Category Archives: science

Refining metals more sustainably

We don’t just extract and refine metals from the earth, increasingly, we extract and refine them from consumer goods. Researchers from McGill University (Montréal, Québec, Canada) have devised a ‘greener’ technique to do this. From a June 7, 2017 McGill University news release (received via email and also on EurekAlert),

A team of chemists in Canada has developed a way to process metals without using toxic solvents and reagents.

The system, which also consumes far less energy than conventional techniques, could greatly shrink the environmental impact of producing metals from raw materials or from post-consumer electronics.

“At a time when natural deposits of metals are on the decline, there is a great deal of interest in improving the efficiency of metal refinement and recycling, but few disruptive technologies are being put forth,” says Jean-Philip Lumb, an associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Chemistry. “That’s what makes our advance so important.”

The discovery stems from a collaboration between Lumb and Tomislav Friscic at McGill in Montreal, and Kim Baines of Western University in London, Ont. In an article published recently in Science Advances, the researchers outline an approach that uses organic molecules, instead of chlorine and hydrochloric acid, to help purify germanium, a metal used widely in electronic devices. Laboratory experiments by the researchers have shown that the same technique can be used with other metals, including zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt.

The research could mark an important milestone for the “green chemistry” movement, which seeks to replace toxic reagents used in conventional industrial manufacturing with more environmentally friendly alternatives. Most advances in this area have involved organic chemistry – the synthesis of carbon-based compounds used in pharmaceuticals and plastics, for example.

“Applications of green chemistry lag far behind in the area of metals,” Lumb says. “Yet metals are just as important for sustainability as any organic compound. For example, electronic devices require numerous metals to function.”

Taking a page from biology

There is no single ore rich in germanium, so it is generally obtained from mining operations as a minor component in a mixture with many other materials. Through a series of processes, that blend of matter can be reduced to germanium and zinc.

“Currently, in order to isolate germanium from zinc, it’s a pretty nasty process,” Baines explains. The new approach developed by the McGill and Western chemists “enables you to get germanium from zinc, without those nasty processes.”

To accomplish this, the researchers took a page from biology. Lumb’s lab for years has conducted research into the chemistry of melanin, the molecule in human tissue that gives skin and hair their color. Melanin also has the ability to bind to metals. “We asked the question: ‘Here’s this biomaterial with exquisite function, would it be possible to use it as a blueprint for new, more efficient technologies?'”

The scientists teamed up to synthesize a molecule that mimics some of the qualities of melanin. In particular, this “organic co-factor” acts as a mediator that helps to extract germanium at room temperature, without using solvents.

Next step: industrial scale

The system also taps into Friscic’s expertise in mechanochemistry, an emerging branch of chemistry that relies on mechanical force – rather than solvents and heat – to promote chemical reactions. Milling jars containing stainless-steel balls are shaken at high speeds to help purify the metal.

“This shows how collaborations naturally can lead to sustainability-oriented innovation,” Friscic says. “Combining elegant new chemistry with solvent-free mechanochemical techniques led us to a process that is cleaner by virtue of circumventing chlorine-based processing, but also eliminates the generation of toxic solvent waste”

The next step in developing the technology will be to show that it can be deployed economically on industrial scales, for a range of metals.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to get from where we are now to where we need to go,” Lumb says. “But the platform works on many different kinds of metals and metal oxides, and we think that it could become a technology adopted by industry. We are looking for stakeholders with whom we can partner to move this technology forward.”

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

A chlorine-free protocol for processing germanium by Martin Glavinovic, Michael Krause, Linju Yang, John A. McLeod, Lijia Liu, Kim M. Baines, Tomislav Friščić, and Jean-Philip Lumb. Science Advances 05 May 2017: Vol. 3, no. 5, e1700149 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700149

This paper is open access.

ETA June 9, 2017 at 1700 hours PDT: I have to give them marks for creativity. Here’s the image being used to illustrate the work,

Caption: Strategy for reducing the environmental impact of a refining process: replace hazardous chemicals with more benign and recyclable compounds. Credit: Michael J. Krause (Western University)

4D printing, what is that?

According to an April 12, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily, shapeshifting in response to environmental stimuli is the fourth dimension (I have a link to a posting about 4D printing with another fourth dimension),

A team of researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and two other institutions has developed a new 3-D printing method to create objects that can permanently transform into a range of different shapes in response to heat.

The team, which included researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, created the objects by printing layers of shape memory polymers with each layer designed to respond differently when exposed to heat.

“This new approach significantly simplifies and increases the potential of 4-D printing by incorporating the mechanical programming post-processing step directly into the 3-D printing process,” said Jerry Qi, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. “This allows high-resolution 3-D printed components to be designed by computer simulation, 3-D printed, and then directly and rapidly transformed into new permanent configurations by simply heating.”

The research was reported April 12 [2017] in the journal Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The work is funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Singapore National Research Foundation through the SUTD DManD Centre.

An April 12, 2017 Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) press release on EurekAlert provides more detail,

4D printing is an emerging technology that allows a 3D-printed component to transform its structure by exposing it to heat, light, humidity, or other environmental stimuli. This technology extends the shape creation process beyond 3D printing, resulting in additional design flexibility that can lead to new types of products which can adjust its functionality in response to the environment, in a pre-programmed manner. However, 4D printing generally involves complex and time-consuming post-processing steps to mechanically programme the component. Furthermore, the materials are often limited to soft polymers, which limit their applicability in structural scenarios.

A group of researchers from the SUTD, Georgia Institute of Technology, Xi’an Jiaotong University and Zhejiang University has introduced an approach that significantly simplifies and increases the potential of 4D printing by incorporating the mechanical programming post-processing step directly into the 3D printing process. This allows high-resolution 3D-printed components to be designed by computer simulation, 3D printed, and then directly and rapidly transformed into new permanent configurations by using heat. This approach can help save printing time and materials used by up to 90%, while completely eliminating the time-consuming mechanical programming process from the design and manufacturing workflow.

