Monthly Archives: July 2017

Mathematics/Music/Art/Architecture/Education/Culture: Bridges 2017 conference in Waterloo, Canada

Bridges 2017 will be held in Waterloo, Canada from July 27 – 31, 2017. Here’s the invitation which was released last year,

To give you a sense of the range offered, here’s more from Bridges 2017 events page,

Every Bridges conference includes a number of events other than paper presentations. Please click on one of the events below to learn more about it.

UWAG Exhibition

The University of Waterloo Art Gallery (UWAG) has partnered with Bridges to create an exhibition of five local artists who explore mathematical themes in their work. The exhibition runs concurrently with the conference.

 

Theatre Night

An evening dramatic performance that explores themes of art, mathematics and teaching, performed by Peter Taylor and Judy Wearing from Queen’s University.

 

Formal Music Night

An evening concert of mathematical choral music, performed by a specially-formed ensemble of choristers and professional soloists.

 

Family Day

An afternoon of community activities, games, workshops, interactive demonstrations, presentations, performances, and art exhibitions for children and adults, free and open to all.

 

Poetry Reading

A session of invited readings of poetry exploring mathematical themes, in a wide range of styles. Attendees will also be invited to share their own poetry in an open mic session. A printed anthology will be available at the conference.

 

Informal Music Night

A longstanding tradition at Bridges—a casual variety show in which all conference participants are invited to share their talents, musical or otherwise, with a brief performance.

I have some more details about the exhibition at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (UWAG) from a July 19, 2017 ArtSci Salon notice received via email,

P A S S A G E  +  O B S T A C L E
PATRICK CULL
LAURA DE DECKER
PAUL DIGNAN
SOHEILA ESFAHANI
ANDREW JAMES SMITH

JULY 27–30

OPEN DAILY: 12–5 PM
EXHIBITION RECEPTION: FRIDAY JULY 28, 5–8 PM
PRESENTED IN COOPERATION WITH BRIDGES WATERLOO 2017
BRIDGESMATHART.ORG [8]

PASSAGE + OBSTACLE features a selection of work by multidisciplinary
area artists Patrick Cull, Paul Dignan, Laura De Decker, Soheila
Esfahani, and Andrew James Smith. Sharing a rigorous approach to
materials and subject matter, their artworks parallel Bridges’ stated
goal to explore “mathematical connections in art, music, architecture,
education and culture”. The exhibition sets out to complement and
expand on the theme by contrasting subtle and overt links between the
use of geometry, pattern, and optical effects across mediums ranging
from painting and installation to digital media. Using the bridge as a
metaphor, the artworks can be appreciated as a means of getting from A
to B by overcoming obstructions, whether perceptual or otherwise.

EXHIBITION IS FREE AND OPEN TO BOTH CONFERENCE VISITORS AND THE PUBLIC

ADMIT EVERYONE
University of Waterloo Art Gallery
East Campus Hall 1239
519.888.4567 ext. 33575
uwag.uwaterloo.ca [9]
facebook.com/uwag.waterloo [10]

CONTACT
Ivan Jurakic, Director / Curator
519.888.4567 ext. 36741
ijurakic@uwaterloo.ca

DRIVING
263 Phillip Street, Waterloo
East Campus Hall (ECH) is located north of University Avenue West
across from Engineering 6

PARKING
Visitor Parking is available in Lot E6 or Q for a flat rate of $5
uwaterloo.ca/map/ [11]

MAILING
University of Waterloo Art Gallery
200 University Avenue West
Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3G1

You can find out more about Bridges 2017 including how to register here (the column on the left provides links to registration, program, and more information.

 

Making a trademark claim memorable and fun

Usually when I write about intellectual property, it concerns technology and/or science disputes but this particular response to an alleged trademark violation amuses me greatly, swipes at a few Canadian stereotypes, and could act as a model for anyone who wants to lodge such protests. Before getting to the video, here are some details bout the dispute from a July 13, 2017 posting by Mike Masnick for Techdirt,

… — a few years ago, there was a virally popular rap song and video, by Brendan “B.Rich” Richmond, called Out for a Rip, spoofing Canadian culture/stereotypes. It got over 12 million views, and has become a bit of an anthem.

So, yeah. Coca Cola is using the phrase “out for a rip” on its Coke bottles and Richmond and his lawyer Kittredge decided the best way to respond was to write a song calling out Coca Cola on this and then recording a whole video. At the end of the video there’s an actual letter (part of which is dictated in the song itself) which is also pretty damn amusing:

Dear Coke,

I represent Brendan (B.Rich) Richmond (a.k.a. Friggin’ Buddy). You jacked his catchphrase, but you already know that.

Buddy owns the registered trademark “OUT FOR A RIP” in Canada (TMA934277). The music video for buddy’s original composition “OUT FOR A RIP” has been viewed more than 12 million times. Canadians associate the phrase “OUT FOR A RIP” with him.

Personally, I’m pretty psyched about this once-in-a-career opportunity to send a demand letter in the form of a rap video. Nonetheless, unlicensed use of OUT FOR A RIP violates my client’s rights. From what I understand, you guys do fairly well for yourselves – at least in comparison to most other multinational corporations, the GDP of most countries, or, say, the average musician, right? No room in your budget to clear IP rights?

Contact me no later than August 1, 2017 to discuss settlement of this matter. If you do not wish to discuss settlement, we require that you immediately cease using the OUT FOR A RIP mark, recall all OUT FOR A RIP bottles, and take immediate steps to preserve all relevant evidence in anticipation of possible litigation.

Regards,
Rob Kittredege

….

Here’s the ‘cease and desist’ video,

Enjoy!

Artificial intelligence and metaphors

This is a different approach to artificial intelligence. From a June 27, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily,

Ask Siri to find a math tutor to help you “grasp” calculus and she’s likely to respond that your request is beyond her abilities. That’s because metaphors like “grasp” are difficult for Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant to, well, grasp.

