useful. So this is a new type of biofuel and the organics in that biofuel all come from carbon dioxide, so for greenhouse gases that becomes neutral and all we need to do is feed these bacteria electricity.
But one of the things that perplexed us to begin with was that you have bacteria that can breathe electricity and bacteria that can eat electricity and if you think about in the environment there’s not many places where you’re actually having electricity being produced all the time. But the cue there that we found that was interesting is that well you’ve got one that breathes and then one that eats and if you look at these bacteria together that’s quite often you’ll find them together. So they form what we call these syntrophic relationships where they’ll work together to actually carry out some type of process and normally it is somewhere where there’s no other electronic acceptor so there’s no iron, there’s no oxygen, you’ll have two bacteria that will work together and one will breathe electricity and the other one will eat the electricity that’s coming out of it so they get this little syntrophic relationship. What the problem that is quite with this is that the by-product at the very end is methane. So this methane is a great house gas, it’s not very good for the environment but there’s a lot of bacteria in the environment which are actually able to operate together, feed each other electricity to get their food and produce methane.
So it’s interesting ‘cause our research, we’re able to show that in these environments this is actually was what happening. So this is where these bacteria that we actually found to do these amazing things have evolved over millions of years and they’ve already set up their own electrical networks, they’ve already been working together through electricity to interact. And you might be thinking well this is quite interesting but what does it mean to us in the big run? And the thing is if we understand this process then we know how to sort of try and drive these microbes to do things differently because in Victoria one of our big methane producers is dairy cattle. Everybody likes milk, everybody likes cheese but these cattle have bacteria in their stomach that produce most of the methane that they’re able to burp out and gives us a lot of methane problems. But looking at the bacterial communities in the cow what we find is that some of them are these bacteria that are feeding each other electricity. And because they’re actually feeding each other electricity they produce a lot of the methane. So if we know how to give the cow the right type of food so you select not the electric bacteria but if you give them some vitamin supplements to select other bacteria you won’t get this interaction through electricity, you won’t get your methane and we won’t get our greenhouse gases.
And further to that if you actually want more methane then what you can do is actually promote the bacteria because there’s a lot of industrial processes to get rid of waste that convert it in these big vats using bacteria to produce methane. So if you have a lot of organics, if you have some type of food processing plant, if you have something that has a lot of waste, that waste you don’t want to put into our riverstream ‘cause you’re going to harm the environment, what you can do is actually promote these bacteria, get their electrical connections better and they’ll actually improve at getting rid of your waste, giving you methane which you can use as an energy source.
So in summary what we’re able to do with our lab is … in my lab … is able to take bacteria that can breathe metals and end up with ways to stop cows from actually giving out methane.
This interview has transcribed directly from a podcast thanks to La Trobe University and the IEEE Student Branch. The article has been edited by Dr. Eddie Custovic, Editor-in-Chief.
It’s 11:56am on Saturday 25th April 2015, when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal from within and brought the landmark Dharahara Tower to rubble within seconds. So many of us, oblivious to the aftermath of such a powerful earthquake went about our daily lives, giving no thought to one of nature’s most disastrous events, killing more than 8,800 people, injuring another 23,000 and resulting in hundreds of thousands homeless. With this article, we intend to bring your attention to Nepal and the measures taken and those currently underway to comfort, relieve and reassure all those who were affected.
Nepal lies completely within the collision zone of the Himalayan arc which is formed as a result of collision between the Indian Subcontinent and Eurasia tectonic plates. This makes it an earthquake prone region and statistics have shown that on average Nepal will be subject to a major earthquake every 70 to 80 years. Experts say that the 1934 Earthquake is connected to the 2015 Earthquake following a historic earthquake pattern. In 2015 alone, 147 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 1.5 rocked Nepal of which the most disastrous was the one that took place on 25 April 2015. The Gorkha Earthquake, as it is now commonly referred to, had an intensity classified IX – Violent with the epicentre east of Lamjung and the depth of hypocentre being approximately 15km.
In a desperate attempt to help, many Chinese companies extended a helping hand. Chen Tiegang, Director of the Nepal Branch of Shanghai Construction Group lent the company’s premises to people who had lost their homes and loved ones. Three on-site engineers joined rescue efforts by using the company’s crane, forklift truck and excavator to rescue people buried in the rubble. The company became an instant de facto relief shelter providing food, tents and variety of other supplies. Within 48 hours, 650 pounds of rice and 550 pounds of flour was delivered to those affected. Where one would have thought that the usage of construction technology could be only limited to its building functions, its use in relief operations in Nepal resulted in saving thousands of lives.