“Our approach involves printing composite materials where at room temperature one material is soft but can be programmed to contain internal stress, and the other material is stiff,” said Dr. Zhen Ding of SUTD. “We use computational simulations to design composite components where the stiff material has a shape and size that prevents the release of the programmed internal stress from the soft material after 3D printing. Upon heating, the stiff material softens and allows the soft material to release its stress. This results in a change – often dramatic – in the product shape.” This new shape is fixed when the product is cooled, with good mechanical stiffness. The research demonstrated many interesting shape changing parts, including a lattice that can expand by almost 8 times when heated.

This new shape becomes permanent and the composite material will not return to its original 3D-printed shape, upon further heating or cooling. “This is because of the shape memory effect,” said Prof. H. Jerry Qi of Georgia Tech. “In the two-material composite design, the stiff material exhibits shape memory, which helps lock the transformed shape into a permanent one. Additionally, the printed structure also exhibits the shape memory effect, i.e. it can then be programmed into further arbitrary shapes that can always be recovered to its new permanent shape, but not its 3D-printed shape.”

Said SUTD’s Prof. Martin Dunn, “The key advance of this work, is a 4D printing method that is dramatically simplified and allows the creation of high-resolution complex 3D reprogrammable products; it promises to enable myriad applications across biomedical devices, 3D electronics, and consumer products. It even opens the door to a new paradigm in product design, where components are designed from the onset to inhabit multiple configurations during service.”

Here’s a video,


Uploaded on Apr 17, 2017

A research team led by the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD) Associate Provost of Research, Professor Martin Dunn, has come up with a new and simplified 4D printing method that uses a 3D printer to rapidly create 3D objects, which can permanently transform into a range of different shapes in response to heat.

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

Direct 4D printing via active composite materials by Zhen Ding, Chao Yuan, Xirui Peng, Tiejun Wang, H. Jerry Qi, and Martin L. Dunn. Science Advances  12 Apr 2017: Vol. 3, no. 4, e1602890 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602890

This paper is open access.

Here is a link to a post about another 4th dimension, time,

4D printing: a hydrogel orchid (Jan. 28, 2016)

Hollywood and neurosurgery

Usually a story about Hollywood and science (in this case, neurosurgery) is focused on how scientifically accurate the portrayal is. This time the situation has been reversed and science has borrowed from Hollywood. From an April 25, 2017 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine news release (also on EurekAlert), Note: A link has been removed,

A team of computer engineers and neurosurgeons, with an assist from Hollywood special effects experts, reports successful early tests of a novel, lifelike 3D simulator designed to teach surgeons to perform a delicate, minimally invasive brain operation.

A report on the simulator that guides trainees through an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics on April 25 [2017]. The procedure uses endoscopes, which are small, computer-guided tubes and instruments, to treat certain forms of hydrocephalus, a condition marked by an excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid and pressure on the brain. ETV is a minimally invasive procedure that short-circuits the fluid back into normal channels in the brain, eliminating the need for implantation of a shunt, a lifelong device with the associated complications of a foreign body.

“For surgeons, the ability to practice a procedure is essential for accurate and safe performance of the procedure. Surgical simulation is akin to a golfer taking a practice swing,” says Alan R. Cohen, M.D., professor of neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a senior author of the report. “With surgical simulation, we can practice the operation before performing it live.”

While cadavers are the traditional choice for such surgical training, Cohen says they are scarce, expensive, nonreusable, and most importantly, unable to precisely simulate the experience of operating on the problem at hand, which Cohen says requires a special type of hand-eye coordination he dubs “Nintendo Neurosurgery.”

In an effort to create a more reliable, realistic and cost-effective way for surgeons to practice ETV, the research team worked with 3D printing and special effects professionals to create a lifelike, anatomically correct, full-size head and brain with the touch and feel of human skull and brain tissue.

The fusion of 3D printing and special effects resulted in a full-scale reproduction of a 14-year-old child’s head, modeled after a real patient with hydrocephalus, one of the most common problems seen in the field of pediatric neurosurgery. Special features include an electronic pump to reproduce flowing cerebrospinal fluid and brain pulsations. One version of the simulator is so realistic that it has facial features, hair, eyelashes and eyebrows.

To test the model, Cohen and his team randomly paired four neurosurgery fellows and 13 medical residents to perform ETV on either the ultra-realistic simulator or a lower-resolution simulator, which had no hair, lashes or brows.

After completing the simulation, fellows and residents each rated the simulator using a five-point scale. On average, both the surgical fellows and the residents rated the simulator more highly (4.88 out of 5) on its effectiveness for ETV training than on its aesthetic features (4.69). The procedures performed by the trainees were also recorded and later watched and graded by two fully trained neurosurgeons in a way that they could not identify who the trainees were or at what stage they were in their training.

The neurosurgeons assessed the trainees’ performance using criteria such as “flow of operation,” “instrument handling” and “time and motion.”

Neurosurgeons consistently rated the fellows higher than residents on all criteria measured, which accurately reflected their advanced training and knowledge, and demonstrated the simulator’s ability to distinguish between novice and expert surgeons.

Cohen says that further tests are needed to determine whether the simulator will actually improve performance in the operating room. “With this unique assortment of investigators, we were able to develop a high-fidelity simulator for minimally invasive neurosurgery that is realistic, reliable, reusable and cost-effective. The models can be designed to be patient-specific, enabling the surgeon to practice the operation before going into the operating room,” says Cohen.

Other authors on this paper include Roberta Rehder from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and Peter Weinstock, Sanjay P. Parbhu, Peter W. Forbes and Christopher Roussin from Boston Children’s Hospital.

Funding for the study was provided by a grant from the Boston Investment Conference. The research team acknowledges the contribution of FracturedFX, an Emmy Award-winning special effects group from Hollywood, California, in the development of the surgical models.

