Category Archives: science funding

Canada’s federal scientists bargain for the right to present scientific results without government interference

I believe this latest bargaining round (h/t Dec. 3, 2014 news item on phys.org) between the Canadian federal government (Treasury Board) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC; a multi-disciplinary professional union representing 60,000 members employed by the Canadian federal government) is extraordinary. To my knowledge, no other union in this country has ever bargained for the right to present information without political interference or, more briefly, integrity. (Should you know otherwise, please let me know.)

Kathryn May in a Dec. 2, 2014 article for the Ottawa Citizen seems to have broken the news,

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents more than 15,000 scientists, researchers and engineers, is tabling a negotiating position for managing science in the “public interest” with a list of demands for Treasury Board negotiators that dramatically push the boundaries of traditional collective bargaining in the public service.

The 7,000 members of PIPSC’s large applied science and patent examination group are the first at the table with Treasury Board this week, followed by 2,300 members of the research group next week.

A document obtained by the Citizen shows the union is looking for changes to deal with the ongoing spending cuts in science and “interference” in the integrity of scientific work.

The integrity policies will ensure science is done in the public interest; information and data is shared; scientists can collaborate, seek peer review and be protected from political meddling, “intimidation,” “coercion” or pressure to alter data.

It’s hard to tell how much of this is political grandstanding but it should be noted that there has been international notice of the situation in Canada (from the news article),

About a month ago [late October or early November 2014], hundreds of scientists from around the world signed an open letter appealing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper to end the “burdensome restrictions” Canada’s scientists face in talking about their work and collaborating with international colleagues.

The letter, signed by 800 scientists from 32 countries, was drafted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which represents U.S. scientists.

May’s article goes on to note,

The union has extensively surveyed federal scientists in recent years and issued two major reports that found scientists don’t feel they can freely speak and that spending cuts are affecting Canadians’ health, safety and environment.

A quarter of scientists surveyed said they have been asked to exclude or alter information. That request, whether explicit or implicit, came from the department, ministers’ offices or the Prime Minister’s Office. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of scientists believe policy is being compromised by political interference.

Specifically, PIPSC wants a scientific integrity policy for Treasury Board and the 40 science-based departments and agencies. The union would be consulted in the drafting and the final policy would be part of the collective agreements and made public.

The policy would touch on a range of issues and existing policies, but the key proposal is the “right to speak.” The union wants a clause guaranteeing scientists the right to express their personal views while making clear they don’t speak for government.

The other big demand is professional development, allowing scientists to attend meetings, conferences and courses to maintain their professional standards.

Do please read May’s article in its entirety (assuming the news paper continues to make it freely available) as it is riveting for anyone interested in this topic.

A Dec. 3, 2014 PIPSC news release provides more details about specific negotiating points,

The proposal being tabled would see enforceable policies negotiated that, among other things, ensure:

  • federal scientists have the right to speak;
  • reinvestment in research programs;
  • adequate national and international collaboration among scientists;
  • preservation of government science knowledge and libraries, and;
  • a guaranteed role in informing evidence-based public policy.

“It’s sad, frankly, that it’s come to this,” added Daviau [Debi Daviau, PIPSC president]. “But negotiating provisions in our collective agreements seems to be the only way to get this government’s attention and adopt meaningful, enforceable scientific integrity standards. At least this way our members would have the chance to grieve violations of standards they argue are essential to maintaining adequate public science services.”

The negotiating point (4th bullet) about libraries seems to have arisen from a specific cost-cutting exercise involving the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans libraries mentioned in my Jan. 30,  2014 posting. (The disbursement of some priceless volumes along with standard texts appeared to have been done with all the grace and thoughtfulness one would expect from a mindless mob.)

On a related note, I attended a four-day international congress in August 2014 and was surprised by the lack of Canadian scientists at this meeting. Perhaps this is not an area (alternatives to animal testing) where we have invested much research money but it was surprising and somehow shocking that so few Canadian scientists were giving presentations; there was one scientific presentation from a group at the University of British Columbia.

The issues around scientific integrity are complex and I’m not comfortable with the notion of including the principles in a union contract. My experience is that unions can be just as repressive and reductive as any government agency. That said, I think the practice of scientific integrity in Canada needs to be addressed in some fashion and if the only means we have is a union contract then, so be it.

It may be a few weeks before I get back to the topic of scientific integrity and the right to speak as I’m still catching up from all that teaching but I hope to have a more thoughtful and complex piece on these issues written before the year’s end.

ETA Dec. 4, 2014 1245 hours (PDT), coincidentally or not the Canadian federal government announced today * a $1.5 billlion fund (over 10 years) for research (from a Dec. 4, 2014 University of British Columbia [UBC) news release),

The University of British Columbia [UBC] welcomes today’s announcement of the $1.5-billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF), designed to significantly enhance the capabilities and competitiveness of Canada’s post-secondary institutions, says President Arvind Gupta.

“Thanks to this investment by the Government of Canada, our universities have an extraordinary opportunity to foster globally significant research on issues that have the capacity to change people’s lives and shape our future,” said Gupta. “Excellence in research makes our reputation, and enables us to attract the best faculty, students and staff from around the world.”

UBC will be among Canada’s top universities competing for up to tens of millions of dollars annually in CFREF funding over the course of the 10-year program. These new funds could support UBC’s emerging research and innovation strategy, designed to put students at the cutting edge of knowledge, providing access to the latest discoveries and revelations, noted Gupta.

