Tag Archives: Brazil

TED Global would like to see you in Rio—USD $6,000 + application required

TED (technology, entertainment, design) Global is being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in October 2014 and there are still a few spots left for participants according to a July 23, 2014 notice (I checked here, there are still openings as of Aug. 1, 2014),

In early October, Rio de Janeiro will host our first TEDGlobal in South America. The conference theme is “South” and you can meet here. Held in the historic Copacabana Palace Hotel on the eponymous beach, TEDGlobal 2014 promises speakers with amazing new ideas to stimulate your mind, while the rest of you takes in the beauty that is Rio: the ocean, the beach, the volcanic mountains, and the energetic Cariocas. It is simply one of the most beautiful cities on Earth.

We hope you will join us at this more intimately scaled event (half the size of TED in Vancouver), and celebrate ideas from across the Global South.

The conference takes place October 5-10, 2014. During five immersive days of talks, music, performances, tech demos, exhibits and wonderful parties, the conference will focus on the Global South’s rise in influence and power — plus relevant stories from the rest of the world.

A small number of passes remain for $6,000 and $12,000. …

Questions? Email [email protected].

Vê-lo no Rio (See you in Rio)

There is a list of their currently confirmed speakers here. It includes:

Grimanesa Amoros, Peruvian interdisciplinary artist

Séverine Autesserre, Congo scholar
Tasso Azevedo, Brazilian forest conservationist
Rodrigo Baggio, Brazilian digital inclusionist
Khalida Brohi, Pakistani equality activist

Wendy Freedman, Astronomer

Syed Karim, Satellite datacaster
Miguel Nicolelis, Brain interface pioneer

Mark Plotkin, Amazonian ethnobotanist

Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk

Steve Song, Africa connectivity tinkerer
Jorge Soto, Cancer detection technologist

Zeynep Tufekci, Technosociologist

Tashka Yawanawa, Amazonian chief

I recognized two names on the full list: Miguel Nicolelis (featured here many times and most recently in a May 20, 2014 posting) and Matthieu Ricard (mentioned here once.in an April 11, 2013 posting). Both of them were mentioned in regard to the field of neuroscience.

On that note, Happy Weekend on what is a long weekend for many Canadians including me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agency of Science Communication, Technology and Innovation of Argentina (ACCTINA)

In a May 9, 2014 posting for SciDev.Net, Cecilia Rosen mentions an announcement about a new science communication agency for Argentina (Note: A link has been removed),

For a while now, Argentina has seemed serious about science as a means for development. This week, at the 13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference (PCST2014), there was fresh evidence of this.

I learned that President Cristina Kirchner’s government is setting up a specialised agency within the science ministry to boost science communication in the country. This is part of the government’s strategic goals for 2014.

It will be called the Agency of Science Communication, Technology and Innovation of Argentina (ACCTINA), and should be formally launched by the end of this year, if things go smoothly, according to Vera Brudny, head of the project at the ministry.

On the sidelines of PCST2014, she told me that ACCTINA will replace the National Program for Science Popularisation.

That’s an interesting move and unfortunately following up on this at some future date is going to be tricky since I don’t have any Spanish language skills.

For anyone interested in more about SciDev.Net, there’s this from the What we do page,

SciDev.Net is committed to putting science at the heart of global development.

Our website is the world’s leading source of reliable and authoritative news, views and analysis on information about science and technology for global development.

We engage primarily with development professionals, policymakers, researchers, the media and the informed public.

Our main office is based in London but we have seven editions: Sub-Saharan Africa English, Sub-Saharan Africa French, South Asia, Latin America & Caribbean, South-East Asia & Pacific, Middle-East & North Africa and Global. Between us we manage a worldwide network of registered users, advisors, consultants and freelance journalists who drive our activities and vision.

The 13th International Public Communication of Science and Technology Conference (PCST2014) is produced by the Network for the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST). Here’s more from the About PCST page,

PCST is a network of individuals from around the world who are active in producing and studying PCST. It sponsors international conferences, an electronic discussion list, and symposiums. The aim is to encourage discussion and debate across professional, cultural, international, and disciplinary boundaries.