The investigators report no financial stake or interests in the success of the simulator.

Here’s what the model looks like,

Caption: A. Low-fidelity simulated surgical model for ETV. B. High-fidelity model with hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. Credit: Copyright AANS. Used with permission.

An April 25, 2017 Journal of Neurosurgery news release on EurekAlert details the refinements applied to this replica (Note: There is some repetitive material),

….

A neurosurgery residency training program generally lasts seven years–longer than any other medical specialty. Trainees log countless hours observing surgeries performed by experienced neurosurgeons and developing operative skills in practice labs before touching patients. It is challenging to create a realistic surgical experience outside an operating room. Cadaveric specimens and virtual reality programs have been used, but they are costly and do not provide as realistic an experience as desired.

The new training simulation model described in this paper is a full-scale reproduction of the head of an adolescent patient with hydrocephalus. The external appearance of the head is uncannily accurate, as is the internal neuroanatomy.

One failing of 3D models is the stiffness of most sculpting material. This problem was overcome by addition of special-effects materials that reproduce the textures of external skin and internal brain structures. In addition, the operative environment in this training model is amazingly alive, with pulsations of a simulated basilar artery and ventricles as well as movement of cerebrospinal fluid. These advances provide visual and tactile feedback to the trainee that closely resembles that of the surgical experience.

The procedure selected to test the new training model was endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV), a minimally invasive surgical procedure increasingly used to treat hydrocephalus. The goal of ETV is to create a hole in the floor of the third ventricle. This provides a new pathway by which excess cerebrospinal fluid can circulate.

During ETV, the surgeon drills a small hole in the skull of the patient and inserts an endoscope into the ventricular system. The endoscope accommodates a lighted miniature video camera to visualize the operative site and specialized surgical instruments suited to perform operative tasks through the endoscope. The video camera sends a direct feed to external monitors in the operating room so that surgeons can clearly see what they are doing.

To evaluate the usefulness of the training simulation model of ETV, the researchers solicited feedback from users (neurosurgical residents and fellows) and their teachers. Trainees were asked to respond to a 14-item questionnaire focused on the external and internal appearances of the model and its tactile feel during simulated surgery (face validity) as well as on how closely the simulated procedure reproduced an actual ETV (content validity). The usefulness of the model in assessing trainees’ performances was then evaluated by two attending neurosurgeons blinded to the identity and training status (post-graduate year of training) of the residents and fellows (construct validity).

The neurosurgical residents and fellows gave high scores to the training model for both face and content validity (mean scores of 4.69 and 4.88, respectively; 5 would be a perfect score). The performance scores given to individual trainees by the attending neurosurgeons clearly distinguished novice surgeons from more experienced surgeons, accurately reflecting the trainees’ post-graduate years of training.

The training model described in this paper is not limited to hydrocephalus or treatment with ETV. The simulated head accommodates replaceable plug-and-play components to provide a fresh operative field for each training session. A variety of diseased or injured brain scenarios could be tested using different plug-and-play components. In addition, the ability to pop in new components between practice sessions greatly reduces training costs compared to other models.

When asked about the paper, the senior author, Alan R. Cohen, MD, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, “This unique collaboration of interdisciplinary experts resulted in the creation of an ultra-realistic 3D surgical training model. Simulation has become increasingly important for training in minimally invasive neurosurgery. It also has the potential to revolutionize training for all surgical procedures.

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

Creation of a novel simulator for minimally invasive neurosurgery: fusion of 3D printing and special effects by Peter Weinstock, Roberta Rehder, Sanjay P. Parbhu, Peter W. Forbes, Christopher J. Roussin, and Alan R. Cohen. Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, published online, ahead of print, April 25, 2017; DOI: 10.3171/2017.1.PEDS16568

This paper appears to be open access.

An explanation of neural networks from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

I always enjoy the MIT ‘explainers’ and have been a little sad that I haven’t stumbled across one in a while. Until now, that is. Here’s an April 14, 201 neural network ‘explainer’ (in its entirety) by Larry Hardesty (?),

In the past 10 years, the best-performing artificial-intelligence systems — such as the speech recognizers on smartphones or Google’s latest automatic translator — have resulted from a technique called “deep learning.”

Deep learning is in fact a new name for an approach to artificial intelligence called neural networks, which have been going in and out of fashion for more than 70 years. Neural networks were first proposed in 1944 by Warren McCullough and Walter Pitts, two University of Chicago researchers who moved to MIT in 1952 as founding members of what’s sometimes called the first cognitive science department.

Neural nets were a major area of research in both neuroscience and computer science until 1969, when, according to computer science lore, they were killed off by the MIT mathematicians Marvin Minsky and Seymour Papert, who a year later would become co-directors of the new MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

The technique then enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s, fell into eclipse again in the first decade of the new century, and has returned like gangbusters in the second, fueled largely by the increased processing power of graphics chips.

“There’s this idea that ideas in science are a bit like epidemics of viruses,” says Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, an investigator at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and director of MIT’s Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines. “There are apparently five or six basic strains of flu viruses, and apparently each one comes back with a period of around 25 years. People get infected, and they develop an immune response, and so they don’t get infected for the next 25 years. And then there is a new generation that is ready to be infected by the same strain of virus. In science, people fall in love with an idea, get excited about it, hammer it to death, and then get immunized — they get tired of it. So ideas should have the same kind of periodicity!”

Weighty matters

Neural nets are a means of doing machine learning, in which a computer learns to perform some task by analyzing training examples. Usually, the examples have been hand-labeled in advance. An object recognition system, for instance, might be fed thousands of labeled images of cars, houses, coffee cups, and so on, and it would find visual patterns in the images that consistently correlate with particular labels.

