Tag Archives: C. P Snow

Vancouver’s (Canada) Fringe Festival (Sept. 7 – 17, 2017) and science

A lot of writers feel the need to comment when art and science are brought together in various artistic/scientific works. Here’s Janet Smith in a Sept. 6, 2017 article about science at Vancouver’s 2017 Fringe Festival for the Georgia Straight,

Science and art are often seen as opposites [emphasis mine], but they seem to be intermingling like never before at this year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival.

Experimental cancer treatments, zoology lectures, cryogenically frozen heads: they’re just some of the topics inspiring theatrical outings.

Smith is right and wrong. She’s right if your perspective ranges from the mid-20th century to the present day. “The Two Cultures” a 1959 lecture (and later a book) by C.P. Snow discusses a divide between two cultures: science and the humanities and he includes the arts in with the humanities. However, if you dive deeper into the past, you’ll find that humanities/arts and sciences have been more closely linked. Science sprang from ‘Natural Philosophy’ and faculties of arts and sciences are still found in universities.

Returning to the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival, I found some 17 shows that are science-inflected or using the mention of science as a marketing tool. Here they are:

Distractingly Sexy: Join real life scientist (and writer) Molly Mumford for an interactive, ultra-funny quite wild, pretty-durn-sexy history of how women in science have been f*S%ed over for centuries.

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:35 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 2:45 pm

Shadowlands: Cells in a petrii dish. A scientist. A ghost. A laboratory mouse. We are on a journey to see what can’t be seen. We are on a quest to find truth in the dark. …

No more showtimes

Interstellar Elder: Meet Kitt, age 96, fierce lone astronaut protecting the last of humankind. Images Ridley Scott’s ‘Aliens’ meets ‘Golden Girls’.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 5:00 pm
Friday September 16, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday Sept. 16, 2017 12:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 5:15 pm

Let Me Freeze Your Head: Why leave the futture to your children when you can have it for yourself? Attend our short sales presentation to learn how you preserve your brain to live again! This one-person show takes you on a deeply personal journey into the world of human cryonic preservation.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 p.m

The Immaculate Big Bang: Sparked by the death of his father birth of his daughter; comedian Bill Santiago goes in search of answers and laughs at the border of science religion exploring the comic nature of the cosmic quest for understanding existence, life, and death (not necessarily in the order).

Tuesday September 12, 2017 9:30 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 10:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:30 pm

Field Zoology, 101: From the untamed wilds of the Vancouver Landfill in the loading bay behind the Burger Kin, Field Zoologist Brad GooseBerry has seen it all. In this introductory course, he shares a lifetime of “knowledge” and “experience” teaching you to thrive and survive in the harrowing world of field zoology.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 9:20 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 5:10 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 3:50 pm

Scientist Turned Comedian: “Lee, who got his PhD before realizing where his true talents lay, blends science talk (complete with PowerPoint presentations) with comedy. The hilarious result is like what would happen if you crossed your high-school chem teacher with George Carlin.”

Thursday September 14, 2017 6:40 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 5:25 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:45 pm

Acceleration: It’s 2012. The world’s top physicists are searching for the elusive Higgs boson particle and it’s been a year since Elise’s sister disappeared. Desperate to forget, Elise wraps herself up in the search for the Higgs. But what we’re looking for isn’t always what we find. A moving exploration of how we cope with a world that doesn’t make sense.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 10:15 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 8:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 2:15 pm

Two series (five shows in total) about climate change: Generation Hot Waterborne

O Sandada 150M: 150 million years later … the world stops—and out of the basic elements sand and water, comes … life. Under the sun, Sandadians build beautiful castles, sing the National Sandthem, and glorify the Sandadian flag. Meanwhile under the stars, Wateries plan their attack. On the natural/industrial stage of the grassy knoll on Granville Island, two culture try to make peace. Fantastical Apocalyptic Puppets.

Twenty Feet Away: A site-specific theatrical adventure based on the bank of Vancouver’s False Creek. Two entrepreneurs daringly attempt to bottle themselves a new life while facing difficult ethical questions.

