Author Archives: Maryse de la Giroday

An easier way to make highly ordered porous films for commercial sensors

An April 3, 2017 news item on Nanowerk describes Japanese research into a new technique for producing MOF’s (metallic organic frameworks),

Osaka-based researchers developed a new method to create films of porous metal–organic frameworks fully aligned on inorganic substrates. The method is simple, requiring only that the substrate and an organic linker are mixed under mild conditions, and fast, producing perfectly aligned films within minutes. The films oriented fluorescent dye molecules within their pores, and the fluorescence response of these dyes was switched on or off simply by rotating the material in polarized light.

An April 3, 2017 Osaka University press release on the Alpha Gallileo news service, which originated the news item, explains more about MOFs and gives some details about the new technique,,

Metal–organic frameworks, or MOFs, are highly ordered crystalline structures made of metal ion nodes and organic molecule linkers. Many MOFs can take up and store gases, such as carbon dioxide or hydrogen, thanks to their porous, sponge-like structures.

MOFs are also potential chemical sensors. They can be designed to change color or display another optical signal if a particular molecule is taken up into the framework. However, most studies on MOFs are performed on tiny single crystals, which is not practical for the commercial development of these materials.

Chemists have now come a step closer to making commercially viable sensors that contain highly ordered MOFs, thanks to the collaboration of an international team of researchers at Osaka Prefecture University, Osaka University and Graz University of Technology. The method will allow researchers to fabricate large tailor-made MOF films on any substrate of any size, which will vastly improve their prospects for commercial development.

In a study recently published in Nature Materials and highlighted on the cover and in the ‘News and Views’ section of the journal, the Osaka-based researchers report a one-step method to prepare thin MOF films directly on inorganic copper hydroxide substrates. Using this method, the researchers produced large MOF films with areas of more than 1 cm2 that were, for the first time, fully aligned with the crystal lattice of the underlying substrate.

Noting that microcrystals of copper hydroxide can be converted into MOFs by adding organic linker molecules under mild conditions, the researchers used the same strategy to create a thin MOF layer on larger copper hydroxide substrates. They carefully chose the carboxylic acid-based linker molecule 1,4-dibenzenedicarboxylic acid because it fit exactly to the spacing between the copper atoms on the substrate surface.

A MOF film began to grow on the copper hydroxide substrates within minutes of mixing it with the linker molecule, making this technique much easier and faster than previous step-wise approaches to build up MOF films. Using microscopy and X-ray diffraction techniques, the researchers found that the film was precisely oriented along the copper hydroxide lattice.

To demonstrate the unique optical behavior of their films, the researchers filled the MOF’s ordered pores with fluorescent molecules, which fluoresce when light is shone on them in a particular direction. When they shone polarized light on the ordered material, the researchers found that they could easily switch the fluorescence response on or off simply by rotating the material.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Centimetre-scale micropore alignment in oriented polycrystalline metal–organic framework films via heteroepitaxial growth by Paolo Falcaro, Kenji Okada, Takaaki Hara, Ken Ikigaki, Yasuaki Tokudome, Aaron W. Thornton, Anita J. Hill, Timothy Williams, Christian Doonan, & Masahide Takahashi. Nature Materials 16, 342–348  (2017) doi:10.1038/nmat4815 Published online 05 December 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Graphene ink image wins top prize in UK national science photography competition

Credit: James Macleod, University of Cambridge

That prizewinning image in the above reminded me of the manhole covers in Vancouver, Canada.

Credit: Daderot 20 June 2015 [downloaded from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manhole_cover_-_Vancouver,_Canada_-_DSC07640.JPG]

An April 3, 2017 news item on phys.org announces about the prize winner,

An image of spectacular swirling graphene ink in alcohol, which can be used to print electrical circuits onto paper, has won the overall prize in a national science photography competition, organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

An April 3, 2017 EPSRC press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the winning entry and the competition,

‘Graphene – IPA Ink’, by James Macleod, from the University of Cambridge, shows powdered graphite in alcohol which produces a conductive ink. The ink is forced at high pressure through micrometre-scale capillaries made of diamond. This rips the layers apart resulting in a smooth, conductive material in solution.

The image, came first in two categories, Innovation, and Equipment and Facilities, as well as winning overall against many other stunning pictures, featuring research in action, in the EPSRC‘s competition – now in its fourth year.

James Macleod, explained how the photograph came about: We are working to create conductive inks for printing flexible electronics and are currently focused on optimising our recipe for use in different printing methods and for printing onto different surfaces. This was the first time we had used alcohol to create our ink and I was struck by how mesmerising it looked while mixing.

The competition’s five categories were: Eureka and Discovery, Equipment and Facilities, People and Skills, Innovation, and Weird and Wonderful. Other winning images feature:

  • A 3D printed gripper which was programmed to lift delicate, geometrical complex objects like a lightbulb, pneumatically rather than using sensors.
  • A scanning electron microscope image showing the surface of a silicon chip, patterned to create a one metre ultra-thin optical wire, just one millionth of a metre wide made into a spiral and wrapped into an area the size of a square millimetre.
  • Researcher Michael Coto with a local student in Vingunguti, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, testing and purifying polluted water using new solar active catalysts.
  • An image captured on an iPhone 4s through an optical microscope that shows the variety of textures appearing on the surface of a silicon solar cell, not dissimilar to pyramids surrounded by a sea of dunes in a desert, but with the size of a human hair.
  • Tiny biodegradable polymer particles resembling golf balls being developed to target infectious diseases and cancers. Only 0.04mm across, they form part of scaffolds which are being studied to see if they can support the growth of healthy new cells.

One of the judges was physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster, Dr Helen Czerski, Lecturer at UCL, she said: Scientists and engineers are often so busy focusing on the technical details of their research that they can be blind to what everyone else sees first: the aesthetics of their work. Science is a part of our culture, and it can contribute in many different ways. This competition is a wonderful reminder of the emotional and artistic aspects of science, and it’s great that EPSRC researchers have found this richness in their own work.

Congratulating the winners and entrants, Professor Tom Rodden, EPSRC‘s Deputy Chief Executive, said: The quality of entries into our competition demonstrates that EPSRC-funded researchers are keen to show the world how beautiful and interesting science and engineering can be. I’d like to thank everyone who entered; judging was really difficult.

These stunning images are a great way to engage the public with the research they fund, and inspire everyone to take an interest in science and engineering.

The competition received over 100 entries which were drawn from researchers in receipt of EPSRC funding.

The judges were:

  • Martin Keene – Group Picture Editor – Press Association
  • Dr Helen Czerski – Lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University College London
  • Professor Tom Rodden – EPSRC‘s Deputy Chief Executive

Talking about quantum entanglement and art at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art University

Something happened and I couldn’t publish (my internet seemed to break) this ahead of time but I have gone ahead and published today (April 28, 2017) for two reasons. (1) I’ve been building up an archive (of sorts) of art/science events in Canada and (2) there are some links you might find interesting offered at the end of this.

If you have some spare time tonight (April 27, 2017) and are lucky enough to live in Toronto, Canada, there’s an event featuring quantum theory and artistic practice . Here’s more from the April 20, 2017 ArtSci Salon notice (received via email),

ENTANGLEMENTS

QUANTUM THEORY AND CREATIVE PRACTICE

PANEL DISCUSSION

Thursday April 27, 2017 6-8 pm
Great Hall at OCAD University
100 McCaul St., Toronto, Canada

The expanding interest in quantum phenomena by interdisciplinary
artists recently inspired interactive installations, electronic music,
animations and video installations such as Schrödinger’s [Bird] video
animation viewed 80 000 times on the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] science website, the FutureEverything Moscow Festival in 2016 [sic] and the first Quantum Art
exhibition in space in collaboration between NASA [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration], ESA [European Space Agency] and MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], 2015. These artworks attest to the importance of art, science and design
collaborations and the ability to communicate to the larger public the
complexity of significant yet often perceived abstract scientific
disciplines.

The Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) series present an
international program of evening gatherings spanning North America,
expanding to Europe that bring artists and scientists together for
informal presentations and conversations.

For this LASER event held at the Ontario College of Art University we
focus on quantum phenomena, visualization, and creative practice. We
have invited a panel of interdisciplinary artists and researchers
including Raymond Laflamme, Laura DeDecker, Karin von Ompteda, and
Jason Irizawa in the hope of engaging in a sustained and rigorous
discussion with our presenters and the audience on topics related to
quantum physics, visualization, art and design.

INVITED PANELISTS

Raymond Laflamme [emphasis mine]
Director, Institute for Quantum Computing
University of Waterloo

Karin von Ompteda
Assistant Professor
OCAD University

Laura de Decker
Independent Artist
Waterloo

Jason Irizawa
Lecturer
Ryerson University

EXHIBITION

Monday April 24 to Thursday 27, 2017
Great Hall at OCAD University
100 McCaul St., Toronto, Canada

OCAD University’s Public Visualization Lab is pleased to also present
an exhibition of posters interpreting quantum concepts through visual
form. The posters are the outcome of an exploration of six different
concepts that describe the peculiar characterists of quantum reality.
Works will be on display in the Great Hall before and during the panel
discussion. Poster created by Bailey McGinn, Jason Etcovitch, Jasmine
Leung, Kate McDermott, Calvin Calenda, Sharon Leung. Coordinated by
Ali Qadeer and Patricio Davila.

Raymond laflamme has graced this blog before notably in a May 11, 2015 posting which featured an interview with him (scroll down to the subsection subtitled with his name),

Who convinces a genius that he’s gotten an important cosmological concept wrong or ignored it? Alongside Don Page, Laflamme accomplished that feat as one of Stephen Hawking’s PhD students at the University of Cambridge. Today (May 11, 2015), Laflamme is (from his Wikipedia entry)

… co-founder and current director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. He is also a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo and an associate faculty member at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Laflamme is currently a Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information.