Members of the PCST Network come from a range of backgrounds:

  • Researchers working on the theory and practice of science communication
  • Communication staff working for research organisations
  • Staff at science centres and museums
  • Science journalists
  • Students on the ethics and philosophy of science and the public
  • Writers and editors of scientific material
  • Web designers
  • Scientists who communicate with the public
  • Visual and performing artists working on science themes.

The PCST international conference takes place every two years. The 2014 PCST conference took place in Salvador, Brazil. Conferences like this would seem to confirm the comments I made in a May 20, 2014 posting,

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

Perhaps Argentina is getting ready to give Brazil a run for its money (slang for ‘provide some competition’).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Applicable to all applications:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brazil, the 2014 World Cup kickoff, and a mind-controlled exoskeleton (part four of five)

The Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (part one of five) May 19, 2014 post kicked off a series titled ‘Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement’ which brings together a number of developments in the worlds of neuroscience, prosthetics, and, incidentally, nanotechnology in the field of interest called human enhancement. Parts one through four are an attempt to draw together a number of new developments, mostly in the US and in Europe. Due to my language skills which extend to English and, more tenuously, French, I can’t provide a more ‘global perspective’. Part five features a summary.

Brazil’s World Cup for soccer/football which opens on June 12, 2014 will be the first public viewing of someone with paraplegia demonstrating a mind-controlled exoskeleton (or a robotic suit as it’s sometimes called) by opening the 2014 games with the first kick-off.

I’ve been covering this story since 2011 and, even so, was late to the party as per this May 7, 2014 article by Alejandra Martins for BBC World news online,

The World Cup curtain-raiser will see the first public demonstration of a mind-controlled exoskeleton that will enable a person with paralysis to walk.

If all goes as planned, the robotic suit will spring to life in front of almost 70,000 spectators and a global audience of billions of people.

The exoskeleton was developed by an international team of scientists as part of the Walk Again Project and is the culmination of more than a decade of work for Dr Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist based at Duke University in North Carolina. [emphasis mine]

Since November [2013], Dr Nicolelis has been training eight patients at a lab in Sao Paulo, in the midst of huge media speculation that one of them will stand up from his or her wheelchair and deliver the first kick of this year’s World Cup.

“That was the original plan,” the Duke University researcher told the BBC. “But not even I could tell you the specifics of how the demonstration will take place. This is being discussed at the moment.”

Speaking in Portuguese from Sao Paulo, Miguel Nicolelis explained that all the patients are over 20 years of age, with the oldest about 35.

“We started the training in a virtual environment with a simulator. In the last few days, four patients have donned the exoskeleton to take their first steps and one of them has used mental control to kick a ball,” he explained.

The history of Nicolelis’ work is covered here in a series of a posts starting the with an Oct. 5, 2011 post (Advertising for the 21st Century: B-Reel, ‘storytelling’, and mind control; scroll down 2/3 of the way for a reference to Ed Yong’s article where I first learned of Nicolelis).

The work was explored in more depth in a March 16, 2012 posting (Monkeys, mind control, robots, prosthetics, and the 2014 World Cup (soccer/football) and then followed up a year later by two posts which link Nicoleliis’ work with the Brain Activity Map (now called, BRAIN [Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies] initiative: a March 4, 2013 (Brain-to-brain communication, organic computers, and BAM [brain activity map], the connectome) and a March 8,  2013 post (Prosthetics and the human brain) directly linking exoskeleton work in Holland and the project at Duke with current brain research and the dawning of a new relationship to one’s prosthestics,

On the heels of research which suggests that humans tend to view their prostheses, including wheel chairs, as part of their bodies, researchers in Europe  have announced the development of a working exoskeleton powered by the wearer’s thoughts.

Getting back to Brazil and Nicolelis’ technology, Ian Sample offers an excellent description in an April 1, 2014 article for the Guardian (Note: Links have been removed),

The technology in question is a mind-controlled robotic exoskeleton. The complex and conspicuous robotic suit, built from lightweight alloys and powered by hydraulics, has a simple enough function. When a paraplegic person straps themselves in, the machine does the job that their leg muscles no longer can.