ZTE Corporation, a global leader of telecommunications equipment and network solutions has operations in 160 countries around the world. The CEO and CTO of South Asia Business Development Office, Mr. Xu and Mr. Zong respectively, de-toured a business trip and assisted with the purchase and transfer of 10 tents and 50 kilograms of food to Nepal. ZTE devised an emergency logistics team which distributed supplies and assembled petrol for electrical purposes. ZTE also set up a special task force of 60 engineers to provide 24-hours on-the-ground emergency support to maintain telecommunication services throughout Nepal. Telecommunication services are of utmost importance in the event of natural disasters to enable the smooth working of relief operations.
ZTE Logistics and 24-hours On-the-site Emergency team of Engineers and ZTE Relief Supplies
The taskforce repaired and restored 400 ZTE Mobile Base Stations that were damaged in the aftermath of the Gorkha Earthquake. In order to adequately assess the magnitude of the asset damage, the team prepared a database of the base stations in the surrounding areas. Each base station was assessed and reviewed before the findings were input into the running spreadsheet. This enabled the repair works to be methodical and efficient in this time of need.
NASA’s novel technology called FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) was also used for the very first time in a real-time scenario to aid relief operations in Nepal. The FINDER, powered by a Lithium battery can detect subtle movements like the movement of skin due a heartbeat by emitting low power microwaves. The waves can penetrate up to 9m into mould rubble and 6m into concrete, thereby being extremely useful in the locating of four men trapped under 10m of rubble from two separate buildings in Nepal.
NASA’s FINDER Technology used in Nepal for Rescue Operations
Google and Facebook did not hesitate to lend a helping hand with their online web based tools, ‘Person Finder’ and ‘Safety Check’. Person Finder is Google’s missing person’s tracker which activated when Gorkha hit Nepal. Information can be submitted about people in the earthquake zone indicating their safety status. This creates the database from which people all around the world can then look for missing persons or find out the safety of a friend or family member.
Google’s Person Finder feature activated to aid in finding missing persons following the Gorkha Earthquake
Facebook’s Safety Check feature asks its users to let their network know if they are safe. When Facebook turned on this feature, it determined the users who were in the disaster area from inputted profile and personal information. People outside the disaster area could check whether their friends and family members were safe depending on their safety status.
Facebook’s Safety Check Feature activated during Gorkha Earthquake to aid Rescue Operations
IEEE’s Kerala Section in India assisted with the earthquake recovery efforts by sending 100 solar lanterns to provide immediate support. Mr Jayakrishnan MC and Mr Amarnath Raja visited Nepal immediately after the earthquake to assist the IEEE Nepal subsection with the rehabilitation efforts. Volunteers in IEEE Nepal Sub Section partnered with Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Ltd, Global Himalayan Expedition and IEEE Smart Village. IEEE Smart Village worked with local IEEE volunteers and documented the necessities needed to re-build Nepal towards prosperity.
100 Solar Lanterns donated by IEEE Kerala Section for immediate relief in Nepal
It is the human tendency or being human as we call it, that when we are threatened as a species, we fight back and we fight to win. That is why we have influentially shaped this planet for over 200,000 years and it is this that unites us in times of distress. Gorkha in Nepal was no different and we were attacked and we mourned the losses of loved ones. However, we got back up and united we stood strong to build our lives yet again.
May all the good forces be with you Nepal!
The IEEE Young Professionals team would like to thank Bimlesh Ranjitkar and Abhimanyu Pandey for their contributions to this article.
The article has been edited by Michael Gough and Sneha Kangralkar, Assistant Editors
How would you like to pick the brains of thirteen Nobel Laureates, three Fields Medalists, winners of the Millennium Technology Prize, and recipients of IEEE’s own Medal of Honor? In Singapore, at the second installment of the Global Young Scientists Summit (GYSS) in January, five hundred attendees were given the opportunity to do just that. Of these attendees, 350 were PhD and postdoctoral researchers under the age of 35 nominated by universities, research institutes, and corporate laboratories around the world, while the remaining 150 were invited guests from Singapore’s tech community.
The GYSS, organized by the National Research Foundation of Singapore, is inspired by the annual Lindau Nobel Meetings but features a greater focus on participation from the Asia-Pacific region. Singaporeans comprise 19% of the participants, Asians and Australians 47%, the US and Europe 20%, and researchers from multinational corporations make up the remaining 13%.
The theme of the Summit was “Advancing Science and Creating Technologies for a Better World” and the speakers discussed a wide variety of topics, including biochemistry, physics, medicine, mathematics, and engineering. Some told stories of the discoveries they were most recognized for, while others shared their latest research. With some of the lectures making deep dives into specialized disciplines, sometimes it was a challenge to keep up. Notably, the audience members were not shy about asking questions even if they were not experts in the topic at hand.