UBC is internationally recognized for research excellence in such areas as: Quantum materials; translational genomics and precision oncology; economics; neurosciences; biodiversity; bio-economics; and microbial diversity, among others.

You can read the full UBC news release here. There were a few details more to be had in a U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities Dec. 4, 2014 news release,

The U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities applauds the official launch of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the Fund today, accompanied by Ed Holder, minister of state for science and technology, at an event attended by representatives from the post-secondary education sector and industry.

“Since its announcement in Budget 2014, The U15 has been looking forward to the official launch of CFREF as a significant commitment by Canada to support globally competitive research excellence,” said Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur, chair of The U15 and president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo. “This Fund will allow successful institutions to better compete on the international stage in established areas of research strength as well as new and emerging areas that will support Canada’s scientific standing and long-term economic advantage.”

Interesting timing, non?

* ‘of’ removed from sentence on Dec. 4, 2014.

Webcast of US NSF workshop for a future nanotechnology infrastructure support program

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) will be webcasting some of the Workshop for a Future Nanotechnology Infrastructure Support Program (Aug. 18 – 19, 2014) sessions live. From the NSF workshop notice (Note: Some links have been removed),

August 18, 2014 8:00 AM  to
August 18, 2014 12:00 PM
Arlington

August 19, 2014 8:00 AM  to
August 19, 2014 12:00 PM
Arlington

To broaden engagement, portions of the Workshop for a Future Nanotechnology Infrastructure Support Program will be webcast. (The approximate webcast times shown above are Eastern Daylight Time.)

The workshop will convene a panel of experts from academe, industry, and government to:

develop a vision of how a future nanotechnology infrastructure support program could be structured, and
determine the key needs for the broad user communities over the coming decade.

The workshop is a next step in NSF’s preparation for developing a program to succeed the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN), after having received community input in response to a recent Dear Colleague Letter (DCL 14-068).

The workshop is co-chaired by Dr. Thomas Theis (IBM Research, on assignment to the Semiconductor Research Corporation) and Dr. Mark Tuominen (University of Massachusetts, Amherst).

The final agenda will be available on this page soon. Morning sessions of the workshop will be broadcast via WebEx; afternoon breakout sessions will not be broadcast.

If you have never used WebEx before or if you want to test your computer’s compatibility with WebEx, please go to http://www.webex.com/lp/jointest/, enter the session information and click “Join”. Please feel free to contact WebEx Support if you are having trouble joining the test meeting.

Session number: 643 345 106
Session password: This session does not require a password.

The notice goes on to offer specific instructions for joining the session online or by phone.

You can view the NSF’s Dear Colleague letter here and/or go here to find the previous infrastructure program (National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network [NNIN]), which ended Feb. 28, 2014.

Alberta’s summer of 2014 nano funding and the US nano community’s talks with the House of Representatives

I have two items concerning nanotechnology and funding. The first item features Michelle Rempel, Canada’s Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification (WD) who made two funding announcements this summer (2014) affecting the Canadian nanotechnology sector and, more specifically, the province of Alberta.

A June 20, 2014 WD Canada news release announced a $1.1M award to the University of Alberta,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced $1.1 million to help advance leading-edge atomic computing technologies.

Federal funds will support the University of Alberta with the purchase of an ultra-high resolution scanning tunneling microscope, which will enable researchers and scientists in western Canada and abroad to analyze electron dynamics and nanostructures at an atomic level. The first of its kind in North America, the microscope has the potential to significantly transform the semiconductor industry, as research findings aid in the prototype development and technology commercialization of new ultra low-power and low-temperature computing devices and industrial applications.

This initiative is expected to further strengthen Canada’s competitive position throughout the electronics value chain, such as microelectronics, information and communications technology, and the aerospace and defence sectors. The project will also equip graduate students with a solid foundation of knowledge and hands-on experience to become highly qualified, skilled individuals in today’s workforce.

One month later, a July 21, 2014 WD news release (hosted on the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro and Nano Products [ACAMP]) announces this award,

Today, the Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, announced an investment of $3.3 million toward the purchase and installation of specialized advanced manufacturing and product development equipment at the Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro Nano Technology Products (ACAMP), as well as training on the use of this new equipment for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

This support, combined with an investment of $800,000 from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, will enable ACAMP to expand their services and provide businesses with affordable access to prototype manufacturing that is currently unavailable in western Canada. By helping SMEs accelerate the development and commercialization of innovative products, this project will help strengthen the global competitiveness of western Canadian technology companies.

Approximately 80 Alberta SMEs will benefit from this initiative, which is expected to result in the development of new product prototypes, the creation of new jobs in the field, as well as connections between SMEs and multi-national companies. This equipment will also assist ACAMP’s outreach activities across the western Canadian provinces.

I’m not entirely clear as to whether or not the June 2014 $1.1M award is considered part of the $3.3M award or if these are two different announcements. I am still waiting for answers to a June 20, 2014 query sent to Emily Goucher, Director of Communications to the Hon. Michelle Rempel,

Hi Emily!

Thank you for both the news release and the information about the embargo … happily not an issue at this point …

I noticed Robert Wolkow’s name in the release (I last posted about his work in a March 3, 2011 piece about his and his team’s entry into the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s smallest electron microscope tip (http://www.frogheart.ca/?tag=robert-wolkow) [Note: Wolkow was included in a list of quotees not included here in this July 29, 2014 posting]

I am assuming that the new microscope at the University of Alberta is specific to a different type of work than the one at UVic, which has a subatomic microscope (http://www.frogheart.ca/?p=10426)

Do I understand correctly that an STM is being purchased or is this an announcement of the funds and their intended use with no details about the STM available yet? After reading the news release closely, it looks to me like they do have a specific STM in mind but perhaps they don’t feel ready to make a purchase announcement yet?