Brothers: Bonds are tested, sides taken, and loyalty is questioned. Two brothers come to terms with progress and preservation while on a fishing trip.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:00 pm

WYSPA: A group of youth stranded on an urchin-infested island guide the audience through a magic-infused ceremony and explore their world views that have turned them into survivors. Part documentary verbatim script drive by your aged 5-16.

Citlali: A fantastic tale about water by a Mexican poet: A mythological tale about the origins of Mexico and the journey of a demigoddess on a search for water.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 8:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 8:00 pm

Go, no go: .. the story of 13 barrier-breaking pilots who in 1961 petitioned NASA {US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] to be become the first femal astronatus. And it’s about why you don’t know their names. Welcome to the space race.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 1:30 pm

Kurt Vonnegut’s the Euphio Question: A new adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1951 short story. A young physicist discovers radio waves from outer space that mage anyone withing earshot completely and utterly euphoric. The Euphio Question asks audiences what the true cost of happiness is when it comes at the mere flick of a switch.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 7:30 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 6:30 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 3:45 pm

Gutenberg: The Musical: In this whirlwind 90-minute musical comedy, Chris Adams and Erik Gow play over 30 characters in two-man spoof . A pair of aspiring playwrights perform a backers’ audition for this new project—a big, splashy musical about printing press inventor Johann [Johannes] Gutenberg. Too bad their musical is terrible.

Tuesday September 12, 2017 6:00 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 10:45 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 6:00 pm
Saturday September 16, 2017 7:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 2:00 pm

Brain machine: Award-wining monologist Andrew Bailey (The Adversary, Phantom Signal) proudly premieres: “Brain Machine.” Generations of scientists create the web to bring “harmony and understanding” to humanity. Chaos ensues. Bailey attempts to escape technology by moving to a cabin in the woods. While there he accidentally creates a viral video Chaos ensues.

Wednesday September 13, 2017 6:15 pm
Thursday September 14, 2017 8:00 pm
Friday September 15, 2017 9:45 pm
Sunday September 17, 2017 6:15 pm

Admittedly the science or technology element is quite tangential is some of these shows but I think it’s interesting that there’s any mention of science in 17 (16%) of 104 shows at this year’s Fringe. If memory serves, there have been man years where no mention of any kind has been made of science or technology, let alone 1q6% of the programme.

Women in science is a thread linking a number of the shows in this year’s Fringe Festival as Janet Smith notes in her Sept. 6, 2017 article (Women get their science on at the Vancouver Fringe Festival) for the Georgia Straight.

One final comment, I’ve done my best but I was copying the information out of the programme and have likely made errors, as well, schedules can change so do check the festival website or at the Fringe Festival’s updated schedule boards on Granville Island.

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

After receiving an ‘invitation’ from the Canadian Science Policy Centre, I wrote an opinion piece, drawing on my submission for the public consultation on Canada’s fundamental science research. It seems the invitation was more of a ‘call’ for submissions and my piece did not end up being selected for inclusion on the website. So rather than waste the piece, here it is,

Creative destruction for Canada’s fundamental science

At a time when we are dealing with the consequences of our sins and virtues, fundamental science, at heart, an exercise in imagination, can seem a waste of precious time. Pollution and climate change (sins: ill-considered uses of technology) and food security and water requirements (virtues: efforts to improve health and save more lives) would seem to demand solutions not the flights of fancy associated with basic science. After all, what does the ‘big bang’ have to do with potable water?

It’s not an unfair question despite the impatience some might feel when answering it by citing a number of practical applications which are the result of all that ‘fanciful’ or ‘blue sky’ science. The beauty and importance of the question is that it will always be asked and can never be definitively answered, rendering it a near constant goad or insurance against complacency.

In many ways Canada’s review of fundamental science (deadline for comments was Sept. 30, 2016) is not just an examination of the current funding schemes but an opportunity to introduce more ‘goads’ or ‘anti-complacency’ measures into Canada’s fundamental science efforts for a kind of ‘creative destruction’.

