Tag Archives: art/science

Montreal Neuro goes open science

The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) in Québec, Canada, known informally and widely as Montreal Neuro, has ‘opened’ its science research to the world. David Bruggeman tells the story in a Jan. 21, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University announced that it will be the first academic research institute to become what it calls ‘Open Science.’  As Science is reporting, the MNI will make available all research results and research data at the time of publication.  Additionally it will not seek patents on any of the discoveries made on research at the Institute.

Will this catch on?  I have no idea if this particular combination of open access research data and results with no patents will spread to other university research institutes.  But I do believe that those elements will continue to spread.  More universities and federal agencies are pursuing open access options for research they support.  Elon Musk has opted to not pursue patent litigation for any of Tesla Motors’ patents, and has not pursued patents for SpaceX technology (though it has pursued litigation over patents in rocket technology). …

Montreal Neuro and its place in Canadian and world history

Before pursuing this announcement a little more closely, you might be interested in some of the institute’s research history (from the Montreal Neurological Institute Wikipedia entry and Note: Links have been removed),

The MNI was founded in 1934 by the neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield (1891–1976), with a $1.2 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation of New York and the support of the government of Quebec, the city of Montreal, and private donors such as Izaak Walton Killam. In the years since the MNI’s first structure, the Rockefeller Pavilion was opened, several major structures were added to expand the scope of the MNI’s research and clinical activities. The MNI is the site of many Canadian “firsts.” Electroencephalography (EEG) was largely introduced and developed in Canada by MNI scientist Herbert Jasper, and all of the major new neuroimaging techniques—computer axial tomography (CAT), positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) were first used in Canada at the MNI. Working under the same roof, the Neuro’s scientists and physicians made discoveries that drew world attention. Penfield’s technique for epilepsy neurosurgery became known as the Montreal procedure. K.A.C. Elliott identified γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as the first inhibitory neurotransmitter. Brenda Milner revealed new aspects of brain function and ushered in the field of neuropsychology as a result of her groundbreaking study of the most famous neuroscience patient of the 20th century, H.M., who had anterograde amnesia and was unable to form new memories. In 2007, the Canadian government recognized the innovation and work of the MNI by naming it one of seven national Centres of Excellence in Commercialization and Research.

For those with the time and the interest, here’s a link to an interview (early 2015?) with Brenda Milner (and a bonus, related second link) as part of a science podcast series (from my March 6, 2015 posting),

Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, whose research focuses on understanding how our brains form and retain new long-term memories and the effects of aerobic exercise on memory. Her book Healthy Brain, Happy Life will be published by Harper Collins in the Spring of 2015.

  • Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory: Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces us to scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about our brains. She begins by talking with experimental psychologist Brenda Milner [interviewed in her office at McGill University, Montréal, Quebéc], who in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories.
  • Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory: Imagine never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27. Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.

Brief personal anecdote
For those who just want the science, you may want to skip this section.

About 15 years ago, I had the privilege of talking with Mary Filer, a former surgical nurse and artist in glass. Originally from Saskatchewan, she, a former member of Wilder Penfield’s surgical team, was then in her 80s living in Vancouver and still associated with Montreal Neuro, albeit as an artist rather than a surgical nurse.

Penfield had encouraged her to pursue her interest in the arts (he was an art/science aficionado) and at this point her work could be seen many places throughout the world and, if memory serves, she had just been asked to go MNI for the unveiling of one of her latest pieces.

Her husband, then in his 90s, had founded the School of Architecture at McGill University. This couple had known all the ‘movers and shakers’ in Montreal society for decades and retired to Vancouver where their home was in a former chocolate factory.

It was one of those conversations, you just don’t forget.

More about ‘open science’ at Montreal Neuro

Brian Owens’ Jan. 21, 2016 article for Science Magazine offers some insight into the reason for the move to ‘open science’,

Guy Rouleau, the director of McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) and Hospital in Canada, is frustrated with how slowly neuroscience research translates into treatments. “We’re doing a really shitty job,” he says. “It’s not because we’re not trying; it has to do with the complexity of the problem.”

So he and his colleagues at the renowned institute decided to try a radical solution. Starting this year, any work done there will conform to the principles of the “open-
science” movement—all results and data will be made freely available at the time of publication, for example, and the institute will not pursue patents on any of its discoveries. …

“It’s an experiment; no one has ever done this before,” he says. The intent is that neuroscience research will become more efficient if duplication is reduced and data are shared more widely and earlier. …”

After a year of consultations among the institute’s staff, pretty much everyone—about 70 principal investigators and 600 other scientific faculty and staff—has agreed to take part, Rouleau says. Over the next 6 months, individual units will hash out the details of how each will ensure that its work lives up to guiding principles for openness that the institute has developed. …

Owens’ article provides more information about implementation and issues about sharing. I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

As for getting more research to the patient, there’s a Jan. 26, 2016 Cafe Scientifique talk in Vancouver (my Jan. 22, 2016 ‘Events’ posting; scroll down about 40% of the way) regarding that issue although there’s no hint that the speakers will be discussing ‘open science’.