If there is information about the STM that will be purchased I would deeply appreciate receiving it.

Thank you for your time.

As I wait, there’s more news from  the US as members of that country’s nanotechnology community testify at a second hearing before the House of Representatives. The first (a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing held before the Science, Space, and Technology
Subcommittee on Research and Technology) was mentioned in an May 23, 2014 posting  where I speculated about the community’s response to a smaller budget allocation (down to $1.5B in 2015 from $1.7B in 2014).

This second hearing is being held before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and features an appearance by James Tour from Rice University according to a July 28, 2014 news item on Azonano,

At the hearing, titled “Nanotechnology: Understanding How Small Solutions Drive Big Innovation,” Tour will discuss and provide written testimony on the future of nanotechnology and its impact on U.S. manufacturing and jobs. Tour is one of the most cited chemists in the country, and his Tour Group is a leader in patenting and bringing to market nanotechnology-based methods and materials.

Who: James Tour, Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry and professor of materials science and nanoengineering and of computer science.

What: Exploring breakthrough nanotechnology opportunities.

When: 10:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 29.

Where: Room 2322, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.

The hearing will explore the current state of nanotechnology and the direction it is headed so that members can gain a better understanding of the policy changes that may be necessary to keep up with advancements. Ultimately, the subcommittee hopes to better understand what issues will confront regulators and how to assess the challenges and opportunities of nanotechnology.

You can find a notice for this July 2014 hearing and a list of witnesses along with their statements here. As for what a second hearing might mean within the context of the US National Nanotechnology Initiative, I cannot say with any certainty. But, this is the first time in six years of writing this blog where there have been two hearings post-budget but as a passive collector of this kind of information this may be a reflection of my information collection strategies rather than a response to a smaller budget allocation. Still, it’s interesting.

Canadian government spending on science and technology is down for the fourth year in a row

It seems there a steady downward trajectory where Canadian science and technology spending is concerned. Stephen Hui in a May 28, 2014 article for the Georgia Straight, breaks the latest news from Statistics Canada (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canadian government is expected to spend less money on science and technology in 2014-15 compared to the previous fiscal year, continuing a trend that began in 2011-12. [emphasis mine]

According to Statistics Canada, federal departments and agencies are projected to record $10.3 billion (all figures in current dollars) in science and tech expenditures in 2014-15, a decrease of 5.4 percent from 2013-14.

Federal science and tech spending peaked at $12 billion in 2010-11 and has declined every year since then.

In fact, an earlier July 30, 2013 news item in Huffington Post noted a decrease in the 2013-14 budget,

The federal agency says spending for the 2013-14 fiscal year is expected to decrease 3.3 per cent from the previous period, to $10.5 billion.

It adds research and development is expected to account for two-thirds of anticipated science and technology spending.

The finding is contained in Statistics Canada’s annual survey of all federal government departments and agencies believed to be performing or funding science and technology activities.

The survey, released Tuesday [July 2013], covers the period from Sept. 10, 2012 to Jan. 11, 2013.

Statistics Canada says spending on science and technology has been steadily decreasing since 2009-10. [emphasis mine]

According to Hui’s source, the Statistics Canada’s The Daily, May 28,2014: Federal government spending on science and technology, 2014/2015, the trend started in 2011/12. I’m not sure which specific Statistics Canada publication was the source for the Huffington Post’s start date for the decline.

Interestingly, the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2013 dates the decline to 2001. From my Oct. 30, 2013 posting (excerpted from the scorecard),

Canada is among the few OECD countries where R&D expenditure declined between 2000 and 2011 (Figure 1). This decline was mainly due to reduced business spending on R&D. It occurred despite relatively generous public support for business R&D, primarily through tax incentives. In 2011, Canada was amongst the OECD countries with the most generous tax support for R&D and the country with the largest share of government funding for business R&D being accounted for by tax credits (Figure 2). …

If I understand this rightly, Canadian business spending on R&D has been steadily declining for more than a decade and, since 2010 or so, Canadian government spending is also steadily declining. Does anyone else see this as a problem?

The contrast with Brazil is startling. From a June 2, 2014 Institute of Physics news release (also on EurekAlert but dated as June 1, 2014),

As Brazil gets set to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup this month amid concerns about the amount of public money being used to stage the world’s largest sporting event, Physics World‘s editorial team reveals in a new special report how physicists are taking full advantage of the four-fold increase in science funding that the government has invested over the past 10 years.

Since this news comes from the physics community, the news release focuses on physics-related developments,

Negotiations are currently under way to make Brazil an associate member of the CERN particle-physics lab in Geneva, while the country is also taking a leading role in the Pierre Auger Observatory – an international project based in Argentina designed to study ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays. [emphasis mine]

Building is also under way to create a world-leading synchrotron source, Sirius and Brazil is poised to become the first non-European member of the European Southern Observatory.

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, a physicist at the University of Campinas and scientific director at FAPESP – one of Brazil’s most important funding agencies – told Physics World that the expectation is for Brazilian scientists to take a leadership role in such large research projects “and not just watch as mere participants”.

Considering the first graduate programmes in physics did not emerge in Brazilian universities until 1960, the rise to becoming one of the leading participants in international collaborations has been a rapid one.

The reputation of Brazilian physics has grown in line with a massive increase in science funding, which rose from R$12bn (about £3bn) in 2000 to R$50bn (around £13bn) in 2011.