The exoskeleton is the culmination of years of work by an international team of scientists and engineers on the Walk Again project. The robotics work was coordinated by Gordon Cheng at the Technical University in Munich, and French researchers built the exoskeleton. Nicolelis’s team focused on ways to read people’s brain waves, and use those signals to control robotic limbs.

To operate the exoskeleton, the person is helped into the suit and given a cap to wear that is fitted with electrodes to pick up their brain waves. These signals are passed to a computer worn in a backpack, where they are decoded and used to move hydraulic drivers on the suit.

The exoskeleton is powered by a battery – also carried in the backpack – that allows for two hours of continuous use.

“The movements are very smooth,” Nicolelis told the Guardian. “They are human movements, not robotic movements.”

Nicolelis says that in trials so far, his patients seem have taken to the exoskeleton. “This thing was made for me,” one patient told him after being strapped into the suit.

The operator’s feet rest on plates which have sensors to detect when contact is made with the ground. With each footfall, a signal shoots up to a vibrating device sewn into the forearm of the wearer’s shirt. The device seems to fool the brain into thinking that the sensation came from their foot. In virtual reality simulations, patients felt that their legs were moving and touching something.

Sample’s article includes a good schematic of the ‘suit’ which I have not been able to find elsewhere (meaning the Guardian likely has a copyright for the schematic and is why you won’t see it here) and speculation about robotics and prosthetics in the future.

Nicolelis and his team have a Facebook page for the Walk Again Project where you can get some of the latest information with  both English and Portuguese language entries as they prepare for the June 12, 2014 kickoff.

One final thought, this kickoff project represents an unlikely confluence of events. After all, what are the odds

    • that a Brazil-born researcher (Nicolelis) would be working on a project to give paraplegics the ability to walk again? and
    • that Brazil would host the World Cup in 2014 (the first time since 1950)? and
    • that the timing would coincide so a public demonstration at one of the world’s largest athletic events (of a sport particularly loved in Brazil) could be planned?

It becomes even more extraordinary when one considers that Brazil had isolated itself somewhat in the 1980s with a policy of nationalism vis à vis the computer industry (from the Brazil Science and Technology webpage on the ITA website),

In the early 1980s, the policy of technological nationalism and self-sufficiency had narrowed to the computer sector, where protective legislation tried to shield the Brazilian mini- and microcomputer industries from foreign competition. Here again, the policy allowed for the growth of local industry and a few well-qualified firms, but the effect on the productive capabilities of the economy as a whole was negative; and the inability to follow the international market in price and quality forced the policy to be discontinued.

For those who may have forgotten, the growth of the computer industry (specifically personal computers) in the 1980s figured hugely in a country’s economic health and, in this case,with  a big negative impact in Brazil.

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

Links to other posts in the Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement five-part series

Part one: Brain research, ethics, and nanotechnology (May 19, 2014 post)

Part two: BRAIN and ethics in the US with some Canucks (not the hockey team) participating (May 19, 2014)

Part three: Gray Matters: Integrative Approaches for Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society issued May 2014 by US Presidential Bioethics Commission (May 20, 2014)

Part five: Brains, prostheses, nanotechnology, and human enhancement: summary (May 20, 2014)

ETA June 16, 2014: The kickoff seems to have been a disappointment (June 15, 2014 news item on phys.org) and for those who might be interested in some of the reasons for the World Cup unrest and protests in Brazil, John Oliver provides an excoriating overview of the organization which organizes the World Cup games while professing his great love of the games, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlJEt2KU33I

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites) goes to JEC Composites Show and Conference in Paris (France)

NanoCelluComp (nanocellulose composites), a European Commission-funded project under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme, which is entering its final stage (2011 – 2014) will make an appearance (Exhibition Stand D83) at the JEC 2014 Composites Show and Conferences in Paris (France), 11-13th March, 2014.

