The US government has made a Request for Information (RFI) on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) according to David Bruggeman’s June 28, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
Yesterday [June 27, 2016] the Federal Register published a Request for Information (RFI) from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The RFI is part of the ongoing White House Initiative on the Future of Artificial Intelligence, which includes an ongoing series of workshops (the latest was today in Pittsburgh, and another is scheduled for July 7 in New York City). The OSTP is asking for comments between now and July 22.
You can watch the videos of the two workshops which have already taken place by following the links above. The June 28th 2016 workshop is taking place from 9 am to 4:30 pm EST, which means those of us in other timezones can watch it on YouTube nearly in its entirety.
Getting back to the White House blog posting, here’s what else they have planned,
The Federal Government also is working to leverage AI for public good and toward a more effective government. A new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence will meet for the first time next week. This group will monitor state-of-the-art advances and technology milestones in artificial intelligence and machine learning within the Federal Government, in the private sector, and internationally; and help coordinate Federal activity in this space.
Broadly, between now and the end of the Administration, the NSTC group will work to increase the use of AI and machine learning to improve the delivery of government services. Such efforts may include empowering Federal departments and agencies to run pilot projects evaluating new AI-driven approaches and government investment in research on how to use AI to make government services more effective. Applications in AI to areas of government that are not traditionally technology-focused are especially significant; there is tremendous potential in AI-driven improvements to programs and delivery of services that help make everyday life better for Americans in areas related to urban systems and smart cities, mental and physical health, social welfare, criminal justice, the environment, and much more.
We look forward to engaging with the public about how best to harness the opportunities brought by artificial intelligence. …
If you’re interested in responding to the RFI, it’s the supplementary information (scroll down about 50% of the way) on the Federal Register’s RFI on Artificial Intelligence that I found provided the most insight,
OSTP is particularly interested in responses related to the following topics: (1) The legal and governance implications of AI; (2) the use of AI for public good; (3) the safety and control issues for AI; (4) the social and economic implications of AI; (5) the most pressing, fundamental questions in AI research, common to most or all scientific fields; (6) the most important research gaps in AI that must be addressed to advance this field and benefit the public; (7) the scientific and technical training that will be needed to take advantage of harnessing the potential of AI technology, and the challenges faced by institutions of higher education in retaining faculty and responding to explosive growth in student enrollment in AI-related courses and courses of study; (8) the specific steps that could be taken by the federal government, research institutes, universities, and philanthropies to encourage multi-disciplinary AI research; (9) specific training data sets that can accelerate the development of AI and its application; (10) the role that “market shaping” approaches such as incentive prizes and Advanced Market Commitments can play in accelerating the development of applications of AI to address societal needs, such as accelerated training for low and moderate income workers (see https://www.usaid.gov/cii/market-shaping-primer); and (11) any additional information related to AI research or policymaking, not requested above, that you believe OSTP should consider.
For a Canadian, the seventh and eighth points provide an interesting contrast of governmental responsibilities. The Canadian federal government has little to no direct authority over education.
Again, the deadline for responses is July 22, 2016.
Amsterdam (Netherlands) is hosting the 2016 NanoCity event, the third and last of a series (I featured the second one, in a Sept. 20, 2015 post). Here’s more about the 2016 event from a May 23, 2016 NanoCity press release (Note: I have changed the order of the paragraphs),
NanoCity 2016 is the succesfull follow-up to the 2014 and 2015 events. This third and final edition coincides with the completion of the NanoNextNL innovation programme this year. Enjoy world-class keynote speeches, informative talks and inspiring posters, covering the most promising nano related research areas. Don’t miss out on the chance to vote for your favourite poster on 21 June  in EYE, Amsterdam. Meet old and new connections and let’s go beyond in a future-ready atmosphere, while enjoying innovative drinks & bites. Don’t miss the biggest buzz around the tiniest parts, be part of it.
The programme of the national event on nanotechnology, NanoCity 2016, is complete. Learn more about NanoCity’s keynotes from internationally leading nanoscientists such as Jan Van Houdt (Imec [an indepedent research centre headquartered in Leuven, Belgium) and Mark Welland [emphasis mine] (University of Cambridge [UK]). NanoCity has a great deal to offer: take a look at the invited speakers and orals. Find out about the complete NanoCity 2016 programme and the NanoCity 2016 demonstrators. Register now for NanoCity 2016 and pay only 75 euro. The national event on nanotechnology will take place on 21 June  in EYE, Amsterdam.