But new UC Berkeley research suggests that Siri and other digital helpers could someday learn the algorithms that humans have used for centuries to create and understand metaphorical language.

Mapping 1,100 years of metaphoric English language, researchers at UC Berkeley and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania have detected patterns in how English speakers have added figurative word meanings to their vocabulary.

The results, published in the journal Cognitive Psychology, demonstrate how throughout history humans have used language that originally described palpable experiences such as “grasping an object” to describe more intangible concepts such as “grasping an idea.”

Unfortunately, this image is not the best quality,

Scientists have created historical maps showing the evolution of metaphoric language. (Image courtesy of Mahesh Srinivasan)

A June 27, 2017 University of California at Berkeley (or UC Berkeley) news release by Yasmin Anwar, which originated the news item,

“The use of concrete language to talk about abstract ideas may unlock mysteries about how we are able to communicate and conceptualize things we can never see or touch,” said study senior author Mahesh Srinivasan, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley. “Our results may also pave the way for future advances in artificial intelligence.”

The findings provide the first large-scale evidence that the creation of new metaphorical word meanings is systematic, researchers said. They can also inform efforts to design natural language processing systems like Siri to help them understand creativity in human language.

“Although such systems are capable of understanding many words, they are often tripped up by creative uses of words that go beyond their existing, pre-programmed vocabularies,” said study lead author Yang Xu, a postdoctoral researcher in linguistics and cognitive science at UC Berkeley.

“This work brings opportunities toward modeling metaphorical words at a broad scale, ultimately allowing the construction of artificial intelligence systems that are capable of creating and comprehending metaphorical language,” he added.

Srinivasan and Xu conducted the study with Lehigh University psychology professor Barbara Malt.

Using the Metaphor Map of English database, researchers examined more than 5,000 examples from the past millennium in which word meanings from one semantic domain, such as “water,” were extended to another semantic domain, such as “mind.”

Researchers called the original semantic domain the “source domain” and the domain that the metaphorical meaning was extended to, the “target domain.”

More than 1,400 online participants were recruited to rate semantic domains such as “water” or “mind” according to the degree to which they were related to the external world (light, plants), animate things (humans, animals), or intense emotions (excitement, fear).

These ratings were fed into computational models that the researchers had developed to predict which semantic domains had been the sources or targets of metaphorical extension.

In comparing their computational predictions against the actual historical record provided by the Metaphor Map of English, researchers found that their models correctly forecast about 75 percent of recorded metaphorical language mappings over the past millennium.

Furthermore, they found that the degree to which a domain is tied to experience in the external world, such as “grasping a rope,” was the primary predictor of how a word would take on a new metaphorical meaning such as “grasping an idea.”

For example, time and again, researchers found that words associated with textiles, digestive organs, wetness, solidity and plants were more likely to provide sources for metaphorical extension, while mental and emotional states, such as excitement, pride and fear were more likely to be the targets of metaphorical extension.

Scientists have created historical maps showing the evolution of metaphoric language. (Image courtesy of Mahesh Srinivasan)

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

Evolution of word meanings through metaphorical mapping: Systematicity over the past millennium by Yang Xu, Barbara C. Malt, Mahesh Srinivasan. Cognitive Psychology Volume 96, August 2017, Pages 41–53 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogpsych.2017.05.005

The early web version of this paper is behind a paywall.

For anyone interested in the ‘Metaphor Map of English’ database mentioned in the news release, you find it here on the University of Glasgow website. By the way, it also seems to be known as ‘Mapping Metaphor with the Historical Thesaurus‘.

La Machine, Ottawa (Canada), and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum

First, you have to see the video,

La Machine

The ‘dragon’ and the ‘spider’ have sprung forth from a French street theatre group known as La Machine and the  La Machine ‘experience’ is making its début in North America in Ottawa, Ontario (July 27 – 30, 2017) as part of Canada’s 150th celebration.

Here’s more about La Machine and the ‘experience’ from the city of Ottawa’s event page,

Making its debut in North America, La Machine will captivate the public with its travelling urban theatre in the streets of downtown Ottawa.

Wandering around in public spaces, the protagonists will invade the heart of the capital in a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings”. They will live among us for 24 hours a day over the course of four days as they pursue their quest and fulfill their destiny.

LongMa

Part dragon and part horse, LongMa stands 12 metres high, 5 metres wide and weighs 45 tons. Although his body is made of wood and steel, we quickly fall under his spell and connect with him on an ethereal level. From the top of his hooves, he trots with elegance, gallops, rears himself up and lies down.

With his piercing gaze, LongMa scours the crowd and interacts with them thanks as his neck rises, lowers and oscillates from left to right. His ribcage swells under the pressure of his lungs. But be careful, the warm breath coming out of his nostrils could quickly be transformed into fire coming out of his mouth.

The Spider

Beautiful and repulsive, aggressive and gentle, the giant spider will give you chills. Her eight legs and body that synchronize as she crawls around town gracefully. Like a dancer, she wanders, steps over trees, streetlights and bus shelters… At rest, she is 5.7 metres high and 6 metres wide, but she can reach up to 13 metres when in motion.  Fully outstretched, she is about 20 metres long.

Will she extinguish LongMa’s flames with the water deployed from her abdomen?

Credit: Jordi Bover


About La Machine Company

La Machine is a street theatre company founded in 1999 and leaded by François Delarozière. Its conception is thanks to artists, technicians and theatre designers working together for the construction of unusual theatre objects. Today, La Machine develops many projects in the field of urban development as well as for street theatre. At the heart of La Machine’s artistic approach, movement is read as a language, as a source of emotion. Through each of these living architectures, the idea is to dream of tomorrow’s cities, and thanks to this, transform the way we look at our towns. To bring its creations to life, La Machine has set up two workshops, one in Nantes and one in Tournefeuille. They bring together many different trades and crafts from theatre and the arts, to industry and advanced technology. People and their skills are the very essence of the creative process.

