Category Archives: Vancouver

Creativity—Connection—Innovation—Dr. Arvind Gupta leads a City (Vancouver, Canada) Conversation this Thursday, April 17, 2014

There’s a lot of excitement about Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) upcoming City Conversation’s April 17, 2014 session featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta, computer scientist and newly appointed president of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Being held at 12:30 pm at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, the event will be broadcast (this is a first for the City Conversations program) to both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses as well.  Here’s a description of the event and of the speaker, along with more details about the locations (from the April 13, 2014 announcement; Note: Links have been removed),,

This week’s City Conversation [titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!] will feature Dr. Arvind Gupta, who will discuss the world of research collaborations and innovation, and the role universities and student entrepreneurs play while bringing their ideas to market.

The event will take place at SFU’s Vancouver campus (Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St., Room 7000), from 12:30-1:30pm on April 17, and for the first time City Conversations will be simulcast and open to audiences at SFU’s Burnaby (IRMACS Theatre, ASB 10900) and Surrey (Room 5380) campuses.

Participants at SFU’s satellite locations will be able to comment and ask questions of the presenters through video conferencing, with SFU associate vice president, External Relations Joanne Curry (Burnaby) and SFU Surrey executive director Steve Dooley (Surrey) serving as moderators.

Dr. Gupta, former SFU professor and current CEO and scientific director of Mitacs [Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada) program {a Canadian federal government program}]. Launched at SFU in 1999, Mitacs supports national innovation by coordinating collaborative industry-university research projects with human capital development at its core.

I understand from City Conversations organizer, Michael Alexander, audio will be recorded and a file will be available. I’m not sure what the timing is but the City Conversations Past Event and Recordings webpage is where you can check for the audio file.

I noticed the talk seems to be oriented to the interests of students and staff but am hopeful that some reference will be made to the impact that creativity, connection, and innovation have on a city and how we in Vancouver could participate.

One biographical note of my own here, for two years I tried to contact Michael Alexander with an idea of a City Conversation. We had that conversation March 31, 2014. It was largely focused on my desire to have some science-oriented City Conversations and this is the outcome (and fingers crossed not the last one). I am thrilled to bits.  For anyone wondering what Gupta’s talk has to do with science, innovation is, usually and internationally, code for applied science and technology.

Fierce mice and brain disorders topic at at Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique March 2014 get together

Vancouver’s next Café Scientifique is being held in the back room of the The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], Vancouver, Canada), on Tuesday, March 25,  2014 at 7:30 pm. Here’s the meeting description (from the March. 18, 2014 announcement),

Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Elizabeth Simpson.  The title of her talk is:

“Fierce Mice” and “Good Viruses” are Impacting Brain Disorders

Mental illness accounts for over 15 percent of the burden of disease in the developed world, which is higher than all cancers combined. Nevertheless, from a research perspective, these “brain and behaviour” disorders are relatively underserved. Combinations of both genetic and environmental factors cause brain and behaviour disorders, and the Simpson laboratory is focused on exploring the genetic cause.

Dr. Simpson’s group was the first to find that the human gene (NR2E1) can correct violent behaviour in the fierce mouse; a model of pathological aggression. NR2E1 is involved in controlling stem cell proliferation in the brain, and the Simpson group has found an association between this gene and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive psychosis), a brain illness that is usually diagnosed in late teens to early twenties, but likely initiates in childhood.

Working to open a new therapeutic door for mental illness and other brain disorders, Dr. Simpson is leading a large genomics project to build MiniPromoters; tools designed to deliver therapeutic genes to defined regions of the brain. This technology will enable virus-based-gene therapies for many different brain disorders regardless of the underlying cause. Thus, the Simpson laboratory is bringing new technologies to childhood and adult brain and behaviour disorders, all of which are underserved by traditional therapeutic approaches.

You canl see this description of Simpson’s talk is taken from her page on the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics webspace on the University of British Columbia website.

Nano and the energy crisis, a March 25, 2014 presentation by Federico Rosei in Vancouver, Canada

ARPICO’s, Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada, is presenting a talk about the energy crisis and how nanoscience may help, which will be given by Federico Rosei, a nanoscientist based in Québec at the INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique). I don’t have much more information about the talk (from the March 4, 2014 ARPICO announcement),

Looming Energy Crisis & Possible Solutions
What is economically viable?
What is environmentally sustainable?
In the short term, in the long term…

Please join us for a presentation & lively discussion facilitated by

Federico Rosei, PhD
International award winning scientist, thinker and speaker

The exploration of the role of nanoscience in tomorrow’s energy solutions

There are more details about the speaker (from the ARPICO announcement),

Dr. Rosei’s research interests focus on the properties of nanostructured materials. Among numerous positions held, he is Canada Research Chair in Nanostructured Organic and Inorganic Materials, Professor & Director of INRS-Energy, Materials & Telecommunications, Universite du Quebec, Varennes (QC), and UNESCO Chair in Materials and Technologies for Energy Conversion, Saving and Storage. He has published over 170 articles in prestigious international journals and his publications have been cited over 4,500 times. He has received several awards, including the FQRNT Strategic Professorship, the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Herzberg Medal from the Canadian Association of Physicists.