I  profileded NanoCelluComp in a March 7, 2013 posting where I included excerpts from the project’s 4th newsletter. The 5th (August 2013) newsletter is available here. There is also a project flyer (PDF), which provides some additional insight into why the project was developed and what NanoCellulComp was attempting to accomplish,

Food processing of vegetables produces billions of tonnes of fibrous waste. The cellulose fibres contained within this waste have superior structural properties that with ‘green’ chemistry can be put to much better use. Composites containing cellulose extracted from carrot waste have already been incorporated in lightweight products such as fishing rods and steering wheels.

This material – Curran – while exhibiting good structural properties, does not have the strength of glass or carbon fibre reinforced plastics (GFRP and CFRP) and is further disadvantaged due to limited processability.

The NanoCelluComp Process Improving on Curran through:

Liberating microfibrillated cellulose (nanocellulose) from vegetable waste streams utilising an aqueous based process (thus decreasing energy consumption, and avoiding volatile chemicals).
 Improving mechanical properties by the controlled alignment and cross linking of nanocellulose fibrils.
 Combining the resultant fibres with bio-based resins to produce a 100% bio-composite (thus decreasing use of petroleum-based products).
 Ensuring compatibility of the bio-composite with current manufacturing processes (e.g. injection moulding, hand lay-up).
 Investigating the sustainability of the above processes and materials, compared to existing materials, through a full life-cycle assessment (LCA) and identifying promising application fields.

Most of the ‘nanocellulose’ material that I’ve covered has been focused on derivations from forest products however there is one other team (that I know of) led by researcher Alcides Leão of Brazil examining the possible uses of nanocellulose derived from pineapples and bananas. On that note, my June 13, 2011 posting titled: Transcript of nanocellulose fibre podcast interview with Alcides Leão, Ph.D., from São Paulo State University and/or my March 28, 2011 posting titled: Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars may be of interest.

Responsible innovation at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society’s (Arizona State University) Virtual Institute

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has a funding program called Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) which facilitates global communication for scientists, engineers, and educators. From the SAVI home page,

Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) is a mechanism to foster and strengthen interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe. It is based on the knowledge that excellence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) research and education exists in many parts of the world, and that scientific advances can be accelerated by scientists and engineers working together across international borders.

According to a Sept. 24, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, the NSF’s SAVI program has funded a new virtual institute at Arizona State University’s (ASU)  Center for Nanotechnology in Societ6y (CNS), Note: Links have been removed,

The National Science Foundation recently announced a grant of nearly $500,000 to establish a new Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU (CNS-ASU). In a global marketplace that thrives on technological innovation, incorporating ethics, responsibility and sustainability into research and development is a critical priority.

VIRI’s goal is to enable an international community of students and scholars who can help establish a common understanding of responsible innovation in research, training and outreach. By doing so, VIRI aims to contribute to the governance of emerging technologies that are dominated by market uncertainty and difficult questions of how well they reflect societal values.

VIRI founding institutional partners are University of Exeter (UK), Durham University (UK), University of Sussex (UK), Maastricht University (Netherlands), University of Copenhagen (Denmark), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), University of Waterloo (Canada), Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (Norway), and State University of Campinas (Brazil).

VIRI founding institutional affiliates are the US National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Engineering, Ethics and Society, IEEE Spectrum Online and Fondazione Giannino Bassetti.

Interesting cast of characters.

The Sept. 23, 2013 ASU news release, which originated the news item, offers some insight into the time required to create this new virtual institute,

Led by ASU faculty members David Guston and Erik Fisher, VIRI will bring a social and ethical lens to research and development practices that do not always focus on the broader implications of their research and products. Guston, director of CNS-ASU, co-director of the Consortium of Science, Policy and Outcomes, and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, has been pushing for the establishment of academic units that focus on responsible innovation for years.

“We are thrilled that NSF has chosen to advance responsible innovation through this unique, international collaboration,” Guston said. “It will give ASU the opportunity to help focus the field and ensure that people start thinking about the broader implications of knowledge-based innovation.”