Mark Welland was last featured here in a Feb. 24, 2016 posting on his appointment as master of St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge. Sadly, I’ve had not featured or mentioned Jan van Houdt until now.
How do you feel about scientists and interested parties meeting behind closed doors at an invitation-only meeting to discuss creating a second human genome, a synthetic one? The meeting has caused a bit of a stir generating a May 13, 2016 article by Andrew Pollack for the New York Times (NYT) and blog postings including Andrew Balmer’s May 18, 2016 posting for the Guardian. There’s also a measured and somewhat sympathetic account of what happened by Jeff Bessen in a May 24, 2015 essay for The Conversation (h/t phys.org).
Starting at the beginning, the May 13, 2016 article by Pollack gives an overview of what has caused the consternation,
Scientists are now contemplating the fabrication of a human genome, meaning they would use chemicals to manufacture all the DNA contained in human chromosomes.
The prospect is spurring both intrigue and concern in the life sciences community because it might be possible, such as through cloning, to use a synthetic genome to create human beings without biological parents.
While the project is still in the idea phase [emphasis mine], and also involves efforts to improve DNA synthesis in general, it was discussed at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday [May 10, 2016] at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The nearly 150 attendees were told not to contact the news media or to post on Twitter during the meeting.
Organizers said the project could have a big scientific payoff and would be a follow-up to the original Human Genome Project, which was aimed at reading the sequence of the three billion chemical letters in the DNA blueprint of human life. The new project, by contrast, would involve not reading, but rather writing the human genome — synthesizing all three billion units from chemicals.
Secrecy has long been a part of scientific and innovation practices. For instance, research on nuclear, biological or chemical weapons is often conducted in secret. In his excellent book on Secrecy and Science, Brian Balmer [relation to Andrew?] describes how the Manhattan Project epitomised the way in which scientific secrecy operates, explaining how specific sites were kept secret, but also how projects were compartmentalised, so that knowledge was exchanged only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis, meaning that only a very few people had any real understanding of the programme as a whole. In other words, attempts to maintain secrecy often go hand-in-hand with imperatives of efficiency, security, bureaucracy and control.
By their nature, it is often the most controversial, risky and ethically dubious research programmes that are conducted in secret, curtained-off from society in order to protect knowledge and technology not only from public scrutiny but also espionage or corporate theft. …
As Pollack notes in his NYT article, this is at the idea stage (i.e., it is unfunded) and one of the organizers claims that people have gotten the wrong idea about the project,
George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and an organizer of the proposed project, said there had been a misunderstanding. The project was not aimed at creating people, just cells, and would not be restricted to human genomes, he said. Rather it would aim to improve the ability to synthesize DNA in general, which could be applied to various animals, plants and microbes.
“They’re painting a picture which I don’t think represents the project,” Dr. Church said in an interview.
He said the meeting was closed to the news media, and people were asked not to tweet because the project organizers, in an attempt to be transparent, had submitted a paper to a scientific journal. They were therefore not supposed to discuss the idea publicly before publication. He and other organizers said ethical aspects have been amply discussed since the beginning.
Balmer explores reasons why a synthetic genome might hold appeal for scientists and notes a pitfall with current communication strategies (Note: A link has been removed),
Such a second world might be quite appealing to some researchers, representing a space in which they could run wild with their ideas without the worry of public ears overhearing. Synthetic biologists, for the most part, expect that the public is going to be scared of developments in the field, leading to what has been termed ‘synbiophobia phobia’ – the fear that the public will fear their work. This could well be at the root of the decision to hold the meeting in private, as the organisers had likely anticipated public fear at the potential of creating a human genome from scratch. But it also seems to have been a fear of the media that resulted in the curtains being pulled closed, with the invite reading, “We intentionally did not invite the media, because we want everyone to speak freely and candidly without concerns about being misquoted or misinterpreted as the discussions evolve.”
In fact, there was unintended consequence (from Balmer’s post), Note: A link has been removed,
… whatever the motivations were of those convening the closed-doors, invite-only meeting, the effect of the apparent concealment has been to worry people, even those who support synthetic biology in general. In fact, one of its most well-known advocates, Drew Endy, refused to attend and co-authored an open letter criticising the closed meeting.