Science events (Einstein, getting research to patients, sleep, and art/science) in Vancouver (Canada), Jan. 23 – 28, 2016

There are five upcoming science events in seven days (Jan. 23 – 28, 2016) in the Vancouver area.

Einstein Centenary Series

The first is a Saturday morning, Jan. 23, 2016 lecture, the first for 2016 in a joint TRIUMF (Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics), UBC (University of British Columbia), and SFU (Simon Fraser University) series featuring Einstein’s  work and its implications. From the event brochure (pdf), which lists the entire series,

TRIUMF, UBC and SFU are proud to present the 2015-2016 Saturday morning lecture series on the frontiers of modern physics. These free lectures are a level appropriate for high school students and members of the general public.

Parallel lecture series will be held at TRIUMF on the UBC South Campus, and at SFU Surrey Campus.

Lectures start at 10:00 am and 11:10 am. Parking is available.

For information, registration and directions, see :
http://www.triumf.ca/saturday-lectures

January 23, 2016 TRIUMF Auditorium (UBC, Vancouver)
1. General Relativity – the theory (Jonathan Kozaczuk, TRIUMF)
2. Einstein and Light: stimulated emission, photoelectric effect and quantum theory (Mark Van Raamsdonk, UBC)

January 30, 2016 SFU Surrey Room 2740 (SFU, Surrey Campus)

1. General Relativity – the theory (Jonathan Kozaczuk, TRIUMF)
2. Einstein and Light: stimulated emission, photoelectric effect and quantum theory (Mark Van Raamsdonk, UBC)

I believe these lectures are free. One more note, they will be capping off this series with a special lecture by Kip Thorne (astrophysicist and consultant for the movie Interstellar) at Science World, on Thursday, April 14, 2016. More about that when at a closer date.

Café Scientifique

On Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm in the back room of The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.]), Café Scientifique will be hosting a talk about science and serving patients (from the Jan. 5, 2016 announcement),

Our speakers for the evening will be Dr. Millan Patel and Dr. Shirin Kalyan.  The title of their talk is:

Helping Science to Serve Patients

Science in general and biotechnology in particular are auto-catalytic. That is, they catalyze their own evolution and so generate breakthroughs at an exponentially increasing rate.  The experience of patients is not exponentially getting better, however.  This talk, with a medical geneticist and an immunologist who believe science can deliver far more for patients, will focus on structural and cultural impediments in our system and ways they and others have developed to either lower or leapfrog the barriers. We hope to engage the audience in a highly interactive discussion to share thoughts and perspectives on this important issue.

There is additional information about Dr. Millan Patel here and Dr. Shirin Kalyan here. It would appear both speakers are researchers and academics and while I find the emphasis on the patient and the acknowledgement that medical research benefits are not being delivered in quantity or quality to patients, it seems odd that they don’t have a clinician (a doctor who deals almost exclusively with patients as opposed to two researchers) to add to their perspective.

You may want to take a look at my Jan. 22, 2016 ‘open science’ and Montreal Neurological Institute posting for a look at how researchers there are responding to the issue.

Curiosity Collider

This is an art/science event from an organization that sprang into existence sometime during summer 2015 (my July 7, 2015 posting featuring Curiosity Collider).

When: 8:00pm on Wednesday, January 27, 2016. Door opens at 7:30pm.
Where: Café Deux Soleils. 2096 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, BC (Google Map).
Cost: $5.00 cover (sliding scale) at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future Curiosity Collider events.

Part I. Speakers

Part II. Open Mic

  • 90 seconds to share your art-science ideas. Think they are “ridiculous”? Well, we think it could be ridiculously awesome – we are looking for creative ideas!
  • Don’t have an idea (yet)? Contribute by sharing your expertise.
  • Chat with other art-science enthusiasts, strike up a conversation to collaborate, all disciplines/backgrounds welcome.
  • Want to showcase your project in the future? Participate in our fall art-science competition (more to come)!

Follow updates on twitter via @ccollider or #CollideConquer

Good luck on the open mic (should you have a project)!

Brain Talks

This particular Brain Talk event is taking place at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH; there is also another Brain Talks series which takes place at the University of British Columbia). Yes, members of the public can attend the VGH version; they didn’t throw me out the last time I was there. Here’s more about the next VGH Brain Talks,

Sleep: biological & pathological perspectives

Thursday, Jan 28, 6:00pm @ Paetzold Auditorium, Vancouver General Hospital

Speakers:

Peter Hamilton, Sleep technician ~ Sleep Architecture

Dr. Robert Comey, MD ~ Sleep Disorders

Dr. Maia Love, MD ~ Circadian Rhythms

Panel discussion and wine and cheese reception to follow!

Please RSVP here

You may want to keep in mind that the event is organized by people who don’t organize events often. Nice people but you may need to search for crackers for your cheese and your wine comes out of a box (and I think it might have been self-serve the time I attended).