Fisher, assistant professor in the School for Politics and Global Studies, has long been involved in integrating social considerations into science research laboratories through his NSF-funded Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project, an affiliated project of CNS-ASU.

“Using the insights we’ve gained in the labs that have participated in the STIR project, we expect to be able to get VIRI off the ground and make progress very quickly,” Fisher said.

The VIRI appears to be an invite-only affair and it’s early days yet so there’s not much information on the website but the VIRI home page looks promising,

“Responsible innovation” (RI) is an emerging term in science and innovation policy fields across the globe. Its precise definition has been at the center of numerous meetings, research council decisions, and other activities in recent years. But today there is neither a clear, unified vision of what responsible innovation is, what it requires in order to be effective, nor what it can accomplish.
The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI)

The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation (VIRI) was created to accelerate the formation of a community of scholars and practitioners who, despite divides in geography and political culture, will create a common concept of responsible innovation for research, training and outreach – and in doing so contribute to the governance of emerging technologies under conditions dominated by high uncertainty, high stakes, and challenging questions of novelty.

VIRI’s mission in pursuit of this vision is to develop and disseminate a sophisticated conceptual and operational understanding of RI by facilitating collaborative research, training and outreach activities among a broad partnership of academic and non-academic institutions.

VIRI will:

  • perform interlinked empirical, reflexive and normative research in a collaborative and comparative mode to explore and develop key concepts in RI;
  • develop curricular material and support educational exchanges of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty;
  •  create a dynamic online community to represent the breadth of the institute and its multi-lateral activities;
  •  disseminate outputs from across the institute through its own and partner channels and will encourage broad sharing of its research and educational findings.

VIRI will pursue these activities with founding academic partners in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Brazil and Canada.

The site does offer links to  relevant blogs here.

I was a bit surprised to see Canada’s University of Waterloo rather than the University of Alberta (home of Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology)  as one of the partners.

Physicists go beyond semantics by taking tourist walks in complex networks to discover word meanings in context

It was a bit shocking to find out that physicists have made a breakthrough in semantics, a field of interest I associate with writers and linguistics experts, but there it was in a July 3, 2013 news item on the Springer (publisher) Select website,

Two Brazilian physicists have now devised a method to automatically elucidate the meaning of words with several senses, based solely on their patterns of connectivity with nearby words in a given sentence – and not on semantics. Thiago Silva and Diego Amancio from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, reveal, in a paper about to be published in EPJ B [European Physical Journal B]. how they modelled classics texts as complex networks in order to derive their meaning. This type of model plays a key role in several natural processing language tasks such as machine translation, information retrieval, content analysis and text processing.

Here more about the words the physicists used in their ‘tourist walk’ and the text they tested (from the news item),

In this study, the authors chose a set of ten so-called polysemous words—words with multiple meanings—such as bear, jam, just, rock or present. They then verified their patterns of connectivity with nearby words in the text of literary classics such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Specifically, they established a model that consisted of a set of nodes representing words connected by their “edges,” if they are adjacent in a text.The authors then compared the results of their disambiguation exercise with the traditional semantic-based approach. They observed significant accuracy rates in identifying the suitable meanings when using both techniques. The approach described in this study, based on a so-called deterministic tourist walk characterisation, can therefore be considered a complementary methodology for distinguishing between word senses.

Not have coming across the ‘tourist walk’ before, I went looking for a definition, which I found in a 2002 paper (Deterministic walks in random networks: an application to thesaurus graphs by O. Kinouchi, A. S. Martinez, G. F. Lima,  G. M. Lourenço, and S. Risau-Gusman),

In a landscape composed of N randomly distributed sites in Euclidean space, a walker (“tourist”) goes to the nearest one that has not been visited in the last τ steps. This procedure leads to trajectories composed of a transient part and a final cyclic attractor of period p. The tourist walk presents a simple scaling with respect to τ and can be performed in a wide range of networks that can be viewed as ordinal neighborhood graphs. As an example, we show that graphs defined by thesaurus dictionaries share some of the statistical properties of low dimensional (d= 2) Euclidean graphs and are easily distinguished from random link networks which correspond to the d→ ∞ limit. This approach furnishes complementary information to the usual clustering coefficient and mean minimum separation length.