As Endy and Laurie Zoloth’s letter argued, “The creation of new human life is one of the last human-associated processes that has not yet been industrialized or fully commodified. It remains an act of faith, joy, and hope. Discussions to synthesize, for the first time, a human genome should not occur in closed rooms.”
Balmer goes on to note that this secrecy has invited exactly the response the organizers feared.
Pollack’s article, which delves into the synthesis of various genomes at more length, ends with this,
Jeremy Minshull, chief executive of DNA2.0, a DNA synthesis company, questioned if the effort would be worth it.
“Our ability to understand what to build is so far behind what we can build,” said Dr. Minshull, who was invited to the meeting at Harvard but did not attend. “I just don’t think that being able to make more and more and more and cheaper and cheaper and cheaper is going to get us the understanding we need.”
Questioning whether the effort is worth it makes the reference to the Manhattan Project poignant. The Manhattan Project’s atomic bomb did not win the war against Japan. The country was ready to surrender the time the two bombs were dropped as Gar Alperovitz writes in his May 11, 2016 essay, We didn’t need to drop the bomb — and even our WW II military icons knew it, on Salon.com. In fact, those military icons argued against the bombing. Had there been less secrecy, it’s tempting to think we might have developed nuclear power somewhat differently.
I’m not unsympathetic to the organizers. They wanted some quiet time to develop ideas without critical scrutiny. It could be described as brainstorming or a creative process. As everyone knows successful brainstorming and creative processes require an uncritical environment at the beginning. The winnowing/critical process follows.
Bessen’s May 24, 2016 essay focuses on the relationship between scientists and journalists (who got this all wrong) and gives a sympathetic view of the original purpose for the meeting which was to share a paper whose embargo had been extended, making that impossible and putting the organizers in the position of having to scramble at the last minute,
Three weeks later, the exact details of what happened are still being contested. I’m a researcher in synthetic biology, and I learned of the project from reading the newspaper. I reached out to the meeting’s organizers, who – for reasons I’ll explain – declined to comment for this article. But in conversations with meeting invitees, as well as some critics, I’ve found that much of the press coverage was misleading, and says more about the relationship between journalists and scientists than the meeting itself.
What really happened behind closed doors when over 130 scientists, industry leaders and ethicists convened to talk about synthesizing a human genome? How did these sessions end up so widely misunderstood by the media and the public?
Those invited say the organizers hoped to inspire scientists and the public with a new grand challenge project: to advance from reading genomes to writing them, by manufacturing them from individual DNA building blocks. In an invitation dated March 30, the hosts proposed a bold collaborative effort to “synthesize a complete human genome within a cell line.” Panels tackled whether such an effort is worthwhile, as well as the ethical, technological and economic challenges.
The conversation was not intended to be restricted. The meeting organizers – Harvard geneticist George Church; New York University systems geneticist Jef Boeke; Andrew Hessel, of the Bio/Nano research group at Autodesk, Inc.; and Nancy J. Kelley, a lawyer specializing in biotechnology consulting – had plans to engage the broader scientific community, as well as industry, policy makers and the public. They made a video recording of the entire meeting, originally intended to be live-streamed over the Internet. They planned to apply for federal funding, which would invite regulatory oversight. And they submitted a white paper to a major peer-reviewed journal explaining the scientific, technological and ethical aspects of the project.
But the publication of the paper was delayed – editors commonly ask for revisions as part of the peer review process and Dr. Church told STAT News they wanted “more information about the ethical, social, and legal components of synthesizing genomes” included. (As of this writing, the paper has not yet come out.) The organizers are prohibited from discussing the paper in public until it is published – a common journal policy known as an embargo. In deference to the embargo, they declined to comment in detail for this article.
While Bessen is definitely sympathetic to the organizers, he does have some issues with what transpired but he saves some of his last words for a discussion of social media and traditional science publishing before finishing with a plea for balance,
The episode also points to an emerging conflict between social media and traditional science publishing. Research journals move at a glacial pace; nearly all of my colleagues have at at one point waited six months or more to publish. Will the long publication cycle and the normally obscure embargo policy be able to adjust to an era when scientific discussions happen at the speed of Twitter?