Modeled loosely on the human brain, a neural net consists of thousands or even millions of simple processing nodes that are densely interconnected. Most of today’s neural nets are organized into layers of nodes, and they’re “feed-forward,” meaning that data moves through them in only one direction. An individual node might be connected to several nodes in the layer beneath it, from which it receives data, and several nodes in the layer above it, to which it sends data.

To each of its incoming connections, a node will assign a number known as a “weight.” When the network is active, the node receives a different data item — a different number — over each of its connections and multiplies it by the associated weight. It then adds the resulting products together, yielding a single number. If that number is below a threshold value, the node passes no data to the next layer. If the number exceeds the threshold value, the node “fires,” which in today’s neural nets generally means sending the number — the sum of the weighted inputs — along all its outgoing connections.

When a neural net is being trained, all of its weights and thresholds are initially set to random values. Training data is fed to the bottom layer — the input layer — and it passes through the succeeding layers, getting multiplied and added together in complex ways, until it finally arrives, radically transformed, at the output layer. During training, the weights and thresholds are continually adjusted until training data with the same labels consistently yield similar outputs.

Minds and machines

The neural nets described by McCullough and Pitts in 1944 had thresholds and weights, but they weren’t arranged into layers, and the researchers didn’t specify any training mechanism. What McCullough and Pitts showed was that a neural net could, in principle, compute any function that a digital computer could. The result was more neuroscience than computer science: The point was to suggest that the human brain could be thought of as a computing device.

Neural nets continue to be a valuable tool for neuroscientific research. For instance, particular network layouts or rules for adjusting weights and thresholds have reproduced observed features of human neuroanatomy and cognition, an indication that they capture something about how the brain processes information.

The first trainable neural network, the Perceptron, was demonstrated by the Cornell University psychologist Frank Rosenblatt in 1957. The Perceptron’s design was much like that of the modern neural net, except that it had only one layer with adjustable weights and thresholds, sandwiched between input and output layers.

Perceptrons were an active area of research in both psychology and the fledgling discipline of computer science until 1959, when Minsky and Papert published a book titled “Perceptrons,” which demonstrated that executing certain fairly common computations on Perceptrons would be impractically time consuming.

“Of course, all of these limitations kind of disappear if you take machinery that is a little more complicated — like, two layers,” Poggio says. But at the time, the book had a chilling effect on neural-net research.

“You have to put these things in historical context,” Poggio says. “They were arguing for programming — for languages like Lisp. Not many years before, people were still using analog computers. It was not clear at all at the time that programming was the way to go. I think they went a little bit overboard, but as usual, it’s not black and white. If you think of this as this competition between analog computing and digital computing, they fought for what at the time was the right thing.”

Periodicity

By the 1980s, however, researchers had developed algorithms for modifying neural nets’ weights and thresholds that were efficient enough for networks with more than one layer, removing many of the limitations identified by Minsky and Papert. The field enjoyed a renaissance.

But intellectually, there’s something unsatisfying about neural nets. Enough training may revise a network’s settings to the point that it can usefully classify data, but what do those settings mean? What image features is an object recognizer looking at, and how does it piece them together into the distinctive visual signatures of cars, houses, and coffee cups? Looking at the weights of individual connections won’t answer that question.

In recent years, computer scientists have begun to come up with ingenious methods for deducing the analytic strategies adopted by neural nets. But in the 1980s, the networks’ strategies were indecipherable. So around the turn of the century, neural networks were supplanted by support vector machines, an alternative approach to machine learning that’s based on some very clean and elegant mathematics.

The recent resurgence in neural networks — the deep-learning revolution — comes courtesy of the computer-game industry. The complex imagery and rapid pace of today’s video games require hardware that can keep up, and the result has been the graphics processing unit (GPU), which packs thousands of relatively simple processing cores on a single chip. It didn’t take long for researchers to realize that the architecture of a GPU is remarkably like that of a neural net.

Modern GPUs enabled the one-layer networks of the 1960s and the two- to three-layer networks of the 1980s to blossom into the 10-, 15-, even 50-layer networks of today. That’s what the “deep” in “deep learning” refers to — the depth of the network’s layers. And currently, deep learning is responsible for the best-performing systems in almost every area of artificial-intelligence research.

Under the hood

The networks’ opacity is still unsettling to theorists, but there’s headway on that front, too. In addition to directing the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM), Poggio leads the center’s research program in Theoretical Frameworks for Intelligence. Recently, Poggio and his CBMM colleagues have released a three-part theoretical study of neural networks.

The first part, which was published last month in the International Journal of Automation and Computing, addresses the range of computations that deep-learning networks can execute and when deep networks offer advantages over shallower ones. Parts two and three, which have been released as CBMM technical reports, address the problems of global optimization, or guaranteeing that a network has found the settings that best accord with its training data, and overfitting, or cases in which the network becomes so attuned to the specifics of its training data that it fails to generalize to other instances of the same categories.

There are still plenty of theoretical questions to be answered, but CBMM researchers’ work could help ensure that neural networks finally break the generational cycle that has brought them in and out of favor for seven decades.

This image from MIT illustrates a ‘modern’ neural network,

Most applications of deep learning use “convolutional” neural networks, in which the nodes of each layer are clustered, the clusters overlap, and each cluster feeds data to multiple nodes (orange and green) of the next layer. Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

h/t phys.org April 17, 2017

One final note, I wish the folks at MIT had an ‘explainer’ archive. I’m not sure how to find any more ‘explainers on MIT’s website.

Edible water bottles by Ooho!

Courtesy: Skipping Rocks Lab

As far as I’m concerned, that looks more like a breast implant than a water bottle, which, from a psycho-social perspective, could lead to some interesting research papers. It is, in fact a new type of water bottle.  From an April 10, 2017 article by Adele Peters for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

If you run in a race in London in the near future and pass a hydration station, you may be handed a small, bubble-like sphere of water instead of a bottle. The gelatinous packaging, called the Ooho, is compostable–or even edible, if you want to swallow it. And after two years of development, its designers are ready to bring it to market.