What a fabulous week we have ahead of us—Happy Weekend!

Setting a tone for Canadian science, now what about science and a culture of innovation?

On the heels of reinstating the mandatory long form census, removing the muzzle from Canadian government scientists, and assigning multiple new ministers to old and new ‘science’ ministries, Justin Trudeau has delivered his new ministerial mandate letters where he thanks the ministers for agreeing to serve and lays out his priorities. David Bruggeman provides priority lists from two of the letters in a Nov. 13, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The new Science Minister, Kirsty Duncan, was given the following priorities in her letter:

Create a Chief Science Officer mandated to ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.
Support your colleagues in the review and reform of Canada’s environmental assessment processes to ensure that environmental assessment decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence.
Support the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour [emphasis mine] in efforts to help employers create more co-op placements for students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs [emphasis mine].
Support your Ministerial colleagues as they re-insert scientific considerations into the heart of our decision-making and investment choices.

It’s worth noting – because it often gets lost – that this philosophy sees scientific knowledge and scientific considerations are but one input into policy and decision making.  [emphasis mine] Inform, not dictate.

It’s also worth noting that the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (MP Navdeep Bains) is mentioned just once in the Minister of Science letter.  Looking at the letter sent to Minister Bains, it would seem that PM Trudeau sees science in this portfolio in service to economic development and innovation.  The role as outlined in the letter:

“As Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, your overarching goal will be to help Canadian businesses grow, innovate and export so that they can create good quality jobs and wealth for Canadians.  You will achieve this goal by working with provinces, territories, municipalities, the post-secondary education system, [emphasis mine] employers and labour to improve the quality and impact of our programs that support innovation, scientific research and entrepreneurship.  You will collaborate with provinces, territories and municipalities to align, where possible, your efforts.  I expect you to partner closely with businesses and sectors to support their efforts to increase productivity and innovation. …

I have a few comments about the ‘science’ letters. I’m happy to see the first priority for the Science minister is the appointment of a Chief Science Officer. David’s point about the letter’s emphasis that science is one input into the policy making process is interesting. Personally, I applaud the apparent even-handedness since scientific evidence is not always unequivocal but this does give the government some room to ignore scientific evidence in favour of other political considerations.

Finally, I see a gray area between the two ministries has been delineated with the Science minister being exhorted to:

“Support the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour in efforts to help employers create more co-op placements for students in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business programs”

and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development being exhorted to

” … achieve this goal [economic prosperity] by working with provinces, territories, municipalities, the post-secondary education system, employers and labour to improve the quality and impact of our programs that support innovation, scientific research and entrepreneurship.”

Note the crossover where the Science minister is being asked to help develop more coop placements while the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister is being asked to work with the post-secondary education system and employers to improve programs for entrepreneurship. Interestingly the exhortation for the Innovation minister is included in the general text of the letter and not in the list of priorities.

There is one other ministry I’d like to include here and it’s Canadian Heritage. While it might seem an odd choice to some, there is what seems to be an increasing interest in the relationship between art, science, and the humanities. While I’m thrilled with much of the content in the Heritage letter,  mentions of science and technology are notably absent. Given what’s happened in our cultural sector (serious funding cutbacks over several years from both the Conservative government and previous Liberal governments), it’s understandable and it’s good to see more funding (from the Canadian Heritage Ministerial Mandate letter),

As Minister of Canadian Heritage, your overarching goal will be to implement our government’s plan to strengthen our cultural and creative industries. Our cultural sector is an enormous source of strength to the Canadian economy. Canada’s stories, shaped by our immense diversity, deserve to be celebrated and shared with the world. Our plan will protect our important national institutions, safeguard our official languages, promote the industries that reflect our unique identity as Canadians, and provide jobs and economic opportunities in our cultural and creative sectors.

You will be the leader of a strong team of ministers, supported by the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and the Minister of Status of Women.

In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

  • Review current plans for Canada 150 [Canada will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017] and champion government-wide efforts to promote this important celebration.
  • Restore and increase funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, following consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.
  • Review the process by which members are appointed to the CBC/Radio-Canada Board of Directors, to ensure merit-based and independent appointments.
  • Double investment in the Canada Council for the Arts.
  • Increase funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board.
  • Restore the Promart and Trade Routes International cultural promotion programs, update their design, and increase related funding.
  • Increase funding for the Young Canada Works program to help prepare the next generation of Canadians working in the heritage sector.
  • Work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to make significant new investments in cultural infrastructure as part of our investment in social infrastructure.
  • Work in collaboration with the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to provide new funding to promote, preserve and enhance Indigenous languages and cultures.

I hope at some point this government integrates a little science and technology into Canadian Heritage because we have often achieved breakthroughs, scientifically and technically, and we have, at times, achieved the impossible as anyone who’s taken a train ride through the Rocky Mountains knows. Plus, if the government wants to encourage entrepreneurship and risk-taking, Canadian artists of all types provide an excellent model.

For the interested, the Ministerial Mandate letters have been made publicly available.