Researchers must rely on journalists for their communication skills and the audience they reach. And journalists will play a crucial role in facilitating the ethical discussion around synthetic biology – one whose stakeholders include scientists as well as ethicists, policy makers and the broader public – and what the goals and action items of such a debate will be. Critically, a balance must be struck between the watchdog role of the press and the legitimate needs of any profession to carry out some of their discussions in private. [emphases mine]
Despite the similarities between my conclusion and Besson’s, I drafted this post on May 18, 2016 and did not see Besson’s piece until this morning, May 25, 2016. In all probability we not the only two coming to the same conclusion.
Québec City’s (Canada) Musée de la Civilisation (Museum of Civilization) opened its “Nanotech: the invisible revolution” exhibit (also known as, “Nanotechnologies: l’invisible révolution”) on March 9, 2016 and it will run until April 2, 2016. Cassandra Kerwin’s March 16, 2016 article for qctonline.com notes this,
Featuring elements inspired by science fiction, comic books and today’s products and gadgets, it will have visitors wondering about the meaning and impact of infinitely small technology on daily life.
Today’s “nanos” can be found in electronic gadgets, cosmetics, sports equipment, and medical treatments. Thousands more promising new applications are also on the way.
Nanotechnology has drawn on as well as influenced science fiction, sometimes in dark visions of a future world where humanity is at the mercy of developments in technology. Such future images can affect public perceptions. Debates have intensified, and in the last few decades enthusiasm for scientific discoveries has increasingly given way to a certain wariness.
Visitors will be encouraged to make up their own minds about current issues in nanotech development.
Les nanos sont présentes, par exemple, dans les appareils électroniques, les cosmétiques, les équipements sportifs et les traitements médicaux. Elles promettent des milliers de nouvelles utilisations intéressantes. Souvent inspirées par la science-fiction, les nanotechnologies revêtent parfois, dans des mondes futuristes, un caractère sombre où l’humain est à la merci des développements technologiques. Au cours des dernières décennies, l’enthousiasme généré par les découvertes scientifiques a laissé une place grandissante à une certaine méfiance du public face à la science, souvent dûe à une méconnaissance des notions scientifiques parfois complexes liées à ces découvertes. Le scepticisme relié aux changements climatiques ou encore à l’efficacité ou la sécurité des vaccins en sont des exemples concrets.
Nanotechnology-enabled products can be found everywhere, for example, in electronics, beauty projects, sporting goods, and biomedical applications. Nanotechnology also promises novel applications for the future. As sometimes depicted in science fiction. nanotechnology features in a dystopian future where humans are at the mercy of technological development. Over the last decades, the enthusiasm earlier generations showed for scientific discovery has given rise to distrust sometimes due to not understanding the science underlying the discovery. Examples of this distrust include climate change deniers and anti-vaccine proponents.
« Le Musée de la civilisation fait figure de modèle inspirant en muséologie, non seulement par ses approches et ses concepts audacieux, mais aussi par ses actions en périphérie comme sa mission éducative auprès des jeunes et ses projets de médiation culturelle. En ouvrant son espace au « nanomonde », le musée devient un point de convergence de la culture et de la science, ces deux piliers fondateurs de l’évolution de notre société. Le fait de démocratiser la science dans un lieu culturel à la portée d’un large public est indéniablement profitable », a déclaré le ministre de la Culture et des Communications et ministre responsable de la Protection et de la Promotion de la langue française, M. Luc Fortin.
“The museum is an inspiring museology model not only due to its audacious concepts but also because of activities such as youth education programmes and cultural outreach efforts. In devoting an exhibition to the ‘nanoworld’, the museum becomes a point of convergence for culture and science, two foundational pillars of evolution for society. Democratizing and making science accessible to the public at large though a cultural institution is undeniably profitable,” declared the Luc Fortin, Minister of Culture and Communication and the Minister Responsible for the Protection and Promotion of the French Language.
« Voilà un sujet qui convient bien au Musée de la civilisation. Ni musée d’histoire, ni musée de science, ni musée d’anthropologie ou d’ethnologie, ni musée d’art, mais un heureux amalgame de tout ça. Un musée de société dont la préoccupation première demeure l’être humain et ses questionnements, a souligné son directeur général, M. Stéphan La Roche. Dans cette exposition, réalité, science et fiction se côtoient habilement et, au cœur du propos, se trouve cet être humain appelé à s’interroger sur les innombrables impacts sociaux des nanotechnologies », a conclu M. La Roche.
