At very long last, here’s our (Raewyn Turner’s and my) video, Steep (1): A digital poetry of gold nanoparticles which was presented at the 2015 International Symposium (ISEA) held in Vancouver in August 2015,
There’s more about the project and my participation (poetry) with Raewyn Turner, a visual artist from New Zealand, in an April 24, 2015 posting (scroll down about 75% of the way).
We will be sending out 200 free Building with Biology physical kits to informal science educators and research institutions to host a Summer 2016 Building with Biology event. The primary focus of these nationwide events is to create conversations between scientists and the public through hands-on activities and public forums. The deadline to submit an application for a Building with Biology kit is February 1, 2016.
I’m not sure if your location matters or if you must be a US-based organization or scientist to apply.
The physics of oobleck is nothing short of amazing; a simple concoction that acts as both a liquid and a solid. This phenomenon is called shear force thickening and scientists are still trying to understand exactly how it works. There are two contending theories: the prevailing theory is supported by fluid dynamics as the force behind the fluid becoming a solid, while the other idea is that contract forces like friction help keep particles locked together. Figuring out which theory is correct will not only affect the way materials such as body armor and spacesuits, helmets, and cement are made but will also potentially save lives.
Here’s a little more about the latest research on ‘oobleck’ from a Nov. 24, 2015 article by Lydia Chain for Popular Science,
There’s an experiment you may have done in high school: When you mix cornstarch with water—a concoction colloquially called oobleck—and give it a stir, it acts like a liquid. But scrape it quickly or hit it hard, and it stiffens up into a solid. If you set the right pace, you can even run on top of a pool of the stuff. This phenomenon is called shear force thickening, and scientists have been trying to understand how it happens for decades.
There’s an experiment you may have done in high school: When you mix cornstarch with water—a concoction colloquially called oobleck—and give it a stir, it acts like a liquid. But scrape it quickly or hit it hard, and it stiffens up into a solid. If you set the right pace, you can even run on top of a pool of the stuff. This phenomenon is called shear force thickening, and scientists have been trying to understand how it happens for decades.
“The debate has been raging, and we’ve been wracking our brains to think of a method to conclusively go one way or the other,” says Itai Cohen, a physicist at Cornell University. He and his team recently ran a new experiment that seems to point to friction as the driving cause of shear thickening.
They decided to perform what is called a flow reversal experiment. They put a cone into a dish full of the fluid and measured the torque it takes to spin the cone. As shear thickening begins, it gets harder to spin the cone. Then they suddenly reverse the spin direction. The idea is that if contact force is the cause of shear thickening, then the moment the spinning reverses, the particles will pop free of each other, and there will be an immediate drop in the magnitude of torque. If hydrodynamic clusters were the main cause of shear thickening, the torque wouldn’t drop.
The problem is that the force has to be measured immediately, and there wasn’t a machine that could make that measurement fast enough to see the effect. So Cohen’s team partnered with Gareth McKinley at MIT, who altered the machine to get the data more quickly. When they tested simple solutions they had made, they saw that characteristic drop in force after they reversed the flow. Further modeling suggested that friction might be the contact force at play.
“We are giddy with excitement,” Cohen says.
Chain’s article includes more details and images (.jpegs and .gifs) demonstrating the principles at work.
For the final excerpt from the December 2015 issue, there’s this about genetically engineered salmon,
Genetically Modified Salmon: Coming to a River Near You?
After nearly 20 years of effort, the Food and Drug Administration has approved genetically engineered salmon produced by AquaBounty Technologies, as fit for consumption and will not have to be labeled as genetically engineered. This salmon is capable of growing twice as fast as a non-engineered farmed salmon in as little as half of the time, however, it’s still likely to be at least two years before these salmon reach supermarkets. Some groups are concerned about the environmental implications should these salmon accidentally get released, or escape, into the wild, even though AquaBounty says its salmon will be all female and sterile.
AquaBounty’s salmon (background) has been genetically modified to grow bigger and faster than a conventional Atlantic salmon of the same age (foreground.) Courtesy of AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. [downloaded from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/06/24/413755699/genetically-modified-salmon-coming-to-a-river-near-you]
The link from the newsletter points to a June 24, 2015 article by Jessie Rack for US National Public Radio’s Salt on the Table program (Note: Links have been removed),
One concern repeatedly raised by critics who don’t want the FDA to give the transgenic fish the green light: What would happen if these fish got out of the land-based facilities where they’re grown and escaped into the wild? Would genetically modified salmon push out their wild counterparts or permanently alter habitat? In a review paper published this month in the journal BioScience, scientists tackle that very question.
Robert H. Devlin, a scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, led a team that reviewed more than 80 studies analyzing growth, behavior and other trait differences between genetically modified and unaltered fish. The scientists used this to predict what might happen if fish with modified traits were unleashed in nature.
Genetically modified salmon contain the growth hormone gene from one fish, combined with the promoter of an antifreeze gene from another. This combination both increases and speeds up growth, so the salmon grow faster.