Two final items, there’s a Nov. 16, 2015 posting by Josh Silberg on Science Borealis which provides a more comprehensive roundup of science commentary in the wake of the new Liberal government’s ascendance.  Yes, I’m on it and you may recognize some others as well but there should be one or two new writers to discover.

Second, Phil Plait who has written about Canadian science and the Conservative government’s policies many times provides a brief history of the situation along with a few ebullient comments about the changes that have been taking place. You can find it all in Plait’s Nov. 17, 2015 posting on Slate.com.

Industry Standard vodka: a project that blurs the lines between art, science, and liquor distillery

“Industry City Distillery has been a beautiful accident from the start,” so begins Robb Todd’s Oct. 23, 2015 article for Fast Company about a remarkable vodka distillery situated in New York City,

Cofounders David Kyrejko and Zachary Bruner didn’t decide to make vodka because they love vodka. The distillery came about as the byproduct of a byproduct, faced challenges most distilleries don’t face, and had a goal very different from others in the drinking game.

“We make booze to pay for art and science,” Kyrejko says. [emphasis mine]

It all started with experiments focused on aquatic ecosystems and carbon dioxide production,

He [Kyrejko]  used fermentation to create CO2 [carbon dioxide] and the byproduct was alcohol. That byproduct made Kyrejko think about its applications and implications. Now, that thinking has manifested as a liquid that more and more people in New York City are coveting in the form of Industry Standard vodka.

At least part of the reason this vodka is so coveted (Note: A link has been removed),

“Vodka is one of the easiest things to make if you don’t care,” Kyrejko says, “and one of the hardest if you do.”

Vodka is difficult because there’s no way to mask the imperfections as with other liquors. To make a spirit there are usually three “cuts” made during distillation: heads, hearts, and tails. What most people drink comes from the hearts. But Kyrejko and Bruner cut theirs 30 times.

“The art is knowing how to blend cuts,” Kyrejko says, adding that other makers do not blend their vodka. “It’s a giant pain in the ass.”

Thought has been put into reducing the company’s footprint,

They say they’ve considered the waste they produce from business and environmental standpoints, as well as the energy they use to create their burning water. So they lean on beet sugar instead of grain, and sacrifice the aesthetics of their stills by insulating them rather than polishing the copper to impress tour groups. And even with about 10,000 square feet of space, they use very little of it for equipment.

“The truth is, running a distillery in an urban setting using ‘traditional’ technology just doesn’t make any sense at all,” Kyrejko says.

This is why their initial goal was to build machines that were three times more efficient than what is commercially available, he says. Now, though, he says their machines and processes are up to six times more efficient, and take up a fraction of the space and resources as traditional methods.

It’s an interesting story although I do have one quibble; I would have liked to have learned more about their art and scienceor art/science, efforts. Maybe next story, eh?

You can find the Industry City Distillery website here.

arts@CERN: welcomes new artist-resident (Semiconductor) and opens calls for new artist-residencies

It’s exciting to hear that CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) has an open call for artists but it’s also a little complicated, so read carefully. From an Oct. 12, 2015 CERN press release,

CERN1 has today announced three new open calls giving a chance to artists to immerse themselves in the research of particle physics and its community. Two new international partners have joined the Accelerate @ CERN programme: the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF) from UAE2 and Rupert, the centre for Art and Education from Vilnius, Lithuania3. The Collide @ CERN Geneva award is also now calling for entries, continuing the fruitful collaboration with The Republic and Canton of Geneva and the City of Geneva4. Last but not least, the Collide @ CERN Ars Electronica winning artists start their residency at CERN this week.

“Science and the arts are essential parts of a vibrant, healthy culture, and the Arts @ CERN programme is bringing them closer together,” said CERN DG Rolf Heuer. “With CERN’s diverse research programme, including the LHC’s second run getting underway, there’s no better place in the world to do that than here.”

With the support of The Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), Arts @ CERN gives the chance for an Emirati visual artist to come to CERN for a fully funded immersion in high-energy physics in the Accelerate @ CERN programme. Thanks to the support by Rupert, Centre for Art and Education in Vilnius, the same door opens to Lithuanian artists who wish to deepen their knowledge in science and use it as a source of inspiration for their work. Each of the two open calls begins today for artists to win a one-month research stay at CERN. Applications can be submitted up to 11 January 2016.

Funded by The Republic and Canton of Geneva and The City of Geneva, Collide @ CERN Geneva has operated successfully since 2012. Arts @ CERN announces the fourth open call for artists from Geneva, this time celebrating the city’s strength in digital writing. Today, the competition opens to writers [emphasis mine] who were born, live or work in the Geneva region, and would like to win a three-month residency where scientific and artistic creativity collide.  The winner will also receive a stipend of 15,000CHF. The deadline for applications is 11 January 2016.

“Arts and science have always been interlinked as major cultural forces, and this is the fundamental reason for CERN to continue to proactively pursue this relationship,” said Mónica Bello, Head of Arts @ CERN. “The arts programme here continues to flourish.”