Dr. Rosei’s biographical notes have not been updat4ed as he has recently won two major awards as per my Feb. 4, 2014 posting about his E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship and my Jan. 27, 2014 posting about his 2014 Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry from the Canadian Society for Chemistry.

Here are the event details,

Date & Time:      Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 7pm

Location:      Roundhouse Community Centre (Room C),
181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver, BC
(Yaletown-Roundhouse Sky Train Station, C21 & C23 Buses, Parking $3)

Refreshments:      Complimentary—coffee and cookies

Admission & RSVP:      Admission is free.

Registration at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/looming-energy-crisis-possible-solutions-by-prof-federico-rosei-inrs-tickets-6582603745

I’m glad to see a talk about the energy crisis that’s geared to ways in which we might deal with it.

Nanotips *(the company)* makes your gloves touchscreen-sensitive

Nanotips is both the name of Tony Yu’s company and of the product. According to a Feb. 13, 2014 news item on Nanowerk, it’s a Kickstarter project, too (Note: Links have been removed),

A Kickstarter project to produce a nanoparticle liquid to transform all gloves into a touchscreen glove is already oversubscribed.

Nanotips is a conductive polyamide liquid solution that can transform your ordinary gloves into touchscreen ones. Formulated using nanotechnology, Nanotips mimics the touch of human skin. It was designed with functionality and durability in mind making it great for all lifestyles.

You can find out more on the Nanotips Kickstarter campaign page or on the Nanotips company website. From the Kickstarter campaign page (where I found more detail than I could on the company website),

NANOTIPS is for everyone. From the cold winter months to the hot summer days, Nanotips is functional in every season.  Military gloves, running gloves, biking gloves, construction gloves, golfing gloves and even the thickest snowboarding and skiing gloves can now all be made touchscreen compatible.

With simplicity and functionality in mind, we set out to create the quickest and most effective universal touchscreen upgrade ever. This formula has been created to last in any condition and takes less than 2 minutes to apply.

Nanotips BlueFor use on fabrics ONLY. Nanotips Blue is designed specifically for fabrics.  This solution dries to a transparent blue which makes it practically invisible on colored fabrics. This formula soaks into the fabric creating a conductive bridge between your finger and the touchscreen device. Treats up to 15 fingers per bottle depending on material.

Nanotips Black

Nanotips Black is specifically tailored for leathers, rubbers, and other thicker materials. This formula works for all materials, however it may alter the texture of your fabric gloves. This formula can work in two ways. A) It creates a conductive layer on the surface of your glove B) It soaks into the fabric and creates a conductive bridge between the finger and the touchscreen device. Treats up to 30 fingers per bottle depending on material.

There is some technical information on the Kickstarter campaign page but it is very general,

Nanotips Black. Quite a bit of work has been done in the development of this product. Comprised of evenly dispersed ultra-fine conductive nanoparticles, each particle is carefully prepped and made to interlink with one another; this helps to form a conductive grid-like film on the surface of the material. Because your glove undergoes constant flex, abrasion, creasing, and natural elements, our formula allows the materials to remain in grid formation even under extreme conditions. This helps to create an evenly distributed conductive channel on the surface of your glove.

Nanotips Blue. Comprised of evenly dispersed ultra-fine conductive nanoparticles, each particle is carefully prepped and made to interlink with one another.  These particles are suspended in a solution which allows the nanoparticles to remain chained to one another even under extreme physical stressors. When applied to fabrics, Nanotips Blue soaks into the material and effectively creates a conductive chain, bridging the gap between your finger and the touchscreen device. The sacrifice for transparency over conductivity was made for Nanotips Blue which is the reason why this solution only functions for fabrics.

Bottles. Our bottles are made from glass. We chose glass over other materials because it allows the liquid to achieve a longer shelf life as it remains sealed in the bottle. The brush is a Dupont nylon brush. Using the brush method of application means that each individual would be able to precisely apply the solution to the targeted area.