Laflamme changed his focus from quantum cosmology to quantum information while at Los Alamos, “To me, it seemed natural. Not much of a change.” It is the difference between being a theoretician and an experimentalist and anyone who’s watched The Big Bang Theory (US television programme) knows that Laflamme made a big leap.

….

For those of us who can’t attend, I have links to some of what’s mentioned in the notice.

ABC Science

Schrödinger’s Bird (video by Steve Durbach and article by Daniel Keane)

Future of Everything festivals (this page provides links to all of the festivals including the 2014 festival in Moscow)

Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) series

First Quantum Art Exhibition in Space (Jan. 13, 2015 posting on The Physicis arXiv blog)

Enjoy!

Emerging technology and the law

I have three news bits about legal issues that are arising as a consequence of emerging technologies.

Deep neural networks, art, and copyright

Caption: The rise of automated art opens new creative avenues, coupled with new problems for copyright protection. Credit: Provided by: Alexander Mordvintsev, Christopher Olah and Mike Tyka

Presumably this artwork is a demonstration of automated art although they never really do explain how in the news item/news release. An April 26, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily announces research into copyright and the latest in using neural networks to create art,

In 1968, sociologist Jean Baudrillard wrote on automatism that “contained within it is the dream of a dominated world […] that serves an inert and dreamy humanity.”

With the growing popularity of Deep Neural Networks (DNN’s), this dream is fast becoming a reality.

Dr. Jean-Marc Deltorn, researcher at the Centre d’études internationales de la propriété intellectuelle in Strasbourg, argues that we must remain a responsive and responsible force in this process of automation — not inert dominators. As he demonstrates in a recent Frontiers in Digital Humanities paper, the dream of automation demands a careful study of the legal problems linked to copyright.

An April 26, 2017 Frontiers (publishing) news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail,

For more than half a century, artists have looked to computational processes as a way of expanding their vision. DNN’s are the culmination of this cross-pollination: by learning to identify a complex number of patterns, they can generate new creations.

These systems are made up of complex algorithms modeled on the transmission of signals between neurons in the brain.

DNN creations rely in equal measure on human inputs and the non-human algorithmic networks that process them.

Inputs are fed into the system, which is layered. Each layer provides an opportunity for a more refined knowledge of the inputs (shape, color, lines). Neural networks compare actual outputs to expected ones, and correct the predictive error through repetition and optimization. They train their own pattern recognition, thereby optimizing their learning curve and producing increasingly accurate outputs.

The deeper the layers are, the higher the level of abstraction. The highest layers are able to identify the contents of a given input with reasonable accuracy, after extended periods of training.

Creation thus becomes increasingly automated through what Deltorn calls “the arcane traceries of deep architecture”. The results are sufficiently abstracted from their sources to produce original creations that have been exhibited in galleries, sold at auction and performed at concerts.

The originality of DNN’s is a combined product of technological automation on one hand, human inputs and decisions on the other.

DNN’s are gaining popularity. Various platforms (such as DeepDream) now allow internet users to generate their very own new creations . This popularization of the automation process calls for a comprehensive legal framework that ensures a creator’s economic and moral rights with regards to his work – copyright protection.

Form, originality and attribution are the three requirements for copyright. And while DNN creations satisfy the first of these three, the claim to originality and attribution will depend largely on a given country legislation and on the traceability of the human creator.

Legislation usually sets a low threshold to originality. As DNN creations could in theory be able to create an endless number of riffs on source materials, the uncurbed creation of original works could inflate the existing number of copyright protections.

Additionally, a small number of national copyright laws confers attribution to what UK legislation defines loosely as “the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken.” In the case of DNN’s, this could mean anybody from the programmer to the user of a DNN interface.

Combined with an overly supple take on originality, this view on attribution would further increase the number of copyrightable works.

The risk, in both cases, is that artists will be less willing to publish their own works, for fear of infringement of DNN copyright protections.

In order to promote creativity – one seminal aim of copyright protection – the issue must be limited to creations that manifest a personal voice “and not just the electric glint of a computational engine,” to quote Deltorn. A delicate act of discernment.

DNN’s promise new avenues of creative expression for artists – with potential caveats. Copyright protection – a “catalyst to creativity” – must be contained. Many of us gently bask in the glow of an increasingly automated form of technology. But if we want to safeguard the ineffable quality that defines much art, it might be a good idea to hone in more closely on the differences between the electric and the creative spark.

This research is and be will part of a broader Frontiers Research Topic collection of articles on Deep Learning and Digital Humanities.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Deep Creations: Intellectual Property and the Automata by Jean-Marc Deltorn. Front. Digit. Humanit., 01 February 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fdigh.2017.00003

This paper is open access.

Conference on governance of emerging technologies

I received an April 17, 2017 notice via email about this upcoming conference. Here’s more from the Fifth Annual Conference on Governance of Emerging Technologies: Law, Policy and Ethics webpage,

The Fifth Annual Conference on Governance of Emerging Technologies:

Law, Policy and Ethics held at the new

Beus Center for Law & Society in Phoenix, AZ

May 17-19, 2017!

Call for Abstracts – Now Closed

The conference will consist of plenary and session presentations and discussions on regulatory, governance, legal, policy, social and ethical aspects of emerging technologies, including (but not limited to) nanotechnology, synthetic biology, gene editing, biotechnology, genomics, personalized medicine, human enhancement technologies, telecommunications, information technologies, surveillance technologies, geoengineering, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and robotics. The conference is premised on the belief that there is much to be learned and shared from and across the governance experience and proposals for these various emerging technologies.

Keynote Speakers:

Gillian HadfieldRichard L. and Antoinette Schamoi Kirtland Professor of Law and Professor of Economics USC [University of Southern California] Gould School of Law

Shobita Parthasarathy, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Women’s Studies, Director, Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program University of Michigan

Stuart Russell, Professor at [University of California] Berkeley, is a computer scientist known for his contributions to artificial intelligence

Craig Shank, Vice President for Corporate Standards Group in Microsoft’s Corporate, External and Legal Affairs (CELA)

Plenary Panels:

Innovation – Responsible and/or Permissionless

Ellen-Marie Forsberg, Senior Researcher/Research Manager at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences

Adam Thierer, Senior Research Fellow with the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Wendell Wallach, Consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics

 Gene Drives, Trade and International Regulations

Greg Kaebnick, Director, Editorial Department; Editor, Hastings Center Report; Research Scholar, Hastings Center

Jennifer Kuzma, Goodnight-North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation Distinguished Professor in Social Sciences in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) and co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society (GES) Center at North Carolina State University

Andrew Maynard, Senior Sustainability Scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability Director, Risk Innovation Lab, School for the Future of Innovation in Society Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, Arizona State University

Gary Marchant, Regents’ Professor of Law, Professor of Law Faculty Director and Faculty Fellow, Center for Law, Science & Innovation, Arizona State University

Marc Saner, Inaugural Director of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy, and Associate Professor, University of Ottawa Department of Geography

Big Data

Anupam Chander, Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law and Director, California International Law Center, UC Davis School of Law

Pilar Ossorio, Professor of Law and Bioethics, University of Wisconsin, School of Law and School of Medicine and Public Health; Morgridge Institute for Research, Ethics Scholar-in-Residence

George Poste, Chief Scientist, Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative (CASI) (http://www.casi.asu.edu/), Regents’ Professor and Del E. Webb Chair in Health Innovation, Arizona State University

Emily Shuckburgh, climate scientist and deputy head of the Polar Oceans Team at the British Antarctic Survey, University of Cambridge

 Responsible Development of AI

Spring Berman, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University

John Havens, The IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems

Subbarao Kambhampati, Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Arizona State University

Wendell Wallach, Consultant, Ethicist, and Scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics

Existential and Catastrophic Ricks [sic]

Tony Barrett, Co-Founder and Director of Research of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Haydn Belfield,  Academic Project Administrator, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge

Margaret E. Kosal Associate Director, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, Georgia Institute of Technology

Catherine Rhodes,  Academic Project Manager, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at CSER, University of Cambridge

These were the panels that are of interest to me; there are others on the homepage.

Here’s some information from the Conference registration webpage,

Early Bird Registration – $50 off until May 1! Enter discount code: earlybirdGETs50

New: Group Discount – Register 2+ attendees together and receive an additional 20% off for all group members!

Click Here to Register!

Conference registration fees are as follows:

  • General (non-CLE) Registration: $150.00
  • CLE Registration: $350.00
  • *Current Student / ASU Law Alumni Registration: $50.00
  • ^Cybsersecurity sessions only (May 19): $100 CLE / $50 General / Free for students (registration info coming soon)

There you have it.

Neuro-techno future laws

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first exploration of potential legal issues arising from research into neuroscience although it’s the first one I’ve stumbled across. From an April 25, 2017 news item on phys.org,

New human rights laws to prepare for advances in neurotechnology that put the ‘freedom of the mind’ at risk have been proposed today in the open access journal Life Sciences, Society and Policy.

The authors of the study suggest four new human rights laws could emerge in the near future to protect against exploitation and loss of privacy. The four laws are: the right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity and the right to psychological continuity.

An April 25, 2017 Biomed Central news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

Marcello Ienca, lead author and PhD student at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel, said: “The mind is considered to be the last refuge of personal freedom and self-determination, but advances in neural engineering, brain imaging and neurotechnology put the freedom of the mind at risk. Our proposed laws would give people the right to refuse coercive and invasive neurotechnology, protect the privacy of data collected by neurotechnology, and protect the physical and psychological aspects of the mind from damage by the misuse of neurotechnology.”