Three London-based design students first created a prototype of the edible bottle in 2014 as an alternative to plastic bottles. The idea gained internet hype (though also some scorn for a hilarious video that made the early prototypes look fairly impossible to use without soaking yourself).
The problem it was designed to solve–the number of disposable bottles in landfills–keeps growing. In the U.K. alone, around 16 million are trashed each day; another 19 million are recycled, but still have the environmental footprint of a product made from oil. In the U.S., recycling rates are even lower. …

The new packaging is based on the culinary technique of spherification, which is also used to make fake caviar and the tiny juice balls added to boba tea [bubble tea?]. Dip a ball of ice in calcium chloride and brown algae extract, and you can form a spherical membrane that keeps holding the ice as it melts and returns to room temperature.

An April 25, 2014 article by Kashmira Gander for Independent.co.uk describes the technology and some of the problems that had to be solved before bringing this product to market,

To make the bottle [Ooho!], students at the Imperial College London gave a frozen ball of water a gelatinous layer by dipping it into a calcium chloride solution.

They then soaked the ball in another solution made from brown algae extract to encapsulate the ice in a second membrane, and reinforce the structure.

However, Ooho still has teething problems, as the membrane is only as thick as a fruit skin, and therefore makes transporting the object more difficult than a regular bottle of water.

“This is a problem we’re trying to address with a double container,” Rodrigo García González, who created Ooho with fellow students Pierre Paslier and Guillaume Couche, explained to the Smithsonian. “The idea is that we can pack several individual edible Oohos into a bigger Ooho container [to make] a thicker and more resistant membrane.”

According to Peters’ Fast Company article, the issues have been resolved,

Because the membrane is made from food ingredients, you can eat it instead of throwing it away. The Jell-O-like packaging doesn’t have a natural taste, but it’s possible to add flavors to make it more appetizing.

The package doesn’t have to be eaten every time, since it’s also compostable. “When people try it for the first time, they want to eat it because it’s part of the experience,” says Pierre Paslier, cofounder of Skipping Rocks Lab, the startup developing the packaging. “Then it will be just like the peel of a fruit. You’re not expected to eat the peel of your orange or banana. We are trying to follow the example set by nature for packaging.”

The outer layer of the package is always meant to be peeled like fruit–one thin outer layer of the membrane peels away to keep the inner layer clean and can then be composted. (While compostable cups are an alternative solution, many can only be composted in industrial facilities; the Ooho can be tossed on a simple home compost pile, where it will decompose within weeks).

The company is targeting both outdoor events and cafes. “Where we see a lot of potential for Ooho is outdoor events–festivals, marathons, places where basically there are a lot of people consuming packaging over a very short amount of time,” says Paslier.

I encourage you to read Peters’ article in its entirety if you have the time. You can also find more information on the Skipping Rocks Lab website and on the company’s crowdfunding campaign on CrowdCube.

Preserving heritage smells (scents)

Preserving a smell? It’s an intriguing idea and forms the research focus for scientists at the University College London’s (UCL) Institute for Sustainable Heritage according to an April 6, 2017 Biomed Central news release on EurekAlert,

A ‘Historic Book Odour Wheel’ which has been developed to document and archive the aroma associated with old books, is being presented in a study in the open access journal Heritage Science. Researchers at UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage created the wheel as part of an experiment in which they asked visitors to St Paul’s Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter library in London to characterize its smell.

The visitors most frequently described the aroma of the library as ‘woody’ (selected by 100% of the visitors who were asked), followed by ‘smoky’ (86%), ‘earthy'(71%) and ‘vanilla’ (41%). The intensity of the smells was assessed as between ‘strong odor’ and ‘very strong odor’. Over 70% of the visitors described the smell as pleasant, 14% as ‘mildly pleasant’ and 14% as ‘neutral’.

In a separate experiment, the researchers presented visitors to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with an unlabelled historic book smell – sampled from a 1928 book they obtained from a second-hand bookshop in London – and collected the terms used to describe the smell. The word ‘chocolate’ – or variations such as ‘cocoa’ or ‘chocolatey’ – was used most often, followed by ‘coffee’, ‘old’, ‘wood’ and ‘burnt’. Participants also mentioned smells including ‘fish’, ‘body odour’, ‘rotten socks’ and ‘mothballs’.

Cecilia Bembibre, heritage scientist at UCL and corresponding author of the study said: “Our odour wheel provides an example of how scientists and historians could begin to identify, analyze and document smells that have cultural significance, such as the aroma of old books in historic libraries. The role of smells in how we perceive heritage has not been systematically explored until now.”

Attempting to answer the question of whether certain smells could be considered part of our cultural heritage and if so how they could be identified, protected and conserved, the researchers also conducted a chemical analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which they sampled from books in the library. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at low temperatures, many of which can be perceived as scents or odors.

Combining their findings from the VOC analysis with the visitors’ characterizations, the authors created their Historic Book Odour wheel, which shows the chemical description of a smell (such as acetic acid) together with the sensory descriptions provided by the visitors (such as ‘vinegar’).

Cecilia Bembibre said: “By documenting the words used by the visitors to describe a heritage smell, our study opens a discussion about developing a vocabulary to identify aromas that have cultural meaning and significance.”

She added: “The Historic Book Odour Wheel also has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool by conservators, informing on the condition of an object, for example its state of decay, through its olfactory profile.”

The authors suggest that, in addition to its use for the identification and conservation of smells, the Historic Book Odour Wheel could potentially be used to recreate smells and aid the design of olfactory experiences in museums, allowing visitors to form a personal connection with exhibits by allowing them to understand what the past smelled like.

Before this can be done, further research is needed to build on the preliminary findings in this study to allow them to inform and benefit heritage management, conservation, visitor experience design and heritage policy making.