I think the future goal on the campaign page is quite intriguing,

PROSTHETIC HANDS.  During the creation of Nanotips, we had discovered that many prosthetic limbs are unable to interact with capacitive touchscreen devices. Because touchscreen technology is such an integral part of our society, daily interactions for anyone with prosthetic hands becomes a challenge. We would like to expand in this field by testing Nanotips on a variety of prosthetics; our goal is to give them the ability to easily interact with touchscreen devices.

Here’s the company’s Kickstarter video pitch,

Nanotips is an active Kickstarter campaign with 11 days to go (as of Feb. 13, 2014) and it has surpassed its initial campaign goal of $10,500 with supporters having pledged $55,776 CAD to date. It seems redundant to wish the company good luck but I will anyway as they deal with a project of a different scale than they’d originally planned.

Two final notes:  (1) the company is located in Richmond, BC, Canada or, as I’ve taken to saying, it’s a Vancouver area company and (2) there is no mention of any environmental testing.

* Added (the company) to head for grammatical purposes on Feb. 14, 2014 .

Nanotech Security and the 2014 Optical Document Security Conference

There’s a Jan. 30, 2014 news item on Azonano about Nanotech Security, a Vancouver area-based producer of nanotechnology-enabled security products,

Nanotech Security Corp. (“NTS”) today announced that the Company has been selected to present a technical paper at the prestigious bi-annual Optical Document Security Conference in San Francisco, January 29-31, 2014. The paper, titled “Combinatory Nanostructure Arrays for Multi-Faceted, Multi-Level Security OVDs,” will discuss the science behind Nanotech’s technology and its unique ability to produce intense high definition optically variable devices (OVDs).

The Jan. 28, 2014 Nanotech Security news release, which originated the news item, provides a few additional details about the conference and the technology Nanotech Security will be presenting,

“An invitation to participate at Optical Document Security 2014 is a tremendous honor for our Company and a great opportunity to associate with the world’s best researchers, developers and manufacturers in optical feature based document security,” said Mr. Landrock. “The conference attracts the most innovative technologies and companies, and has become known as a place to present and discuss breakthroughs that are moving banknote and document security technology forward.”

Mr. Landrock added, “During our first Optical Document Security conference in 2012, we demonstrated an early version of our technology and showed how it could advance the industry once it was completed. When we return to the event next week, we will have a product that is market-ready.   We are looking forward to demonstrating KolourOptik’s many advantages, including stunning photo quality ON/OFF images and animation that are all reproducible at a cost projected to be extremely competitive within the current market place.”

I have mentioned Nanotech Security in previous postings including a Sept. 29, 2011 posting where I attempted to explore the company’s somewhat confusing (to me) history.

You can find the 2014 Optical Document Security conference (Jan. 29 – 31, 2014) here.

Lomiko Mines, graphene, 3D printing, and the World Outlook Financial Conference and the launch of an international sustainable mining institute in Vancouver, Canada

I have two items one of which concerns Lomiko Metals and the other, a new institute focused on extraction launched jointly by the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU) and l’École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPM).

First, there’s a puzzling Jan. 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about Lomiko Metals (a company that extracts graphite flakes from the Quatre Milles property in Québec, and its appearance at the 2014 World Outlook Financial Conference being held in Vancouver,

Lomiko Metals Inc. invite [sic] investors to learn about 3d printing at the World Outlook Conference. Lomiko partner Graphene 3D Lab has reached a significant milestone by filing a provisional patent application for the use of graphene-enhanced material, along with other materials, in 3D Printing. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating a three-dimensional, solid object from a digital file, of virtually any shape. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, whereas successive layers of material are laid down and create different shapes.

Unsure as to whether or not Lomiko Metals would be offering demonstrations of 3D printed items containing graphene at the conference, I sent a query to the company’s Chief Executive Officer, A. Paul Gill who kindly replied with this,

The demonstration being done is by the Conference not by Lomiko.  We were going to do something at our booth but we didn’t want to steal any thunder from the WOC or Tinkinerine which is a 3D Printing manufacturer and is going public through a merger with White Bear Resources. (TSX-V: WBR).

The Jan. 27, 2013 [sic] Lomiko Metals news release, which originated the news item, did have this to say about graphene and 3D printing (Note: I live in dread of accidentally writing 2013 when I mean 2014),

Adding graphene to polymers which are conventionally u sed in 3D printing improves the properties of the polymer in many different ways; it improves the polymers mechanical strength as well as its electrical and thermal conductivity. The method described in the provisional patent application allows consumers to use the polymer, infused with graphene, together with conventional polymers in the same printing process, thereby fabricating functional electronic devices using 3D printing.

New developments in 3D printing will allow for the creation of products with different components, such as printed electronic circuits, sensors, or batteries to be manufactured. 3D Printing is a new and promising manufacturing technology that has garnered much interest, growing from uses in prototyping to everyday products. Today, it is a billion dollar industry growing at a brisk pace.