Altering a fish’s genes also changes other traits, the review found. Genetically modified salmon eat more food, spend more time near the surface of the water, and don’t tend to associate in groups. They develop at a dramatically faster rate, and their immune function is reduced.
But would these altered traits help genetically modified salmon outcompete wild salmon, while at the same time making them less likely to thrive in nature? It’s unclear, says Fredrik Sundström, one of the study authors and an ecologist at Uppsala University in Sweden.
You may note the lead researcher for the literature review, a Canadian scientist was not quoted. This is likely due to the muzzle the Conservative government (still in power in June 2015 ) had applied to government scientists.
One last thing about AquAdvantage salmon, there is a very good Dec. 3, 2015 posting by Meredith Hamel focusing on their Canadian connections on her BiologyBizarre blog/magazine (Note: A link has been removed),
“For the first time anywhere in the world, a genetically engineered animal has been approved for human consumption” announced Peter Mansbridge on CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] news on November 20 . Members of society do not agree on how genetically modified fruits and vegetables should be labelled, if at all, but we are already moving on to genetically modified animals for human consumption. The AquAdvantage salmon by the US company AquaBounty can grow quicker and go to market twice as fast as regular farmed salmon using less feed. This genetically engineered salmon, whose fertilized eggs are produced at an inland facility in P.E.I [Prince Edward Island], Canada [emphasis mine] and raised at a facility in Panama, has been approved by the FDA after a long 20 year wait. AquAdvantage salmon could be the first genetically engineered meat we eat but opposition to approving it in Canada shows this salmon is not yet finished swimming against the current.
She goes on to describe in detail how these salmon are created (not excerpted here) and pinpoints another Canadian connection and political ramifications (Note: Links have been removed),
Head of Ocean Sciences Department at Memorial University [province of Newfoundland and Labrador], Garth Fletcher told The Star he was happy to see his creation get approved as he didn’t think approval would happen in his lifetime. Fletcher is no longer involved with AquaBounty but began working on this growth improved transgenic fish with other scientists back in 1982. On CBC news he said “the risk is as minimal as you could ever expect to get with any product.”
While the salmon is not approved in Canada for human consumption, some grocery store chains have already boycotted AquAdvantage salmon. The first step, the production of eggs in P.E.I has been approved by the federal government. Now there is a court battle with British Columbia’s Living Oceans Society and Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre together challenging the federal government’s approval. They are concerned AquAdvantage salmon would be toxic to the environment as an invasive species if they were to escape and that this was not adequately assessed. Secondly they argue that Environment Canada had a duty to inform the public but failed to do so.
Natalie Huneault at Environment Canada told the National Oberver, “there were no concerns identified to the environment or to the indirect health of Canadians due to the contained production of these GM fish eggs for export.”
Anastasia Bodnar over on Biology Fortified does an excellent job of going through the risks and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon (here and here) both with respect to safety of eating this meat product as well as in preventing escapee transgenic fish from contaminating wild salmon populations. The Fisheries and Oceans Canada document containing assessment of risks to the environment and health are found here. Due to the containment facility and procedures there is extremely low likelihood that any fertile genetically modified salmon would escape to an area where it could survive and reproduce.
The failure of Environment Canada to properly inform and have a discussion with the public before approving the P.E.I fertilized egg production facility will certainly have increased public mistrust and fear of this genetically engineered salmon. I think that if the public feel that this step has already taken place behind their back, future discussion about approving genetically engineered salmon as safe to eat, is only going to be met with suspicion.
Hamel’s piece is well worth reading if you (Canadian or otherwise) have an interest in this topic as she offers some good explanations and links to more. While she expresses some hesitance about the AquAdvantage salmon, it is measured,
While I don’t feel I would be risking my health eating AquAdvantage salmon, I am not sure I would choose it in a supermarket over other farmed salmon. I find genetically engineered triploid salmon fascinating….but not so appetizing. I think a similar gut reaction in consumers is the biggest hurdle for genetically engineered foods. There needs to be a good reason to choose genetically modified foods over the alternatives. If AquAdvantage salmon production can be shown to be better for the environment than other farmed fish people might try it and eventually not be turned off by how it was made.
Getting back to The Nano Bite December 2015, you can find the full issue here.
The NISENet’s (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) November 2015 issue of its The Nano Bite newsletter suggests that this network’s nanotechnology focus is shifting towards synthetic biology. From the November 2015 issue,
→ NISE Network Partner Opportunities Galore! The Network is continuing to see and provide project opportunities and we welcome NISE Net partners to get involved in the many new projects varying in topics. A short flyer summarizing all these projects is available here.
This is the fifth (!) month in a row (June/July, August, September, October, and now November 2015) where the Building with Biology project has been featured in one way or the other in The Nano Bite newsletter and here too.