Advances in neurotechnology, such as sophisticated brain imaging and the development of brain-computer interfaces, have led to these technologies moving away from a clinical setting and into the consumer domain. While these advances may be beneficial for individuals and society, there is a risk that the technology could be misused and create unprecedented threats to personal freedom.

Professor Roberto Andorno, co-author of the research, explained: “Brain imaging technology has already reached a point where there is discussion over its legitimacy in criminal court, for example as a tool for assessing criminal responsibility or even the risk of reoffending. Consumer companies are using brain imaging for ‘neuromarketing’, to understand consumer behaviour and elicit desired responses from customers. There are also tools such as ‘brain decoders’ which can turn brain imaging data into images, text or sound. All of these could pose a threat to personal freedom which we sought to address with the development of four new human rights laws.”

The authors explain that as neurotechnology improves and becomes commonplace, there is a risk that the technology could be hacked, allowing a third-party to ‘eavesdrop’ on someone’s mind. In the future, a brain-computer interface used to control consumer technology could put the user at risk of physical and psychological damage caused by a third-party attack on the technology. There are also ethical and legal concerns over the protection of data generated by these devices that need to be considered.

International human rights laws make no specific mention to neuroscience, although advances in biomedicine have become intertwined with laws, such as those concerning human genetic data. Similar to the historical trajectory of the genetic revolution, the authors state that the on-going neurorevolution will force a reconceptualization of human rights laws and even the creation of new ones.

Marcello Ienca added: “Science-fiction can teach us a lot about the potential threat of technology. Neurotechnology featured in famous stories has in some cases already become a reality, while others are inching ever closer, or exist as military and commercial prototypes. We need to be prepared to deal with the impact these technologies will have on our personal freedom.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Towards new human rights in the age of neuroscience and neurotechnology by Marcello Ienca and Roberto Andorno. Life Sciences, Society and Policy201713:5 DOI: 10.1186/s40504-017-0050-1 Published: 26 April 2017

©  The Author(s). 2017

This paper is open access.

Fractal imagery (from nature or from art or from mathematics) soothes

Jackson Pollock’s work is often cited when fractal art is discussed. I think it’s largely because he likely produced the art without knowing about the concept.

No. 5, 1948 (Jackson Pollock, downloaded from Wikipedia essay about No. 5, 1948)

Richard Taylor, a professor of physics at the University of Oregon, provides more information about how fractals affect us and how this is relevant to his work with retinal implants in a March 30, 2017 essay for The Conversation (h/t Mar. 31, 2017 news item on phys.org), Note: Links have been removed),

Humans are visual creatures. Objects we call “beautiful” or “aesthetic” are a crucial part of our humanity. Even the oldest known examples of rock and cave art served aesthetic rather than utilitarian roles. Although aesthetics is often regarded as an ill-defined vague quality, research groups like mine are using sophisticated techniques to quantify it – and its impact on the observer.

We’re finding that aesthetic images can induce staggering changes to the body, including radical reductions in the observer’s stress levels. Job stress alone is estimated to cost American businesses many billions of dollars annually, so studying aesthetics holds a huge potential benefit to society.

Researchers are untangling just what makes particular works of art or natural scenes visually appealing and stress-relieving – and one crucial factor is the presence of the repetitive patterns called fractals.

When it comes to aesthetics, who better to study than famous artists? They are, after all, the visual experts. My research group took this approach with Jackson Pollock, who rose to the peak of modern art in the late 1940s by pouring paint directly from a can onto horizontal canvases laid across his studio floor. Although battles raged among Pollock scholars regarding the meaning of his splattered patterns, many agreed they had an organic, natural feel to them.

My scientific curiosity was stirred when I learned that many of nature’s objects are fractal, featuring patterns that repeat at increasingly fine magnifications. For example, think of a tree. First you see the big branches growing out of the trunk. Then you see smaller versions growing out of each big branch. As you keep zooming in, finer and finer branches appear, all the way down to the smallest twigs. Other examples of nature’s fractals include clouds, rivers, coastlines and mountains.

In 1999, my group used computer pattern analysis techniques to show that Pollock’s paintings are as fractal as patterns found in natural scenery. Since then, more than 10 different groups have performed various forms of fractal analysis on his paintings. Pollock’s ability to express nature’s fractal aesthetics helps explain the enduring popularity of his work.

The impact of nature’s aesthetics is surprisingly powerful. In the 1980s, architects found that patients recovered more quickly from surgery when given hospital rooms with windows looking out on nature. Other studies since then have demonstrated that just looking at pictures of natural scenes can change the way a person’s autonomic nervous system responds to stress.

Are fractals the secret to some soothing natural scenes? Ronan, CC BY-NC-ND

For me, this raises the same question I’d asked of Pollock: Are fractals responsible? Collaborating with psychologists and neuroscientists, we measured people’s responses to fractals found in nature (using photos of natural scenes), art (Pollock’s paintings) and mathematics (computer generated images) and discovered a universal effect we labeled “fractal fluency.”

Through exposure to nature’s fractal scenery, people’s visual systems have adapted to efficiently process fractals with ease. We found that this adaptation occurs at many stages of the visual system, from the way our eyes move to which regions of the brain get activated. This fluency puts us in a comfort zone and so we enjoy looking at fractals. Crucially, we used EEG to record the brain’s electrical activity and skin conductance techniques to show that this aesthetic experience is accompanied by stress reduction of 60 percent – a surprisingly large effect for a nonmedicinal treatment. This physiological change even accelerates post-surgical recovery rates.

Pollock’s motivation for continually increasing the complexity of his fractal patterns became apparent recently when I studied the fractal properties of Rorschach inkblots. These abstract blots are famous because people see imaginary forms (figures and animals) in them. I explained this process in terms of the fractal fluency effect, which enhances people’s pattern recognition processes. The low complexity fractal inkblots made this process trigger-happy, fooling observers into seeing images that aren’t there.

Pollock disliked the idea that viewers of his paintings were distracted by such imaginary figures, which he called “extra cargo.” He intuitively increased the complexity of his works to prevent this phenomenon.

Pollock’s abstract expressionist colleague, Willem De Kooning, also painted fractals. When he was diagnosed with dementia, some art scholars called for his retirement amid concerns that that it would reduce the nurture component of his work. Yet, although they predicted a deterioration in his paintings, his later works conveyed a peacefulness missing from his earlier pieces. Recently, the fractal complexity of his paintings was shown to drop steadily as he slipped into dementia. The study focused on seven artists with different neurological conditions and highlighted the potential of using art works as a new tool for studying these diseases. To me, the most inspiring message is that, when fighting these diseases, artists can still create beautiful artworks.

Recognizing how looking at fractals reduces stress means it’s possible to create retinal implants that mimic the mechanism. Nautilus image via www.shutterstock.com.

My main research focuses on developing retinal implants to restore vision to victims of retinal diseases. At first glance, this goal seems a long way from Pollock’s art. Yet, it was his work that gave me the first clue to fractal fluency and the role nature’s fractals can play in keeping people’s stress levels in check. To make sure my bio-inspired implants induce the same stress reduction when looking at nature’s fractals as normal eyes do, they closely mimic the retina’s design.

When I started my Pollock research, I never imagined it would inform artificial eye designs. This, though, is the power of interdisciplinary endeavors – thinking “out of the box” leads to unexpected but potentially revolutionary ideas.

Fabulous essay, eh?

I have previously featured Jackson Pollock in a June 30, 2011 posting titled: Jackson Pollock’s physics and and briefly mentioned him in a May 11, 2010 visual arts commentary titled: Rennie Collection’s latest: Richard Jackson, Georges Seurat & Jackson Pollock, guns, the act of painting, and women (scroll down about 45% of the way).

Solange Knowles and the Rennie Museum in Vancouver, Canada on April 27 and 28, 2017

Tickets ($35 CAD?) were sold out in less than an hour. Drat! On the upside, the Rennie Museum (formerly the Rennie Collection) is one of nine venues in nine cities hosting Solange Knowles’ music tour of art museums. (Not my usual topic but I have covered shows at the Rennie many times throughout the years.) This tour is discussed in Emilia Petrarca’s April 24, 2017 article for W magazine,

While Knowles isn’t formally touring for A Seat at the Table, she will continue on the festival circuit and is also working on a performance art-inspired “museum tour,” which she’ll perform at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as well as the Guggenheim Museum in May [2017].

On wanting to be more than just a singer:

“Singer is probably at the bottom of the barrel in terms of what I’m trying to achieve as an artist. Visually, through many mediums—through dance, through art direction, through color theory—there are so many things that I’ve dabbled in that I’ve yet to immerse myself in fully. But I think right now, I’m creating the live show and music composition, production, and creating from the ground up is when I feel the most at home.”

On her history as a dancer:

“I used to want to be a modern dancer when I was younger and go to Juilliard and do the whole thing, but I had a knee injury when I was 15. I was actually dancing for Destiny’s Child. And that was how I started to write, because I thought I was going to be an [Alvin] Ailey girl [emphasis mine] somewhere.”

