Monthly Archives: June 2010

Nano education in Colombia, in Russia and in Iran

In the last month there have been three nano education announcements. Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast featured a project with NanoProfessor (a division of NanoInk)  in Colombia. From Dexter’s May 26, 2010 post,

According to Tom Levesque, General Manager of NanoInk in the Americas, he visited a school in Bogota, Colombia where about 350 teenagers in conjunction with the NanoProfessor curriculum work with atomic force microscopes [AFM] and end up with better training than many receive at private universities in the country.

While making available an AFM for 350 kids seems almost as incredible as the idea that these kids have a better education than those at the best private schools, one has to wonder why this program has taken off in foreign countries and has not fared as well in the United States.

I too find the idea of an AFM for 350 kids extraordinary and his point about the initiative (or something else like it) not being widely adopted in the US, as I understand it, holds true for Canada.

Meanwhile, the Russians held an international conference on nanoeducation, May 18 – 20, 2010. From the news item on Nanowerk,

On May 18-20th the nanotechnology equipment manufacturer in Russia NT-MDT Co. and one of the main Russian scientific nanocenters the Kurchatov Institute held an international conference “Nanoeducation: the main approaches and perspectives”. The meeting had a unique format – the first educational international conference with trainings on working with nanoeducational equipment for teachers. 185 participants took part in the event, including representatives from Russia, the USA, Europe and CIS. The conference has become an essential part of Russian Government Federal Program.

The main goal of the conference was to overcome the gap between impetuous development of the modern nanoscience and the conservative system of education, especially in schools, where the teachers suffer serious problems in working with new equipment.

I find their direct approach to describing some of the issues quite refreshing. The topics covered were,

… controversial areas as contemporary approaches to nanoeducation, educational process organizing and leading, the newest educational technologies, international university cooperation all over the world concerning personnel trainings for teachers and professors and etc. The discussion has touched all the educational levels at schools as well as in universities.

In Iran, they’re launching a student competition (from the Fars News Agency item),

Iran’s Nanoclub (a club for students that works under the supervision of Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council) plans to hold the first stage of Nanotechnology Olympiad for Students in a number of provincial capitals on June 25.

All students familiar with nanotechnology will compete scientifically in two stages in this scientific competition entitled ‘Nanotechnology Olympiad for Students’ throughout the country. The Olympiad will be held in two stages on June 25 and August 9, 2010.

The test for the first stage will be held in 2010-2011 educational year in 10 capitals of Iranian provinces that are more active in the field of nanotechnology and enjoy more students familiar with nanotechnology, according to statistics.

The Promotion and Public Education Workgroup of Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council will give three 1000-dollar awards to the top three winners of the first Nanotechnology Olympiad for Students.

Very exciting news and if you know of any comparable programmes for children in Canada, please do let me know.

First Open Science Summit: Updating the social contract for science

Christine Peterson from the Foresight Institute will be presenting on “Safety and Security Concerns, Open Source Biodefense” at 5:15 PM on Friday, July 30, 2010 at the first ever Open Science Summit being held at the University of California, Berkeley campus, July 29 – 31 2010. From the Open Science Summit website,

Despite nostalgic myths that Science is the realm of open inquiry, reasoned debate, and the pursuit of objective truth, it has always been politicized, though never to the dangerous degree attained just in the past decade. The viciousness of the fight over embryonic stem cell research, the conflict over creationism, and the politics of climate change are unprecedented new lows. Public confidence in science and technology is deeply shaken, as the outcry over genetically modified organisms attests. When biotechnology, the veritable “toolkit of life,” that could feed the hungry, heal the ill, and fuel the economy without despoiling the environment, is greeted with suspicion and downright hostility, we must acknowledge a deep failure. Citizens and consumers correctly worry that science has sold them out, as companies compromise safety and engineering standards in the dash to control the marketplace.