Semiconductor, the artist duo formed by Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerdhardt, are the winners of the Collide @ CERN Ars Electronica award5. Out of 161 projects from 53 countries, the jury6 awarded Semiconductor for their broad sense of speculation, complexity and wonder, using strategies of analysis and translation of the phenomena into tangible and beautiful forms. Their two-month Collide @ CERN residency starts on 12 October 2015.

Footnote(s)

1. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its member states are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Romania is a Candidate for Accession. Serbia is an Associate Member in the pre-stage to Membership. Pakistan and Turkey are Associate Members. India, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, the European Union, JINR and UNESCO have observer status.

6. Members of the Jury for Collide @ CERN Ars Electronica were: Mónica Bello (ES), Michael Doser (AT), Horst Hörtner (AT), Gerfried Stocker (AT) and Mike Stubbs (UK).

Here are a few more links,

Online submissions for artists CERN.ch/arts

Further information:

Arts@CERN website
Accelerate@CERN website
Collide@CERN Facebook site (link is external)
Twitter ArtsAtCern (link is external)

Good luck!

North Carolina universities go beyond organ-on-a-chip

The researchers in the North Carolina universities involved in this project have high hopes according to an Oct. 9, 2015 news item on Nanowerk,

A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State University has received a $5.3 million, five-year Transformative Research (R01) Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create fully functioning versions of the human gut that fit on a chip the size of a dime.

Such “organs-on-a-chip” have become vital for biomedical research, as researchers seek alternatives to animal models for drug discovery and testing. The new grant will fund a technology that represents a major step forward for the field, overcoming limitations that have mired other efforts.

The technology will use primary cells derived directly from human biopsies, which are known to provide more relevant results than the immortalized cell lines used in current approaches. In addition, the device will sculpt these cells into the sophisticated architecture of the gut, rather than the disorganized ball of cells that are created in other miniature organ systems.

“We are building a device that goes far beyond the organ-on-a-chip,” said Nancy L. Allbritton, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the UNC-NC State joint department of biomedical engineering and one of four principle investigators on the NIH grant. “We call it a ‘simulacrum,’ [emphasis mine] a term used in science fiction to describe a duplicate. The idea is to create something that is indistinguishable from your own gut.”

I’ve come across the term ‘simulacrum’ in relation to philosophy so it’s a bit of a surprise to find it in a news release about an organ-on-a-chip where it seems to have been redefined somewhat. Here’s more from the Simulacrum entry on Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

A simulacrum (plural: simulacra from Latin: simulacrum, which means “likeness, similarity”), is a representation or imitation of a person or thing.[1] The word was first recorded in the English language in the late 16th century, used to describe a representation, such as a statue or a painting, especially of a god. By the late 19th century, it had gathered a secondary association of inferiority: an image without the substance or qualities of the original.[2] Philosopher Fredric Jameson offers photorealism as an example of artistic simulacrum, where a painting is sometimes created by copying a photograph that is itself a copy of the real.[3] Other art forms that play with simulacra include trompe-l’œil,[4] pop art, Italian neorealism, and French New Wave.[3]

Philosophy

The simulacrum has long been of interest to philosophers. In his Sophist, Plato speaks of two kinds of image making. The first is a faithful reproduction, attempted to copy precisely the original. The second is intentionally distorted in order to make the copy appear correct to viewers. He gives the example of Greek statuary, which was crafted larger on the top than on the bottom so that viewers on the ground would see it correctly. If they could view it in scale, they would realize it was malformed. This example from the visual arts serves as a metaphor for the philosophical arts and the tendency of some philosophers to distort truth so that it appears accurate unless viewed from the proper angle.[5] Nietzsche addresses the concept of simulacrum (but does not use the term) in the Twilight of the Idols, suggesting that most philosophers, by ignoring the reliable input of their senses and resorting to the constructs of language and reason, arrive at a distorted copy of reality.[6]

Postmodernist French social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues that a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. Where Plato saw two types of representation—faithful and intentionally distorted (simulacrum)—Baudrillard sees four: (1) basic reflection of reality; (2) perversion of reality; (3) pretence of reality (where there is no model); and (4) simulacrum, which “bears no relation to any reality whatsoever”.[7] In Baudrillard’s concept, like Nietzsche’s, simulacra are perceived as negative, but another modern philosopher who addressed the topic, Gilles Deleuze, takes a different view, seeing simulacra as the avenue by which an accepted ideal or “privileged position” could be “challenged and overturned”.[8] Deleuze defines simulacra as “those systems in which different relates to different by means of difference itself. What is essential is that we find in these systems no prior identity, no internal resemblance”.[9]

Getting back to the proposed research, an Oct. (?), 2015 University of North Carolina news release, which originated the news item, describes the proposed work in more detail,

Allbritton is an expert at microfabrication and microengineering. Also on the team are intestinal stem cell expert Scott T. Magness, associate professor of medicine, biomedical engineering, and cell and molecular physiology in the UNC School of Medicine; microbiome expert Scott Bultman, associate professor of genetics in the UNC School of Medicine; and bioinformatics expert Shawn Gomez, associate professor of biomedical engineering in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and NC State.