Introduced by economist Joseph Schumpeter, the concept is derived from Karl Marx’s work but these days is associated with disruptive, painful, and regenerative innovation of all kinds and Canadian fundamental science needs more ‘creative destruction’. There’s at least one movement in this direction (found both in Canada and internationally) which takes us beyond uncomfortable, confrontative questions and occasional funding reviews—the integration of arts and humanities as an attempt at ‘creative destruction’ of the science endeavour.

At one point in the early 2000s, Canada developed a programme where the National Research Council could get joint funding with the Canada Council for the Arts for artists to work with their scientists. It was abandoned a few years later, as a failure. But, since then, several informal attempts at combining arts, sciences, and humanities have sprung up.

For example, Curiosity Collider (founded in 2015) hosts artists and scientists presenting their art/science pieces at various events in Vancouver. Beakerhead has mashed up science, engineering, arts, and entertainment in a festival founded and held in Calgary since 2013. Toronto’s ArtSci Salon hosts events and installations for local, national, and international collaborations of artists and scientists. And, getting back to Vancouver, Anecdotal Evidence is a science storytelling series which has been appearing sporadically since 2015.

There is a tendency to dismiss these types of collaboration as a form of science outreach designed to amuse or entertain but they can be much more than that. Illustrators have taught botanists a thing or two about plants. Markus Buehler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has used his understanding of music to explore material science (spider’s webs). Domenico Vicinanza has sonified data from space vehicle, Voyager 1, to produce a symphony, which is also a highly compressed means of communicating data.

C. P. Snow’s ‘The Two Cultures’ (lecture and book) covered much of the same territory in 1959 noting the idea that the arts and sciences (and humanities) can and should be linked in some fashion was not new. For centuries the sciences were referred to as Natural Philosophy (humanities), albeit only chemistry and physics were considered sciences, and many universities have or had faculties of arts and sciences or colleges of arts and science (e.g., the University of Saskatchewan still has such a college).

The current art/sci or sci-art movement can be seen as more than an attempt to resuscitate a ‘golden’ period from the past. It could be a means of embedding a continuous state of regeneration or ‘creative destruction’ for fundamental science in Canada.

Science Culture: Where Canada Stands; an expert assessment, Part 3 of 3: where were …?

I did have some major issues with this report. I’ve already touched on the makeup of the Expert Panel in my Feb. 22, 2013 post (Expert panel to assess the state of Canada’s science culture—not exactly whelming). There could have been more women on the panel (also noted in part 2 of this commentary) and they could have included a few culture makers (writers, visual artists, performing artists). Also mentioned in part 2 of this commentary, it would have been nice to have seen a few people from the aboriginal communities and a greater age range represented on the panel or on advisory committees.

In a discussion about science culture, I am somewhat shocked that the Situating Science; Science in Human Contexts research cluster was never mentioned. From the programme’s About Us page,

Created in 2007 with the generous funding of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Strategic Knowledge Cluster grant, Situating Science is a seven-year project promoting communication and collaboration among humanists and social scientists that are engaged in the study of science and technology.

A Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) seven-year programme devoted to Canada’s science culture and it wasn’t mentioned??? An oversight or a symptom of a huge disconnection within Canada’s science culture? I vote for disconnection but please do let me know what you think in the comments section.

As for the assessment’s packaging (cover, foreword, and final words), yikes! The theme colour (each CAC assessment has a theme colour; their policing assessment is blue) for Canada’s science culture is red, perhaps evoking the Canadian maple leaf on the flag. The picture on the cover depicts a very sweet, blond(e), white child with glasses too big for his/her face rimmed in thick black. Glasses are a long established symbol for nerds/intellectual people. So, it would seem Canada’s science culture is blond, nerdy, and, given the child’s clothing, likely male, though in this day and age not definitively so. Or perhaps the child’s hair is meant to signify the maple leaf on the flag with a reversed field (the cover) being red and the leaf being white.

The problem here is not a single image of a blond(e) child, the problem is the frequency with which blond(e) children are used to signify Canadians. Thankfully, advertising images are becoming more diverse but there’s still a long way to go.

There are also issues with the beginning and the end of the report. Two scientists bookend the report: both male, both physicists, one from the UK and the other from the US.