Brazil’s spending on R&D now accounts for 1.2% of the gross domestic product and 40% of the total funding comes from companies.

The Brazilian Physical Society has around 6000 members comprising almost all research physicists in the country, who wrote around 25 000 research articles in international science journals between 2007 and 2010.

A lack of funding in the past had forced Brazilian scientists to focus on cheaper, theoretical research, but this has now changed and there is an almost even split between theory and experiment at universities.

Yet Brazil still suffers from several long-standing problems, the most significant being the poor standard of science education in high schools. A combination of low pay and lack of recognition makes physics teaching an unpopular choice of occupation despite attempts to tackle the problem.

Even those students who do see physics as a career option end up struggling and under-prepared for the rigours of an undergraduate physics course. Vitor de Souza, an astrophysicist at the Physics Institute at São Carlos, which is part of the University of São Paulo, told Physics World that of the 120 students who start a four-year physics degree at his university, only 10-20 actually graduate.

Another problem in Brazil is a fundamental disconnect between academic research and industrial development, with universities not sure how to handle spin-off firms and companies suspicious of universities.

More broadly, physicists feel that Brazilian society does not recognize the value of science, and that this can only be overcome when the physics community becomes more ambitious and more audacious.

You can find the special issue of Physics World here (it is open access).

As I noted in this May 30, 2014 posting (and elsewhere) featuring the new Agency of Science Communication, Technology and Innovation of Argentina (ACCTINA),,

The PCST [13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference] international conference takes place every two years. The 2014 PCST conference took place in Salvador, Brazil. Conferences like this would seem to confirm the comments I made in a May 20, 2014 posting,

Returning to 2014, the [World Cup {soccer}] kickoff in Brazil (if successful) symbolizes more than an international athletic competition or a technical/medical achievement, this kick-off symbolizes a technological future for Brazil and its place on the world stage (despite the protests and social unrest) .

While the science and technology community in Brazil has its concerns, I imagine most Canadian scientists would thrill to being the recipients of the funding bonanza of 1.2%  of the gross domestic product. According to the Conference Board of Canada, research and development spending in Canada was 0.8% of GDP for 2011 (from the Conference Board of Canada’s Public R&D spending webpage),

[downloaded from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/innovation/publicrandd.aspx]

[downloaded from http://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/details/innovation/publicrandd.aspx]

Did you notice, Canada the in 2011 was on the edge of getting a C grade along with the US? Meanwhile, if Brazil was listed, it would get top marks.

The question as to how much money is not enough for research and development (R&D) spending is complex and I don’t think it’s easily answered but it would be nice to see some discussion.

Competition, collaboration, and a smaller budget: the US nano community responds

Before getting to the competition, collaboration, and budget mentioned in the head for this posting, I’m supplying some background information.

Within the context of a May 20, 2014 ‘National Nanotechnology Initiative’ hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Technology, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the US General Accountability Office (GAO) presented a 22 pp. précis (PDF; titled: NANOMANUFACTURING AND U.S. COMPETITIVENESS; Challenges and Opportunities) of its 125 pp. (PDF version report titled: Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health).

Having already commented on the full report itself in a Feb. 10, 2014 posting, I’m pointing you to Dexter Johnson’s May 21, 2014 post on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website) where he discusses the précis from the perspective of someone who was consulted by the US GAO when they were writing the full report (Note: Links have been removed),

I was interviewed extensively by two GAO economists for the accompanying [full] report “Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health,” where I shared background information on research I helped compile and write on global government funding of nanotechnology.

While I acknowledge that the experts who were consulted for this report are more likely the source for its views than I am, I was pleased to see the report reflect many of my own opinions. Most notable among these is bridging the funding gap in the middle stages of the manufacturing-innovation process, which is placed at the top of the report’s list of challenges.

While I am in agreement with much of the report’s findings, it suffers from a fundamental misconception in seeing nanotechnology’s development as a kind of race between countries. [emphases mine]

(I encourage you to read the full text of Dexter’s comments as he offers more than a simple comment about competition.)

Carrying on from this notion of a ‘nanotechnology race’, at least one publication focused on that aspect. From the May 20, 2014 article by Ryan Abbott for CourthouseNews.com,

Nanotech Could Keep U.S. Ahead of China

WASHINGTON (CN) – Four of the nation’s leading nanotechnology scientists told a U.S. House of Representatives panel Tuesday that a little tweaking could go a long way in keeping the United States ahead of China and others in the industry.

The hearing focused on the status of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a federal program launched in 2001 for the advancement of nanotechnology.

As I noted earlier, the hearing was focused on the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) and all of its efforts. It’s quite intriguing to see what gets emphasized in media reports and, in this case, the dearth of media reports.

I have one more tidbit, the testimony from Lloyd Whitman, Interim Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and Deputy Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, National Institute of Standards and Technology. The testimony is in a May 21, 2014 news item on insurancenewsnet.com,

Testimony by Lloyd Whitman, Interim Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office and Deputy Director of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Chairman Bucshon, Ranking Member Lipinski, and Members of the Committee, it is my distinct privilege to be here with you today to discuss nanotechnology and the role of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in promoting its development for the benefit of the United States.