On styling the costumes for her festival shows and museum tour:

“I’m touring two shows this spring/summer/fall, and one takes place in museum lobbies. For me, Donald Judd’s idea that we take on our surroundings as a part of the art itself really, really punctured me in the way that I look at performance art. It’s really rare that an artist gets to perform in daylight, unless it’s at a festival. So I really wanted to play with creating a strong color palette. I’ve been playing around with a lot of neutral tones since the record came out and Issey Miyake has been a huge influence. We’re also wearing a lot of Phillip Lim and really comfortable, moveable fabrics. On stage, I’ve really been empowered by the color red. I think it’s associated, especially with women, as this fiery, super volatile, and strong-willed color. Almost stubborn, if you will. So we’re wearing all-red for our festival shows and playing with the lighting for all the moods red can express. Color theory is this really nerdy side of me that I’ve been wanting to explore more of.”

It’s impossible to emphasize Alvin Ailey’s impact enough. Prior to him, there were no African American dancers in dance It was thought African Americans had the wrong body type until Alvin Ailey proved them wrong. (The topic of body type and dance is bizarre to an outsider, especially where ballet is concerned. It lends itself to racism but is rampant throughout the world of modern dance and ballet. I followed the topic for a number of years.)

Getting back to Solange Knowles, Tavi Gevinson’s Sept. 30, 2016 article for W explores her then new album ‘A Seat at the Table’,

Solange’s new album, A Seat at the Table, is so many things at once: an antidote to hate, a celebration of blackness, an expression of the right to feel it all. After a move to Louisiana and period of self-reflection, the artist joined forces with a range of collaborators to put her new discoveries to music. Hearing it for the very first time, my heart went in and out of slow motion: swelled at a layered vocal, stopped at a painfully apt choice of words, sped up with a perfect bass-line. Mostly I was struck by A Seat at the Table as a nurturing force among the trauma of anti-blackness; a further exploration of questions posed by Solange on her Twitter, last summer: “Where can we be safe? Where can we be free? Where can we be black?”

So much of your album explicitly discusses racism and celebrating blackness, and one of the interludes talks about taking all the anger and metabolizing it through the work. Does that start with you through the lyrics or the sounds?

The writing process of this album was not more unique than any of my other processes, in that it typically starts with the melody idea and the words evolve based off of what I listen back to. Nine times out of ten, you’re freestyling, but you’re piecing the puzzle pieces together after you settle on a melody that you like. I definitely had concepts I wanted to explore. I knew that I wanted to make a song experiencing and communicating the exhaustion, the feeling of being weary and tired and energetically drained. I knew that I wanted to discuss this idea of the “angry black woman” in society, and dissect a conversation that I’ve had one too many times. I knew I had these concepts that I wanted to communicate, but I was resistant to letting them lead the creative process. So the first layer of making the album, I just jammed in a room with some incredible musicians. It was a great energy in the room, because it was not so much like, ‘I’m going to make this album about this specific thing. It was just music-making. Then, I took that music and I went to New Iberia for that time, and I needed that insular time to break down what I was saying, what I was going to communicate and how I was going to do that. From there, I spent that summer writing lyrics. It was an interesting process because I’m a mother and I had to balance making an album and raising a preteen. And having my hands in all these different pots, so it was either all or nothing to me. I spent three months in New Iberia, and I recorded some of the album in Ghana and Jamaica. I had to have these isolated experiences creatively in order to turn off and listen to myself.

For all of the continued awareness of systemic violence and oppression, there isn’t a lot of talk about that psychological toll of racism, at least in white circles and white media. That is so heavy in the album, and I’m really excited for people to have that to turn to.

That is such an ignored part of the conversation. I feel there were a lot of traumas that I had to experience during this creative process, that I didn’t identify as traumas until I realized just how much weight and how many triggers [there are] like constantly seeing the images of young black people lifeless in the street, and how many cries of mothers that you’re constantly hearing on a daily basis. Outside of those traumas, just the nuances that you have to navigate through everyday as a black person living in this country. It absolutely has a psychological effect on you. There are clinical and scientific studies that show the brain dealing with the same type of PTSD that we know of in other traumatic instances and experiences, but society has not yet come to terms with applying it to race. But I have a lot of optimism in the fact that we’re even able to have this conversation now. This isn’t something that my mom and one of her white friends would be discussing in their time. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always comfortable, and the person leading it usually gets a lot of shit for it, but that’s with any revolution.

Here’s a little information about the upcoming Vancouver show from an April 21, 2017 news item on the Georgia Straight (Note: Links have been removed),

Solange Knowles, woke artist, activist, feminist, and producer of one of 2016’s most critically acclaimed albums, has announced that she will be playing a show at Vancouver’s Rennie Museum (51 East Pender Street) on April 27.

The singer published an image to her Instagram page yesterday (April 20), revealing that Vancouver is one of nine cities she will be stopping in over the next two months. Shortly after, the Rennie Collection, one of the country’s largest collections of contemporary art exhibited at the Wing Sang building in Chinatown, shared on its social media pages that Knowles will be conducting a “special performance”.

“Her album [A Seat at the Table] is very artistic,” Wendy Chang, director at the Rennie, tells the Straight by phone. “She’s on the West Coast this week and, because she has nothing planned for Vancouver at all, we thought we’d take advantage of that and have her perform and have all proceeds go to a charity.”

Chang reveals that the “very small, very intimate” performance will benefit the Atira Women’s Resource Society, a DTES–based nonprofit that provides safe housing and support for women and children affected by violence.

Not much else has been confirmed about the last-minute show, though given the venue and the sold-out act Knowles plans to present at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in May, fans can expect an interdisciplinary set that explores blackness, prejudice, and womanhood both visually and sonically.

In March, Knowles also debuted “Scales”, a performance project “examining protest as meditation through movement and experimentation of unique compositions and arrangements from A Seat at the Table”, at Houston’s Menil Collection. More recently, she appeared at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.

In addition to Vancouver, Knowles is making stops in cities such as San Francisco, Mayer, Arizona, and Boston between now and June [2017].

I did find a review for Knowles’ April 21, 2017 show in Portland, Oregon (from  Emerson Malone’s April 22, 2017 review for DailyEmerald.com,

The unsinkable Solange Knowles played the headlining slot for Soul’d Out Music Fest, a soul and R&B music festival based in multiple venues around Portland, on Friday, April 21, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The festival’s events from April 19–23 have included Travis Scott (who brought Drake out to get cozy in the crowd); Giorgio Moroder, The Ohio Players and Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles.

One of the most admirable elements of Solange’s live show is the impeccable choreography. It’s so precisely designed that every subtle movement, every head nod and jazz hand-wave, was on cue. At times the group would form a tight chorus line and sway back and forth in unison, with everyone (save the trombonists) continuing to play.

When she demanded that everyone dance during the bubblegum-pop hit “Losing You” from her 2012 EP “True,” the entire hall erupted at her behest. The encore performance “Don’t Touch My Hair” — Solange’s exhortation of the casual fetishization of black women  — was phenomenal. She turned her back to the audience and acted as conductor, commanding the musicians with loud, grandiose gestures. As the drummer smashed the cymbals, she mirrored him, thrashed her limbs and windmilled her arms.

Following the show, even one of the Arlene’s security guards — who just spent the last hour dancing — was quietly weeping and speechlessly shaking her head in awe. Solange isn’t just a firebrand individual, and her show isn’t just an opulent, elegant triumph of performance art. She is a puppet master; we’re marionettes.

Unfortunately, the Solange Knowles’ Vancouver show sold out within minutes (yes, I know I’m repeating it but it was heartbreaking) and I gather from the folks at the Rennie Museum that they had very little notice about the show which is being organized solely by Knowles’ people in response to my somewhat grumbling email. Ah well, them’s the breaks. In any event, there are only 100 tickets per performance available so for those who did get a ticket, you are going to have an intimate experience with the artist  and given the venue, this will be a performance art experience rather than a music show such as the one in Portland, Oregon. There will be three performances in Vancouver,. one on Thursday, April 27, 2017 and two on Friday, April 28, 2017 (you can see the listing here). Enjoy!

After the April 22, 2017 US March for Science

Since last Saturday’s (April 22, 2017) US March for Science, I’ve stumbled across three interesting perspectives on the ‘movement’. As I noted in my April 14, 2017 posting, the ‘march’ has reached out beyond US borders to become international in scope. (On the day, at least 18 marches were held in Canada alone.)

Canada

John Dupuis wrote about his experience as a featured speaker at the Toronto (Ontario) march in an April 24, 2017 posting on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog (Note: Links have been removed),

My fellow presenters were Master of Ceremonies Rupinder Brar and speakers Dawn Martin-Hill, Josh Matlow, Tanya Harrison, Chelsea Rochman, Aadita Chaudhury, Eden Hennessey and Cody Looking Horse.

Here’s what I had to say:

Hi, my name is John and I’m a librarian. My librarian superpower is making lists, checking them twice and seeing who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The nice ones are all of you out here marching for science. And the naughty ones are the ones out there that are attacking science and the environment.

Now I’ve been in the list-making business for quite a few years, making an awful lot of lists of how governments have attacked or ignored science. I did a lot of work making lists about the Harper government and their war on science. The nicest thing I’ve ever seen written about my strange little obsession was in The Guardian.

Here’s what they said, in an article titled, How science helped to swing the Canadian election.

“Things got so bad that scientists and their supporters took to the streets. They demonstrated in Ottawa. They formed an organization, Evidence for Democracy, to bring push back on political interference in science. Awareness-raising forums were held at campuses throughout Canada. And the onslaught on science was painstakingly documented, which tends to happen when you go after librarians.”

Yeah, watch out. Don’t go after libraries and librarians. The Harper govt learned its lesson. And we learned a lesson too. And that lesson was that keeping track of things, that painstakingly documenting all the apparently disconnected little bits and pieces of policies here, regulations changed there and a budget snipped somewhere else, it all adds up.