Ottawa and La Machine

I think this Ottawa event is much more engaging than Toronto’s giant rubber duck (which has proved to be controversial( e.g. June ?, 2017 posting on blogTO and Alina Bykova’s June 30, 3017 article for thestar.com) on July 1, 2017. Getting back to Ottawa, Judy Trinh’s June 1, 2016 article for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online previews and provides some inside scoop about the 2017 event (Note: A link has been removed),

A giant mechanical dragon and spider from France will roam the streets of Ottawa next summer as part of celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday.

It will be the first time the fire-breathing and water spraying creatures invade North America.

Securing the performance of the monsters from La Machine, a production company based in Nantes, France comes at a cost of $3 million — an amount that will be shared by both the public and private sector.

The Ottawa 2017 organizing committee has been working on booking the show for nearly a year and a half.

Negotiations didn’t just involve the City of Ottawa and the French production company. It also involved a Chinese businessman — Adam Yu, an entrepreneur based in Beijing who owns the rights to the dragon for La Machine.

Laflamme [executive director of Ottawa 2017, Guy Laflamme] said mayor Jim Watson set aside time during his economic mission to China to meet with Yu and make the case for loaning the dragon to Ottawa.

Organizers have just started “storyboarding” the show with La Machine’s artistic director, François Delarozière.

Although he’s reticent to describe what the show will look like, Laflamme does provide some hints: the operators will be dressed like they stepped out of the movie, The Matrix [movi e description], and the giant robots will make stops at Ottawa landmarks and interact with spectators.

Local musicians will also be hired to form a travelling orchestra for the soundtrack to the dragon’s and spider’s adventures.

If I read that rightly, planning seems to have started in 2014.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum

While La Machine is in Ottawa with their mechanicals, there will be a preview (from an Ingenium [formerly Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation] July 12, 2017 notice received via email), Note: Links have been removed,

EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK
Presented as part of Ottawa 2017

Making its debut in North America, _La Machine_ will captivate the
public with its dramatic urban theatre experience – and you can get
exclusive access at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum!

From July 15 to 24 [2017; emphasis mine], the Museum will be hosting a variety of
larger-than-life activities leading up to the big performance.
Activities include special viewing areas, a mini exhibition about _La
Machine_, a film about Long Ma the Dragon-Horse, creative activities and
a special lecture with _La Machine_’s creator. All activities are FREE
with Museum admission. Find out more by visiting our website.   [3]

SPECIAL LECTURE
THE MAKING OF_ LA MACHINE_ WITH FRANÇOIS DELAROZIÈRE
Join François Delarozière, the visionary artistic director and
engineer behind the wonders of _La Machine_, for an afternoon of insight
and conversation exploring the street theatre company’s history and
the creative process behind its fantastical mechanical masterpieces.
(Bilingual presentation)

Saturday, July 15, 2017
2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Mauril Bélanger Theatre

SPACE IS LIMITED, REGISTER HERE!  [4]

[5]

UN AVANT-GOÛT EXCLUSIF

Présenté dans le cadre d’Ottawa 2017

Pour la première fois en Amérique du Nord,_ La Machine_ s’apprête
à captiver le public avec son impressionnant théâtre urbain. De plus,
vous aurez droit à un accès exclusif au Musée de l’aviation et de
l’espace du Canada!

Du 15 au 24 juillet, le Musée tiendra une série d’activités hors du
commun dans l’attente de la grande représentation.  On y comptera des
projections spéciales; une mini-exposition sur _La Machine_; un film
racontant l’histoire de Long Ma, le cheval-dragon; des activités
créatives et une conférence spéciale en compagnie du créateur de _La
Machine_. Tous les activités sont comprises dans le prix d’entrée au
Musée.  Visitez notre site Web [6] pour obtenir plus de renseignements.

CONFÉRENCE SPÉCIALE
LA RÉALISATION DE _LA MACHINE_ AVEC FRANÇOIS DELAROZIÈRE
Venez échanger avec François Delarozière, directeur artistique de _La
Machine_ et concepteur visionnaire de ces merveilles mécaniques, et
découvrez l’histoire de cette compagnie de théâtre de rue et le
processus ayant mené à la création de ses fantastiques
chefs-d’œuvre mécaniques.  (Présentation bilingue)

Samedi 15 juillet 2017
De 14 h à 15 h
Musée de l’aviation et de l’espace du Canada
Théâtre Mauril Bélanger

INSCRIVEZ-VOUS ICI – LE NOMBRE DE PLACES EST LIMITÉ!  [7]

You can sign up for the talk with François Delarozière here. It is a bilingual presentation included with the entrance fee (as noted previously) to the museum entitling you to a seat assuming you sign up quickly.

For the curious, you can find more about La Machine at its website. The images on the banner are stunning.

Detecting peanut allergies with nanoparticles

Researchers at Notre Dame University are designing a platform that will make allergy detection easier and more precise according to a June 26, 2017 news item on phys.org,

Researchers have developed a novel platform to more accurately detect and identify the presence and severity of peanut allergies, without directly exposing patients to the allergen, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

A team of chemical and biomolecular engineers at the University of Notre Dame designed nanoparticles that mimic natural allergens by displaying each allergic component one at a time on their surfaces. The researchers named the nanoparticles “nanoallergens” and used them to dissect the critical components of major peanut allergy proteins and evaluate the potency of the allergic response using the antibodies present in a blood sample from a patient.

“The goal of this study was to show how nanoallergen technology could be used to provide a clearer and more accurate assessment of the severity of an allergic condition,” said Basar Bilgicer, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and a member of the Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics initiative at Notre Dame. “We are currently working with allergy specialist clinicians for further testing and verification of the diagnostic tool using a larger patient population. Ultimately, our vision is to take this technology and make it available to all people who suffer from food allergies.”

A June 26, 2017 University of Notre Dame news release, which originated the news item, explains the need for better allergy detection,

Food allergies are a growing problem in developing countries and are of particular concern to parents. According to the study, 8 percent of children under the age of 4 have a food allergy. Bilgicer said a need exists for more accurate testing, improved diagnostics and better treatment options.