For those eager to find out about investment opportunities in 2014, here’s the World Financial Outlook Conference website. I was surprised they don’t list the conference dates on the homepage (Jan. 31 – Feb. 1,2014) or any details other than the prices for various categories of registration. There is a Speakers page, which lists John Biehler as their 3D printing expert,

John Biehler is a Vancouver based photographer, blogger, gadget geek, mobile phone nerd, teacher, traveler, 3D printer builder/operator, maker & all around curious person.

He co-founded 3D604.org, a club of 3d printing enthusiasts who meet monthly and help share their knowledge of 3d printing at many events. He has spoken at numerous conferences including SXSW Interactive, Northern Voice, BarCamp and many others.

John is a regular contributor to Miss604.com, the DottoTech radio show, the Province newspaper and London Drugs blogs as well as doing a weekly Tech Tuesday segment on News 1130 radio and many other online, print, radio and television outlets. He is currently writing his first book (about 3D printing) that will be published in 2014 by Que.

You can find the conference agenda here. Biehler’s talk “3D Printing: The Future is Now” is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at 10:45 am PDT.

Sustainable extraction

A January 29, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release announced this (Note: Links have been removed),

International sustainable mining institute launched

A new Canadian institute that will help developing countries benefit from their mining resources in environmentally and socially responsible ways was officially launched in Vancouver today.

The Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID) is a coalition between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPM). Institute Interim Executive Director Bern Klein was joined for the launch in Vancouver by UBC’s Vice President Research & International John Hepburn, SFU President Andrew Petter, and EPM CEO Christophe Guy.

“Nations want to develop their mineral, oil and gas resources,” says Klein, also a professor of mining engineering at UBC. “But many lack the regulatory and policy frameworks to make the most of their natural resources, while also considering the needs of affected communities. We want them to have the capacity to use their resources to enhance livelihoods, improve dialogue and mitigate environmental harm.”

In November 2012 the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (then CIDA) announced the award of $25 million to a coalition of the three academic institutions to form the Institute. Since then, the Institute has set up operations and is connecting with partner nongovernmental organizations, governments, professional associations, and industry. It is now beginning program development.

Programming will put the Institute and its partners’ knowledge and resources at the service of foreign governments and local communities. Its work will focus on four main areas: applied research, community engagement, education, and governance of natural resources.

For more information about the Institute, visit the website at: http://ciieid.org.

I have searched the CIIEID website to find out how the government or anyone else for that matter determined that Canadians have any advice about or examples of sustainable extraction to offer any other country.  I remain mystified. Perhaps someone reading this blog would care to enlighten me.

Canadian Society for Chemistry honours Québec nanoscientist Federico Rosei

Dr. Federico Rosei’s name has graced this blog before, most recently in a June 15, 2010 posting about an organic nanoelectronics project. Late last week, Québec’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) announced that Rosei will be honoured by the Canadian Society for Chemistry at  the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (from the January 24, 2014 news release on EurekAlert),,

The Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) has bestowed its 2014 Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry on Professor Federico Rosei, director of the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre, in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the field. Professor Rosei will be honoured at the society’s annual conference, which will take place June 1 to 5, 2014, in Vancouver.

In conjunction with this honour, Federico Rosei has been invited to speak at this important scientific conference and to take part in a lecture tour of Canadian universities located outside major cities.

Professor Rosei has been widely honoured for his research on nanomaterial properties and their applications. He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2013 Herzberg Medal from the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Brian Ives Lectureship Award from ASM Canada, the 2011 Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s 2010 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Institute of Physics; the Royal Society of Chemistry; the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; the Institute of Engineering and Technology; and the Institute of Nanotechnology in the U.K.; the Engineering Institute of Canada; and the Australian Institute of Physics. In addition, Professor Rosei is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Society for Photo-Image Engineers (SPIE), and a member of Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the Global Young Academy.

Please join us in extending our congratulations to Professor Rosei!

###

The Canadian Society for Chemistry

The Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) is a not-for-profit professional association that unites chemistry students and professionals who work in industry, academia, and government. Recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the CSC awards annual prizes and scholarships in recognition of outstanding achievements in the chemical sciences.

About INRS

Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) is a graduate research and training university. As Canada’s leading university for research intensity in its class, INRS brings together some 150 professors and close to 700 students and postdoctoral fellows in its centres in Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, and Varennes. As active providers of fundamental research essential to the advancement of science in Quebec as well as internationally, INRS research teams also play a critical role in developing concrete solutions to problems that our society faces.