Highlights of the National Nanotechnology Initiative

Our current Federal research and development program in nanotechnology is strong. The NNI agencies continue to further the NNI’s goals of (1) advancing nanotechnology R&D, (2) fostering nanotechnology commercialization, (3) developing and maintaining the U.S. workforce and infrastructure, and (4) supporting the responsible and safe development of nanotechnology. …

,,,

The sustained, strategic Federal investment in nanotechnology R&D combined with strong private sector investments in the commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled products has made the United States the global leader in nanotechnology. The most recent (2012) NNAP report analyzed a wide variety of sources and metrics and concluded that “… in large part as a result of the NNI the United States is today… the global leader in this exciting and economically promising field of research and technological development.” n10 A recent report on nanomanufacturing by Congress’s own Government Accountability Office (GAO) arrived at a similar conclusion, again drawing on a wide variety of sources and stakeholder inputs. n11 As discussed in the GAO report, nanomanufacturing and commercialization are key to capturing the value of Federal R&D investments for the benefit of the U.S. economy. The United States leads the world by one important measure of commercial activity in nanotechnology: According to one estimate, n12 U.S. companies invested $4.1 billion in nanotechnology R&D in 2012, far more than investments by companies in any other country.  …

There’s cognitive dissonance at work here as Dexter notes in his own way,

… somewhat ironically, the [GAO] report suggests that one of the ways forward is more international cooperation, at least in the development of international standards. And in fact, one of the report’s key sources of information, Mihail Roco, has made it clear that international cooperation in nanotechnology research is the way forward.

It seems to me that much of the testimony and at least some of the anxiety about being left behind can be traced to a decreased 2015 budget allotment for nanotechnology (mentioned here in a March 31, 2014 posting [US National Nanotechnology Initiative’s 2015 budget request shows a decrease of $200M]).

One can also infer a certain anxiety from a recent presentation by Barbara Herr Harthorn, head of UCSB’s [University of California at Santa Barbara) Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS). She was at a February 2014 meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (mentioned in parts one and two [the more substantive description of the meeting which also features a Canadian academic from the genomics community] of my recent series on “Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement”). II noted in part five of the series what seems to be a shift towards brain research as a likely beneficiary of the public engagement work accomplished under NNI auspices and, in the case of the Canadian academic, the genomics effort.

The Americans are not the only ones feeling competitive as this tweet from Richard Jones, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Sheffield University (UK), physicist, and author of Soft Machines, suggests,

May 18

The UK has fewer than 1% of world patents on graphene, despite it being discovered here, according to the FT –

I recall reading a report a few years back which noted that experts in China were concerned about falling behind internationally in their research efforts. These anxieties are not new, CP Snow’s book and lecture The Two Cultures (1959) also referenced concerns in the UK about scientific progress and being left behind.

Competition/collaboration is an age-old conundrum and about as ancient as anxieties of being left behind. The question now is how are we all going to resolve these issues this time?

ETA May 28, 2014: The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has produced a summary of the May 20, 2014 hearing as part of their FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News, May 27, 2014 (no. 93).

ETA Sept. 12, 2014: My first posting about the diminished budget allocation for the US NNI was this March 31, 2014 posting.

CREATE ISOSIM (isotopes for science and medicine) and NanoMat (nanomaterials) program at the University of British Columbia (Canada)

It seems the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC; one of Canada’s ‘big three’ science national funding agencies) has a new funding program, CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) and two local (Vancouver, Canada) institutions, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) are beneficiaries to the tune of $3.3M.

Before getting the happy news, here’s a little information about this new NSERC program (from the CREATE page),

The Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program supports the training of teams of highly qualified students and postdoctoral fellows from Canada and abroad through the development of innovative training programs that:

  • encourage collaborative and integrative approaches, and address significant scientific challenges associated with Canada’s research priorities; and
  • facilitate the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the Canadian workforce.

These innovative programs must include the acquisition and development of important professional skills among students and postdoctoral fellows that complement their qualifications and technical skills.

In addition, these programs should encourage the following as appropriate:

  • student mobility, nationally or internationally, between individual universities and between universities and other sectors;
  • interdisciplinary research within the natural sciences and engineering (NSE), or at the interface between the NSE and health, or the social sciences and humanities. However, the main focus of the training must still lie within the NSE;
  • increased collaboration between industry and academia; and
  • for the industrial stream, an additional objective is to support improved job-readiness within the industrial sector by exposing participants to the specific challenges of this sector and training people with the skills identified by industry.

I wonder what they mean by “professional skills?” They use the phrase again in the Description,

The CREATE Program is designed to improve the mentoring and training environment for the Canadian researchers of tomorrow by improving areas such as professional skills, communication and collaboration, as well as providing experience relevant to both academic and non-academic research environments.

This program is intended for graduate students and has two streams, Industrial and International Collaboration. At this point, they have two international collaboration partners, one each in Germany and in Brazil.

There’s a subsection on the CREATE page titled Merit of the proposed training program (in my world that’s ‘criteria for assessment’),

Applicable to all applications:

  • the extent to which the program is associated with a research area of high priority to Canada and will provide a higher quality of training;
  • how the research area proposed relates to the current scientific or technical developments in the field, with references to the current literature;
  • the extent to which the research training program will facilitate the transition of the trainees to the Canadian workforce and will promote interaction of the trainees with non-academic sectors, such as private companies, industry associations, not-for-profit organizations, government departments, etc., as appropriate;
  • the description of the potential employers and a qualitative assessment of the job prospects for trainees;
  • the extent to which the program will provide opportunities for the trainees to develop professional skills;
  • the extent to which the program uses novel and interesting approaches to graduate student training in an integrated manner to provide an enriched experience for all participants;
  • the research training program’s focus and clarity of objectives, both short- and long-term; and
  • the added value that trainees will receive through their participation.