No work of literature has done more to shape the way people imagine science and its moral consequences than Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s enduring tale of creation and responsibility. The novel’s themes and tropes—such as the complex dynamic between creator and creation—continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. Frankenstein continues to influence the way we confront emerging technologies, conceptualize the process of scientific research, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of scientists, and weigh the benefits of innovation with its unforeseen pitfalls.
The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project will infuse science and engineering endeavors with considerations of ethics. It will use the power of storytelling and art to shape processes of innovation and empower public appraisal of techno-scientific research and creation. It will offer humanists and artists a new set of concerns around research, public policy, and the ramifications of exploration and invention. And it will inspire new scientific and technological advances inspired by Shelley’s exploration of our inspiring and terrifying ability to bring new life into the world. Frankenstein represents a landmark fusion of science, ethics, and literary expression.
The bicentennial provides an opportunity for vivid reflection on how science is culturally framed and understood by the public, as well as our ethical limitations and responsibility for nurturing the products of our creativity. It is also a moment to unveil new scientific and technological marvels, especially in the areas of synthetic biology and artificial intelligence. Engaging with Frankenstein allows scholars and educators, artists and writers, and the public at large to consider the history of scientific invention, reflect on contemporary research, and question the future of our technological society. Acting as a network hub for the bicentennial celebration, ASU will encourage and coordinate collaboration across institutions and among diverse groups worldwide.
Here’s where the museum comes into play,
An Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant from the National Science Foundation connected to the project will explore digital narrative, transmedia engagement, and science-in-society through a digital museum [emphasis mine], a tabletop activities kit, and a set of hands-on maker challenges and competitions.
Organizers have produced a promotional video,
For anyone interested in the project, you can go here to subscribe to the project mailing list.
For anyone interested in the 2014 workshop which brought together various researchers, artists, scientists, etc. and which provides some insight into the plans for this project, go here.
How do you go from doing NanoDays in the US to holding NanoDays in Beijing, China? The story starts simply enough. While facilitating activities at NanoDays 2015 in the Museum of Science, Boston, Pei Zhang was inspired by what she experienced. She loved the hands-on activities and engagement between the volunteers and the public. But Pei wanted more. She wanted to bring the NanoDays experience to China and she knew just how to make it happen. Pei reached out to the NISE Network through the Museum of Science and offered to bring two educators to the 2015 International Beijing Science Festival. Brad Herring and Frank Kusiak accepted the offer and joined an international delegation of 65 science educators from 21 countries all tasked with bringing international hands-on science demonstrations to the people of China. To read more about their experiences, read the full article here.
The Adventure Science Center, located in Nashville, Tennessee, is a premier attraction and learning center for visitors throughout Middle Tennessee and lives its mission to “ignite curiosity and inspire the lifelong discovery of science!” Learning does not solely take place inside the science center’s walls, it extends well beyond them and in many different forms.
As a 2015 NISE Net Mini-Grant recipient, Adventure Science Center was able to leverage an established relationship with a local community organization, Conexión Américas, whose mission is to assist Latino families through programs that focus on social, economic and civic integration. Larry Dunlap-Berg, Adventure Science Center’s Community Engagement Science Educator, has been leading outreach efforts with Conexión Américas for the past several years, including providing STEM programming to children while their parents attend Parents as Partners classes. Having built a relationship with Conexión Américas and through these interactions with Latino families within their community, Adventure Science Center was able to establish trust, a key component to any successful museum and local community organization collaboration.
To celebrate the adults completing their courses from Conexión Américas, Adventure Science Center organized a Family Science Event in collaboration with Conexión Américas around nanoscale science, engineering and technology topics, which was supported through funding by their mini-grant award. As part of this outreach, Dunlap-Berg and his colleagues also participated in NISE Net’s 2015 Team-Based Inquiry (TBI) Cohort, a professional development opportunity empowering education professionals to improve their own products and practices through an ongoing cycle of inquiry. To determine which NanoDays kit activities would be best suited and adaptable for short, hands-on activities for a series of Nano Family Science Events, Adventure Science Center worked closely with a range of students in the community…Through hosting the Nano Family Science Event at Casa Azafrán, Conexión Américas’ community center, Adventure Science Center was able to make their family event inviting and engaging for their Latino audience. During their “viaje” (“journey”), families wandered through 10 nano-themed stations made up of several hands-on activities to reinforce concepts.
The story of science in the Muslim world is extraordinary, influencing science to this day, and is not well known even within its own community. The days when Muslim or Islamic scientists led the world are long gone and that is cause for concern. An Oct. 29, 2015 Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology press release on EurekAlert argues that universities in Muslim countries must reinvent themselves to transform society and achieve scientific excellence,
A Task Force of international experts, formed by the Muslim World Science Initiative, today released a report [Science at Universities of the Muslim World] on the state of science at universities of the Muslim world.
To assess the state of science at universities of the Muslim world, the Task Force reviewed the rankings of Muslim-world’s universities globally, scientific production (number of papers published and citations), the level of spending on research and development (R&D), female participation in the scientific workforce, and other indicators.