What before had seemed random and disconnected is suddenly a coherent story. All the dots are connected and everybody can see what’s happened. By telling the whole story, by laying it all out there for everyone to see, it’s suddenly easier for all of us to point to the list and to hold the government of the day accountable. That’s the lesson learned from making lists.

But back in 2013 what I saw the government doing wasn’t the run of the mill anti-science that we’d seen before. Prime Minister Harper’s long standing stated desire to make Canada a global energy superpower revealed the underlying motivation but it was the endless litany of program cuts, census cancellation, science library closures, regulatory changes and muzzling of government scientists that made up the action plan. But was it really a concerted action plan or was it a disconnected series of small changes that were really no big deal or just a little different from normal?

That’s where making lists comes in handy. If you’re keeping track, then, yeah, you see the plan. You see the mission, you see the goals, you see the strategy, you see the tactics. You see that the government was trying to be sneaky and stealthy and incremental and “normal” but that there was a revolution in the making. An anti-science revolution.

Fast forward to now, April 2017, and what do we see? The same game plan repeated, the same anti-science revolution under way [in the US]. Only this time not so stealthy. Instead of a steady drip, it’s a fire hose. Message control at the National Parks Service, climate change denial, slashing budgets and shutting down programs at the EPA and other vital agencies. Incompetent agency directors that don’t understand the mission of their agencies or who even want to destroy them completely.

Once again, we are called to document, document, document. Tell the stories, mobilize science supporters and hold the governments accountable at the ballot box. Hey, like the Guardian said, if we did it in Canada, maybe that game plan can be repeated too.

I invited my three government reps here to the march today, Rob Oliphant, Josh Matlow and Eric Hoskins and I invited them to march with me so we could talk about how evidence should inform public policy. Josh, of course, is up here on the podium with me. As for Rob Oliphant from the Federal Liberals and Eric Hoskins from the Ontario Liberals, well, let’s just say they never answered my tweets.

Keep track, tell the story, hold all of them from every party accountable. The lesson we learned here in Canada was that science can be a decisive issue. Real facts can mobilise people to vote against alternative facts.

Thank you.

I’m not as sure as Dupuis that science was a decisive issue in our 2015 federal election; I’d say it was a factor. More importantly, I think the 2015 election showed Canadian scientists and those who feel science is important that it is possible to give it a voice and more prominence in the political discourse.

Rwanda

Eric Leeuwerck in an April 24, 2017 posting on one of the Agence Science-Press blogs describes his participation from Rwanda (I have provided a very rough translation after),

Un peu partout dans le monde, samedi 22 avril 2017, des milliers de personnes se sont mobilisées pour la « march for science », #sciencemarch, « une marche citoyenne pour les sciences, contre l’obscurantisme ». Et chez moi, au Rwanda ?

J’aurais bien voulu y aller moi à une « march for science », j’aurais bien voulu me joindre aux autres voix, me réconforter dans un esprit de franche camaraderie, à marcher comme un seul homme dans les rues, à dire que oui, nous sommes là ! La science vaincra, « No science, no futur ! » En Arctique, en Antarctique, en Amérique latine, en Asie, en Europe, sur la terre, sous l’eau…. Partout, des centaines de milliers de personnes ont marché ensemble. L’Afrique s’est mobilisée aussi, il y a eu des “march for science” au Kenya, Nigeria, Ouganda…

Et au Rwanda ? Eh bien, rien… Pourquoi suivre la masse, hein ? Pourquoi est-ce que je ne me suis pas bougé le cul pour faire une « march for science » au Rwanda ? Euh… et bien… Je vous avoue que je me vois mal organiser une manif au Rwanda en fait… Une collègue m’a même suggéré l’idée mais voilà, j’ai laissé tomber au moment même où l’idée m’a traversé l’esprit… Cependant, j’avais quand même cette envie d’exprimer ma sympathie et mon appartenance à ce mouvement mondial, à titre personnel, sans vouloir parler pour les autres, avec un GIF tout simple.

March for science RWanda

” March for science ” Rwanda

Je dois dire que je me sens bien souvent seul ici… Les cours de biologie de beaucoup d’écoles sont créationnistes, même au KICS (pour Kigali International Community School), une école internationale américaine (je tiens ça d’amis qui ont eu leurs enfants dans cette école). Sur son site, cette école de grande renommée ici ne cache pas ses penchants chrétiens : “KICS is a fully accredited member of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) (…)” et, de plus, est reconnue par le ministère de l’éducation rwandais : “(KICS) is endorsed by the Rwandan Ministry of Education as a sound educational institution“. Et puis, il y a cette phrase sur leur page d’accueil : « Join the KICS family and impact the world for christ ».

Je réalise régulièrement des formations en pédagogie des sciences pour des profs locaux du primaire et du secondaire. Lors de ma formation sur la théorie de l’Evolution, qui a eu pas mal de succès, les enseignants de biologie m’ont confié que c’était la première fois, avec moi, qu’ils avaient eu de vrais cours sur la théorie de l’Evolution… (Je passe les débats sur l’athéisme, sur la « création » qui n’est pas un fait, sur ce qu’est un fait, qu’il ne faut pas faire « acte de foi » pour faire de la science et que donc on ne peut pas « croire » en la science, mais la comprendre…). Un thème délicat à aborder a été celui de la « construction des identités meurtrières » pour reprendre le titre du livre d’Amin Maalouf, au Rwanda comment est-ce qu’une pseudoscience, subjective, orientée politiquement et religieusement a pu mener au racisme et au génocide. On m’avait aussi formellement interdit d’en parler à l’époque, ma directrice de l’époque disait « ne te mêle pas de ça, ce n’est pas notre histoire », mais voilà, maintenant, ce thème est devenu un thème incontournable, même à l’Ecole Belge de Kigali !

Une autre formation sur l’éducation sexuelle a été très bien reçue aussi ! J’ai mis en place cette formation, aussi contre l’avis de ma directrice de l’époque (une autre) : des thèmes comme le planning familial, la contraception, l’homosexualité, gérer un débat houleux, les hormones… ont été abordées ! Première fois aussi, m’ont confié les enseignants, qu’ils ont reçu une formation objective sur ces sujets tabous.

Chaque année, je réunis un peu d’argent avec l’aide de l’École Belge de Kigali pour faire ces formations (même si mes directions ne sont pas toujours d’accord avec les thèmes ), je suis totalement indépendant et à part l’École Belge de Kigali, aucune autre institution dont j’ai sollicité le soutien n’a voulu me répondre. Mais je continue, ça relève parfois du militantisme, je l’avoue.

C’est comme mon blog, un des seuls blogs francophones de sciences en Afrique (en fait, je n’en ai jamais trouvé aucun en cherchant sur le net) dans un pays à la connexion Internet catastrophique, je me demande parfois pourquoi je continue… Je perds tellement de temps à attendre que mes pages chargent, à me reconnecter je ne sais pas combien de fois toutes les 5 minutes … En particulier lors de la saison des pluies ! Heureusement que je peux compter sur le soutien inconditionnel de mes communautés de blogueurs : le café des sciences , les Mondoblogueurs de RFI , l’Agence Science-Presse. Sans eux, j’aurais arrêté depuis longtemps ! Six ans de blogging scientifique quand même…

Alors, ce n’est pas que virtuel, vous savez ! Chaque jour, quand je vais au boulot pour donner mes cours de bio et chimie, quand j’organise mes formations, quand j’arrive à me connecter à mon blog, je « marche pour la science ».

Yeah. (De la route, de la science et du rock’n’roll : Rock’n’Science !)

(Un commentaire de soutien ça fait toujours plaisir !)

As I noted, this will be a very rough translation and anything in square brackets [] means that I’m even less sure about the translation in that bit,

Pretty much around the world, thousands will march for science against anti-knowledge/anti-science.

I would have liked to join in and to march with other kindred spirits as one in the streets. We are here! Science will triumph! No science .No future. In the Arctic, in the Antarctic, in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe,  on land, on water … Everywhere hundreds of thousands of people are marching together. Africa, too, has mobilized with marches in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda ..

And in Rwanda? Well, no, nothing. Why follow everyone else? Why didn’t I get my butt in gear and organize a march? [I’m not good at organizing these kinds of things] A colleague even suggested I arrange something . I had an impulse to do it and then it left. Still, I want to express my solidarity with the March for Science without attempting to talk for or represent anyone other than myself. So, here’s a simple gif,

I have to say I often feel myself to be alone here. The biology courses taught in many of the schools here are creationist biology even at the KICS (Kigali International Community School), an international American school (I have friends whose children attend the school). On the school’s site there’s a sign that does nothing to hide its mission: “KICS is a fully accredited member of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) (…)” and, further, it is recognized as such by the Rwandan Ministry of Education : “(KICS) is endorsed by the Rwandan Ministry of Education as a sound educational institution”. Finally, there’s this on their welcome page : « Join the KICS family and impact the world for christ ».

I regularly give science education prgorammes for local primary and secondary teachers. With regard to my teaching on the theory of evolution some have confided that this is the first time they’ve truly been exposed to a theory of evolution.  (I avoid the debates about atheism and the creation story. Science is not about faith it’s about understanding …). One theme that must be skirted with some delicacy in Rwanda is the notion of constructing a murderous/violent identity to borrow from Amin Maalouf’s book title, ‘Les Identités meurtrières’; in English: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong) as it has elements of a pseudoscience, subjectivity, political and religious connotations and has been used to justify racism and genocide. [Not sure here if he’s saying that the theory of evolution has been appropriated and juxtaposed with notions of violence and identify leading to racism and genocide. For anyone not familiar with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, see this Wikipedia entry.] Ihave been formally forbidden to discuss this period and my director said “Don’t meddle in this. It’s not our history.” But this theme/history has become essential/unavoidable even at the l’Ecole Belge de Kigali (Belgian School of Kigali).