Beginning in the mid 1980’s a few judicial decisions, with no public or policy deliberation whatsoever, opened the floodgates to an exponential expansion in the filing of patents covering new subject matter and technologies that were never anticipated in the industrial age during which the system evolved. Indeed, there is a growing consensus that the unchecked proliferation of intellectual property rights is perversely out of touch with, and downright inimical to, the collaborative, cumulative, and interdependent essence of innovation in the 21st century’s networked knowledge economy. [emphasis mine] As the global economy struggles to find a new equilibrium after the financial meltdown, it is indisputable that old business models are unsustainable—this applies equally, indeed, especially, to technology and biomedicine, where cycles of over-hype, under-deliver, bubble then bust, have failed to produce cures for desperate, disappointed, and now disillusioned patients, bold proclamations of a “War on Cancer,” notwithstanding.

Then they start discussing alternative models and innovation,

In the last ten years, a collection of burgeoning movements has begun the herculean task of overhauling the outmoded institutions and worldviews that make up our global scientific governance system. Proponents of the Access to Knowledge movement (A2K) have united around the principle that data and knowledge are “anti-rivalrous,” the value of information increases as it spreads. Open Access Journals have demonstrated a new path for publishing that utilizes the power of the internet to instantly distribute ideas instead of imposing artificial scarcity to prop up old business models. “Health 2.0” entrepreneurs are seeking to apply the lessons of e-commerce to empower patients. However, these different efforts are each working on a piece of a problem without a view of the whole. It is not sufficient or realistic to tweak one component of the innovation system (eg, patent policy) and assume the others stay static. Instead, dynamic, interactive, nonlinear change is unfolding. The Open Science Summit is the first and only event to consider what happens throughout the entire innovation chain as reform in one area influences the prospects in others. In the best case scenario, a virtuous circle of mutually reinforcing shifts toward transparency and collaboration could unleash hitherto untapped reserves of human ingenuity.

I know it’s a little high-minded but it’s important to be idealistic every once in a while as I think your soul shrivels up otherwise. Unexpectedly, there’s a Canadian connection. I recognized two participating organizations (although there may be more) from Canada, the University of Calgary and the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

If you can’t attend, there will be a livestream by, you can find the details here.

Vancouver Art Gallery show: The Modern Woman and Rennie Collection show: Richard Jackson resonate in unexpected ways

Does the artist’s (visual, literary, musical, theatrical, etc.) personal life matter when you’re experiencing their art? It’s a question that arose in Lucas Nightingale’s response to Robin Laurence’s June 7, 2010 Georgia Straight visual arts review in his June 24, 2010 letter to the editor. The show in question was  the Vancouver Art Gallery’s big summer exhibition, The Modern Woman: Drawings by Dégas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and other Masterpieces from the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. Laurence in her critique noted,

“I paint with my prick.” So claimed Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Asked what motivated his representations of plump, rosy-cheeked young women, he’s also reputed to have said his art was all about tits and ass. As for Edgar Degas—the perennial bachelor, anti-Semite, and misogynist—he said he wanted to view women in intimate settings, as if he were looking at them “through a keyhole”. That reads a lot like voyeurism, especially in light of his drawings and paintings of naked women drying themselves off after a bath, seemingly unaware of the viewer. Then there’s the aristocratic Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who hung out with and depicted women who worked in brothels, bars, and nightclubs. He died of syphilis and tuberculosis in 1901 at the age of 36. How and when the prostitutes died is not recorded here.

Nightingale’s comments included,

Despite Laurence’s article, I went to see for myself. I marvelled in front of Angrand’s Ma Mère. Did I see misogyny there? No.

I melted in front of Courbet’s Portrait of the Artist’s Young Sister Juliet, Asleep. Did I see treachery there? No.

Did I care that Degas was a misogynist or that Renoir was a pervert or that Toulouse-Lautrec hung out with prostitutes? No, because finding out about the skeletons in an artist’s closet is not why I go to the gallery—I go to be moved by what they create.