Clearly, this program is about training tomorrow’s workers and I expect CREATE is welcome in many corners. We (in Canada and elsewhere internationally) have a plethora of PhDs and nowhere for them to go. I have, of course, two provisos. First, I hope this program is not a precursor to a wholesale change in funding to a indulge a form of short-term thinking. Not every single course of study has to lead to a clearly defined job as defined by industry. Sometimes, industry doesn’t know what it needs until there’s a shortage. Second, I hope the administrators for this program support it. You (the government) can formulate all sorts of great policies but it’s the civil service that will implement your policies and if they don’t support them, you (the government) are likely to experience failure.

Here’s the CREATE funding announcement in a May 19, 2014 news item on Azonano,

Researchers studying nanomaterials and isotopes at the University of British Columbia received a $3.3 million boost in funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Two UBC teams, led respectively by Chemistry Prof. Mark MacLachlan and Physics Prof. Reiner Kruecken, received $1.65 million each from NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants. The funding extends over a six-year period. The investment will help MacLachlan and Kruecken mentor and train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

A May 16, 2014 UBC news release, which originated the news item, provides more information including some background for the two project leaders,

Mark MacLachlan, Professor, UBC Department of Chemistry
NanoMAT: NSERC CREATE Training Program in Nanomaterials Science & Technology

Nanomaterials have dimensions about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. Though invisible to our eyes, these materials are already used for diagnosing and treating diseases, environmental remediation, developing solar cells and batteries, as well as other applications. Nanomaterials form a multi-billion dollar industry that is expanding rapidly. To address the growing need for highly qualified trainees in Canada, UBC researchers have spearheaded the NanoMat program. Through a unique interdisciplinary training program, science and engineering students will undertake innovative research projects, receive hands-on training, and undertake internships at companies in Canada and across the world.

Reiner Kruecken, Professor, UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy
ISOSIM, ISOtopes for Science and Medicine

The ISOSIM program is designed to provide students with enriched training experiences in the production and preparation of nuclear isotopes for innovative applications that range from medical research and environmental science to investigations of the foundations of the universe. This will prepare students for positions in a number of Canadian industrial sectors including medical diagnostics and treatment, pharmaceutical sciences, development of next-generation electronic devices, environmental sciences, and isotope production. This project builds on the existing cooperation between UBC and TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear phsyics, [sic] on isotopes science.

Not mentioned in the UBC news release is that ISOSIM is a program that is jointly run with TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics. Here’s how TRIUMF views their CREATE grant, from a May 16, 2014 TRIUMF news release,

The ISOSIM program will train undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers at UBC and TRIUMF from fields associated with isotope sciences in an individually tailored, interdisciplinary curriculum that will build on and complement the education in their specialty field. Unique in Canada, this program offers a combination of interdisciplinary isotope-related training ranging from pure to applied sciences, industrial internships, and mobility with German research institutions with unique large-scale equipment and scientific infrastructures.

It seems this particular grant was awarded as part of the international collaboration stream. (I wonder if TRIUMF or TRIUMF-friendly individuals had a role in developing that particular aspect of the CREATE program. Following on that thought, is there a large Canadian science organization with ties to Brazil?)

Getting back to TRIUMF’s current CREATE grant, the news release emphasizes an industrial focus,

“ISOSIM represents a timely and nationally important training initiative and is built on a world-class collaborative research environment,” says Dr. Reiner Kruecken, TRIUMF’s Science Division Head and Professor at UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy. Kruecken is leading the ISOSIM initiative and is joined by over twenty collaborators from UBC, TRIUMF, and several research institutes in Germany.

ISOSIM is poised to create the next generation of leaders for isotope-related industries and markets, including commercial, public health, environmental, and governmental sectors, as well as academia. The combination of research institutions like UBC, TRIUMF, and the BC Cancer Agency with Canadian companies like Nordion Inc., and Advanced Cyclotron Solutions Inc., have transformed Vancouver into a hub for isotope-related research and industries, emerging as “Isotope Valley”.

The inspiration for the ISOSIM program came from an interdisciplinary TRIUMF-led team who, in response to the isotope crisis, demonstrated non-reactor methods for producing the critical medical isotope Tc-99m. This required a coordinated approach of physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers.

Similar interdisciplinary efforts are needed for expanding the use and application of isotopes in key areas. While their medical use is widely known, isotopes enjoy growing importance in many fields. Isotopes are used as tracers to examine the trace flow of nutrients and pollutants in the environment. Isotopes are also used to characterize newly designed materials and the behaviour of nanostructured materials that play a key role in modern electronics devices. The production and investigation of very short-lived radioactive isotopes, also known as rare-isotopes, is a central approach in nuclear physics research to understand the nuclear force and how the chemical elements heavier than iron were formed in stars and stellar explosions.

I really wish they (marketing/communications and/or business people) would stop trying to reference ‘silicon valley’ as per this news release’s ‘isotope valley’. Why not ‘isotope galaxy’? It fits better with the isotope and star theme.

Getting back to the “professional skills” mentioned in the CREATE grant description, I don’t see any mention of etiquette, good manners, listening skills, or the quality of humility, all of which are handy in the workplace and having had my share of experience dealing with fresh out-of-graduate-school employees, I’d say they’re sorely needed.

Regardless, I wish both MacLachlan and Krueken the best as they and their students pioneer what I believe is a new NSERC program.

Science, opera, and oil: a revelation

Alice Bell’s April 29,2014 posting for the Guardian science blogs explores the relationship between money from oil companies to culture, especially science culture (Note: A link has been removed),

Question: What has science got in common with opera? Answer: They are both cultural pursuits favoured by the oil industry.