Here’s what the Historic Book Odour Wheel looks like,

Odour wheel of historic book containing general aroma categories, sensory descriptors and chemical information on the smells as sampled (colours are arbitrary) Courtesy: Heritage Science [downloaded from https://heritagesciencejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40494-016-0114-1

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

Smell of heritage: a framework for the identification, analysis and archival of historic odours by Cecilia Bembibre and Matija Strlič. Heritage Science20175:2 DOI: 10.1186/s40494-016-0114-1 Published: 7 April 2017

©  The Author(s) 2017

This paper is open access.

Canada and its Vancouver tech scene gets a boost

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been running around attending tech events both in the Vancouver area (Canada) and in Seattle these last few days (May 17 and May 18, 2017). First he attended the Microsoft CEO Summit as noted in a May 11, 2017 news release from the Prime Minister’s Office (Note: I have a few comments about this performance and the Canadian tech scene at the end of this post),

The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today [May 11, 2017] announced that he will participate in the Microsoft CEO Summit in Seattle, Washington, on May 17 and 18 [2017], to promote the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, encourage investment in the Canadian technology sector, and draw global talent to Canada.

This year’s summit, under the theme “The CEO Agenda: Navigating Change,” will bring together more than 150 chief executive officers. While at the Summit, Prime Minister Trudeau will showcase Budget 2017’s Innovation and Skills Plan and demonstrate how Canada is making it easier for Canadian entrepreneurs and innovators to turn their ideas into thriving businesses.

Prime Minister Trudeau will also meet with Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Quote

“Canada’s greatest strength is its skilled, hard-working, creative, and diverse workforce. Canada is recognized as a world leader in research and development in many areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 3D programming. Our government will continue to help Canadian businesses grow and create good, well-paying middle class jobs in today’s high-tech economy.”
— Rt. Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Quick Facts

  • Canada-U.S. bilateral trade in goods and services reached approximately $882 billion in 2016.
  • Nearly 400,000 people and over $2 billion-worth of goods and services cross the Canada-U.S. border every day.
  • Canada-Washington bilateral trade was $19.8 billion in 2016. Some 223,300 jobs in the State of Washington depend on trade and investment with Canada. Canada is among Washington’s top export destinations.

Associated Link

Here’s a little more about the Microsoft meeting from a May 17, 2017 article by Alan Boyle for GeekWire.com (Note: Links have been removed),

So far, this year’s Microsoft CEO Summit has been all about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s talk today, but there’s been precious little information available about who else is attending – and Trudeau may be one of the big reasons why.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates created the annual summit back in 1997, to give global business leaders an opportunity to share their experiences and learn about new technologies that will have an impact on business in the future. The event’s attendee list is kept largely confidential, as is the substance of the discussions.

This year, Microsoft says the summit’s two themes are “trust in technology” (as in cybersecurity, international hacking, privacy and the flow of data) and “the race to space” (as in privately funded space efforts such as Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket venture).

Usually, Microsoft lists a few folks who are attending the summit on the company’s Redmond campus, just to give a sense of the event’s cachet. For example, last year’s headliners included Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett and Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson (who is now the Trump administration’s secretary of state)

This year, however, the spotlight has fallen almost exclusively on the hunky 45-year-old Trudeau, the first sitting head of government or state to address the summit. Microsoft isn’t saying anything about the other 140-plus VIPs attending the discussions. “Out of respect for the privacy of our guests, we are not providing any additional information,” a Microsoft spokesperson told GeekWire via email.

Even Trudeau’s remarks at the summit are hush-hush, although officials say he’s talking up Canada’s tech sector.  …

Laura Kane’s May 18, 2017 article for therecord.com provides a little more information about Trudeau’s May 18, 2017 activities in Washington state,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued his efforts to promote Canada’s technology sector to officials in Washington state on Thursday [May 18, 2017], meeting with Gov. Jay Inslee a day after attending the secretive Microsoft CEO Summit.

Trudeau and Inslee discussed, among other issues, the development of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, an initiative that aims to strengthen technology industry ties between British Columbia and Washington.

The pair also spoke about trade and investment opportunities and innovation in the energy sector, said Trudeau’s office. In brief remarks before the meeting, the prime minister said Washington and Canada share a lot in common.

But protesters clad in yellow hazardous material suits that read “Keystone XL Toxic Cleanup Crew” gathered outside the hotel to criticize Trudeau’s environmental record, arguing his support of pipelines is at odds with any global warming promises he has made.

Later that afternoon, Trudeau visited Electronic Arts (a US games company with offices in the Vancouver area) for more tech talk as Stephanie Ip notes in her May 18, 2017 article for The Vancouver Sun,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Metro Vancouver Thursday [may 18, 2017] to learn from local tech and business leaders how the federal government can boost B.C.’s tech sector.

The roundtable discussion was organized by the Vancouver Economic Commission and hosted in Burnaby at Electronic Arts’ Capture Lab, where the video game company behind the popular FIFA, Madden and NHL franchises records human movement to add more realism to its digital characters. Representatives from Amazon, Launch Academy, Sony Pictures, Darkhorse 101 Pictures and Front Fundr were also there.

While the roundtable was not open to media, Trudeau met beforehand with media.

“We’re going to talk about how the government can be a better partner or better get out of your way in some cases to allow you to continue to grow, to succeed, to create great opportunities to allow innovation to advance success in Canada and to create good jobs for Canadians and draw in people from around the world and continue to lead the way in the world,” he said.

“Everything from clean tech, to bio-medical advances, to innovation in digital economy — there’s a lot of very, very exciting things going on”

Comments on the US tech sector and the supposed Canadian tech sector

I wonder at all the secrecy. As for the companies mentioned as being at the roundtable, you’ll notice a preponderance of US companies with Launch Academy and Front Fundr (which is not a tech company but a crowdfunding equity company) supplying Canadian content. As for Darkhorse 101 Pictures,  I strongly suspect (after an online search) it is part of Darkhorse Comics (as US company) which has an entertainment division.