Laurence seems to set a standard that you must approve of an artist’s dirty secrets before you can appreciate their art; call me naive, but I probably wouldn’t know anyone if I set standards like that.

In general, I separate the art from the artist so I can appreciate the work but I also find that knowing a little bit about the background can inform what I’m experiencing. For example, The Lady from Shanghai, a movie directed by Orson Welles released in 1947 and starring then wife, Rita Hayworth is an amazing work. The scene in the hall of mirrors where the two lead characters shoot out their reflections with the shattered glass refracting ever growing numbers of fractured reflections is still studied and marveled over. You can enjoy the movie as a work of art without ever knowing that Orson and Rita were experiencing a breakdown of their marriage and working together on the film was an attempt to repair it. I do find that knowing some of the background story to the movie makes me appreciate the movie all the more even as I wonder at Welles’ insistence that his famous wife dye her legendary hair from red to a platinum blonde and casting her as a heartless vamp.

In a way I find the work that Renoir, Dégas, and Toulouse-Lautrec, etc. all the more amazing given their enormous shortcomings. It’s a paradox and, for me, how you resolve the issue of art/artist is highly personal. For a contrasting example, Leni Riefenstahl produced two film masterpieces when she worked for Hitler, a man who engineered the death of entire Jewish populations in Europe during World War II (1939-1945). I have seen clips of her work but am not sure I could ever sit through an entire film. To date, I have not been able to separate the artist from the art.

There is a good reason for learning about the background or the story of an art work. For conceptual art and a lot of other contemporary art you need the story to make sense of what you’re seeing. For example, the latest show (my previous posting here) at the Rennie Collection features (amongst other pieces) a rifle or two and a huge canvas which is a partial recreation of a Georges Seurat painting from the 19th century. Unless you know something about Seurat and his paintings, you’re likely to dismiss it as it doesn’t make much sense. Thankfully, the gallery insists visitors go on a tour and are accompanied by someone who can tell you something about the show and what the artist is doing. There’s a reason for the rifle. The artist (Richard Jackson) uses it to shoot paint pellets at the canvas and there’s a reason why he picked a Seurat painting rather than another 19th century artist’s work. See my previous posting for more about this but very simply, Seurat was a very precise painter who worked with tiny dots to create his images which contrasts with hurling a paint pellet using the propulsive power of a rifle at a copy of one of his paintings.

Jackson has also created a series of bronze ballerinas reminiscent of Dégas. The Rennie Collection has one on display for this show and I had the good luck to talk to a trainee guide about the piece. I’ve described the piece in more detail in my previous posting but briefly, the dancer has been knocked off her pedestal and lies crumpled below it. There’s paint dripping from the pedestal and elsewhere (including her head as I recall). The paint colour for the ballerina in the Rennie Collection is red, other ballerinas in the series have different colours for the dripping paint. The guide had found out from the artist who visited Vancouver for several weeks before the show was opened, that this series is intended as a commentary on how artists use women in their work and a commentary on how women in the arts were treated in the 19th century. Serendipitously or not, the piece provides an interesting contrast to the big show currently on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery which you can only appreciate if you know the story.

I think there’s something to be said for being able to go and experience a piece of art without having a degree in art history or knowing the backstory. There’s also something to be said for having one or both. As for being able to separate the artist from his/her personal behaviour, that’s up to the individual. Like I said, sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t. I imagine many folks are the same.

American Safety Engineers discuss nanotechnology

After noting last week that one of the experts at the nanotechnology hearing held by Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health seemed unfamiliar with nanosunscreens and skin (he claimed they can’t penetrate the skin and I stated incorrectly that they can), this June 24, 2010 item by Laura Walter for EHS Today caught my eye,

Two experts from Wake Forest University School of Medicine discussed the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of nanomaterials at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Safety 2010 conference in Baltimore.

[Christopher] Kolbash pointed out that nanomaterials may be able to penetrate cellular membranes. They are respirable, so they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and then possibly pass into the bloodstream. Some researchers also are concerned that nanomaterials could migrate through the skin.