The impetus for the “organ-on-chip” movement comes largely from the failings of the pharmaceutical industry. For just a single drug to go through the discovery, testing, and approval process can take as many as 15 years and as much as $5 billion dollars. Animal models are expensive to work with and often don’t respond to drugs and diseases the same way humans do. Human cells grown in flat sheets on Petri dishes are also a poor proxy. Three-dimensional “organoids” are an improvement, but these hollow balls are made of a mishmash of cells that doesn’t accurately mimic the structure and function of the real organ.

Basically, the human gut is a 30-foot long hollow tube made up of a continuous single-layer of specialized cells. Regenerative stem cells reside deep inside millions of small pits or “crypts” along the tube, and mature differentiated cells are linked to the pits and live further out toward the surface. The gut also contains trillions of microbes, which are estimated to outnumber human cells by ten to one. These diverse microbial communities – collectively known as the microbiota – process toxins and pharmaceuticals, stimulate immunity, and even release hormones to impact behavior.

To create a dime-sized version of this complex microenvironment, the UNC-NC State team borrowed fabrication technologies from the electronics and microfluidics world. The device is composed of a polymer base containing an array of imprinted or shaped “hydrogels,” a mesh of molecules that can absorb water like a sponge. These hydrogels are specifically engineered to provide the structural support and biochemical cues for growing cells from the gut. Plugged into the device will be various kinds of plumbing that bring in chemicals, fluids, and gases to provide cues that tell the cells how and where to differentiate and grow. For example, the researchers will engineer a steep oxygen gradient into the device that will enable oxygen-loving human cells and anaerobic microbes to coexist in close proximity.

“The underlying concept – to simply grow a piece of human tissue in a dish – doesn’t seem that groundbreaking,” said Magness. “We have been doing that for a long time with cancer cells, but those efforts do not replicate human physiology. Using native stem cells from the small intestine or colon, we can now develop gut tissue layers in a dish that contains stem cells and all the differentiated cells of the gut. That is the thing stem cell biologists and engineers have been shooting for, to make real tissue behave properly in a dish to create better models for drug screening and cell-based therapies. With this work, we made a big leap toward that goal.”

Right now, the team has a working prototype that can physically and chemically guide mouse intestinal stem cells into the appropriate structure and function of the gut. For several years, Magness has been isolating and banking human stem cells from samples from patients undergoing routine colonoscopies at UNC Hospitals.

As part of the grant, he will work with the rest of the team to apply these stem cells to the new device and create “simulacra” that are representative of each patient’s individual gut. The approach will enable researchers to explore in a personalized way how both the human and microbial cells of the gut behave during healthy and diseased states.

“Having a system like this will advance microbiota research tremendously,” said Bultman. “Right now microbiota studies involve taking samples, doing sequencing, and then compiling an inventory of all the microbes in the disease cases and healthy controls. These studies just draw associations, so it is difficult to glean cause and effect. This device will enable us to probe the microbiota, and gain a better understanding of whether changes in these microbial communities are the cause or the consequence of disease.”

I wish them good luck with their work and to end on another interesting note, the concept of organs-on-a-chip won a design award. From a June 22, 2015 article by Oliver Wainwright for the Guardian (Note: Links have been removed),

Meet the Lung-on-a-chip, a simulation of the biological processes inside the human lung, developed by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University – and now crowned Design of the Year by London’s Design Museum.

Lined with living human cells, the “organs-on-chips” mimic the tissue structures and mechanical motions of human organs, promising to accelerate drug discovery, decrease development costs and potentially usher in a future of personalised medicine.

“This is the epitome of design innovation,” says Paola Antonelli, design curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art [MOMA], who nominated the project for the award and recently acquired organs-on-chips for MoMA’s permanent collection. “Removing some of the pitfalls of human and animal testing means, theoretically, that drug trials could be conducted faster and their viable results disseminated more quickly.”

Whodathunkit? (Tor those unfamiliar with slang written in this form: Who would have thought it?)

An art initiative that enlists artists, curators, and scientists to work on environmental issues and discovered bioluminescent turtles*

Thanks to Mark Dwor of the Canadian Academy for Independent Scholars for sending me a link to this piece about bioluminescent sea turtles by Hili Perlson in a Sept. 29, 2015 posting on artnet news,

A marine biologist studying coral reefs off the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific made an amazing discovery this week when he noticed a “bright red-and-green spaceship” approaching his way in the pitch dark waters. The glowing underwater body turned out to be a hawksbill sea turtle, a critically endangered species.

The scientist, David Gruber, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, was on site as part of a TBA21 Academy expedition, an art initiative that enlists artists, curators, and scientists to work on projects related to environmental issues. In 2002, art collector Francesca von Habsburg founded Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), which has long been dedicated to ambitious projects that defy categorizations.