A programme on sex education was well received and that subject too was forbidden to me (by a different director). I included topics such as  family planning, contraception, homosexuality, hormones and inspired a spirited debate. Many times my students have confided that they received good factual information on these taboo topics.

Each year with help from the Belgian School at Kigali, I raise money for these programmes (even if my directors don’t approve of the topics). I’m totally independent and other than the Belgian School at Kigali no other institution that I’ve appraoched has responded. But I continue as I hope that it can help lower milittancy.

My blog is one of the few French language science blogs in Africa (I rarely find any other such blogs when I search). In a country where the internet connection is catastrophically poor, I ask myself why I go on. I lose a lot of time waiting for pages to load or to re-establish a connection, especially in the rainy season. Happily I can depend on the communities of bloggers such as: café des sciences , les Mondoblogueurs de RFI , l’Agence Science-Presse. Without them I would have stopped long ago. It has been six years of blogging science …

It is virtual, you know. Each day when I deliver my courses in biology and chemistry, when I organize my programmes, when I post on my blog, ‘I march for science’.

Comments are gladly accepted. [http://www.sciencepresse.qc.ca/blogue/2017/04/24/march-science-rwanda]

All mistakes are mine.

US

My last bit is from an April 24, 2017 article by Jeremy Samuel Faust for Slate.com, (Note: Links have been removed),

Hundreds of thousands of self-professed science supporters turned out to over 600 iterations of the March for Science around the world this weekend. Thanks to the app Periscope, I attended half a dozen of them from the comfort of my apartment, thereby assiduously minimizing my carbon footprint.

Mainly, these marches appeared to be a pleasant excuse for liberals to write some really bad (and, OK, some truly superb) puns, and put them on cardboard signs. There were also some nicely stated slogans that roused support for important concepts such as reason and data and many that decried the defunding of scientific research and ignorance-driven policy.

But here’s the problem: Little of what I observed dissuades me from my baseline belief that, even among the sanctimonious elite who want to own science (and pwn [sic] anyone who questions it), most people have no idea how science actually works. The scientific method itself is already under constant attack from within the scientific community itself and is ceaselessly undermined by its so-called supporters, including during marches like those on Saturday. [April 22, 2017] In the long run, such demonstrations will do little to resolve the myriad problems science faces and instead could continue to undermine our efforts to use science accurately and productively.

Indeed much of the sentiment of the March for Science seemed to fall firmly in the camp of people espousing a gee-whiz attitude in which science is just great and beyond reproach. They feel that way because, so often, the science they’re exposed to feels that way—it’s cherry-picked. Cherry-picking scientific findings that support an already cherished and firmly held belief (while often ignoring equally if not more compelling data that contradicts it) is epidemic—in scientific journals and in the media.

Let’s face it: People like science when it supports their views. I see this every day. When patients ask me for antibiotics to treat their common colds, I tell them that decades of science and research, let alone a basic understanding of microbiology, shows that antibiotics don’t work for cold viruses. Trust me, people don’t care. They have gotten antibiotics for their colds in the past, and, lo, they got better. (The human immune system, while a bit slower and clunkier than we’d like it to be, never seems to get the credit it deserves in these little anecdotal stories.) Who needs science when you have something mightier—personal experience?

Another example is the vocal wing of environmentalists who got up one day and decided that genetically modified organisms were bad for you. They had not one shred of evidence for this, but it just kind of felt true. As a result, responsible scientists will be fighting against these zealots for years to come. While the leaders of March for Science events are on the right side of this issue, many of its supporters are not. I’m looking at you, Bernie Sanders; the intellectual rigor behind your stance requiring GMO labelling reflects a level of scientific understanding that would likely lead for calls for self-defenestration from your own supporters if it were applied to, say, something like climate change.

But it does not stop there. Perhaps as irritating as people who know nothing about science are those who know just a little bit—just enough to think they have any idea as to what is going on. Take for example the clever cheer (and unparalleled public declaration of nerdiness):

What do we want?

Science!

When do we want it?

After peer review!

Of course, the quality of most peer-review research is somewhere between bad and unfair to the pixels that gave their lives to display it. Just this past week, a study published by the world’s most prestigious stroke research journal (Stroke), made headlines and achieved media virality by claiming a correlation between increased diet soda consumption and strokes and dementia. Oh, by the way, the authors didn’t control for body mass index [*], even though, unsurprisingly, people who have the highest BMIs had the most strokes. An earlier study that no one seems to remember showed a correlation of around the same magnitude between obesity and strokes alone. But, who cares, right? Ban diet sodas now! Science says they’re linked to strokes and dementia! By the way, Science used to say that diet sodas cause cancer. But Science was, perish the thought, wrong.

If you can get past the writer’s great disdain for just about everyone, he makes very good points.

To add some clarity with regard to “controlling for body mass index,” there’s a concept in research known as a confounding variable. In this case, people who have a higher body mass index (or are more obese) will tend to have more strokes according to previous research which qualifies as a confounding variable when studying the effect of diet soda on strokes. To control for obesity means you set up the research project in such a way you can compare (oranges to oranges) the stroke rates of obese people who drink x amount of diet soda with obese people who do not drink x amount of diet soda and compare stroke rates of standard weight people who drink x amount of diet soda with other standard weight people who do not drink x amount of diet soda. There are other aspects of the research that would also have be considered but to control for body mass index that’s the way I’d set it up.

One point that Faust makes that isn’t made often enough and certainly not within the context of the ‘evidence-based policy movement’ and ‘marches for science’ is the great upheaval taking place within the scientific endeavour (Note: Links have been removed),

… . There are a dozen other statistical games that researchers can play to get statistical significance. Such ruses do not rise to anything approaching clinical relevance. Nevertheless, fun truthy ones like the diet soda study grab headlines and often end up changing human behaviors.

The reason this problem, what one of my friends delightfully calls statistical chicanery, is so rampant is twofold. First, academics need to “publish or perish.” If researchers don’t publish in peer-reviewed journals, their careers will be short and undistinguished. Second, large pharmaceutical companies have learned how to game the science system so that their patented designer molecules can earn them billions of dollars, often treating made-up diseases (I won’t risk public opprobrium naming those) as well as other that we, the medical establishment, literally helped create (opioid-induced constipation being a recent flagrancy).

Of course, the journals themselves have suffered because their contributors know the game. There are now dozens of stories of phony research passing muster in peer-review journals, despite being intentionally badly written. These somewhat cynical, though hilarious, exposés have largely focused on outing predatory journals that charge authors money in exchange for publication (assuming the article is “accepted” by the rigorous peer-review process; the word rigorous, by the way, now means “the credit card payment went through and your email address didn’t bounce”). But even prestigious journals have been bamboozled. The Lancet famously published fabrications linking vaccines and autism in 1998. and it took it 12 years to retract the studies. Meanwhile, the United States Congress took only three years for its own inquiry to debunk any link. You know it’s bad when the U.S. Congress is running circles around the editorial board of one of the world’s most illustrious medical journals. Over the last couple of decades, multiple attempts to improve the quality of peer-review adjudication have disappointingly and largely failed to improve the situation.

While the scientific research community is in desperate need of an overhaul, the mainstream media (and social media influencers) could in the meantime play a tremendously helpful role in alleviating the situation. Rather than indiscriminately repeating the results of the latest headline-grabbing scientific journal article and quoting the authors who wrote the paper, journalists should also reach out to skeptics and use their comments not just to provide (false) balance in their articles but to assess whether the finding really warrants an entire article of coverage in the first place. Headlines should be vetted not for impact and virality but for honesty. As a reader, be wary of any headline that includes the phrase “Science says,” as well as anything that states that a particular study “proves” that a particular exposure “causes” a particular disease. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and emphysema, and that’s about as close to a causal statement as actual scientists will make, when it comes to health. Most of what you read and hear about turns out to be mere associations, and mostly fairly weak ones, at that.

Faust refers mostly to medical research but many of his comments are applicable to other science research as well. By the way, Faust has written an excellent description of p-values for which, if for no other reason, you should read his piece in its entirety.

One last comment about Faust’s piece, he exhorts journalists to take more care in their writing but fails to recognize the pressures on journalists and those who participate in social media. Briefly, journalists are under pressure to produce. Many of the journalists who write about science don’t know much about it and even the ones who have a science background may be quite ignorant about the particular piece of science they are covering, i.e., a physicist might have some problems covering medical research and vice versa. Also, mainstream media are in trouble as they struggle to find revenue models.

As for those of us who blog and others in the social media environment; we are a mixed bag in much the same way that mainstream media is. If you get your science from gossip rags such as the National Enquirer, it’s not likely to be as reliable as what you’d expect from The Guardian or the The New York Times. Still, those prestigious publications have gotten quite wrong on occasion.

In the end, readers (scientists, journalists, bloggers, etc.) need to be skeptical. It’s also helpful to be humble or at least willing to admit you’ve made a mistake (confession: I have my share on this blog, which are noted when I’ve found or when they’ve been pointed out to me).

Final comments

Hopefully, this has given you a taste for the wide ranges of experiences and perspectives on the April 22, 2017 March for Science.