Perhaps it didn’t seem worthwhile to mention the Canadian companies? In that case, that’s a sad reflection on how poorly we and our media support our tech sector.

In fact, it seems Trudeau’s version of the Canadian technology sector is for us to continue in our role as a branch plant remaining forever in service of the US economy or at least the US tech sector which may be experiencing some concerns with the US Trump administration and what appears to be an increasingly isolationist perspective with regard to trade and immigration. It’s a perspective that the tech sector, especially the entertainment component, can ill afford.

As for the Cascadia Innovation Corridor mentioned in the Prime Minister’s news release and in Kane’s article, I have more about that in a Feb. 28, 2017 posting about the Cascadia Data Analytics Cooperative.

I noticed he mentioned clean tech as an area of excitement. Well, we just lost a significant player not to the US this time but to the EU (European Union) or more specifically, Germany. (There’ll be more about that in an upcoming post.)

I’m glad to see that Trudeau remains interested in Canadian science and technology but perhaps he could concentrate on new ways of promoting sectoral health rather than relying on the same old thing.

Inaugural Italian Scientists and Scholars of North America Foundation (ISSNAF) annual meeting

Thanks to a May 17, 2017 announcement I received via email from the ArtSci Salon, I’ve learned of a rather intriguing annual meeting to be held May 19-20, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario,

We are pleased to invite you to attend the Italian Scientists and
Scholars of North America Foundation (ISSNAF) inaugural annual
conference in Canada, which will be held on May 19-20th, 2017 at the
Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Toronto, Ontario.

During the event, the Italian scientific community will meet the
institutions, the industry, academia to discuss breakthrough ideas, to
network, and to award projects of young Italians through the ISSNAF
Young Investigators Awards.

The event is organized under the auspices of H.E. Ambassador CLAUDIO
TAFFURI, Consul General of Italy in Toronto, GIUSEPPE PASTORELLI,
Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto, ALESSANDRO
RUGGERA and Scientific Attaché of the Italian Embassy in Ottawa, ANNA
GALLUCCIO. This year’s exciting conference will focus on innovation,
exploring innovation as invention and transformation, as well as its
impact on how we live and think.

After an introduction by H.E. Ambassador of Italy, CLAUDIO TAFFURI,
and other representatives of Italian institutions, the event will open
with two prominent speakers: PAOLO MACCARIO, Chief Operating Officer
and General Manager at Silfab Ontario Inc. and FRANCO VACCARINO,
President and Vice-Chancellor of Guelph University, who will discuss
current and future strategies in academia and industry required for
students and workers to deal with the disruptive technologies and the
exponential increase in knowledge.

The later part of the day will feature speakers from different
institutions from all over Canada. CORRADO PAINA, President of the
Italian Chamber of Commerce, will address the importance of innovation
and research from the industry prospective. UMBERTO BERARDI, Associate
Professor, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Ryerson
University, will bring his experience as winner of the Franco
Strazzabosco Award for Engineers. Nicola Fameli, Research Associate of
Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, U. of British Columbia
and Franco Mammarella, Group leader [TRIUMF] Canada’s National Laboratory for
Particle and Nuclear Physics, president and vice-president of ARPICO
(Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada),
will explain the importance of developing a global network amongst
researchers. The day will be closed by GABRIELLA GOBBI, Associate
Professor, Dept. Psychiatry, McGill University on the current status
of the Italian Scientific Community in Quebec.

Day One of ISSNAF’s Annual event will conclude with a reception at the
Istituto. Day Two of the event is dedicated to young Italian
researchers and scientists who will present their work and will
receive the ISSNAF Certificate for Young Investigators. The day will
end with a round table and a discussion directed by the ISSNAF Ontario
chapter Chairs, BARBARA CIFRA, VITO MENNELLA AND LEONARDO SALMENA on
how to build a successful academic network and how ISSNAF can
contribute to the process.

The event is limited to 50 people only [emphasis mine]. Please confirm your presence
by May 17th [2017] by sending an email to: iictoronto@esteri.it

Sorry to be posting this so late in the day (fingers crossed it’s not too late).

I did do some searching and found this description of the event on the ARPICO website,

On May 19-20th SIRO (Society of Italian researcher in Ontario) official Chapter of the Italian Scientists and Scholars of North America Foundation (ISSNAF) will host in cooperation with the Embassy of Italy in Ottawa the inaugural Canadian Annual ISSNAF meeting.

The event is organized under the auspices of H.E. Ambassador Claudio Taffuri, Consul General of Italy in Toronto, Giuseppe Pastorelli, and Director of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto, Alessandro Ruggera and Scientific Attache’ of the Italian Embassy in Ottawa, Anna Galluccio. This year’s exciting conference will focus on innovation, exploring innovation as invention and transformation and its impact on how we live and think.

During the event, the italian scientific community meets the institutions, the industry, academia to discuss breakthrough ideas, to network, and to award projects of young Italians through the ISSNAF Young Investigators Awards.

For this year the event will be attended by 60 selected researchers and scholars working in Canada. [emphasis mine]

For more information email issnafontario@gmail.com

Good luck at getting to attend the event whether there are 50 or 60 participants.

Science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) for the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation gala on May 17, 2017

The Canada National Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) gala is known officially as the National Science and Innovation Gala according to a May 11, 2017 announcement (received via email),

FULL STEAM AHEAD TO THE NATIONAL SCIENCE AND INNOVATION GALA

LET’S TALK STEAM
Demonstrating Canada’s commitment to a vibrant, national science
culture, the evening’s panel brings together influencers from the
private and public sectors to discuss the importance of education in the
STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) fields.

FAMILIAR FACES
Experience a whimsical and wonderful evening hosted by CBC News
Network’s Heather Hiscox. Join her for the presentation of the first
ever STEAM Horizon Awards.