Here’s what the ‘spaceship turtle’ looked like,

SpaceshipTurtleI encourage you to read Perlson’s piece in its entirety or to check out her blog posting for the embedded National Geographic video profiling the discovery.

For anyone interested in TBA 21, there’s this site homepage which seems focussed on the art/science projects and this site webpage which seems to be focussed on the organization’s art museum in Vienna, Austria.

*”and discovered bioluminescent turtles” added to headline Oct. 9, 2015 at 0950 hours PST.

Beakerhead’s Big Bang (art/engineering) Residency in Alberta, Canada

I am sorry for the late notice as the deadline for submissions is Oct. 9, 2015 so there’s not much time to prepare. In any event, here’s more information about the Big Bang Residency Program call for proposals,

Every September, Beakerhead erupts onto the streets and venues of Calgary with cultural works that have science or engineering at their core. This is a call for proposals to build a creative work through an initiative called the Big Bang Residency Program. The work will be built over the course of a year with a collaborative team and will premiere on September 14, 2016, at Beakerhead in Calgary, Canada.

About the Big Bang Residency Program

The Big Bang Residency Program is funded by the Remarkable Experience Accelerator; a joint initiative of Calgary Arts Development and the Calgary Hotel Association. The program is led by Beakerhead with partnership support from the internationally renowned Banff Centre.

The program will support the creation of a total of three major new artworks over three years that will premiere internationally in Calgary during Beakerhead each year. This residency program will support:

  • One team per year each consisting of no less than four and no more than five individuals (additional support members are possible; however, the maximum size of the core team in residence will be five).
  • Two weeks in residence total; one week in the late fall and one week the following summer, with exact dates to be arranged with The Banff Centre and the selected team in residence. The production of the work is expected to take place in-between these two residency periods in Calgary.
  • Call for Proposals

    Beakerhead and The Banff Centre will support the design and build of a work to be shared with the world during Beakerhead, September 14 to 18, 2016. It will be created over the course of the year, which will include two weeks in residence at The Banff Centre with an interdisciplinary team of collaborators.

    Who is Eligible?

    This Call for Proposals is open to international artists, engineers, architects, designers, scientists and others. In addition to meeting the requirements for team composition below, the team must have a connection to Calgary so that the building of the work takes place in Calgary, the work is developed in Banff, the work premieres in Calgary and calls Calgary its home base. The proposal need not be submitted by a complete team: individuals may apply. The team can be assembled with support from The Banff Centre and Beakerhead to ensure that the collaboration of artists and engineers will result in a project that is created in Calgary/Banff over the course of the year.

    Team Composition 

    Each team must include:

    1. At least one individual who has received specialized art training (degree from a recognizing art institution) and has developed and exhibited a body of work;
    2. At least one individual who has received specialized engineering training (degree from an accredited engineering school), and previous experience in any artistic medium;
    3. Other members of the team should bring additional art and design skills, technical skills and project management skills. They may include emerging and professional roles.

    Staging and Exhibition

    The engineered artworks produced during the residency will be presented during Beakerhead in an unprecedented spectacle of performance and public engagement. The staging of the premiere may be developed in partnership with other venues, as dictated by the artworks. Many Beakerhead events take place in partnership with existing venues, such as theatres, galleries, public spaces, business revitalization zones, universities and libraries. The artistic disciplines may include installation, performance, visual art, music or any other media.

    The Details

    Design Criteria

    The successful proposal will meet the following criteria.

    • Location: The installation will be in a public location or available venue in Calgary, Alberta, from September 14 to 18 2016, and can be toured afterwards. Park-like settings and public roadways may be possible.
    • Dimension: There is no limit on dimension. However, proposals for works that can engage larger numbers of people at the scale of public art will be given preference.
    • Scope: Preference will be given to works that are both arresting to view and interesting to experience first-hand.
    • Install and De-install: Up to four days can be provided to install and de-install. The successful team must be capable of completing this work with volunteer crews.
    • Material: All materials must meet North American and European building and fire safety codes.

    Budget                                     

    A budget of CAD 24,000 is available for materials and supplies. The artist/collaborator fee is CAD 5,000 per team member up to CAD 25,000. Two weeks in residence will be provided for a five-person team, including accommodation and meals at The Banff Centre. Support for venue rental over the winter for build space will be provided, as well as heavy equipment costs.

    The budget may include:

    • All additional materials costs
    • Equipment services/rental for installation and de-installation
    • Contracted labour for specialized services
    • Documentation expenses
    • Stipend per team member (CAD 5,000 per member up to CAD 25,000)
    • Workshop and fabrication space rental in Calgary

    The budget may not include:

    • Travel costs
    • Salaries and wages

    If the budget proposed exceeds the amount of funding available, please detail your plans for acquiring additional funds to make up any projected shortfall.