This gives me only the vaguest sense of what they mean by tourist walk but it does give some idea of how these physicists approached a problem that is linguistic and semantic in nature.

Silva’s and Amancio’s paper in the European Physical Journal B is behind a paywall but there’s an earlier version of it freely available on arXiv.org,

Discriminating word senses with tourist walks in complex networks by Thiago C. Silva, Diego R. Amancio. (Submitted on 17 Jun 2013)  DOI:  10.1140/epjb/e2013-40025-4 Cite as:  arXiv:1306.3920 [cs.CL] or (or arXiv:1306.3920v1 [cs.CL] for this version)

I gather this work was done in English. I wonder why there’s no mention of the research being performed on texts in other languages either for this study or future studies. As you can see, the researchers concentrated on 19th century and early 20th century writers in the UK, from page 2 of the PDF available from arXiv.org,

Table 2.
List of books (and their respective authors) employed in the experiments aiming at discriminating the meaning of ambiguous words. The year of publication is speci ed after the title of the book.

Title Author
Pride and Prejudice (1813) J. Austen
American Notes (1842) C. Dickens
Coral Reefs (1842) C. Darwin
A Tale of Two Cities (1859) C. Dickens
The Moonstone (1868) W. Collins
Expression of Emotions (1872) C. Darwin
A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) T. Hardy
Jude the Obscure (1895) T. Hardy
Dracula’s Guest (1897) B. Stoker
Uncle Bernac (1897) A. C. Doyle
The Tragedy of the Korosko (1898) A. C. Doyle
The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903) A. C. Doyle
Tales of St. Austin’s (1903) P. G. Wodehouse
The Chronicles of Clovis (1911) H. H. Munro
A Changed Man (1913) T. Hardy
Beasts and Super Beasts (1914) H. H. Munro
The Wisdom of Father Brown (1914) G. K. Chesterton
My Man Jeeves (1919) P. G. Wodehouse

Brazil, Canada, and an innovation, science, and technology forum in Vancouver (Canada)

The Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) is presenting, in partnership with Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Beedie School of Business, an all-morning forum on June 17, 2013. From the SFU Vancouver Events: June 14 – 21, 2013 announcement (Note: Links have been removed),

Monday, June 17 [2013]

Brazil-Canada Business, Innovation, Science, and Technology Forum

Time: 8-11:30am

Place: Segal Graduate Business School, 500 Granville St.

Cost: $35-70, register online

Join us for a morning focused on Business Innovation and Science & Tecnology opportunities in the Brazilian economy. The opening speakers, Ambassador Sergio Florencio, Consul General and Dr. Jeremy Hall will provide an overview of the landscape in Brazil. The panel discussion includes industry leaders who have piloted extensive business in Brazil specifically in the agriculture, mining and infrastructure fields: Marcelo Sarkis, Heenan Blaikie; Ray Castelli, Weatherhaven and Rogerio Tippe, Javelin Partners. If you are interested in conducting business in Brazil and would like to understand more about the dynamics of the Brazilian economy and how businesses operate, please register now.

If the event is about business, innovation, science, and technology, it seems curious the only mentions of science and/or technology in the event description are confined to a few of the panelists’ interests in agriculture, mining, and whatever they mean by infrastructure.

Brazil is one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia,India, China, and South Africa) countries and, from what I understand, this very loose coalition is eager to take a leadership position vis à vis science, technology, and innovation supplanting the dominance of the US, Japan, and the European Union.

In the early 1990s, I wrote a paper about science and technology transfer and noted that Brazil was entering a new period of development after years of the country’s science and technology efforts (scientists) being isolated from the rest of the world in a failed  attempt to create a powerhouse international enterprise.

Some 20 years later, the decision to join the rest of the science and technology world seems to have been successful. Brazil is set to host the 2014 World Cup for soccer (or, as most of the world calls it, football) and the summer Olympics in 2016. (Sports are often correlated with science and technology advances.) I don’t believe any other country has ever attempted to host two such large international sports events within two years of each other. That’s a pretty confident attitude.