The results were compared to those of countries deemed comparable in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, e.g. Brazil, Israel, Spain, South Africa, and South Korea.
The Task Force noted recent improvements in scientific publishing across a number of countries and a relatively healthy gender ratio among university students, even though the overall state of science in the Muslim World remains ‘poor,’ as depicted by
the disproportionately small number of Nobel Laureates
the small number of universities in top global rankings
the low spending on R&D, and
the abysmal performance of pre-university students on math and science tests
Seeking to assess if universities were the ‘main culprits’ in this sorry state of affairs, the Task Force highlighted significant challenges at the Universities of the Muslim World.
In particular, the Task Force lamented the fact that science education in most Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member countries was extremely narrow in focus and did little to enable students to think critically, especially beyond their respective domains of specialty.
The Task Force calls for broad liberal education for scientists and engineers to enable them to function effectively in addressing complex multi-disciplinary challenges that the world faces today.
The Task Force also noted that self-censorship was often practiced in the selection of topics to be taught, particularly regarding controversial subjects such as the theory of evolution.
The Task Force called for the introduction and systematic study of philosophy of science and history of the sciences of the Muslim ‘Golden Age’ and beyond for students to navigate and develop a perspective on these difficult disciplinary boundaries and overlaps. The language of instruction also created significant challenges.
Faculty members were also ill-trained to teach using cutting-edge methods such as inquiry-based science education and had little autonomy to innovate.
While the Task Force called for greater autonomy for the universities, it also emphasized that they must become meritocracies and aspire for true scientific excellence rather than playing for temporary gains in numbers or rankings. It also calls for zero tolerance on plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct.
The Report of the Task Force includes: a foreword by the Chair, Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, the main assessment and recommendations, and individual essays written by the Task Force members on issues, including
Science, Society & the University
Are universities of the Muslim world helping spread a culture of science through society?
Should Religion Be Kept Out of the Science Classroom?
STEM Education and the Muslim Gender Divide and
The Need of Liberal Education for Science and Engineering
The Task Force is putting out an open call for universities across the Muslim world to join a voluntary Network of Excellence of Universities for Science (NEXUS), to be launched early next year.
This peer group will be managed by the task force and housed in Tan Sri Zakri’s office. NEXUS will run summer schools for university administrators, monitor the progress of reforms at participating universities, and issue a peer report card that will assess the performance of the universities in meeting milestones, thus recognizing and inspiring further improvements. True transformation will require much broader action from ministries, regulators and funding agencies, and these may be the most resistant to change.
Releasing the Report of the Task Force, Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid stressed that “universities must reinvent themselves to lead the scientific reforms in the Muslim World, and as they do so they must embrace key ideas of merit and transparency, engagement with society, and pedagogical and curricular innovation.”
Professor Nidhal Guessoum, the Task Force’s Convenor, noted that “Task Force members strongly believe that the most appropriate venue for action on our recommendations is the university itself. The most essential ingredient in creating excellence in science and science teaching at a university is a realization, within a university’s highest leadership and its faculty, of the need to give up the old and dated ways, renew the purpose, and re-write the genetic code of their university.
Dr. Athar Osama, the Director of the Project noted that “the purpose of Muslim World Science Initiative is to jumpstart a dialogue within the society on critical issues at the intersection of science, society, and Islam. The Task Force has done a commendable job in laying the groundwork for a very important conversation about our universities.”
The divide between science/technology/engineering/mathematics (STEM) education and other fields of interest such as social sciences, the arts, and the humanities may be larger in the Islamic world (and to some extent reversed with humanities looking down on science) but it is a problem elsewhere, often expressed as a form of snobbery, as I alluded to in my Aug. 7, 2015 posting titled: Science snobbery and the problem of accessibility.
An Oct. 28, 2015 Nature essay about Islam, science, and the report by Nidhal Guessou and Athar Osama (two members of the Task Force; Note: Links have been removed) provides more context,
The Islamic civilization lays claim to the world’s oldest continually operational university. The University of Qarawiyyin was founded in Fes, Morocco, in ad 859, at the beginning of an Islamic Golden Age. Despite such auspicious beginnings, universities in the region are now in dire straits, as demonstrated by a report we have authored, released this week (see go.nature.com/korli3).
The 57 countries of the Muslim world — those with a Muslim-majority population, and part of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — are home to nearly 25% of the world’s people. But as of 2012, they had contributed only 1.6% of the world’s patents, 6% of its academic publications, and 2.4% of the global research expenditure1, 2.
The authors note problems and at least one success with regard to curriculum (from the Nature essay; Note: Links have been removed),
Science classes themselves have serious problems. The textbooks used in OIC universities are often imported from the United States or Europe. Although the content is of a high standard, they assume a Western experience and use English or French as the language of instruction. This disadvantages many students, and creates a disconnect between their education and culture. To encourage the production of higher-quality, local textbooks and other academic material, universities need to reward staff for producing these at least as much as they do for research publication.