The French language version of the news release: de l’actualité le 23 janvier 2014, par Stéphanie Thibault (Note: Links have been removed from the excerpt),

Le professeur Federico Rosei du Centre Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications de l’INRS est récipiendaire du Prix d’excellence en chimie des matériaux 2014. La Société canadienne de chimie reconnaît ainsi sa contribution exceptionnelle dans ce domaine. Le professeur Rosei sera honoré lors du congrès annuel de la Société qui aura lieu du 1er au 5 juin 2014 à Vancouver.

À titre de lauréat, le professeur Rosei sera conférencier invité à cette importante rencontre scientifique et participera à une tournée de conférences qui l’amènera dans des universités canadiennes situées hors des grandes villes.

I have not found any specific details about Dr. Rosei’s upcoming chemistry lecture tour of universities.

The conference where Dr. Rosei will be honoured is the 97th annual Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition. It is being hosted by Simon Fraser University (SFU), located in the Vancouver region. While the conference programme is not yet in place there’s a hint as to what will be offered in the conference chair’s Welcome message,

On behalf of the Organizing Committee, I am delighted to welcome all the delegates and their guests to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the 97th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition that will take place from June 1 to 5, 2014. This is Canada’s largest annual event devoted to the science and practice of chemistry, and it will give participants a platform to exchange ideas, discover novel opportunities, reacquaint with colleagues, meet new friends, and broaden their knowledge. The conference will held at the new Vancouver Convention Centre, which is a spectacular, green-designed facility on the beautiful waterfront in downtown Vancouver.

The theme of the CSC 2014 Conference is “Chemistry from Sea to Sky”; it will broadly cover all disciplines of chemistry from fundamental research to “blue sky” applications, highlight global chemical scientific interactions and collaborations, and feature the unique location, culture and beautiful geography (the Coastal Mountains along the ocean’s edge of Howe Sound) of British Columbia and Vancouver.

We are pleased to have Professor Shankar Balasubramanian (University of Cambridge, UK) and Professor Klaus Müllen (Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, Germany) as the plenary speakers. In addition to divisional symposia, the scientific program also includes several jointly organized international symposia, featuring Canada and each of China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and the USA. This new type of symposium at the CSC aims to highlight research interests of Canadians in an international context. Interactions between chemists and TRIUMF (the world’s largest cyclotron, based in Vancouver) will also be highlighted via a special “Nuclear and Radiochemistry” Divisional Program.

All of the members of the local Organizing Committee from Simon Fraser University wish you a superb conference experience and a memorable stay in Vancouver. Welcome to Vancouver! Bienvenue à Vancouver!

Zuo-Guang Ye, Conference Chair
Department of Chemistry
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia

Conference abstracts are being accepted until February 17, 2014 (according to the conference home page). Dr. Shankar Balasubramanian was last mentioned (one of several authors of a paper) here in a July 22, 2013 posting titled: Combining bacteriorhodopsin with semiconducting nanoparticles to generate hydrogen.

Freshwater fishes topic at Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique January 2014 get together

Vancouver’s next Café Scientifique is being held in the back room of the The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], Vancouver, Canada), on Tuesday, January 28,  2014 at 7:30 pm. Here’s the meeting description (from the Jan.. 21, 2014 announcement),

… Our speaker for the evening will be Eric Taylor, a zoology professor at UBC [University of British Columbia] and director of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.  The title and abstract for his talk is:

Fluviatili Pisces Diversi (The Diversity of Freshwater Fishes): Underappreciated and Under Threat

The term fish biodiversity immediately conjures up images of strikingly-coloured fishes on a coral reef, but over 40% of the more than 33,000 fish species occur in fresh water which comprises only 0.8% of the Earth’s surface area. Freshwater fishes are, therefore, the most diverse group of vertebrates per unit area on Earth. Furthermore, recent research suggests that the rate of the origin of new biodiversity is greater in fresh water than in the marine realm. Within this context, my presentation will discuss general patterns of biodiversity in British Columbia freshwater fishes, its nature and origins, and explore a few examples of evolutionary marvels of our native freshwater fishes. Finally, I will outline some of the key threats to our freshwater fish bioheritage.

You can find out more about the Beaty Biodiversity Museum here. Note: It is located on the University of British Columbia lands and on the university’s website.