APPETITE FOR INNOVATION
From virtual reality to wearable technologies, the innovation is so real
you can taste it.  Chef Michael Blackie’s culinary creations will
underscore the spirit of ingenuity with a refined but approachable menu.
Prepare your taste buds to savour food and beverages that will fuel your
body and mind.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT. BUY YOUR TICKETS TODAY! [3]

[4]

À TOUTE VAPEUR VERS LE GALA NATIONAL DES SCIENCES ET DE L’INNOVATION

PARLONS STIAM
Témoignant de l’engagement du Canada à créer une culture
scientifique dynamique à l’échelle du pays, le groupe d’experts
invité rassemblera des gens d’influence issus des secteurs privé et
public, afin qu’ils discutent de l’importance de l’éducation dans
les domaines des STIAM (sciences, technologies, ingénierie, arts et
mathématiques).

VISAGES FAMILIERS
Venez vivre l’expérience d’une soirée empreinte de fantaisie et de
merveilleux qu’animera Heather Hiscox, lectrice de nouvelles au
réseau CBC News Network. Assistez à la remise des tout premiers prix
Horizon STIAM.

LE GOÛT DE L’INNOVATION
De la réalité virtuelle aux technologies portables, l’innovation est
si réelle qu’on peut même y goûter. Les créations culinaires du
chef Michael Blackie illustrent cet esprit d’ingéniosité dans un
menu raffiné et invitant. Préparez vos papilles à savourer mets et
boissons qui nourriront votre corps et votre esprit.

LE TEMPS COMMENCE À MANQUER! ACHETEZ VOS BILLETS DÈS MAINTENANT! [5]

THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS
MERCI À NOS COMMANDITAIRES

Logistics (from the CSTMC’s gala event page),

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

  • Date: May 17, 2017
  • Time: Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
  • Location: Canada Aviation and Space Museum
  • Dress Code: Semi-formal. Guests are encouraged to add a Steampunk twist to their outfits.

Your ticket includes gourmet food, one drink ticket, entertainment, music performed by a Steampunk DJ, coat check and parking.

Tickets: $150 per person, $1250 for a group of 10.

The email didn’t quite convey the flavour of the gala,

What can you expect?

Heather Hiscox

Familiar Faces

Experience a whimsical and wonderful evening hosted by CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] News Network’s Heather Hiscox. Join her for the presentation of the first ever STEAM Horizon Awards.

Let’s Talk STEAM

Demonstrating Canada’s commitment to a vibrant, national science culture, the evening’s panel brings together influencers from the private and public sectors [emphasis mine] to discuss the importance of education in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) fields. The panel will exchange insights on a wide-range of topics, including Canadian youth, women and girls in STEAM, and the imperative for coming generations of Canadians to embrace the fields of science and technology.

Let's Talk STEAM
appetite for innovation

Appetite for Innovation

From virtual reality to wearable technologies, the innovation is so real you can taste it. Chef Michael Blackie’s culinary creations will underscore the spirit of ingenuity with a refined but approachable menu. Prepare your taste buds to savour food and beverages that will fuel your body and mind.

Steampunk Factory

Be dazzled by technological wonders spread over different zones as you explore interactive installations developed by leading-edge industry partners and teams from local universities and colleges. From virtual reality to wearable technologies, get a hands-on look at the technologies of tomorrow − steampunk style!

Steampunk Factory
Future-VR

Virtual Reality

Do you have what it takes to be a steampunk aviator or train engineer? Test your skills and open up your mind to new horizons in our aviation simulators and virtual reality environments. If art and design are more your style, our virtual art exhibit will give all new meaning to abstract.

Autonomous Vehicles

Race your drones to the finish line or try your hand at controlling a rover developed to withstand the rigours of Mars. You are no longer required to leave your seat in order to take to the skies or visit other planets!

Autonomous Vehicles
Flying Time Machine

Wonderful Flying Time Machine

Travel back in time aboard the Wonderful Flying Time Machine equipped with a photo booth to make sure you capture the moment in time!

STEAM Horizon Awards

Amidst the wonders and whimsy of the Steampunk soiree, the Gala will also be host to the first ever STEAM Horizon Awards. Funded by the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation Foundation and six founding partners, the awards celebrate the important contributions of Canada’s youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). The seven winners, hailing from across Canada, have been invited to the Gala where they will be recognized for their individual achievements and receive a $25 000 prize to go towards their post-secondary education.

STEAM Horizon Awards
robotics

Robotics

Get acquainted with young innovators and their robot inventions. From flying machines to robot dogs, these whimsical inventions offer a peek into the automated future.

Networking

Spend the night mingling with industry innovators and academics alike as we honour the achievements of young Canadians in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. Take advantage of this opportunity to connect with influential Canadians in STEAM industries in business and government.

networking
Roving Steampunk Performers

Roving Steampunk Performers

From stilt walkers to illusionists, experience a steampunk spectacle like no other as larger than life entertainers present a magical escape from the modern world.

Wearable Technology Fashion Show

Lights, camera, fashion! Enjoy a unique wearable technology fashion show where innovation meets performance and theatre. A collaboration between a number of Canada’s leading wearable technology companies and young innovators, this fashion show will take you to another world − or era!

Wearable Tech
DJ and Dancing

Do the Robot

Let off some steam and dance the night away amid a unique scene of motion and sound as robotic dancers come to life powered by the music of our Steampunk DJ.

Take part in an unforgettable experience. Buy your tickets now! $150 per person, $1250 for a group of 10.

My compliments on the imagination they’ve put into organizing this event. Still, I am wondering about a few things. It would seem the only person over the age of 30 who’s expected to attend is the CBC host, Heather Hiscox. Also, the panel seems to be comprised of a set of furniture.. Are they planning something like those unconferences where attendees spontaneously volunteer to present. or in this case, to be a panelist?

If anyone who’s attending is inclined, please do leave comments after you’ve attended. I’d love to know how it all came together.