Some basic facts are seen as controversial, and marginalized. Evolution, for example, is usually taught only to biology students, often as “a theory”, and is rarely connected to the rest of the body of knowledge. One ongoing study has found, for example, that most Malaysian physicians and medical students reject evolution (see go.nature.com/38cswo). Evolution needs to be taught widely and shown to be compatible with Islam and its culture6. Teaching the philosophy and history of science would help, too.
The global consensus is that enquiry-based science education fosters the deepest understanding of scientific concepts and laws. But in most OIC universities, lecture-based teaching still prevails. Exceptions are rare. One is the Petroleum Institute, an engineering university in Abu Dhabi, UAE, where the faculty has created a hands-on experience with positive results on student interest and enrolment, particularly of women.
For anyone interested in the full report, it can be requested from the Muslim Science website.
One final comment, here’s the list of task force members in the Oct. 29, 2015 news release which includes someone from Mauritius (my father was born there),
Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to Prime Minister of Malaysia, Chair of the Task Force on Science at the Universities of the Muslim World
Prof. Nidhal Guessoum, American University of Sharjah, UAE, Convenor of the Task Force on Science at Universities of the Muslim World
Dr. Mohammad Yusoff Sulaiman, President and CEO, MiGHT, Malaysia, Co-Convenor of the Task Force on Science at Universities of the Muslim World.
Dr. Moneef Zou’bi, Executive Director, Islamic World Academy of Science (IAS)
Prof. Adil Najam, Dean Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University and former Vice Chancellor, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
Prof. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Fellow of IAS, President of the Republic of Mauritius, and Professor at University of Mauritius
Prof. Mustafa El-Tayeb, President , Future University, Khartoum, Sudan
Prof. Abdur Razak Dzulkifli, President of International Association of Universities (IAU), and former Vice Chancellor USM, Malaysia
Dr. Nadia Alhasani, Dean of Student Life (formerly Dean of Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), The Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Prof. Jamal Mimouni, Professor, University of Constantine-1, Algeria
Dr. Dato Lee Yee Cheong, Chair ISTIC Governing Board / Chair IAP SEP Global Council
Prof. Michael Reiss, Professor of Science Education, UCL Institute of Education, University College, London, Expert Advisor to the Muslim-Science.Com Task Force on Science at Universities of the Muslim World
Prof. Bruce Alberts, Professor of Biochemistry, University of California, San Francisco; President Emeritus, National Academy of Sciences, and Recipient, 2014 US Presidential Medal of Science, Expert Advisor to the Muslim-Science.Com Task Force on Science at Universities of the Muslim World
Professor Shoaib S. H. Zaidi, Professor and Dean of School of Sciences and Engineering, Habib University, Karachi
Dr. Athar Osama, Founder Muslim World Science Initiative, and Project Director of the Task Forces Project.
This show is still making its way around the world with the latest stop, as of Oct. 20, 2015, at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.
A Jan. 21, 2010 article by Nick Higham and Margaret Ryan for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) news online describes some of the exhibit highlights,
From about 700 to 1700, many of history’s finest scientists and technologists were to be found in the Muslim world.
In Christian Europe the light of scientific inquiry had largely been extinguished with the collapse of the Roman empire. But it survived, and indeed blazed brightly, elsewhere.
From Moorish Spain across North Africa to Damascus, Baghdad, Persia and all the way to India, scientists in the Muslim world were at the forefront of developments in medicine, astronomy, engineering, hydraulics, mathematics, chemistry, map-making and exploration.
Salim Al-Hassani, a former professor of engineering at Umist (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) is a moving force behind the exhibition, 1001 Inventions.
Visitors to the exhibition will be greeted by a 20 ft high replica of a spectacular clock designed in 1206 by the inventor Al-Jazari.
It incorporates elements from many cultures, representing the different cultural and scientific traditions which combined and flowed through the Muslim world.
The clock’s base is an elephant, representing India; inside the elephant the water-driven works of the clock derive from ancient Greece.
A Chinese dragon swings down from the top of the clock to mark the hours. At the top is a phoenix, representing ancient Egypt.
Sitting astride the elephant and inside the framework of the clock are automata, or puppets, wearing Arab turbans.
Elsewhere in the exhibition are displays devoted to water power, the spread of education (one of the world’s first universities was founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al-Fihri), Muslim architecture and its influence on the modern world and Muslim explorers and geographers.
There is a display of 10th Century surgeons’ instruments, a lifesize model of a man called Abbas ibn Firnas, allegedly the first person to have flown with wings, and a model of the vast 100 yard-long junk commanded by the Muslim Chinese navigator, Zheng He.
The description of the exhibition items is compelling.
Science and the modern world debate (Humanism and Islam)
Yasmin Khan has written up a transcript of sorts in a Nov. 6, 2015 posting on the Guardian science blogs about a science debate (which took place Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015 in London, UK) where Humanist and Islamic perspectives were being discussed (Note: Links have been removed),
Two important figures came head-to-head at Conway Hall, to discuss Islamic versus Humanist perspectives on science and the modern world. Jim Al-Khalili made the final public appearance of his term as president of the British Humanist Association during this stimulating, and at times provoking, debate with Ziauddin Sardar, chair of the Muslim Institute.