In other words, there is no equivocal proof for either position regarding nanoparticles as penetrating or not penetrating the skin. [I have updated my June 23, 2010 posting with a correction.]

UK’s National Gallery holds an art/science exhibition

Priceless art works need to be restored, cleaned, and, sometimes even centuries later, authenticated. Art conservators at the UK’s National Gallery have been collaborating for years with EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) scientists to find ways to make these activities less damaging. Generally, this is not considered the most exciting topic but in a bold move, the National Gallery has opened an exhibition (Close Examination) featuring their art/science collaboration with EPSRC. From the news item on,

Close Examination explores the pioneering work of the National Gallery’s Scientific Department by presenting the varied and fascinating stories behind more than 40 paintings in the National Gallery’s collection. The exhibition is arranged over six rooms, representing some of the major challenges faced by Gallery experts: Deception and Deceit; Transformations and Modifications; Mistakes; Secrets and Conundrums; Redemption and Recovery; and a special focus room relating to Botticelli. [emphases mine] The exhibition features works by Raphael, Dürer, Gossaert, Rembrandt and others.

The partnership between the National Gallery and EPSRC has highlighted the contribution that science and scientists make in the world of art and shows the intellectual value that emerges when scientific and artistic traditions come together. EPSRC, together with Arts and Humanities Research Council, funds a Science and Heritage Programme which aims to increase knowledge and the resilience of our cultural heritage in the face of twenty first century challenges.

I came across a similar collaboration between the Art Institute of Chicago and a chemist at Northwestern University who’d created a technique for another use altogether that the Institute’s conservators adapted. From The Nanotech Mysteries wiki page,

Richard Van Duyne, then a chemist at Northwestern University, developed the technique in 1977. Van Duyne’s technology, based on Raman spectroscopy which has been around since the 1920s, is called surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy’ or SERS “[and] uses laser light and nanoparticles of precious metals to interact with molecules to show the chemical make-up of a particular dye.”

The conservators at the Institute were able to scrape off the most minute amounts of paint from a Winslow Homer painting in their efforts to examine the pigments and eventually restore the painting to its original colours. You can go here to see the painting that the conservators were trying to restore and to slide a button that will change the colours to their original shades.

Plato’s musical thoughts about science

Apparently there have been rumours for centuries that Plato, (428/7 bce – 348/7 bce) classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, writer and more, had coded messages into his writings. Dr. Jay Kennedy, University of Manchester, announced recently that he has cracked the code. From the news item on,

“Plato’s books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles,” Dr Kennedy, at Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences explains.

“In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.

“It is a long and exciting story, but basically I cracked the code. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato.

“This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation.”

This will transform the early history of Western thought, and especially the histories of ancient science, mathematics, music, and philosophy.

Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato’s writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text – at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato’s entire symbolic system.

As for why Plato coded some of this writing, Kennedy points out that one of Plato’s teachers for teaching unpopular ideas.

Dr Kennedy, a researcher in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, says: “As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale. Plato plays his readers like musical instruments.”

However Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure – it was for his own safety. Plato’s ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato’s own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.

There’s more both at the site and at the University of Manchester site where you can find out that Dr. Kennedy amongst other jobs once worked on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico!

Canada’s Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages declares opponents to Copyright bill are “extremists”

This is just too juicy to resist. Could I please get on to a list of  ‘radical extremists’ as per James Moore’s recent comments?

By the way, it was a shock to realize that Moore, Canada’s Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is from my neck of the woods. He represents Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam in BC, just a few miles away from Vancouver.