Current food allergy testing methods carry risks or fail to provide detailed information on the severity of the allergic response. For instance, a test known as the oral food challenge requires exposing a patient to increasing amounts of a suspected allergen. Patients must remain under close observation in clinics with highly trained specialists. The test is stopped only when the patient exhibits an extreme allergic response, such as anaphylactic shock. Doctors then treat the reaction with epinephrine injections, antihistamines and steroids.

The skin prick test, another common diagnostic tool, can indicate whether a patient is allergic to a particular food. However, it provides no detail on the severity of those allergies.

During skin prick testing, doctors place a drop of liquid containing the allergen on the patient’s skin, typically on their back, and then scratch the skin to expose the patient. Skin irritations, such as redness, itching and white bumps, are indications that the patient has an allergy.

“Most of the time, parents of children with food allergies are not inclined to have their child go through such excruciating experiences of a food challenge,” Bilgicer said. “Rather than investigate the severity of the allergy, they respond to it with most extreme caution and complete avoidance of the allergen. Meanwhile, there are cases where the skin prick test might have yielded a positive result for a child, and yet the child can consume a handful of the allergen and demonstrate no signs of any allergic response.”

While the study focused on peanut allergens, Bilgicer said he and his team are working on testing the platform on additional allergens and allergic conditions.

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

Determination of Crucial Immunogenic Epitopes in Major Peanut Allergy Protein, Ara h2, via Novel Nanoallergen Platform by Peter E. Deak, Maura R. Vrabel, Tanyel Kiziltepe & Basar Bilgicer. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 3981 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04268-6 Published online: 21 June 2017

This paper is open access.

Ora Sound, a Montréal-based startup, and its ‘graphene’ headphones

For all the excitement about graphene there aren’t that many products as Glenn Zorpette notes in a June 20, 2017 posting about Ora Sound and its headphones on the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website; Note: Links have been removed),

Graphene has long been touted as a miracle material that would deliver everything from tiny, ultralow-power transistors to the vastly long and ultrastrong cable [PDF] needed for a space elevator. And yet, 13 years of graphene development, and R&D expenditures well in the tens of billions of dollars have so far yielded just a handful of niche products. The most notable by far is a line of tennis racquets in which relatively small amounts of graphene are used to stiffen parts of the frame.

Ora Sound, a Montreal-based [Québec, Canada] startup, hopes to change all that. On 20 June [2017], it unveiled a Kickstarter campaign for a new audiophile-grade headphone that uses cones, also known as membranes, made of a form of graphene. “To the best of our knowledge, we are the first company to find a significant, commercially viable application for graphene,” says Ora cofounder Ari Pinkas, noting that the cones in the headphones are 95 percent graphene.

Kickstarter

It should be noted that participating in a Kickstarter campaign is an investment/gamble. I am not endorsing Ora Sound or its products. That said, this does look interesting (from the ORA: The World’s First Graphene Headphones Kickstarter campaign webpage),

ORA GQ Headphones uses nanotechnology to deliver the most groundbreaking audio listening experience. Scientists have long promised that one day Graphene will find its way into many facets of our lives including displays, electronic circuits and sensors. ORA’s Graphene technology makes it one of the first companies to have created a commercially viable application for this Nobel-prize winning material, a major scientific achievement.

The GQ Headphones come equipped with ORA’s patented GrapheneQ™ membranes, providing unparalleled fidelity. The headphones also offer all the features you would expect from a high-end audio product: wired/wireless operation, a gesture control track-pad, a digital MEMS microphone, breathable lambskin leather and an ear-shaped design optimized for sound quality and isolated comfort.

They have produced a slick video to promote their campaign,

At the time of publishing this post, the campaign will run for another eight days and has raised $650,949 CAD. This is more than $500,000 dollars over the company’s original goal of $135,000. I’m sure they’re ecstatic but this success can be a mixed blessing. They have many more people expecting a set of headphones than they anticipated and that can mean production issues.

Further, there appears to be only one member of the team with business experience and his (Ari Pinkas) experience includes marketing strategy for a few years and then founding an online marketplace for teachers. I would imagine Pinkas will be experiencing a very steep learning curve. Hopefully, Helge Seetzen, a member of the company’s advisory board will be able to offer assistance. According to Seetzen’s Wikipedia entry, he is a “… German technologist and businessman known for imaging & multimedia research and commercialization,” as well as, having a Canadian educational background and business experience. The rest of the team and advisory board appear to be academics.

The technology

A March 14, 2017 article by Andy Riga for the Montréal Gazette gives a general description of the technology,

A Montreal startup is counting on technology sparked by a casual conversation between two brothers pursuing PhDs at McGill University.

They were chatting about their disparate research areas — one, in engineering, was working on using graphene, a form of carbon, in batteries; the other, in music, was looking at the impact of electronics on the perception of audio quality.

At first glance, the invention that ensued sounds humdrum.

It’s a replacement for an item you use every day. It’s paper thin, you probably don’t realize it’s there and its design has not changed much in more than a century. Called a membrane or diaphragm, it’s the part of a loudspeaker that vibrates to create the sound from the headphones over your ears, the wireless speaker on your desk, the cellphone in your hand.

Membranes are normally made of paper, Mylar or aluminum.

Ora’s innovation uses graphene, a remarkable material whose discovery garnered two scientists the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics but which has yet to fulfill its promise.

“Because it’s so stiff, our membrane gets better sound quality,” said Robert-Eric Gaskell, who obtained his PhD in sound recording in 2015. “It can produce more sound with less distortion, and the sound that you hear is more true to the original sound intended by the artist.

“And because it’s so light, we get better efficiency — the lighter it is, the less energy it takes.”

In January, the company demonstrated its membrane in headphones at the Consumer Electronics Show, a big trade convention in Las Vegas.