In one of the talks, IEEE’s 2013 Medal of Honor winner, Dr. Irwin Jacobs, shared his experience transitioning from academic to entrepreneur, first founding Linkabit, then Qualcomm. Qualcomm has grown to prominence as the world’s largest semiconductor supplier for wireless products and for 15 consecutive years was included in Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. Not bad for a company started because he was bored three months into early retirement!
The organizers also held several panel discussions on topics such as challenges in a STEM career, the role of science in society, technology entrepreneurship, and the relationship between science and the arts. Some of these sessions were open to the general public as well.
A design competition called Singapore Challenge was held in conjunction with the GYSS. The participants were invited to submit proposals that addressed challenges related to urban development. The theme of this year’s competition was “From Sensing to Solution: Leveraging ICT to Build Sustainable Cities,” resulting in a grand total of 35 proposals submitted. Among the 10 finalists was IEEE member Jason Gu, whose proposal is an open platform called “the Idea Store” which facilitates contributions from both city planners and residents. The intent is for the platform to integrate raw data sensing, data processing, and big data analytics with built in block programming functionality, so even an average resident without prior programming training would be able to use it.
We spoke to Jason in more detail about his Singapore Challenge proposal and how IEEE has played an important role in his career development so far. This interview will appear in Part 2 of this series in GOLDRush.
To learn more about the GYSS and find out how you might be able to attend in the future, visit the official GYSS website.
In March of 2013 the Santa Clara Valley (SCV) chapter of GOLD was asked to help plan a session at the Global Humanitarian Technology Conference (GHTC). We recognized this as a great opportunity for SCV GOLD and accepted the challenge. At the same time, our local chapter for Women in Engineering (WIE) was being re-established. In a bid to create a strategic partnership and help the WIE chapter build their membership and exposure, we asked WIE to plan the session with us—naturally they agreed.
The GHTC has historically run a substantial deficit, so we were given the tough challenge of finding funding for the event. We sought funding from a number of industry and IEEE sources; in the end, our sponsors were IEEE WIE, IEEE Region 6 Young Professionals (YP), IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section, and IEEE YP. IEEE YP also asked us to do the honor of announcing their name change from “GOLD” to “YP” and launching their new logo. We were truly honored to be able to do this.
Our event took place on October 20, 2013 starting at 19:00 at the San Jose Airport Garden Hotel in California. We were fortunate to have 97 attendees from over 25 countries attend this event, creating a truly diverse atmosphere for discussing ways to use technology to improve humanity.
The GHTC is truly aligned with the IEEE’s tagline, “Advancing Technology for Humanity.” There are many sessions offered at this conference and I urge you to consider attending next year. It’s truly inspirational to see how engineers around the world use their skills to better humanity!
Thomson Nguyen speaking on Data Science for Good
Thomson Nguyen, CEO of Framed Data—a company which helps non-profits receive the benefits of data analytics—was our speaker. Framed Data is building a general-purpose data science platform which will provide analysis for multiple non-profits, greatly reducing the cost for each organization. Thomson’s talk was entitled Data Science for Good: Using Engineering and Machine Learning to Affect Societal Change. He gave specific examples of how he had used data science to solve problems in the non-profit world. One example was a model he created to help medical doctors determine whether to hospitalize a patient or not, based on a number of variables. This model was shown to greatly reduce improper hospitalization.
One of the most important things demonstrated in this talk was that we can use our skills to improve the lives of others. It’s important for us to think about the impact our skills can have, and how they can improve the effectiveness of non-profits around the world; however, our skills as engineers are prohibitively expensive for most non-profits to afford. (SCV YP recently ran a separate Volunteer Information Evening where non-profits came to discuss opportunities for engineers to improve their causes. For example, there were requirements for hardware engineers helping build systems to protect endangered wildlife, for software engineers building apps to improve literacy, and opportunities to speak in classrooms to give hope to our future generations. Think about how your engineering skills could improve the efficiency of a non-profit and better people’s lives in your community!)
SCV YP Team and cake with new IEEE YP logo
After the speaker, we had offered an hour-long open bar where participants could relax with a drink and discuss the topics at hand. There were many interesting projects discussed, such as a crowdsourcing platform to employ people in the third world. We also had two delicious cakes sponsored by IEEE YP featuring the new YP logo. The night was a huge success that not only provided global visibility for YP and WIE, but also laid the groundwork for a number of strategic partnerships for our chapter.