Al-Khalili advocated the values of the European Enlightenment, arguing that ever since the “Age of Reason” took hold during the 18th century, Humanists have looked to science instead of religion to explore and comprehend the world. Sardar upheld the view that it is the combination of faith and reason that offers a fuller understanding of the world, maintaining that it was this worldview that enabled the development of science in the Islamic golden Age.
A practising Muslim, Sardar is on an independent mission to promote rational, considered thought in interpreting the Qur’an. He explained that when he came to the UK from Pakistan, he found comfort in the familiar language of mathematics, which set him on a trajectory to train as a physicist: “God doesn’t need me, I need him. It makes me a better person and a better scientist”, he said.
In short, Sardar’s view is that although human knowledge at times converges with the Qur’an, the text should certainly not be treated as a scientific encyclopaedia. In support of this view, Sardar lamented the emergence of the I’jaz movement, which insists the Qur’an contains descriptions of modern scientific phenomena ranging from quantum mechanics to accurate descriptions of the stages of embryology and geology. In Sardar’s opinion, this stems from insecurity and a personal need to vindicate Islam to others.
Jim Al-Khalili agreed that ascribing literal meanings to religious texts can be perilous and that these verses should be interpreted more metaphorically. Likewise, when Einstein famously said “God does not play dice” he was using a figure of speech to acknowledge that there are things we don’t yet understand but this shouldn’t stop us from trying to find out more.
Whilst Al-Khalili is a staunch atheist, he adopts what he describes as an “accommodationist” approach in his interactions with people of religious faith: “I don’t think people who believe in God are irrational, I just don’t see a need to believe there is a purpose for why things are the way they are.” Born in Bagdad, Al-Khalili grew up in Iraq. His mother was Christian and his father was Shia, but he never heard them quarrel about religion. By the time he reached his teens he felt that he had distanced himself from needing any form of spirituality and his subsequent scientific training cemented this worldview. He asserted that his core values are empathy, humility and respect, without being driven by a reward in an afterlife: “It’s not just people of religious faith that have a moral compass – morality is what makes us human.”
I encourage you to read Khan’s piece (Nov. 6, 2015 posting) in its entirety as she provides historical and contemporary context to what seems to have been a fascinating and nuanced debate. Plus, there’s a bit of a bonus at the end where Khan is described as the producer of Sindbad Sci-Fi, a website where they are Reimagining Arab Science Fiction. From the website’s About page,
Sindbad Sci-Fi is an initiative for spurring the discovery of and engagement with Arab Science Fiction through dialogue. Our aim is to sustain a growing community of interest through brokering face-to-face and online discussion, building new partnerships and project collaborations along the way.
Many of us know and love Sindbad the sailor as the fictional sailor from the Arabian Book of OneThousand and One Nights, considered as being an early composite work of proto-science fiction and fantasy. His extraordinary voyages led him to adventures in magical places whilst meeting monsters and encountering supernatural phenomena.
Sindbad Sci-Fi is reviving Sindbad’s adventurous spirit for exploration and discovery. Join us as we continue star trekking across the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and beyond. Together, we will boldly go where no one else has gone before!
I’m pretty sure somebody associated with this site is a Star Trek fan.
Known as Spark! Emerging collisions between art and science, the event is according to a Nov. 4, 2015 email announcement,
Interactive art-science exhibition co-produced by Curiosity Collider and VIVO Media Arts.
Our show spotlights 18 interdisciplinary exhibits by 15 local artists & scientists that demonstrate how art changes our experience of science. From 2- and 3-dimensional art to animation and interactive exhibits, VIVOs warehouse sets the stage for new expressions of science.
When: Friday, November 13 at 6:00pm – 10:00pm Where:VIVO Media Arts Centre (2625 Kalso Street, Vancouver, BC V5M 3G9 | Google Map) Cost:Tickets are $5 – $20 (sliding scale). You can purchase tickets in advance via Eventbrite. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future art-science co-labs and Curiosity Collider events. 15 participating artists and scientists: Aileen Penner, Char Hoyt, Christopher Rodrigues, Daniel DeGagne, Dzee Louise, Erick James, Erik Zepka, Jaedan Leimert, Jeremiah Birnbaum, Julia Maddison, Luke Blackstone, Michelle Weinstein, Patrick Keeling, Robi Smith, and Willa Downing.
Aileen Penner has been mentioned here before most relevantly in a Dec. 4, 2012 posting about an art/science poetry reading she had organized. In glancing through it, I noticed Lynne Quarmby, one of the my suggestions for Canada’s Chief Science Officer/Advisor in a Nov. 5, 2015 posting was one of the scientists paired up with a poet.