« Nous sommes très fiers d’avoir contribué à la réalisation de cette exposition, a soutenu Pierre Lapointe, président et directeur général de FPInnovations, et nous sommes très heureux du résultat. Nous sommes persuadés que le public fera de grandes découvertes et qu’il sera surpris des possibilités qu’offrent les nanotechnologies, notamment dans le domaine de la foresterie. »
« Les nanotechnologies recèlent un immense potentiel d’innovation et de développement social et économique pour le Québec, a affirmé Benoit Balmana, président et directeur général de PRIMA QUÉBEC. Cette exposition met en évidence des développements d’applications extraordinaires tout en n’occultant pas les risques et les facteurs d’acceptation sociale. C’est une occasion unique de confronter le monde scientifique, industriel et la société pour assurer un développement responsable des innovations technologiques. »
« Au Québec, nous avons acquis une expertise reconnue mondialement en matière de nanotechnologies, et pour nous démarquer encore davantage dans ce secteur, nous devons poursuivre nos efforts en recherche et en innovation, favoriser le transfert technologique et tout mettre en œuvre pour développer une relève scientifique », a déclaré Rémi Quirion, ph. D., scientifique en chef du Québec. « Cette formidable exposition contribuera assurément à mieux faire connaître du grand public les nanotechnologies, et ce, dans toutes leurs dimensions : de la technologie à ses applications sociales, notamment dans le domaine de la santé, en passant par les enjeux éthiques. Elle incitera sûrement des jeunes intéressés par les carrières scientifiques à se tourner vers cet univers aussi prometteur que fascinant. »
Quotes from various dignitaries and important people which can be summarized as: “This is a wonderful exhibit and we (the province of Quebec, our organization, and/or the museum) are doing wonderful things.”
Le parcours du visiteur : oui ou non aux nanos?
Après une brève introduction sur les nanotechnologies, le visiteur est invité à prendre position face aux enjeux actuels liés au développement des nanotechnologies. Deux parcours sont possibles : oui ou non au développement des nanotechnologies dans le futur? Pour accompagner le visiteur et valider ses choix, un petit canard jaune en plastique muni d’une puce est mis à sa disposition.
Oui aux nanos!
Avec ces choix de parcours, on présente les espoirs générés par le développement des nanos et comment elles ont inspiré des auteurs de science-fiction. On y découvre aussi comment elles sont présentes dans notre vie quotidienne. Ici, figurine de Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) du film Le voyage fantastique, sculpture d’Iron Man grandeur nature, série de processeurs, produits cosmétiques… illustrent l’intégration des nanotechnologies dans des univers réels ou imaginaires.
Non aux nanos!
Faisant contrepoids à l’enthousiasme face au développement des nanotechnologies, le volet non aux nanos présente les craintes qu’elles soulèvent : les incertitudes quant à leur présence dans notre quotidien et les risques potentiels pour la santé et l’environnement. Ici, on retrouve des figurines, des bandes dessinées ou des éléments associés à l’univers de la science-fiction (Terminator, Hulk…), une combinaison de protection pour laboratoire de nanotechnologies, des téléphones cellulaires de différentes époques…
Faire un choix… à l’aide d’un canard jaune!
À divers moment dans l’exposition, des énoncés sont émis incitant le visiteur à faire son choix. Ceux-ci abordent l’intégration des technologies au corps humain, l’utilisation des nanos pour le développement de l’électronique ou les traitements médicaux, la potentielle domination sur l’humain, souvent illustrée en science-fiction et qui suscite bien des inquiétudes. En fin de parcours, le visiteur remet son petit canard jaune. Ses résultats individuels sont ensuite compilés et livrés sous forme d’analyse graphique. Il peut ensuite voir les résultats globaux de tous les visiteurs ayant fait le parcours sur un écran de diffusion.
After a brief introduction to the concept of nanotechnology, I believe they’re saying the exhibit represents two basic views: ‘yes to nano’ and ‘no to nano’ and the visitor is invited to participate by means of a yellow duck (in English sometimes referred to familiarly as a “yellow rubber ducky”) with a computer chip.
In the ‘yes to nano corner’, hopes and dreams for the future inspired by science fiction are presented along with the examples of the current presence of nanotechnology-enabled products in our daily lives. Illustrating these themes of the imaginary and the real are figures of Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) in Fantastic Voyage and an Iron Man figure along with computer processors and cosmetic products.