University of British Columbia (Canada) discovers the ‘organ-on-a-chip’ and plans to host a July 2014 workshop

My latest piece about an ‘organ-on-a-chip’ project was a July 26, 2012 posting titled Organ chips for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) featuring the Wyss Institute (which pops up again in the latest news I have from the University of British Columbia [UBC; located in Vancouver, Canada)]). First, here’s more about that 2012 announcement,,

The Wyss Institute will receive up to  $37M US for a project that integrates ten different organ-on-a-chip projects into one system. From the July 24, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

With this new DARPA funding, Institute researchers and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators seek to build 10 different human organs-on-chips, to link them together to more closely mimic whole body physiology, and to engineer an automated instrument that will control fluid flow and cell viability while permitting real-time analysis of complex biochemical functions. As an accurate alternative to traditional animal testing models that often fail to predict human responses, this instrumented “human-on-a-chip” will be used to rapidly assess responses to new drug candidates, providing critical information on their safety and efficacy.

This unique platform could help ensure that safe and effective therapeutics are identified sooner, and ineffective or toxic ones are rejected early in the development process. As a result, the quality and quantity of new drugs moving successfully through the pipeline and into the clinic may be increased, regulatory decision-making could be better informed, and patient outcomes could be improved.

Jesse Goodman, FDA Chief Scientist and Deputy Commissioner for Science and Public Health, commented that the automated human-on-chip instrument being developed “has the potential to be a better model for determining human adverse responses. FDA looks forward to working with the Wyss Institute in its development of this model that may ultimately be used in therapeutic development.”

It’s nice to see that there’s interest in this area of research at UBC. From the Dec. 30, 2013 UBC news release by Gian-Paolo Mendoza which describes James Feng’s (professor in biological and chemical engineering) interest in the future possibilities offered by ‘organ-on-a-chip’ research,

“The potential is tremendous,” says Feng. “The main impact of organs grown this way will be on the design of drugs; the understanding of the pathological processes.”

Dr. Feng’s group carries out research in three broad areas: mechanics of biological cells and tissues, interfacial fluid dynamics, and mechanics and rheology of complex fluids.

The group has an inter-disciplinary flavour–crosscutting applied mathematics, cell biology, soft-matter physics and chemical and biomedical engineering—that is well-suited for exploring this burgeoning technology.

Feng cites a Harvard study [Ed. Note: This is the work being done at the Wyss Institute] using a small silicon device that holds a thin layer of real cell membranes capable of producing motion similar to the heaving and breathing of a lung.

Organ models designed this way have the potential to be more accurate in drug and treatment trials, says Feng, as they can better mimic the functions of human organs, as opposed to animal models which are the current research standard.

“It’s more controlled and you can simplify the process much faster,” said Feng.

“Harvard researchers also injected drugs into their chip model to see how it changed its behaviour and to see the tissue’s reaction to mechanical or chemical disturbance,” he added.

“It’s very important for drug design and discovery and the pharmaceutical industry would be tremendously interested in that.”

In addition, organs on a chip present a less controversial option for organ model testing compared to stem cell research. According to Feng, this is because their ultimate goals are very different from each other.

“The research that tried to grow organs directly from stem cells is aiming for eventually implantable organs,” he said. “The idea of making the chip is to work toward replacing animal models, so as to be more accurate and realistic like human organs. While the ability to replicate a complex human organ function remains far off, the direction appeals to anyone who is hoping to reduce the use of animals in research.”

Here’s the ‘lung-on-a-chip’ video the Wyss Institute has produced,

By contrast with ‘organ-on-a-chip’, the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ does not simulate the action of organs responding to various experimental therapeutic measures but makes standard testing and diagnostic procedures, such as blood tests, much faster, cheaper, and, in some cases, much less invasive as per my February 15, 2011 posting  which included some information about a local (Vancouver, Canada) project, the PROOF.(Prevention of Organ Failure) Centre.

The ‘organ-on-a-chip’ will help make clinical trials easier and faster according to Feng (from the news release),

Feng says this kind of organ testing offers the possibility of greatly reducing cost and time required for clinical trials.

“By using computer simulations we can generate results and insights, and run virtual tests much more easily and quickly,” he says.

“We can test maybe hundreds or thousands of designs of organ chips to be able to tell you whether you should try those ten designs instead of the hundreds one by one.”

Feng, who has a background in aerospace engineering, says this new bio-technology has the potential to transform the development of artificial organs and drugs the way computer simulations have replaced the use of wind tunnels for designing aircrafts.

“That used to be the dominant mode of designing crafts,” he said, “but that’s being replaced by online computer simulations because we understand the principles of aerodynamics so well.”

There’s also recognition that UBC is a little late to the ‘party’,

While UBC’s efforts in the field are in the early stages, Feng is reaching out to researchers from other backgrounds. He will be inviting leading scientists to UBC in July 2014 for a workshop that will centre on the growth of artificial organs and computer simulations. He is also exploring ideas of his own.