Moore’s declaration is one of the latest developments in the public discussion about the current bill on copyright (C-32).  From Mike Masnick’s article on Techdirt,

The recent story about Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore lashing out at his critics over the Canadian version of the DMCA (C-32) and calling them “radical extremists” has been getting an awful lot of attention, including condemnation from other elected officials. However, Moore’s response has been anything but comforting. He apparently denied saying those words in a correspondence with Michael Geist, but it didn’t take long for some video to surface that not only shows him saying that, but many other nasty things about anyone who dares criticize the bill …

You’ll find the video evidence of Moore’s comment after that paragraph. It’s not easy to hear as he seems to be mumbling his speech but he definitely makes the statement. Making this even an even better experience, it looks like someone is trying to cover it up. From Michael Geist‘s blog,

Almost lost amidst the considerable outrage from many people over Moore’s comments, was the possibility that there was an attempt to bury the “radical extremist” comment. The initial video posted by event organizers (the Chamber of Commerce’s IP Council) did not include a clip of the reference to radical extremists. Sun Media ran a story that included the quote but others seemed to act as if it never happened.

By mid-morning yesterday, attendees were not confirming the comment, Moore was denying it, and the event video did not include it. That might have been the end of the story, but IT World Canada reporter Brian Jackson compiled his own video of the event and posted it online. [emphases mine] The Jackson video included the reference and made it clear that Moore was not being forthright in his private claims (the event organizer site later added the same video). The lack of candor is rather rich given that Moore’s comments tried to paint critics of the bill as misleading the public.

I hope Moore will apologize for lying about having called opponents to his copyright bill ‘radical extremists’. I can understand that people sometimes let their frustrations run away from them and they say things they wouldn’t ordinarily. Unlike politicians though, I’m not likely to be recorded by anyone when my mouth runs away from me. By that token, my words don’t have the same impact either and that’s part of Moore’s problem. He doesn’t seem to understand the power that language has. Using an inflammatory phrase such as ‘radical extremists’ to characterize critics and opponents to a copyright bill before the House of Commons debases the term. By simultaneously linking individuals who use violence to achieve their ends (the usual application for the term ‘radical extremists’) to individuals who are debating, discussing, and writing commentaries critical of your political aims you render the term into a joke and you minimize the violence associated with it.

I can even understand if Moore denied saying it because he didn’t remember it that way. Memory can be pretty flexible. It’s the attempt to cover it up (Geist includes copies of Moore’s repeated twitter denials) that sticks in my throat and brands the man a liar.

Note: I have discussed the new bill C-32 in this previous posting.

Europe’s Scientix

Scientix is Europe’s new science education portal. From the news item on Nanowerk,

The European Commission has launched Scientix, a new web portal targeted towards teachers, researchers, policy makers, local actors, parents and anyone interested in science education. Scientix gives access to teaching materials, research results and policy documents from European science education projects financed by the European Union and by various national initiatives.

The new platform will facilitate regular dissemination and sharing of news, know-how, and best practices in science education across the European Union.

The Scientix website is here.

Emotions and robots

Two new robots (the type that can show their emotions, more or less) have recently been introduced according to an article by Kit Eaton titled Kid and Baby Robots Get Creepy Emotional Faces on Fast Company. From the article,

The two bots were revealed today by creators the JST Erato Asada Project–a research team dedicated to investigating how humans and robots can better relate to each other in the future and so that robots can learn better (though given the early stages of current artificial intelligence science, it’s almost a case of working out how humans can feel better about interacting with robots).


The first is M3-Kindy, a 27-kilo machine with 42 motors and over a hundred touch-sensors. He’s about the size of a 5-year-old child, and can do speech recognition, and machine vision with his stereoscopic camera eyes. Kindy’s also designed to be led around by humans holding its hand, and can be taught to manipulate objects.

But it’s Kindy’s face that’s the freakiest bit. It’s been carefully designed so that it can portray emotions. That’ll undoubtedly be useful in the future, when, for instance, having more friendly, emotionally attractive robot carers look after elderly people and patients in hospitals is going to be important.

… Noby will have you running out of the room. It’s a similar human-machine interaction research droid, but is meant to model a 9-month-old baby, right down to the mass and density of its limbs and soft skin.

Do visit the article to see the images of the two robots and read more.