Also mentioned here previously was Erik Zepka in the context of an April 15, 2015 Curiosity Collider event mentioned in my July 7, 2015 posting about Curiosity Collider and Anecdotal Evidence and their past and future science storytelling events.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) has produced a short (4’45”) video about nanobots. Most people are familiar with nanobots as they have been featured many times in science fiction disaster scenarios. At this point, scientists appear to be rebranding nanobots as either nanorobots or molecular machines or nanomachines. Here’s more from an Oct. 12, 2015 ACS news release on EurekAlert,
Nanomachines – including nano-sized motors, rockets and even cars – are many orders of magnitude smaller than a human cell, but they have huge promise. In the future, they could deliver drugs anywhere in the body, clean up oil spills and might even be used as artificial muscle cells. Find out more about these molecular machines (and the challenges that nanobot researchers still face) in Reactions’ latest video, produced in collaboration with the University of Nebraska’s SciPop series: https://youtu.be/loaqIqKCmog.
I’ve embedded the video here,
I quite enjoyed the archival footage they included here along with the inventory of nanobots.
The NISENet’s (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) October 2015 issue of its The Nano Bite newsletter notes that the organization’s executive director, Larry Bell, has been acknowledged with an award,
→ NISE Network Director and Partner Awarded ASTC 2015 Leading Edge Award for Leadership in the Field (Nonexecutive Leadership) The Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards are presented annually to ASTC [Association of Science and Technology Centers] members and/or their employees in recognition of extraordinary accomplishments in Visitor Experience, Business Practice, and Leadership in the Field that not only enhance the performance of their own institutions but also significantly advance the mission of science centers and museums. This year’s 10-member jury of professionals has recognized that Larry Bell’s leadership has impacted the ways in which visitors engage with science across the science center field, and that his tireless, forward-thinking leadership has nurtured growth and collaboration in the field like never before. Marilyn Johnson, our long-term NISE Net collaborator, from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) was also awarded an ASTC Leading Edge Award. If you’re attending the ASTC Conference, award recipients will receive Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards on Monday, October 19th [2015 in Montréal, Canada]. Please join us in this celebration!
Next up, a public engagement case study,which has already taken place but this item also is also announcing a new science engagement initiative, Trellis,
→ Public Engagement at Science Museums: Building with Biology Case Study
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
3:00 – 4:00 PM Eastern
To participate in this discussion, please email Elana Kimbrell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please join Ali Jackson from the Sciencenter, Ithaca and Eric Havel from Chabot Space and Science Center for a live online (text-based) discussion. They will discuss how and why museums incorporate public engagement with science. Both of their institutions are partners in Building with Biology, a project with 12 teams of synthetic biology scientists and informal science education (ISE) practitioners who co-developed engagement activities about the science and societal implications of synthetic biology – a field that is looking for input from public audiences. Ali and Eric will discuss the opportunities and challenges of being part of this project and of implementing public engagement in museum settings more generally. This discussion will take place in a comment thread on Trellis (more information about Trellis below). Even if you can’t join during the live chat period, you can add your comments to the discussion thread afterward.
AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science] is in the beta phase of launching an online platform for scientific communication called Trellis. [emphasis mine] The AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science is using the platform to foster an online community for public engagement professionals – scientists, those researching public engagement, and the practitioners who translate public engagement research into practice. The AAAS team is experimenting with ways to foster community across the many fields and interests that work on public engagement with science. You’re invited to join the public engagement group on Trellis to participate in the conversation and share your ideas, thoughts, questions, and suggestions for the field of public engagement.
The host organization is NanoNextNL, here’s more from their About page,
NanoNextNL is a consortium of more than one hundred companies, universities, knowledge institutes and university medical centres, which is aimed at research into micro and nanotechnology. The total sum involved for NanoNextNL is 250 million euros, half of which is contributed by the collaboration of more than one hundred businesses, universities, knowledge institutes and university medical centres and the other half by the Government of the Netherlands.
The first NanoCity was held in 2014, an event I missed mentioning here (drat!). In any event, do enjoy the 2015 version.
One final comment, NanoNextNL was mentioned in passing in a Dec. 24, 2013 posting featuring an interview with Carla Alvial Palavicino (University of Twente, Netherlands) about her work on graphene ‘hype’.
Are you looking to engage underserved audiences in your community you’re not currently reaching in nanoscale science, engineering, and technology? Maybe you’re seeking ways to expand upon or develop new local community-based collaborations? Do you want to help local community organizations provide high-quality STEM learning experiences for their audiences they might not otherwise provide?
The Network is continuing to build upon its experience, knowledge and network of enthusiastic partners to help museums expand their reach and engagement within their community. To support these partnerships, the NISE Net is developing a free “Explore Science” physical kit of materials intended for outreach events and programs with community-based and youth-serving organizations around nano topics. One hundred (100) Explore Science outreach kits will be made available nationwide to Network partner institutions that apply and meet application requirements; kits will be awarded on a competitive basis.