“I have a collaboration with an engineering colleague on how to use the microfluidic chip, the technology used to emulate the lung in the Harvard study, as a way of measuring malaria-infected red cells,” he said, suggesting that this is just one of the countless ways this new technology could be used to fuel future innovation.

And since it’s Friday (Jan. 3, 2014), I thought it was time for a music video, and Pink’s ‘Let’s get the party started’ seems to fit the bill,,

Have a good first weekend of the year 2014!

[The Picture of] Dorian Gray opera premiered as part of World New Music Days festival held in Slovakia & Austria: *Kate Pullinger interview

I’m delighted to be publishing an interview with Kate Pullinger a well known Canadian-born writer, resident for many years in the UK, about her opera project. (For her sins, she supervised my De Montfort University’s [UK] master’s project. There were times when I wasn’t sure either of us was going to survive largely [but not solely] due to my computer’s meltdown at the worst possible moment.)

Here’s a bit more about Kate from the About page on her eponymous website,

Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms.  In 2009 her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, one of Canada’s most prestigious literary prizes.  Her prize-winning digital fiction projects Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel have reached audiences around the world.

Kate Pullinger gives talks and readings frequently (look at the Events page for future events); she also offers private 1-1 mentoring for emerging writers in both print and new media.  She is Professor of Creative Writing and New Media at Bath Spa University.

As well as The Mistress of Nothing, Kate Pullinger’s books include A Little StrangerWeird Sister, The Last Time I Saw Jane, Where Does Kissing End?, and When the Monster Dies, as well as the short story collections, My Life as a Girl in a Men’s Prison and Tiny Lies.  She co-wrote the novel of the film The Piano with director Jane Campion. In 2011, A Curious Dream: Collected Works, a selection of Pullinger’s short stories, was published in Canada.

Kate Pullinger is currently working on a new novel and an associated digital fiction that build on themes developed in her collaborative digital fiction project, Flight Paths:  A Networked Novel.

Other current projects include a libretto based on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, commissioned by the Slovak National Theatre in collaboration with the composer Lubica Cekovska.  This work will be premiered in Bratislava in 2013.  Recent projects include working with digital artist James Coupe on Surveillance Suite, a project that generates stories using facial recognition software.

Kate Pullinger was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and went to high school on Vancouver Island. She dropped out of McGill University, Montreal, after a year and a half of not studying philosophy and literature, then spent a year working in a copper mine in the Yukon, northern Canada, where she crushed rocks and saved money. She spent that money travelling and ended up in London, England, where she has been ever since.  She is married and has two children.

You can read more about Kate and her academic work here on her faculty page on the Bath Spa University website.

As for Kate’s work as a librettist on the opera, Dorian Gray, based on the Oscar Wilde novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, she worked with composer, Ľubica Čekovská for the opera, which was debuted on Nov. 8, 2013 in Bratislava, Slovakia as part of the World New Music Days festival, founded in 1922 and *held in Slovakia and Austria in 2013..

Here’s Kate’s interview:

  •  I am assuming you went to the premiere? How was it? And, if you didn’t attend, what do you imagine (or what were you told) happened?

I saw the last two full rehearsals, and then the first two performances.  There are two casts in the Slovakian production – two of all the main roles – I’m not entirely sure why! It was so much fun, to hear the orchestra, and to see the production, and to hear the singers sing our work. Lubica had played me the opera many times using Sibelius, the software composers use, but that sounds like tinny computer music, so it was so pleasurable to hear her score played. And her score is really a wonderful work, very dense, clever, amusing, and tuneful.

  • Can you tell me a little bit about the story and which elements you chose to emphasize and which elements you chose to de-emphasize or eliminate altogether? How does your Dorian Gray differ from the other Dorian Gray opera by American composer Lowell Liebermann,?

I guess the main difference between my adaptation and most others is that I decided to make Dorian and his journey to hell central to the work and to not focus on his relationship with Lord Henry. Adaptations of the novel often make it a kind of two-hander between Dorian and Lord Henry, but we felt that there wasn’t room for that in what we were doing.

I don’t know the Liebermann adaptation at all.

  •  I looked up definitions for librettist and it seems the word means whatever the librettist and the composer decide. Could you describe your role as librettist for this opera?

I structured the story by creating three acts and the scenes therein, and then wrote the text for the singers. Lubica and I had a lot of discussion before I created the structure, and then on-going discussions as I worked on the libretto and she embarked on the score. I finished the libretto, but then continued to make changes as Lubica found issues with it, or we had new ideas. It was a lot of fun and we would like to work together again.

  • How did you two end up collaborating with each other? And what was the process like? e.g. It took about four years to bring this opera to life, yes? So, did the process change as the years moved on and as you got closer to the premiere? Did you learn any Slovak (language)?