    Additional

    Preference will be given to projects that consider:

    • Delightful and thought-provoking experiences at the crossroads of art and engineering
    • Use of public space
    • Assembly, strike and touring ability
    • Engagement of a large volume of viewers
    • Durability for multiple days of high volume public interaction

    Timeline

    Important 2015/16 Dates

    • Aug 6, 2015:  Call for proposals
    • Oct 9: Deadline for submissions
    • Nov 6: Announcement of the successful proposal
    • Dec 6: Presentation of the successful team at the annual Beakerhead partners meeting
    • Dec 7-12*: Residency Week 1 in Banff: Detailed production plan completed
    • Jan 20, 2016: Concept unveiled to public and build volunteers engaged
    • Feb-August: Build period in Calgary
    • Aug 22-27*: Residency Week 2 in Banff: Presentation planning and rehearsals
    • Sept 14 – 18: International premiere at Beakerhead!

    *dates may change

    Timeline Details

    The program will lift off with an announcement in August 2015, and the first major artworks premiered in September 2016. A second round will be announced in the summer of 2016, and a third in the summer of 2017.

    Interested applicants are encouraged to attend Beakerhead 2015 (September 16 – 20), or have an associate attend, to fully understand the presentation opportunities. The final team will be announced in the fall, and will commence the term with a one-week period “in residence” at the Banff Centre (a week to work full-time on the project) to develop the detailed design and production plan. The partnership with The Banff Centre will support the development of design drawings and a business strategy.

    The build will then take place over the winter and summer in Calgary. Beakerhead will support the successful team by making introductions to local resources and facilities.

    The team in residence will be strongly encouraged to engage an expanded team of volunteers in the building process to create a community of support around the spectacle element.

There are more details here including the information on how to make a submission.

Is the medium the message? Virtual museums and the the user’s experience technology experience

A Sept. 21, 2015 Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) news release by Matt Swayne (also on EurekAlert) puts a different spin on art/science (Note: Links have been removed),

Museum curators planning to develop virtual exhibits online should choose communication and navigation technologies that match the experience they want to offer their visitors, according to a team of researchers.

“When curators think about creating a real-world exhibit, they are thinking about what the theme is and what they want their visitors to get out of the exhibit,” said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory. “What this study suggests is that, just like curators need to be coherent in the content of the exhibit, they need to be conscious of the tools that they employ in their virtual museums.” [emphasis mine]

For some reason that phrase “need to be conscious of the tools that they employ” reminds of Marshall McLuhan and his dictum “the medium is the message.” Here’s more about study from the news release,

Many museum curators hope to create an authentic experience in their online museums by using technology to mimic aspects of the social, personal and physical aspects of a real-world museum experience. However, a more-is-better approach to technology may actually hinder that authentic experience, the researchers suggest.

In a study, visitors to an online virtual art museum found that technology tools used to communicate about and navigate through the exhibits were considered helpful when they were available separately, but less so when they were offered together. The researchers tested customization tools that helped the participants create their own art gallery, live-chat technology to facilitate communication with other visitors and 3-D tool navigation tools that some participants used to explore the museum.

The participants’ experiences often depended on what tools and what combinations of tools they used, according to the researchers, who released their findings in a recent issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction.

The news release goes on to provide some examples of when technologies do not mesh together for a good experience,

“When live chat and customization are offered together, for example, the combination of tools may be perceived to have increased usability, but it turns out using either customization or live chat separately was greater than either both functions together, or neither of the functions,” said Sundar. “We saw similar results not just with perceived usability, but also with sense of control and agency.”

The live chatting tool gave participants a feeling of social presence in the museum, but when live chatting was used in conjunction with the 3D navigation tool, the visitor had less of a sense of control, said Sundar, who worked with Eun Go, assistant professor of broadcasting and journalism, Western Illinois University; Hyang-Sook Kim, assistant professor of mass communication and media communication studies, Towson University and Bo Zhang, doctoral candidate in mass communications, Penn State.

Similarly, participants indicated the live chatting function lessened the realistic experience of the 3D tool, according to the researchers, who suggested that chatting may increase the user’s cognitive burden as they try to navigate through the site.

Each of these tools carries unique meaning for users, Sundar said. While customization provides an individualized experience, live-chatting signals a social experience of the site.

“Our data also suggest that expert users prefer tools that offer more agency or control to users whereas novices appreciate a variety of tools on the interface,” he added.

Users may react to these tools on other online platforms, not just during visits to online museums, Sundar said.

“We might be able to apply this research on tools you might add to news sites, for example, or it could be used to improve educational sites and long-distance learning,” he added. “You just have to be careful about how you deploy the tools because more is not always better.”

The researchers recruited 126 participants for the study. The subjects were assigned one of eight different website variations that tested their reactions to customization, live chat, 3D navigation and combinations of those tools during their visit to a virtual version of the Museum of Modern Art. The museum’s artworks were made available through the Google Art Project.

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

Communicating Art, Virtually! Psychological Effects of Technological Affordances in a Virtual Museum by S. Shyam Sundar, Eun Goc, Hyang-Sook Kim, & Bo Zhang. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction
Volume 31, Issue 6, 2015 pages 385-401 DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2015.1033912 Accepted author version posted online: 15 Apr 2015

This paper is behind a paywall.