In the ‘no to nano corner’ risks to the environment and health and safety are represented both through such cautionary science fiction tales as Terminator, the Hulk, and others along with real life concerns in laboratories.
At different points in the exibit, visitors will be asked to make a choice (vote) with their yellow duck as to, for example, whether we should integrate technology into the body and whether nanotechnology should be used to further develop electronics or medical applications. Concerns about technological domination over human existence are also raised.
As the visit is ended, participants hand off their yellow ducks so their votes can be tallied and added to a data visualization which shows the results of all the visitors’ data on a screen.
Un peu d’histoire
Le centre de l’exposition aborde l’histoire et l’évolution des sciences qui a permis d’atteindre l’échelle du nanomètre avant de mettre en valeur quelques projets de recherche prometteurs en nanotechnologies au Québec. On découvre notamment que, depuis des siècles, la nature utilise des propriétés particulières de l’échelle nanométrique pour conférer des habiletés extraordinaires et des couleurs magnifiques à certains animaux. Dans le même esprit, on apprend que les humains, à leur insu, ont utilisé des propriétés de cette échelle donnant des caractéristiques uniques à certains objets comme des vitraux médiévaux et des sabres de Damas au tranchant redoutable. Enfin, quelques projets de recherche prometteurs en nanotechnologies au Québec sont mis en valeur.
Part of this show focuses on the history of science and how we became able to research and work at the nanoscale. There’s a reference to nature which has used nanoscale structures to colour birds in brilliant colours and given other animals extraordinary abilities. [There is a field known as biomimicry/bioinspired engineering/biomimetics which focuses on nature’s nanostructures.] It should also be noted that humans have (naïvely) made use of nanoscale properties in materials such as the stained glass windows in medieval churches and Damascus steel blades. The exhibit also showcases some current nanotechnology research from Québec.
Un défi de taille!
Comment montrer l’infiniment petit? L’objet-même de l’exposition pose un défi de taille! Néanmoins, des objets de nature diverse et visibles à l’œil nu appuient le propos : objets de collection tirés de l’univers de la science-fiction, objets du quotidien contenant des nanoparticules, modèles moléculaires, microscopes, espèces de la faune qui utilisent des propriétés nanos pour raffiner leur anatomie (tels des papillons et deux geckos vivants). À ces objets extrêmement variés s’ajoutent des interactifs, des audiovisuels, des illustrations et une installation du biologiste et artiste François-Joseph Lapointe qui reflète votre niveau de stress du moment.
Size presents this challenge: how to create an exhibit of the infinitely small? The answer was to include science fiction elements and figures, nanotechnology-enabled consumer products, models of molecules, microscopes, fauna that utilize nanoscale properties such as butterflies and two geckos. There are also audio visual materials, illustrations, and an installation by biologist and artist, François-Joseph Lapointe.
Autour de l’exposition
Des activités de médiation éducative sont offertes autour de l’exposition dès le 19 mars prochain. Le Musée propose des visites commentées et une animation à partir de l’installation Nanozen de l’artiste et biologiste François-Joseph Lapointe. À compter de septembre, des visites de l’exposition et des activités d’expérimentation et de réflexion seront offertes aux groupes scolaires. Enfin, des activités de médiation culturelle complèteront la programmation, dont une table-ronde intitulée Nano où es-tu?, présentée le 7 mai dans le cadre des 24 heures de science.
As of March 19, 2016 there are ancillary educational programmes such as tours and the Nanozen installation by François-Joseph Lapointe. And in September 2016, school tours will be offered. In the realm of culture programming, a roundtable discussion titled (literally): Nano where are you? (I think they mean: What is your position on Nano?) on May 7, 2016 as part of the 24 hours of science 2016 event.
Nanotechnologies : l’invisible révolution, au Musée de la civilisation à Québec, du 9 mars 2016 au 2 avril 2017. Une exposition conçue et réalisée par le Musée de la civilisation avec la participation de PRIMA QUÉBEC et ses partenaires : Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ), FPInnovations, Centre de Collaboration MiQro Innovation (C2MI), Centre de recherche industriel du Québec (CRIQ), École Polytechnique de Montréal, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST), Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Université Concordia, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université Laval, Université McGill, Université de Sherbrooke et Arboranano.
The exhibit runs from March 9, 2016 – April 2, 2017 and a list of donors follows.