The writing process, in total, took about 2.5 years really, the bulk of that Lubica’s time, as creating and scoring an entire opera for a full orchestra is an enormous task. After that, there is a lengthy publishing process, and then the production time. So for the last 1.5 years I did very little except wait for the occasional update.  Lubica was much more involved with the opera house in finding the director, conductor, and casting – and then once rehearsals started she was very involved in that process. Both the director, Nicola Raab, and the conductor, Christopher Ward, said how unusual it was to work with a living composer and librettist!

  • Did anything surprise you as you worked with the story or with the composer (Ľubica Čekovská)?

I learned a lot and there were many surprises.

At this point I’m interrupting the interview to excerpt part of a review in the New York Times, which I ask about in a question that follows the excerpt from A Music Festival Features Premiere of the Opera ‘Dorian Gray’ By GEORGE LOOMIS Published: November 13, 2013 in the New York Times,

The World New Music Days festival was first held in Salzburg in 1922 — around the time Arnold Schoenberg was perfecting his 12-note compositional system — and it remains a robust champion of new music. This year the 11-day program, sponsored by the International Society of Contemporary Music, was spread over three cities — Kosice and Bratislava in Slovakia, and Vienna — and included some 25 concerts, which were supplemented by many others thanks to partnerships with local organizations. A new opera was among the many works to receive their world premieres.

….

But the opera, as seen in Nicola Raab’s generally persuasive staging with sets by Anne Marie Legenstein and Alix Burgstaller that decadently depict Victorian drawing rooms, is marred by the decision to have the picture consist simply of an empty frame, an idea that perhaps seemed bold in concept but misfires in execution. [emphasis mine] Ms. Cekovska interestingly conveys the picture’s disfiguration musically through wordless boy-soprano melodies that recur increasingly distorted. [emphasis mine] But the melodies, to say nothing of the drama itself, need a visual analogue.

Now back to the interview,

  •  The one reviewer I’ve read, from the NY Times, expressed some disappointment with the choice to have an empty picture frame represent the ‘picture of Dorian Gray’ around which the entire story revolves. What was the thinking behind the decision and is there a chance that future productions (my understanding is that one isn’t permitted to make any substantive changes to a production once it has started its run) will feature a picture?

Well, that’s one critic’s opinion, and not one we agree with. Very early on in the process Lubica had the idea, which I think is genius, of representing the picture chorally – in early drafts there was a chorus on stage, and then this shifted to an electronic recorded chorus, where the music becomes gradually more and more distorted as the picture changes. With adaptations of Dorian Gray there is always a huge problem with how to represent the picture, which is so vivid and clear in our mind’s eye when we read Wilde’s original. Having an oil painting that gets older often just looks cheesy – it doesn’t look how you think it should look. So the empty picture frame, and the disintegrating chorus, in my opinion, is wonderful.

  • Given that I write mostly about science and technology, are there any opera technology tidbits about this production that you can offer?

Ha!  It was one of the most analogue experiences of my entire life!

  • How was your recent trip to China? Was it related to the opera project or an entirely new one and what might that be?

I went to China as part of a UK university exchange programme, looking at setting up collaborations with Chinese universities. It was a very interesting trip, though somewhat dominated by the appalling air quality in all three of the cities we visited.

  • Is there anything you’d like to add? (e.g. plans to bring the opera to Vancouver, Canada)

Opera productions don’t travel, so any future productions will have to be new productions, if you see what I mean – or co-productions. This is what the opera house hopes will happen. Ľubica Čekovská is a young composer with a steadily rising reputation, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are future productions of it. I think it is a wonderful piece of work, but I’m biased.

Thank you, Kate for your time and for illuminating a topic of some interest to me. I’ve wondered about opera and librettists especially since many well known writers like you and Margaret Atwood are now working in this media. (Margaret Atwood is librettist for the opera ‘Pauline’ [about poet Pauline Johnson] which will have its world première on May 23, 2014 in Vancouver, Canada.)

For the curious, there’s another interview with Kate (she discusses the then upcoming opera and other work)  written up by Jeremy Hight in a Feb. 2011 article for the Leonardo Almanac and Ľubica Čekovská’s website is here. One final note, World New Music Days festival will be held in Vancouver, Canada in 2017, according to New York Times writer, George Loomis.

* I posted a little sooner that I should have. As of 10:30 am PST, I have added Kate Pullinger’s name to the heading, and added Austria and Slovakia as the sites for the 2013 World New Music Days festival.

ETA Dec. 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm PST: The opera, Dorian Gray, will be performed again in Bratislava at the National Slovak Theatre on 20 February, 5 April and 5 June 2014. More here.