The Explore Science physical outreach kit includes more than 15 hands-on activities featuring nano topics designed for programming in informal learning settings and appropriate for classroom-style and small group environments, professional development materials such as training videos for each activity, and professional materials on planning and collaboration.
For more project and eligibility details, to learn more the outreach kit and eligible activities for these collaborations, and for additional resources such as profiles of national youth-serving organizations and tips for collaborating, please visit http://www.nisenet.org/museum-community-partnerships.
Tuesday, September 15: Application for a free Explore Science outreach kit opens (please note the application requires identifying your community partner)
Friday, November 13: Application for free Explore Science outreach kit closes
In other news, the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) annual chemistry week is coming up October 2015,
→ National Chemistry Week: October 18 – 24, 2015
National Chemistry Week (NCW) is a community based program of the American Chemical Society (ACS) whose annual events unite local ACS local sections, businesses, schools, and individuals in communicating the importance of chemistry to our quality of life. This year’s theme is “Chemistry Colors Our World: the chemistry of food colors and fireworks, rainbows, natural dyes and pigments, and more.” For more resources and to see a list of NISE Net’s hands-on activities that explore chemistry, colors, and light, please visit http://www.nisenet.org/national-chemistry-week.
The last bit of news I’m excerpting from the newsletter concerns the 2015 annual conference for the Association of Science – Technology Centers (ASTC),
It seems that NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) is extending its reach and moving towards synthetic biology projects (as first noted in my July 9, 2015 post about the June/July 2015 Nano Bite). From their August 2015 newsletter,
→ Building with Biology Between August and September, at eight pilot sites across the U.S., Building with Biology Activities and Conversations about Synthetic Biology events are taking place and bringing scientists and members of the public together to consider societal implications of this fast-growing field [view schedule of upcoming BwB events]. A free physical kit will be available to 200 sites nationwide to host a Building with Biology event of your own during the summer of 2016. Time to start thinking about scientists in your community to invite and engage with the public for these activities and conversations! Kit applications will open later this fall and will be due in early 2016.
The Building with Biology pilot events in the Summer of 2015 will bring scientists and members of the public together at 8 science centers and museums across the U.S. to consider societal implications of this fast-growing field. In the summer of 2016, these conversations will take place at 200 sites around the nation:
Mars is a long way off – literally speaking – but the approximately 34 million miles between Earth and Mars isn’t deterring scientists from planning a mission to Mars. NASA estimates, depending on technology used, that travel to Mars will take about eight months, with astronauts spending anywhere between a few weeks to over a year on Mars before returning to Earth. Instead of packing and moving all the necessary living essentials, scientists are proposing the use of synthetic biological processes “to make extraterrestrial travel more practical and bearable.” For example, synthetic biology could be used to help reuse crew waste, to create fuel, to use microbes to sustain plant-based farming and engineering them to produce pharmaceuticals.
The gene-editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9 (the first term stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats,” which is a description of the genetic basis of the method; Cas9 refers to the protein that makes it work), is a scientific breakthrough in genome editing, but is causing pause among some because of the ability to quickly and easily alter DNA that this technique provides. The applications of CRISPR are far ranging from agriculture to medicine, and has the potential to change the world, but the legality, ethics and societal implications remain less clearly defined. As one researcher notes, “You can’t stop science from progressing…Science gives people power. And power is unpredictable.”
The mention of Mars in the space exploration item reminded me of ‘The Martian’, an upcoming space exploration movie featuring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars. I’m not sure when it’s being released but they are very busy publicizing this movie, from an August 19, 2015 news item on Yahoo news,
Matt Damon has said he is in no hurry to travel into space, despite portraying astronauts in two movies in quick succession.
The Hollywood star played an astronaut left on an ice planet in Interstellar last year and will next be seen as a botanist left for dead on Mars in director Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian.
Matt, 44, plays Mark Watney, an astronaut abandoned on the planet after his crewmates think he has been killed in an accident. The film, an adaptation of the hit novel of the same name, follows his battle for survival and the attempts to bring him home.
“Drew Goddard adapted the screenplay and the first thing he said was, ‘I want this to be a love letter to science’, and that is a really wonderful thing to put out into the world. I don’t have any lofty expectations but I hope some kids see it and geek out on the science and enjoy it and it might be one thing of many in their life that pushes them in that direction.”
Ridley collaborated closely with American space agency Nasa [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to make the film as accurate as possible and Dr Jim Green, director of the planetary science division, believes it will have an inspirational effect.
“I really think that will happen, we are talking about the Mars generation. When we landed Curiosity on Mars we had the world’s attention and that is the inspiration that will propel our economy forward by bringing in the scientists and the engineers,” he said.
Dr Green added that the film gives a tantalising glimpse of what could soon be a reality.
“Science fiction is extremely important in our culture, it is engrained in what we do and it really projects a vision of the future and something we aspire to, and what I really enjoyed about the book and the movie is how close to reality it can be, it’s just around the corner for us.”