Six cellphone manufacturers expressed interest in Ora’s technology, some of which are now trying prototypes, said Ari Pinkas, in charge of product marketing at Ora. “We’re talking about big cellphone manufacturers — big, recognizable names,” he said.

Technology companies are intrigued by the idea of using Ora’s technology to make smaller speakers so they can squeeze other things, such as bigger batteries, into the limited space in electronic devices, Pinkas said. Others might want to use Ora’s membrane to allow their devices to play music louder, he added.

Makers of regular speakers, hearing aids and virtual-reality headsets have also expressed interest, Pinkas said.

Ora is still working on headphones.

Riga’s article offers a good overview for people who are not familiar with graphene.

Zorpette’s June 20, 2017 posting (on Nanoclast) offers a few more technical details (Note: Links have been removed),

During an interview and demonstration in the IEEE Spectrum offices, Pinkas and Robert-Eric Gaskell, another of the company’s cofounders, explained graphene’s allure to audiophiles. “Graphene has the ideal properties for a membrane,” Gaskell says. “It’s incredibly stiff, very lightweight—a rare combination—and it’s well damped,” which means it tends to quell spurious vibrations. By those metrics, graphene soundly beats all the usual choices: mylar, paper, aluminum, or even beryllium, Gaskell adds.

The problem is making it in sheets large enough to fashion into cones. So-called “pristine” graphene exists as flakes, [emphasis mine] perhaps 10 micrometers across, and a single atom thick. To make larger, strong sheets of graphene, researchers attach oxygen atoms to the flakes, and then other elements to the oxygen atoms to cross-link the flakes and hold them together strongly in what materials scientists call a laminate structure. The intellectual property behind Ora’s advance came from figuring out how to make these structures suitably thick and in the proper shape to function as speaker cones, Gaskell says. In short, he explains, the breakthrough was, “being able to manufacture” in large numbers, “and in any geometery we want.”

Much of the R&D work that led to Ora’s process was done at nearby McGill University, by professor Thomas Szkopek of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. Szkopek worked with Peter Gaskell, Robert-Eric’s younger brother. Ora is also making use of patents that arose from work done on graphene by the Nguyen Group at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill.

Robert-Eric Gaskell and Pinkas arrived at Spectrum with a preproduction model of their headphones, as well as some other headphones for the sake of comparison. The Ora prototype is clearly superior to the comparison models, but that’s not much of a surprise. …

… In the 20 minutes or so I had to audition Ora’s preproduction model, I listened to an assortment of classical and jazz standards and I came away impressed. The sound is precise, with fine details sharply rendered. To my surprise, I was reminded of planar-magnetic type headphones that are now surging in popularity in the upper reaches of the audiophile headphone market. Bass is smooth and tight. Overall, the unit holds up quite well against closed-back models in the $400 to $500 range I’ve listened to from Grado, Bowers & Wilkins, and Audeze.

Ora’s Kickstarter campaign page (Graphene vs GrapheneQ subsection) offers some information about their unique graphene composite,

A TECHNICAL INTRODUCTION TO GRAPHENE

Graphene is a new material, first isolated only 13 years ago. Formed from a single layer of carbon atoms, Graphene is a hexagonal crystal lattice in a perfect honeycomb structure. This fundamental geometry makes Graphene ridiculously strong and lightweight. In its pure form, Graphene is a single atomic layer of carbon. It can be very expensive and difficult to produce in sizes any bigger than small flakes. These challenges have prevented pristine Graphene from being integrated into consumer technologies.

THE GRAPHENEQ™ SOLUTION

At ORA, we’ve spent the last few years creating GrapheneQ, our own, proprietary Graphene-based nanocomposite formulation. We’ve specifically designed and optimized it for use in acoustic transducers. GrapheneQ is a composite material which is over 95% Graphene by weight. It is formed by depositing flakes of Graphene into thousands of layers that are bonded together with proprietary cross-linking agents. Rather than trying to form one, continuous layer of Graphene, GrapheneQ stacks flakes of Graphene together into a laminate material that preserves the benefits of Graphene while allowing the material to be formed into loudspeaker cones.

Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Comparison
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Comparison

If you’re interested in more technical information on sound, acoustics, soundspeakers, and Ora’s graphene-based headphones, it’s all there on Ora’s Kickstarter campaign page.

The Québec nanotechnology scene in context and graphite flakes for graphene

There are two Canadian provinces that are heavily invested in nanotechnology research and commercialization efforts. The province of Québec has poured money into their nanotechnology efforts, while the province of Alberta has also invested heavily in nanotechnology, it has also managed to snare additional federal funds to host Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT). (This appears to be a current NINT website or you can try this one on the National Research Council website). I’d rank Ontario as being a third centre with the other provinces being considerably less invested. As for the North, I’ve not come across any nanotechnology research from that region. Finally, as I stumble more material about nanotechnology in Québec than I do for any other province, that’s the reason I rate Québec as the most successful in its efforts.

Regarding graphene, Canada seems to have an advantage. We have great graphite flakes for making graphene. With mines in at least two provinces, Ontario and Québec, we have a ready source of supply. In my first posting (July 25, 2011) about graphite mines here, I had this,

Who knew large flakes could be this exciting? From the July 25, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Northern Graphite Corporation has announced that graphene has been successfully made on a test basis using large flake graphite from the Company’s Bissett Creek project in Northern Ontario. Northern’s standard 95%C, large flake graphite was evaluated as a source material for making graphene by an eminent professor in the field at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is doing research making graphene sheets larger than 30cm2 in size using the graphene oxide methodology. The tests indicated that graphene made from Northern’s jumbo flake is superior to Chinese powder and large flake graphite in terms of size, higher electrical conductivity, lower resistance and greater transparency.

Approximately 70% of production from the Bissett Creek property will be large flake (+80 mesh) and almost all of this will in fact be +48 mesh jumbo flake which is expected to attract premium pricing and be a better source material for the potential manufacture of graphene. The very high percentage of large flakes makes Bissett Creek unique compared to most graphite deposits worldwide which produce a blend of large, medium and small flakes, as well as a large percentage of low value -150 mesh flake and amorphous powder which are not suitable for graphene, Li ion batteries or other high end, high growth applications.