There are two areas of science and technology research in Brazil that are of particular interest to me, brain research and the work on cellulose nanocrystals (CNC), also known as, nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC).

While the focus was on Miguel Nicolelis and Duke University (US), the recent announcement of brain-to-brain communication via the Internet featured a research facility in Brazil (from my Mar. 4, 2013 posting),

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor at Duke University, has been making international headlines lately with two brain projects. The first one about implanting a brain chip that allows rats to perceive infrared light was mentioned in my Feb. 15, 2013 posting. The latest project is a brain-to-brain (rats) communication project as per a Feb. 28, 2013 news release on *EurekAlert,

Researchers have electronically linked the brains of pairs of rats for the first time, enabling them to communicate directly to solve simple behavioral puzzles. A further test of this work successfully linked the brains of two animals thousands of miles apart—one in Durham, N.C., and one in Natal, Brazil.

The results of these projects suggest the future potential for linking multiple brains to form what the research team is calling an “organic computer,” which could allow sharing of motor and sensory information among groups of animals. The study was published Feb. 28, 2013, in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces had convinced us that the rat brain was much more plastic than we had previously thought,” said Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., PhD, lead author of the publication and professor of neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine. “In those experiments, the rat brain was able to adapt easily to accept input from devices outside the body and even learn how to process invisible infrared light generated by an artificial sensor. So, the question we asked was, ‘if the brain could assimilate signals from artificial sensors, could it also assimilate information input from sensors from a different body?’”

One of Nicolelis’s other goals is to have someone with quadriplegia kick the opening ball for the Brazil-hosted 2014 World Cup (Walk Again Project). From my Mar. 16, 2012 posting,

It is the exoskeleton described on the Walk Again Project home page that Nicolelis is hoping will enable a young Brazilian quadriplegic to deliver the opening kick for the 2014 World Cup (soccer/football) in Brazil.

Moving on to the other area of interest, CNC research , which in Canada is discussed in terms of the forestry industry (I’ve blogged about this extensively, the search term NCC should fetch most if not all of my postings on the topic), is taking a different tack in Brazil where the focus is on pineapple and banana fibres. My Mar. 28, 20111 posting (Nanocellulose fibres, pineapples, bananas, and cars) focuses on cellulose and plastic,

Brazilian researchers are working on ways to use nanocellulose fibres from various plants to reinforce plastics in the automotive industry. From the March 28, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Study leader Alcides Leão, Ph.D., said the fibers used to reinforce the new plastics may come from delicate fruits like bananas and pineapples, but they are super strong. Some of these so-called nano-cellulose fibers are almost as stiff as Kevlar, the renowned super-strong material used in armor and bulletproof vests. Unlike Kevlar and other traditional plastics, which are made from petroleum or natural gas, nano-cellulose fibers are completely renewable.

My second and, to date, only other posting (June 16, 2011) about the work in Brazil features a transcript of an interview with CNC researcher, Alcides Leão.

Finally, I have a few factoids which I will tie together, loosely, and try to show how they relate to this forum. First, São Paulo, Brazil hosts the world’s second oldest and one of its most important biennial visual arts events. (BTW, the next one, Bienal de São Paulo,  is in 2014.) Second, the recent Council of Canadian Academies assessment, State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012, stated that Canada rates very highly in six areas, one of those areas being the Visual and Performing Arts. Admittedly Canada’s prominence in the visual and performing is fueled largely by efforts in Québec (as per the assessment), still, one would think there might be some value in trying to include that sector in this  forum and encourage the local visual and performing arts technology industry to make connections with the Brazilian industry.

Finally for those of you who have persisted, here’s the link to buy tickets for the June 17, 2012 forum.

ETA June 21, 2013: The protests in Brazil have attracted worldwide attention and according to a June 21,2013 posting by Dillon Rand on Salon.com there are: 5 signs Brazil’s’ not ready to host the World Cup.