There’s information about tickets and hours here (the top price is $16 for an adult ticket).
Should anyone have a better translation please do let me know in the comments section.
Connecting with people at a shopping mall on the topic of science and technology can be surprisingly effective. I once managed to convince the powers-that-be in a technology company where I was employed to participate in a mall event for Canada’s National Science and Technology Week (every October). The initial skepticism evaporated after an hour at the mall and an almost continuous stream of visitors eager to learn about data communications. Sadly, Canada’s National Science and Technology Week programme no longer funds those kinds of events, which I think is a missed opportunity for Canadians.
Californians, on the other hand, have an opportunity to meet University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) nanoscientists at the mall this April and May (2016) following a successful first event on Feb. 20, 2016 according to a March 8, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,
A precocious 6-year-old, Spencer Reisner already has an ambitious “to do” list for his future: become an astronaut and go to Mars, create new fuel sources and learn more about nanotechnology. Recently, he achieved one of these lifelong objectives at an unlikely venue: an L.A. shopping mall.
Jia Chen, education director at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA, explains to a crowd of bystanders at the Promenade mall that atoms, while very small, can form large objects in a variety of shapes. Graduate student Pascal Krotee pours out a solution to demonstrate how water can be purified by using a filter made from nanomaterials.
On Feb. 20 , the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center became more than just a shopping bazaar for kids and parents looking to buy the latest cool sneakers. Volunteer scientists, graduate students and staff from the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at UCLA set up a booth there to demystify nanoscience in fun ways. It’s a tough subject that’s not well understood by the general public, isn’t even in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary yet and may even sound a bit scary to them.
But not to Spencer. He seemed to take in every word and eagerly participated in simple tabletop demonstrations of nanoscience in action with Jia Chen, education director at the institute. “My favorite things were how fiber optics work and how things repel water,” said the boy after getting his picture taken wearing a white lab coat and protective goggles like a real scientist. “I want to go to UCLA!”
“This is 10 times greater than we thought it would be,” said Spencer’s mother, Frankie Drayus Reisner, of the event. She was especially impressed by the way the UCLA scientists answered basic questions without making people feel foolish or stupid. During the three hours the booth was open, crowds of adults and children gathered around to assemble mock atomic and molecular structures, experiment with water-repellant surfaces and learn about the ubiquitous impact nanoscience has on their daily lives in ways they never realized before.
Nanoscience at the Mall, a UCLA project funded by the American Physical Society, was an idea that came to Chen and his colleague Sarah Tolbert, professor and faculty director of CNSI outreach, after they found out that the average American visits a shopping mall for four hours weekly. That’s enough time, they figured, to engage shoppers in a fun conversation about nanoscience, the study of materials on an atomic or molecular scale.
Just the experience of meeting a genuine nanoscientist in a neighborhood shopping mall helps make this science seem less remote and less esoteric. “People aren’t expecting to encounter UCLA nanoscientists at the mall,” Chen said. Offering the public a convenient new venue where they can talk to a working scientist and recognize how science is relevant to their personal lives is a prime goal of the program, Chen explained.
He observed how people respond to this. “They are immediately fascinated by the fun atmosphere and become comfortable enough to dive right in with questions and comments,“ he said. “They quickly learn what ‘nano’ means (one-billionth part of something) and how it impacts their lives. And they can have a conversation over coffee with the scientists who make these discoveries.
“We hope this leads to a greater curiosity and greater understanding of nanoscience, its benefits to society and why supporting its advancement is important,” he said.
While CNSI also has educational programs geared to connect with middle and high school students and teachers, reaching the adult population, whose opinions could have a much greater influence on public policy, is more difficult. So to test the effectiveness of the mall booth as a learning tool, shoppers who stopped by, like Stephen Schieneman, were asked to answer questions on an e-tablet.
“I learned something about nanoscience today,” said Schieneman, a Scout master and fifth-grade teacher who brought his Cub Scout troop to the booth after learning about it in a local newspaper. “It was interesting finding out there were so many nanotechnologies already on the market and out in the environment.”
The news release also provides information about upcoming UCLA Nanoscience at the Mall events,
If you’re interested in learning more about the subject, the UCLA nanoscientists are planning to be at the Westfield Culver City Mall on Saturday, April 2, from 1-4 p.m. They will be back at the Promenade April 16 and May 21 from 3-6 p.m.
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.