Since then I’ve stumbled across more information about Québec’s mines than Ontario’s  as can be seen:

There are some other mentions of graphite mines in other postings but they are tangential to what’s being featured:

  • (my Oct. 26, 2015 posting about St. Jean Carbon and its superconducting graphene and
  • my Feb. 20, 2015 posting about Nanoxplore and graphene production in Québec; and
  • this Feb. 23, 2015 posting about Grafoid and its sister company, Focus Graphite which gets its graphite flakes from a deposit in the northeastern part of Québec).

 

After reviewing these posts, I’ve begun to wonder where Ora’s graphite flakes come from? In any event, I wish the folks at Ora and their Kickstarter funders the best of luck.

Carbon nanotubes to repair nerve fibres (cyborg brains?)

Can cyborg brains be far behind now that researchers are looking at ways to repair nerve fibers with carbon nanotubes (CNTs)? A June 26, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily describes the scheme using carbon nanotubes as a material for repairing nerve fibers,

Carbon nanotubes exhibit interesting characteristics rendering them particularly suited to the construction of special hybrid devices — consisting of biological issue and synthetic material — planned to re-establish connections between nerve cells, for instance at spinal level, lost on account of lesions or trauma. This is the result of a piece of research published on the scientific journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine conducted by a multi-disciplinary team comprising SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies), the University of Trieste, ELETTRA Sincrotrone and two Spanish institutions, Basque Foundation for Science and CIC BiomaGUNE. More specifically, researchers have investigated the possible effects on neurons of the interaction with carbon nanotubes. Scientists have proven that these nanomaterials may regulate the formation of synapses, specialized structures through which the nerve cells communicate, and modulate biological mechanisms, such as the growth of neurons, as part of a self-regulating process. This result, which shows the extent to which the integration between nerve cells and these synthetic structures is stable and efficient, highlights the great potentialities of carbon nanotubes as innovative materials capable of facilitating neuronal regeneration or in order to create a kind of artificial bridge between groups of neurons whose connection has been interrupted. In vivo testing has actually already begun.

The researchers have included a gorgeous image to illustrate their work,

Caption: Scientists have proven that these nanomaterials may regulate the formation of synapses, specialized structures through which the nerve cells communicate, and modulate biological mechanisms, such as the growth of neurons, as part of a self-regulating process. Credit: Pixabay

A June 26, 2017 SISSA press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail while explaining future research needs,

“Interface systems, or, more in general, neuronal prostheses, that enable an effective re-establishment of these connections are under active investigation” explain Laura Ballerini (SISSA) and Maurizio Prato (UniTS-CIC BiomaGUNE), coordinating the research project. “The perfect material to build these neural interfaces does not exist, yet the carbon nanotubes we are working on have already proved to have great potentialities. After all, nanomaterials currently represent our best hope for developing innovative strategies in the treatment of spinal cord injuries”. These nanomaterials are used both as scaffolds, a supportive framework for nerve cells, and as means of interfaces releasing those signals that empower nerve cells to communicate with each other.

Many aspects, however, still need to be addressed. Among them, the impact on neuronal physiology of the integration of these nanometric structures with the cell membrane. “Studying the interaction between these two elements is crucial, as it might also lead to some undesired effects, which we ought to exclude”. Laura Ballerini explains: “If, for example, the mere contact provoked a vertiginous rise in the number of synapses, these materials would be essentially unusable”. “This”, Maurizio Prato adds, “is precisely what we have investigated in this study where we used pure carbon nanotubes”.

The results of the research are extremely encouraging: “First of all we have proved that nanotubes do not interfere with the composition of lipids, of cholesterol in particular, which make up the cellular membrane in neurons. Membrane lipids play a very important role in the transmission of signals through the synapses. Nanotubes do not seem to influence this process, which is very important”.

There is more, however. The research has also highlighted the fact that the nerve cells growing on the substratum of nanotubes, thanks to this interaction, develop and reach maturity very quickly, eventually reaching a condition of biological homeostasis. “Nanotubes facilitate the full growth of neurons and the formation of new synapses. This growth, however, is not indiscriminate and unlimited since, as we proved, after a few weeks a physiological balance is attained. Having established the fact that this interaction is stable and efficient is an aspect of fundamental importance”. Maurizio Prato and Laura Ballerini conclude as follows: “We are proving that carbon nanotubes perform excellently in terms of duration, adaptability and mechanical compatibility with the tissue. Now we know that their interaction with the biological material, too, is efficient. Based on this evidence, we are already studying the in vivo application, and preliminary results appear to be quite promising also in terms of recovery of the lost neurological functions”.

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

Sculpting neurotransmission during synaptic development by 2D nanostructured interfaces by Niccolò Paolo Pampaloni, Denis Scaini, Fabio Perissinotto, Susanna Bosi, Maurizio Prato, Laura Ballerini. Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nano.2017.01.020 Published online: May 25, 2017

This paper is open access.

IBM to build brain-inspired AI supercomputing system equal to 64 million neurons for US Air Force

This is the second IBM computer announcement I’ve stumbled onto within the last 4 weeks or so,  which seems like a veritable deluge given the last time I wrote about IBM’s computing efforts was in an Oct. 8, 2015 posting about carbon nanotubes,. I believe that up until now that was my  most recent posting about IBM and computers.

Moving onto the news, here’s more from a June 23, 3017 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) today [June 23, 2017] announced they are collaborating on a first-of-a-kind brain-inspired supercomputing system powered by a 64-chip array of the IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System. The scalable platform IBM is building for AFRL will feature an end-to-end software ecosystem designed to enable deep neural-network learning and information discovery. The system’s advanced pattern recognition and sensory processing power will be the equivalent of 64 million neurons and 16 billion synapses, while the processor component will consume the energy equivalent of a dim light bulb – a mere 10 watts to power.