This comes via the NGO Platform  [elsewhere this organization is called Platform London] who produced a new infographic this week, visualising their research exploring how much oil money goes into London’s galleries and museums.

The graphic leads with the Royal Opera House, the Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum, and you might have seen coverage of the protest at the Viking exhibition this weekend. But I noticed something interesting when I scrolled down. Because what’s at the centre of the Shell/ BP cultural sponsorship Venn diagram, taking money from both companies? Turns out, apart from the Royal Opera House, they are all scientific institutions: the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the National Maritime Museum.

Here’s the infographic,

Infographic from Platform London illustrating how oil moneyflows through national cultural institutions in the UK. Photograph: Hannah Davey, Mel Evans and Platform London/Platform London [downloaded from http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/artoilinfographic/]

Infographic from Platform London illustrating how oil moneyflows through national cultural institutions in the UK. Photograph: Hannah Davey, Mel Evans and Platform London/Platform London [downloaded from http://platformlondon.org/p-publications/artoilinfographic/]

You can find a larger version and a PDF of the infographic on the Platform London Culture Clash – Arts & Oil Money webpage where you’ll also get more information such as this,

For the last two and a half years Tate has been involved in a Freedom of Information struggle over its refusal to disclose information over details and discussions over its sponsorship relationship with BP. Despite a ruling from the Information Commissioner in May that Tate was breaking information law on a number of counts in not revealing information regarding to sponsorship discussions, Tate has appealed and the tribunal hearing is likely to place in September 2014.

Meanwhile, Bell focuses on the science portion of this ‘culture equation’,

I imagine members of the scientific community will feel slightly uncomfortable to see themselves nestled there with such a traditionally elitist space as the Royal Opera House. Is that really how they want to be used? Is that really what museums of science are for?

Science often sees itself as the poor cousin, culturally speaking, so I guess there will also be people pleased to see science at the nexus of an exercise in mapping cultural power. Science may enjoy huge political, financial and economic support elsewhere, but museums of science and technology often feel less popular, slightly awkward and unglamorous compared to art galleries and theatres. … You might also argue it’s a class thing; science just isn’t traditionally posh enough, though again maybe that is changing. Or maybe we unfairly dismiss science museums as kids stuff (as if that isn’t important in itself).

I was fascinated to find this little gem in Bell’s piece,

That the oil industry likes hanging with science isn’t news. To take a topical example, the latest space at the Science Museum to come baring the Shell logo is the new exhibition on James Lovelock. Though it doesn’t say so in the exhibition itself, Lovelock has worked for Shell. Indeed he is an advocate of the company, writing in his 2000 book, Homage to Gaia:

“My experiences with Shell left me firmly with the impression that they are neither stupid nor villains. On the contrary I know of no other human agency that plans as far ahead or considers the environment more closely” (page 162-3 of 2000 edition of Homage to Gaia)

Lovelock and his ‘Gaia’ concept were much beloved and discussed in some of my (Canadian) university courses in the late ’80s and early ’90s and none of my professors ever mentioned Lovelock’s relationship to Shell.

Getting back to the infographic and the relationship between oil money and culture, there was a bit of scandal in 2012 in Canada regarding the sponsorship of the Canada Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Energy: Power to Choose,” I made note of it in a June 13, 2012 posting (Sex in Ottawa (Canada), energy and corporate patronage, and war anniversaries) where I looked at that scandal,  another example of corporate cultural patronage, and an example of an attempted government ‘intervention’ in a museum ‘sex show’, all in aid of ‘painting a picture’ of some the challenges associated with cultural production.

It’s a confounding situation at times. For example, the Du Maurier Foundation (in Canada) funded a diverse array of arts and some very exciting work was a shown as a consequence of that generosity. Unfortunately, it was a cigarette company and eventually, Du Maurier shut down its arts funding (I think it became illegal in the early 2000s) and that loss is felt to this day in 2014.

I recently wrote a piece about oil and Canada (scroll down about 40% of the way) in the context of a May 6, 2014 posting about the need for more research on oil cleanup technologies.

Physicist-entrepreneurs are different says American Institute of Physics report

An April 24, 2014 news item on Nanowerk features a very interesting American Institute of Physics (AIP) report on physicists and entrepreneurship,

For much of the 20th century, many of the technological innovations that drove U.S. economic growth emerged from “idea factories” housed within large companies — research units like Bell Labs or Xerox PARC that developed everything from the transistor to the computer mouse.

In recent decades, however, many large high-tech companies have eliminated in-house research programs, turning instead to startup companies as their primary source of breakthrough innovations.

“Small startups have replaced corporate research centers as the drivers of American innovation,” said Orville Butler, a former historian at the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and coauthor of a new AIP report on physics startups.

An April 23, 2014 AIP news release, which originated the news item, reveals more about the report,

The report, titled Physics Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is based on extensive interviews with 140 PhD physicists and other professionals who co-founded and work at some 91 startup companies in 14 states that were established in the last few decades. These companies are engaged in making medical devices, manufacturing tools, nanotechnology, lasers and optical devices, renewable energy technologies and other products.

There is no one winning formula for a successful physics startup, said Joe Anderson, director of AIP’s Niels Bohr Library & Archives and co-author of the new report. Many physics startups can be found in the same Boston and Silicon Valley zip codes that are also hotspots for biotech and internet startups, but many are found far from the those twin poles. Instead they are clustered in regions scattered across the west coast, southern states and the Midwest — in places where venture capital funding may not be as robust or where the particular technology transfer processes in place at one nearby large state university may dominate the business climate. But that seems to work for many companies.