Shades of the Nokia Morph: a smartphone than conforms to your wrist

A March 16, 2017 news item on Nanowerk brought back some memories for me,

Some day, your smartphone might completely conform to your wrist, and when it does, it might be covered in pure gold, thanks to researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Nokia, a Finnish telecommunications company, was promoting its idea for a smartphone ‘and more’ that could be worn around your wrist in a concept called the Morph. It was introduced in 2008 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (see my March 20, 2010 posting for one of my last updates on this moribund project). Here’s Nokia’s Morph video (almost 6 mins.),

Getting back to the present day, here’s what the Missouri researchers are working on,

An example of a gold foil peeled from single crystal silicon. Reprinted with permission from Naveen Mahenderkar et al., Science [355]:[1203] (2017)

A March 16, 2017 Missouri University of Science and Technology news release, by Greg Katski, which originated the news item, provides more details about this Missouri version (Note: A link has been removed),

Writing in the March 17 [2017] issue of the journal Science, the S&T researchers say they have developed a way to “grow” thin layers of gold on single crystal wafers of silicon, remove the gold foils, and use them as substrates on which to grow other electronic materials. The research team’s discovery could revolutionize wearable or “flexible” technology research, greatly improving the versatility of such electronics in the future.

According to lead researcher Jay A. Switzer, the majority of research into wearable technology has been done using polymer substrates, or substrates made up of multiple crystals. “And then they put some typically organic semiconductor on there that ends up being flexible, but you lose the order that (silicon) has,” says Switzer, Donald L. Castleman/FCR Endowed Professor of Discovery in Chemistry at S&T.

Because the polymer substrates are made up of multiple crystals, they have what are called grain boundaries, says Switzer. These grain boundaries can greatly limit the performance of an electronic device.

“Say you’re making a solar cell or an LED,” he says. “In a semiconductor, you have electrons and you have holes, which are the opposite of electrons. They can combine at grain boundaries and give off heat. And then you end up losing the light that you get out of an LED, or the current or voltage that you might get out of a solar cell.”

Most electronics on the market are made of silicon because it’s “relatively cheap, but also highly ordered,” Switzer says.

“99.99 percent of electronics are made out of silicon, and there’s a reason – it works great,” he says. “It’s a single crystal, and the atoms are perfectly aligned. But, when you have a single crystal like that, typically, it’s not flexible.”

By starting with single crystal silicon and growing gold foils on it, Switzer is able to keep the high order of silicon on the foil. But because the foil is gold, it’s also highly durable and flexible.

“We bent it 4,000 times, and basically the resistance didn’t change,” he says.

The gold foils are also essentially transparent because they are so thin. According to Switzer, his team has peeled foils as thin as seven nanometers.

Switzer says the challenge his research team faced was not in growing gold on the single crystal silicon, but getting it to peel off as such a thin layer of foil. Gold typically bonds very well to silicon.

“So we came up with this trick where we could photo-electrochemically oxidize the silicon,” Switzer says. “And the gold just slides off.”

Photoelectrochemical oxidation is the process by which light enables a semiconductor material, in this case silicon, to promote a catalytic oxidation reaction.

Switzer says thousands of gold foils—or foils of any number of other metals—can be made from a single crystal wafer of silicon.

The research team’s discovery can be considered a “happy accident.” Switzer says they were looking for a cheap way to make single crystals when they discovered this process.

“This is something that I think a lot of people who are interested in working with highly ordered materials like single crystals would appreciate making really easily,” he says. “Besides making flexible devices, it’s just going to open up a field for anybody who wants to work with single crystals.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Epitaxial lift-off of electrodeposited single-crystal gold foils for flexible electronics by Naveen K. Mahenderkar, Qingzhi Chen, Ying-Chau Liu, Alexander R. Duchild, Seth Hofheins, Eric Chason, Jay A. Switzer. Science  17 Mar 2017: Vol. 355, Issue 6330, pp. 1203-1206 DOI: 10.1126/science.aam5830

This paper is behind a paywall.

Quadriplegic man reanimates a limb with implanted brain-recording and muscle-stimulating systems

It took me a few minutes to figure out why this item about a quadriplegic (also known as, tetraplegic) man is news. After all, I have a May 17, 2012 posting which features a video and information about a quadri(tetra)plegic woman who was drinking her first cup of coffee, independently, in many years. The difference is that she was using an external robotic arm and this man is using *his own arm*,

This Case Western Reserve University (CRWU) video accompanies a March 28, 2017 CRWU news release, (h/t ScienceDaily March 28, 2017 news item)

Bill Kochevar grabbed a mug of water, drew it to his lips and drank through the straw.

His motions were slow and deliberate, but then Kochevar hadn’t moved his right arm or hand for eight years.

And it took some practice to reach and grasp just by thinking about it.

Kochevar, who was paralyzed below his shoulders in a bicycling accident, is believed to be the first person with quadriplegia in the world to have arm and hand movements restored with the help of two temporarily implanted technologies.

A brain-computer interface with recording electrodes under his skull, and a functional electrical stimulation (FES) system* activating his arm and hand, reconnect his brain to paralyzed muscles.

Holding a makeshift handle pierced through a dry sponge, Kochevar scratched the side of his nose with the sponge. He scooped forkfuls of mashed potatoes from a bowl—perhaps his top goal—and savored each mouthful.

“For somebody who’s been injured eight years and couldn’t move, being able to move just that little bit is awesome to me,” said Kochevar, 56, of Cleveland. “It’s better than I thought it would be.”

Kochevar is the focal point of research led by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center (UH). A study of the work was published in the The Lancet March 28 [2017] at 6:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern time.

“He’s really breaking ground for the spinal cord injury community,” said Bob Kirsch, chair of Case Western Reserve’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, executive director of the FES Center and principal investigator (PI) and senior author of the research. “This is a major step toward restoring some independence.”

When asked, people with quadriplegia say their first priority is to scratch an itch, feed themselves or perform other simple functions with their arm and hand, instead of relying on caregivers.

“By taking the brain signals generated when Bill attempts to move, and using them to control the stimulation of his arm and hand, he was able to perform personal functions that were important to him,” said Bolu Ajiboye, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and lead study author.

Technology and training

The research with Kochevar is part of the ongoing BrainGate2* pilot clinical trial being conducted by a consortium of academic and VA institutions assessing the safety and feasibility of the implanted brain-computer interface (BCI) system in people with paralysis. Other investigational BrainGate research has shown that people with paralysis can control a cursor on a computer screen or a robotic arm (braingate.org).

“Every day, most of us take for granted that when we will to move, we can move any part of our body with precision and control in multiple directions and those with traumatic spinal cord injury or any other form of paralysis cannot,” said Benjamin Walter, associate professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, clinical PI of the Cleveland BrainGate2 trial and medical director of the Deep Brain Stimulation Program at UH Cleveland Medical Center.

“The ultimate hope of any of these individuals is to restore this function,” Walter said. “By restoring the communication of the will to move from the brain directly to the body this work will hopefully begin to restore the hope of millions of paralyzed individuals that someday they will be able to move freely again.”

Jonathan Miller, assistant professor of neurosurgery at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and director of the Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery Center at UH, led a team of surgeons who implanted two 96-channel electrode arrays—each about the size of a baby aspirin—in Kochevar’s motor cortex, on the surface of the brain.

The arrays record brain signals created when Kochevar imagines movement of his own arm and hand. The brain-computer interface extracts information from the brain signals about what movements he intends to make, then passes the information to command the electrical stimulation system.

To prepare him to use his arm again, Kochevar first learned how to use his brain signals to move a virtual-reality arm on a computer screen.

“He was able to do it within a few minutes,” Kirsch said. “The code was still in his brain.”

As Kochevar’s ability to move the virtual arm improved through four months of training, the researchers believed he would be capable of controlling his own arm and hand.

Miller then led a team that implanted the FES systems’ 36 electrodes that animate muscles in the upper and lower arm.

The BCI decodes the recorded brain signals into the intended movement command, which is then converted by the FES system into patterns of electrical pulses.

The pulses sent through the FES electrodes trigger the muscles controlling Kochevar’s hand, wrist, arm, elbow and shoulder. To overcome gravity that would otherwise prevent him from raising his arm and reaching, Kochevar uses a mobile arm support, which is also under his brain’s control.

New Capabilities

Eight years of muscle atrophy required rehabilitation. The researchers exercised Kochevar’s arm and hand with cyclical electrical stimulation patterns. Over 45 weeks, his strength, range of motion and endurance improved. As he practiced movements, the researchers adjusted stimulation patterns to further his abilities.

Kochevar can make each joint in his right arm move individually. Or, just by thinking about a task such as feeding himself or getting a drink, the muscles are activated in a coordinated fashion.

When asked to describe how he commanded the arm movements, Kochevar told investigators, “I’m making it move without having to really concentrate hard at it…I just think ‘out’…and it goes.”

Kocehvar is fitted with temporarily implanted FES technology that has a track record of reliable use in people. The BCI and FES system together represent early feasibility that gives the research team insights into the potential future benefit of the combined system.

Advances needed to make the combined technology usable outside of a lab are not far from reality, the researchers say. Work is underway to make the brain implant wireless, and the investigators are improving decoding and stimulation patterns needed to make movements more precise. Fully implantable FES systems have already been developed and are also being tested in separate clinical research.

Kochevar welcomes new technology—even if it requires more surgery—that will enable him to move better. “This won’t replace caregivers,” he said. “But, in the long term, people will be able, in a limited way, to do more for themselves.”

There is more about the research in a March 29, 2017 article by Sarah Boseley for The Guardian,

Bill Kochevar, 53, has had electrical implants in the motor cortex of his brain and sensors inserted in his forearm, which allow the muscles of his arm and hand to be stimulated in response to signals from his brain, decoded by computer. After eight years, he is able to drink and feed himself without assistance.