A June 23, 2017 IBM news release, which originated the news item, describes the proposed collaboration, which is based on IBM’s TrueNorth brain-inspired chip architecture (see my Aug. 8, 2014 posting for more about TrueNorth),

IBM researchers believe the brain-inspired, neural network design of TrueNorth will be far more efficient for pattern recognition and integrated sensory processing than systems powered by conventional chips. AFRL is investigating applications of the system in embedded, mobile, autonomous settings where, today, size, weight and power (SWaP) are key limiting factors.

The IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System can efficiently convert data (such as images, video, audio and text) from multiple, distributed sensors into symbols in real time. AFRL will combine this “right-brain” perception capability of the system with the “left-brain” symbol processing capabilities of conventional computer systems. The large scale of the system will enable both “data parallelism” where multiple data sources can be run in parallel against the same neural network and “model parallelism” where independent neural networks form an ensemble that can be run in parallel on the same data.

“AFRL was the earliest adopter of TrueNorth for converting data into decisions,” said Daniel S. Goddard, director, information directorate, U.S. Air Force Research Lab. “The new neurosynaptic system will be used to enable new computing capabilities important to AFRL’s mission to explore, prototype and demonstrate high-impact, game-changing technologies that enable the Air Force and the nation to maintain its superior technical advantage.”

“The evolution of the IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System is a solid proof point in our quest to lead the industry in AI hardware innovation,” said Dharmendra S. Modha, IBM Fellow, chief scientist, brain-inspired computing, IBM Research – Almaden. “Over the last six years, IBM has expanded the number of neurons per system from 256 to more than 64 million – an 800 percent annual increase over six years.’’

The system fits in a 4U-high (7”) space in a standard server rack and eight such systems will enable the unprecedented scale of 512 million neurons per rack. A single processor in the system consists of 5.4 billion transistors organized into 4,096 neural cores creating an array of 1 million digital neurons that communicate with one another via 256 million electrical synapses.    For CIFAR-100 dataset, TrueNorth achieves near state-of-the-art accuracy, while running at >1,500 frames/s and using 200 mW (effectively >7,000 frames/s per Watt) – orders of magnitude lower speed and energy than a conventional computer running inference on the same neural network.

The IBM TrueNorth Neurosynaptic System was originally developed under the auspices of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics (SyNAPSE) program in collaboration with Cornell University. In 2016, the TrueNorth Team received the inaugural Misha Mahowald Prize for Neuromorphic Engineering and TrueNorth was accepted into the Computer History Museum.  Research with TrueNorth is currently being performed by more than 40 universities, government labs, and industrial partners on five continents.

There is an IBM video accompanying this news release, which seems more promotional than informational,

The IBM scientist featured in the video has a Dec. 19, 2016 posting on an IBM research blog which provides context for this collaboration with AFRL,

2016 was a big year for brain-inspired computing. My team and I proved in our paper “Convolutional networks for fast, energy-efficient neuromorphic computing” that the value of this breakthrough is that it can perform neural network inference at unprecedented ultra-low energy consumption. Simply stated, our TrueNorth chip’s non-von Neumann architecture mimics the brain’s neural architecture — giving it unprecedented efficiency and scalability over today’s computers.

The brain-inspired TrueNorth processor [is] a 70mW reconfigurable silicon chip with 1 million neurons, 256 million synapses, and 4096 parallel and distributed neural cores. For systems, we present a scale-out system loosely coupling 16 single-chip boards and a scale-up system tightly integrating 16 chips in a 4´4 configuration by exploiting TrueNorth’s native tiling.

For the scale-up systems we summarize our approach to physical placement of neural network, to reduce intra- and inter-chip network traffic. The ecosystem is in use at over 30 universities and government / corporate labs. Our platform is a substrate for a spectrum of applications from mobile and embedded computing to cloud and supercomputers.
TrueNorth Ecosystem for Brain-Inspired Computing: Scalable Systems, Software, and Applications

TrueNorth, once loaded with a neural network model, can be used in real-time as a sensory streaming inference engine, performing rapid and accurate classifications while using minimal energy. TrueNorth’s 1 million neurons consume only 70 mW, which is like having a neurosynaptic supercomputer the size of a postage stamp that can run on a smartphone battery for a week.

Recently, in collaboration with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, and U.S. Army Research Laboratory, we published our fifth paper at IEEE’s prestigious Supercomputing 2016 conference that summarizes the results of the team’s 12.5-year journey (see the associated graphic) to unlock this value proposition. [keep scrolling for the graphic]

Applying the mind of a chip

Three of our partners, U.S. Army Research Lab, U.S. Air Force Research Lab and Lawrence Livermore National Lab, contributed sections to the Supercomputing paper each showcasing a different TrueNorth system, as summarized by my colleagues Jun Sawada, Brian Taba, Pallab Datta, and Ben Shaw:

U.S. Army Research Lab (ARL) prototyped a computational offloading scheme to illustrate how TrueNorth’s low power profile enables computation at the point of data collection. Using the single-chip NS1e board and an Android tablet, ARL researchers created a demonstration system that allows visitors to their lab to hand write arithmetic expressions on the tablet, with handwriting streamed to the NS1e for character recognition, and recognized characters sent back to the tablet for arithmetic calculation.

Of course, the point here is not to make a handwriting calculator, it is to show how TrueNorth’s low power and real time pattern recognition might be deployed at the point of data collection to reduce latency, complexity and transmission bandwidth, as well as back-end data storage requirements in distributed systems.

U.S. Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) contributed another prototype application utilizing a TrueNorth scale-out system to perform a data-parallel text extraction and recognition task. In this application, an image of a document is segmented into individual characters that are streamed to AFRL’s NS1e16 TrueNorth system for parallel character recognition. Classification results are then sent to an inference-based natural language model to reconstruct words and sentences. This system can process 16,000 characters per second! AFRL plans to implement the word and sentence inference algorithms on TrueNorth, as well.

Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL) has a 16-chip NS16e scale-up system to explore the potential of post-von Neumann computation through larger neural models and more complex algorithms, enabled by the native tiling characteristics of the TrueNorth chip. For the Supercomputing paper, they contributed a single-chip application performing in-situ process monitoring in an additive manufacturing process. LLNL trained a TrueNorth network to recognize seven classes related to track weld quality in welds produced by a selective laser melting machine. Real-time weld quality determination allows for closed-loop process improvement and immediate rejection of defective parts. This is one of several applications LLNL is developing to showcase TrueNorth as a scalable platform for low-power, real-time inference.

[downloaded from https://www.ibm.com/blogs/research/2016/12/the-brains-architecture-efficiency-on-a-chip/] Courtesy: IBM

I gather this 2017 announcement is the latest milestone on the TrueNorth journey.

Using only sunlight to desalinate water

The researchers seem to believe that this new desalination technique could be a game changer. From a June 20, 2017 news item on Azonano,

An off-grid technology using only the energy from sunlight to transform salt water into fresh drinking water has been developed as an outcome of the effort from a federally funded research.

The desalination system uses a combination of light-harvesting nanophotonics and membrane distillation technology and is considered to be the first major innovation from the Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT), which is a multi-institutional engineering research center located at Rice University.

NEWT’s “nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation” technology (NESMD) integrates tried-and-true water treatment methods with cutting-edge nanotechnology capable of transforming sunlight to heat. …

A June 19, 2017 Rice University news release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

More than 18,000 desalination plants operate in 150 countries, but NEWT’s desalination technology is unlike any other used today.

“Direct solar desalination could be a game changer for some of the estimated 1 billion people who lack access to clean drinking water,” said Rice scientist and water treatment expert Qilin Li, a corresponding author on the study. “This off-grid technology is capable of providing sufficient clean water for family use in a compact footprint, and it can be scaled up to provide water for larger communities.”

The oldest method for making freshwater from salt water is distillation. Salt water is boiled, and the steam is captured and run through a condensing coil. Distillation has been used for centuries, but it requires complex infrastructure and is energy inefficient due to the amount of heat required to boil water and produce steam. More than half the cost of operating a water distillation plant is for energy.

An emerging technology for desalination is membrane distillation, where hot salt water is flowed across one side of a porous membrane and cold freshwater is flowed across the other. Water vapor is naturally drawn through the membrane from the hot to the cold side, and because the seawater need not be boiled, the energy requirements are less than they would be for traditional distillation. However, the energy costs are still significant because heat is continuously lost from the hot side of the membrane to the cold.

“Unlike traditional membrane distillation, NESMD benefits from increasing efficiency with scale,” said Rice’s Naomi Halas, a corresponding author on the paper and the leader of NEWT’s nanophotonics research efforts. “It requires minimal pumping energy for optimal distillate conversion, and there are a number of ways we can further optimize the technology to make it more productive and efficient.”

NEWT’s new technology builds upon research in Halas’ lab to create engineered nanoparticles that harvest as much as 80 percent of sunlight to generate steam. By adding low-cost, commercially available nanoparticles to a porous membrane, NEWT has essentially turned the membrane itself into a one-sided heating element that alone heats the water to drive membrane distillation.

“The integration of photothermal heating capabilities within a water purification membrane for direct, solar-driven desalination opens new opportunities in water purification,” said Yale University ‘s Menachem “Meny” Elimelech, a co-author of the new study and NEWT’s lead researcher for membrane processes.

In the PNAS study, researchers offered proof-of-concept results based on tests with an NESMD chamber about the size of three postage stamps and just a few millimeters thick. The distillation membrane in the chamber contained a specially designed top layer of carbon black nanoparticles infused into a porous polymer. The light-capturing nanoparticles heated the entire surface of the membrane when exposed to sunlight. A thin half-millimeter-thick layer of salt water flowed atop the carbon-black layer, and a cool freshwater stream flowed below.

Li, the leader of NEWT’s advanced treatment test beds at Rice, said the water production rate increased greatly by concentrating the sunlight. “The intensity got up 17.5 kilowatts per meter squared when a lens was used to concentrate sunlight by 25 times, and the water production increased to about 6 liters per meter squared per hour.”

Li said NEWT’s research team has already made a much larger system that contains a panel that is about 70 centimeters by 25 centimeters. Ultimately, she said, NEWT hopes to produce a modular system where users could order as many panels as they needed based on their daily water demands.

“You could assemble these together, just as you would the panels in a solar farm,” she said. “Depending on the water production rate you need, you could calculate how much membrane area you would need. For example, if you need 20 liters per hour, and the panels produce 6 liters per hour per square meter, you would order a little over 3 square meters of panels.”

Established by the National Science Foundation in 2015, NEWT aims to develop compact, mobile, off-grid water-treatment systems that can provide clean water to millions of people who lack it and make U.S. energy production more sustainable and cost-effective. NEWT, which is expected to leverage more than $40 million in federal and industrial support over the next decade, is the first NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) in Houston and only the third in Texas since NSF began the ERC program in 1985. NEWT focuses on applications for humanitarian emergency response, rural water systems and wastewater treatment and reuse at remote sites, including both onshore and offshore drilling platforms for oil and gas exploration.

There is a video but it is focused on the NEWT center rather than any specific water technologies,

For anyone interested in the technology, here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ paper,

Nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation for off-grid water purification by Pratiksha D. Dongare, Alessandro Alabastri, Seth Pedersen, Katherine R. Zodrow, Nathaniel J. Hogan, Oara Neumann, Jinjian Wu, Tianxiao Wang, Akshay Deshmukh,f, Menachem Elimelech, Qilin Li, Peter Nordlander, and Naomi J. Halas. PNAS {Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences] doi: 10.1073/pnas.1701835114 June 19, 2017

This paper appears to be open access.