“One of the deliberate things people try to do in the United States and abroad is to create another Silicon Valley, but it doesn’t always work,” Anderson said. “This is a different kind of phenomenon.”

One of the major differences, the report found, is between the culture of the physics startup and the internet startup. While high-flying Silicon Valley execs are likely to see risk taking as something that defines them professionally if not personally, most of the physics entrepreneurs involved in the study see themselves as risk adverse — as far apart from their internet cousins as oxford shirts are from hoodie sweats.

And unlike biotech startups, which tend to seek emerging markets by developing new drugs and devices to sell, many physics startups differ. Some do seek to sell new technologies to emerging markets but others specialize in improving existing technologies and adapting them for new uses based on a perceived market for those goods — what the report terms “market pull” versus “technology push.”

One factor that remained consistent across the United States was the negative response that entrepreneurs had to current immigration policies and the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which startup founders saw as hostile to American high-tech competitiveness. [emphasis mine]

Funding is one of the two most critical challenges that entrepreneurs face — the other being the technology itself. [emphases mine] According to one participant in the study, the funding question is always the one and only topic entrepreneurs ever discuss when they get together at meetings. Venture capitalists have become much more risk averse over the past decade, and research intensive startups typically depend, at least initially, on federal Small Business Innovation Research grants — something that is much less common among Silicon Valley tech startups.

A March 3, 2014 article by Fred Dyllia, Executive Director and CEO, references the HoPE (History of Physics Entrepreneurship) study, which culminated in the Physics Entrepreneurship and Innovation report, which helped clarify one point for me (the challenge from immigration policies and the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations but not the second critical challenge [the technology itself] that startups face),

The entrepreneurs interviewed also reported several other concerns that impact their operations, including immigration policies and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITARs) that often force US companies to develop technologies outside of the US, in order to stay globally competitive. [emphasis mine]

Dylla’s commentary is worth reading for the perspective he offers on the history behind this report and the details he offers.

You can find the108 pp. PDF of Physics Entrepreneurship and Innovation here. where you may discover for yourself why the technology itself is a critical challenge to entrepreneurs. I’m guessing it has to do with acceptance of new technologies and/or the speed of change.

One final observation, while specifics such as immigration policies do not apply to the Canadian scene, I think it’s safe to say there are many, many similarities between the US and Canada vis à vis science entrepreneurship.

Canada-European Union research and Horizon 2020 funding opportunities

Thanks to the Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals of Western Canada (ARPICO), I received a Jan. 15, 2014 notice about ERA-Can‘s (European Research Area and Canada) upcoming Horizon 2020 information sessions, i.e., funidng opportunities for Canadian researchers,

The Canadian partners* to ERA-Can+ invite you to learn about Horizon 2020, a European funding opportunity that is accessible to Canadians working in science, technology, and innovation.

Horizon 2020 is a multi-year (2014-2020) program for science and technology funded by the European Commission. With a budget of almost Euro 80 billion (CAD $118 billion) Horizon 2020 forms a central part of the EU’s economic policy agenda. The program’s main goals are to encourage scientific excellence, increase the competitiveness of industries, and develop solutions to societal challenges in Europe and abroad.

ERA-Can+ has been established to help Canadians access Horizon 2020 funding. Building on several years of successful collaboration, ERA-Can+ will encourage bilateral exchange across the science, technology, and innovation chain. The project will also enrich the EU-Canada policy dialogue, enhance coordination between European and Canadian sector leaders, and stimulate transatlantic collaboration by increasing awareness of the funding opportunities available.

The European Commission released its first call for proposals under Horizon 2020 in December 2013. Canadian and European researchers and innovators can submit proposals for projects in a variety of fields including personalized health and care; food security; the sustainable growth of marine and maritime sectors; digital security; smart cities and communities; competitive low-carbon energy; efficient transportation; waste management; and disaster resilience. Further calls for proposals will be released later this year.

You are invited to attend one of four upcoming information sessions on Horizon 2020 opportunities for Canadians. These sessions will explain the structure of research funding in Europe and provide information on upcoming funding opportunities and the mechanisms by which Canadians can participate. Martina De Sole, Coordinator of ERA-Can+, and numerous Canadian partners will be on hand to share their expertise on these topics. Participants also will have the opportunity to learn about current and developing collaborations between Canadian and European researchers and innovators.

ERA-CAN+ Information Session Dates – Precise times to be confirmed.

Toronto: Morning of January 28th
MaRS Discovery District, 101 College Street

Kitchener-Waterloo: Morning of January 29th
Canadian Digital Media Network, 151 Charles Street West, Suite 100, Kitchener

Ottawa: Morning of January 30th
University of Ottawa; precise location on campus to be confirmed.

Montreal: Morning of January 31st
Intercontinental Hotel, 360 Rue Saint Antoine Ouest

This session is organised in partnership with the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science, de la Technologie du Québec.

For further information please contact [email protected]

* ERA-Can+ Project Partners
APRE – Agenzia per la Promozione della Ricerca Europea (Italy)
AUCC – Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (Canada)
CNRS – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France)
DFATD – Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (Canada)
DLR – Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (Germany)
PPF – The Public Policy Forum (Canada)
ZSI – Zentrum fur Soziale Innovation (Austria)

You can go to ERA-Can’s Information Sessions webpage to register for a specific event.

There are plans to hold sessions elsewhere in Canada,

Plans to have Info Sessions in other parts of Canada are underway.

For further information please contact [email protected]