“I think about what I want to do and the system does it for me,” Kochevar told the Guardian. “It’s not a lot of thinking about it. When I want to do something, my brain does what it does.”

The experimental technology, pioneered by the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, is the first in the world to restore brain-controlled reaching and grasping in a person with complete paralysis.

For now, the process is relatively slow, but the scientists behind the breakthrough say this is proof of concept and that they hope to streamline the technology until it becomes a routine treatment for people with paralysis. In the future, they say, it will also be wireless and the electrical arrays and sensors will all be implanted under the skin and invisible.

A March 28, 2017 Lancet news release on EurekAlert provides a little more technical insight into the research and Kochevar’s efforts,

Although only tested with one participant, the study is a major advance and the first to restore brain-controlled reaching and grasping in a person with complete paralysis. The technology, which is only for experimental use in the USA, circumvents rather than repairs spinal injuries, meaning the participant relies on the device being implanted and switched on to move.

“Our research is at an early stage, but we believe that this neuro-prosthesis could offer individuals with paralysis the possibility of regaining arm and hand functions to perform day-to-day activities, offering them greater independence,” said lead author Dr Bolu Ajiboye, Case Western Reserve University, USA. “So far it has helped a man with tetraplegia to reach and grasp, meaning he could feed himself and drink. With further development, we believe the technology could give more accurate control, allowing a wider range of actions, which could begin to transform the lives of people living with paralysis.” [1]

Previous research has used similar elements of the neuro-prosthesis. For example, a brain-computer interface linked to electrodes on the skin has helped a person with less severe paralysis open and close his hand, while other studies have allowed participants to control a robotic arm using their brain signals. However, this is the first to restore reaching and grasping via the system in a person with a chronic spinal cord injury.

In this study, a 53 year-old man who had been paralysed below the shoulders for eight years underwent surgery to have the neuro-prosthesis fitted.

This involved brain surgery to place sensors in the motor cortex area of his brain responsible for hand movement – creating a brain-computer interface that learnt which movements his brain signals were instructing for. This initial stage took four months and included training using a virtual reality arm.

He then underwent another procedure placing 36 muscle stimulating electrodes into his upper and lower arm, including four that helped restore finger and thumb, wrist, elbow and shoulder movements. These were switched on 17 days after the procedure, and began stimulating the muscles for eight hours a week over 18 weeks to improve strength, movement and reduce muscle fatigue.

The researchers then wired the brain-computer interface to the electrical stimulators in his arm, using a decoder (mathematical algorithm) to translate his brain signals into commands for the electrodes in his arm. The electrodes stimulated the muscles to produce contractions, helping the participant intuitively complete the movements he was thinking of. The system also involved an arm support to stop gravity simply pulling his arm down.

During his training, the participant described how he controlled the neuro-prosthesis: “It’s probably a good thing that I’m making it move without having to really concentrate hard at it. I just think ‘out’ and it just goes.”

After 12 months of having the neuro-prosthesis fitted, the participant was asked to complete day-to-day tasks, including drinking a cup of coffee and feeding himself. First of all, he observed while his arm completed the action under computer control. During this, he thought about making the same movement so that the system could recognise the corresponding brain signals. The two systems were then linked and he was able to use it to drink a coffee and feed himself.

He successfully drank in 11 out of 12 attempts, and it took him roughly 20-40 seconds to complete the task. When feeding himself, he did so multiple times – scooping forkfuls of food and navigating his hand to his mouth to take several bites.

“Although similar systems have been used before, none of them have been as easy to adopt for day-to-day use and they have not been able to restore both reaching and grasping actions,” said Dr Ajiboye. “Our system builds on muscle stimulating electrode technology that is already available and will continue to improve with the development of new fully implanted and wireless brain-computer interface systems. This could lead to enhanced performance of the neuro-prosthesis with better speed, precision and control.” [1]

At the time of the study, the participant had had the neuro-prosthesis implanted for almost two years (717 days) and in this time experienced four minor, non-serious adverse events which were treated and resolved.

Despite its achievements, the neuro-prosthesis still had some limitations, including that movements made using it were slower and less accurate than those made using the virtual reality arm the participant used for training. When using the technology, the participant also needed to watch his arm as he lost his sense of proprioception – the ability to intuitively sense the position and movement of limbs – as a result of the paralysis.

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Steve Perlmutter, University of Washington, USA, said: “The goal is futuristic: a paralysed individual thinks about moving her arm as if her brain and muscles were not disconnected, and implanted technology seamlessly executes the desired movement… This study is groundbreaking as the first report of a person executing functional, multi-joint movements of a paralysed limb with a motor neuro-prosthesis. However, this treatment is not nearly ready for use outside the lab. The movements were rough and slow and required continuous visual feedback, as is the case for most available brain-machine interfaces, and had restricted range due to the use of a motorised device to assist shoulder movements… Thus, the study is a proof-of-principle demonstration of what is possible, rather than a fundamental advance in neuro-prosthetic concepts or technology. But it is an exciting demonstration nonetheless, and the future of motor neuro-prosthetics to overcome paralysis is brighter.”

[1] Quote direct from author and cannot be found in the text of the Article.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Restoration of reaching and grasping movements through brain-controlled muscle stimulation in a person with tetraplegia: a proof-of-concept demonstration by A Bolu Ajiboye, Francis R Willett, Daniel R Young, William D Memberg, Brian A Murphy, Jonathan P Miller, Benjamin L Walter, Jennifer A Sweet, Harry A Hoyen, Michael W Keith, Prof P Hunter Peckham, John D Simeral, Prof John P Donoghue, Prof Leigh R Hochberg, Prof Robert F Kirsch. The Lancet DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)30601-3 Published: 28 March 2017 [online?]

This paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone  who’s interested, you can find the BrainGate website here.

*I initially misidentified the nature of the achievement and stated that Kochevar used a “robotic arm, which is attached to his body” when it was his own reanimated arm. Corrected on April 25, 2017.

European Commission has issued evaluation of nanomaterial risk frameworks and tools

Despite complaints that there should have been more, there has been some research into risks where nanomaterials are concerned. While additional research would be welcome, it’s perhaps more imperative that standardized testing and risk frameworks are developed so, for example, carbon nanotube safety research in Japan can be compared with the similar research in the Netherlands, the US, and elsewhere. This March 15, 2017 news item on Nanowerk features some research analyzing risk assessment frameworks and tools in Europe,

A recent study has evaluated frameworks and tools used in Europe to assess the potential health and environmental risks of manufactured nanomaterials. The study identifies a trend towards tools that provide protocols for conducting experiments, which enable more flexible and efficient hazard testing. Among its conclusions, however, it notes that no existing frameworks meet all the study’s evaluation criteria and calls for a new, more comprehensive framework.

A March 9, 2017 news alert in the European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy series, which originated the news item, provides more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

Nanotechnology is identified as a key emerging technology in the EU’s growth strategy, Europe 2020. It has great potential to contribute to innovation and economic growth and many of its applications have already received large investments. However,there are some uncertainties surrounding the environmental, health and safety risks of manufactured nanomaterials. For effective regulation, careful scientific analysis of their potential impacts is needed, as conducted through risk assessment exercises.

This study, conducted under the EU-funded MARINA project1, reviewed existing frameworks and tools for risk assessing manufactured nanomaterials. The researchers define a framework as a ‘conceptual paradigm’ of how a risk assessment should be conducted and understood, and give the REACH chemical safety assessment as an example. Tools are defined as implements used to carry out a specific task or function, such as experimental protocols, computer models or databases.

In all, 12 frameworks and 48 tools were evaluated. These were identified from other studies and projects. The frameworks were assessed against eight criteria which represent different strengths, such as whether they consider properties specific to nanomaterials, whether they consider the entire life cycle of a nanomaterial and whether they include careful planning and prioritise objectives before the risk assessment is conducted.

The tools were assessed against seven criteria, such as ease of use, whether they provide quantitative information and if they clearly communicate uncertainty in their results. The researchers defined the criteria for both frameworks and tools by reviewing other studies and by interviewing staff at organisations who develop tools.

The evaluation was thus able to produce a list of strengths and areas for improvement for the frameworks and tools, based on whether they meet each of the criteria. Among its many findings, the evaluation showed that most of the frameworks stress that ‘problem formulation’, which sets the goals and scope of an assessment during the planning process, is essential to avoid unnecessary testing. In addition, most frameworks consider routes of exposure in the initial stages of assessment, which is beneficial as it can exclude irrelevant exposure routes and avoid unnecessary tests.

However, none of the frameworks met all eight of the criteria. The study therefore recommends that a new, comprehensive framework is developed that meets all criteria. Such a framework is needed to inform regulation, the researchers say, and should integrate human health and environmental factors, and cover all stages of the life cycle of a product containing nanomaterials.

The evaluation of the tools suggested that many of them are designed to screen risks, and not necessarily to support regulatory risk assessment. However, their strengths include a growing trend in quantitative models, which can assess uncertainty; for example, one tool analysed can identify uncertainties in its results that are due to gaps in knowledge about a material’s origin, characteristics and use.

The researchers also identified a growing trend in tools that provide protocols for experiments, such as identifying materials and test hazards, which are reproducible across laboratories. These tools could lead to a shift from expensive case-by-case testing for risk assessment of manufactured nanomaterials towards a more efficient process based on groupings of nanomaterials; and ‘read-across’ methods, where the properties of one material can be inferred without testing, based on the known properties of a similar material. The researchers do note, however, that although read-across methods are well established for chemical substances, they are still being developed for nanomaterials. To improve nanomaterial read-across methods, they suggest that more data are needed on the links between nanomaterials’ specific properties and their biological effects.

That’s all, folks.