C. P. Snow and his 1959 lecture ‘Two Cultures’ about science and society is mentioned by the Expert Panel’s Chair, Arthur Carty (himself from the UK). In his foreword/message, Carty speculates about how C. P. Snow would respond to today’s science culture environment in a fashion that brings to mind William Lyon MacKenzie King, Canada’s Prime Minister from December 1921 – June 1926;  September 1926 – August 1930; and October 1935 – November 1948, Mackenzie King regularly communed with the dead. From the Wikipedia entry on William Lyon Mackenzie King (Note: Links have been removed),

Privately, he was highly eccentric, with his preference for communing with spirits, using seances and table-rapping, including those of Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, his dead mother, his grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie, and several of his Irish Terrier dogs, all named Pat except for one named Bob. He also claimed to commune with the spirit of the late President Roosevelt. He sought personal reassurance from the spirit world, rather than seeking political advice. Indeed, after his death, one of his mediums said that she had not realized that he was a politician. King asked whether his party would win the 1935 election, one of the few times politics came up during his seances. His occult interests were kept secret during his years in office, and only became publicized later. Historians have seen in his occult activities a penchant for forging unities from antitheses, thus having latent political import. In 1953, Time stated that he owned—and used—both an Ouija board and a crystal ball.

However, historian Charles Perry Stacey, author of the 1976 book A Very Double Life, which examined King’s secret life in detail, with work based on intensive examination of the King diaries, concluded, despite long-running interests in the occult and spiritualism, that King did not allow his beliefs to influence his decisions on political matters. Stacey wrote that King entirely gave up his interests in the occult and spiritualism during World War II.[80]

At the end of the report, Carty quotes Brian Greene, a US physicist,  p. 218 (PDF) thereby neatly framing Canada between the UK and the US,

However, as stated by physicist Brian Greene (2008), one of the simplest reasons for developing a stronger science culture is that doing so helps foster a fuller, richer experience of science itself:

Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive, and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma, but because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences.

Couldn’t we have found one Canadian thinker or perhaps a thinker from somewhere else on the globe? Assuming there’s a next time, I hope the approach evolves to something more reflective of Canadian society.

In the meantime there is more, much more in the assessment  including a discussion of science-based policy and including the arts to turn STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to STEAM and I encourage you take a look at either the full version, the executive summary, or the abridged version, all of which can be found here.

The science of offering science advice—a confusing plethora

There’s a big fuss being made about the upcoming changeover from one chief science *advisor (John Beddington) to another (Mark Walport) to the UK government with ‘advice’ and commentary being offered in the Guardian newspaper and in the journal Nature and likely elsewhere.

Roger Pielke Jr. , professor of environmental studies in the Centre for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado (US) and author of The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, has written a ‘letter’ to Walport in his Apr. 15, 2013 posting on the Guardian science blogs (Note: Links have been removed),

Congratulations Dr Walport on your appointment as the UK government’s chief scientific *adviser. You join a select group. Since the position of chief science adviser was established in the US in 1957 and in the UK in 1964, fewer than 30 men (yes, all men) have occupied the position. [emphasis mine] Today across Europe, only Ireland, the Czech Republic and the European Commission have formal equivalents, which also exist in Australia, New Zealand, and soon perhaps in Japan and at the United Nations. [Scotland has a chief science *adviser; Korea has a special *Advisor for Science and Technology to the President of South Korea and that advisor, as of Oct. 2011, was professor Hyun-Ku Rhee]

In the United States, the science adviser is an assistant to the president with the formal title of Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. All US science advisers (except notably the first, James Killian, who had a background in public administration) have been trained in some area of physics, reflecting the cold war origins of the position. [emphases mine]

Pielke goes on to describe the science adviser mythology in the US. Apparently extraordinary access to the US president and the notion that scientific advice will be given more weight than other types of advice form the cornerstones of the mythology. The reality is somewhat different as Pielke notes,

Despite such expectations, the science adviser is an adviser just like any other in government, with a limited portfolio of responsibilities and expectations for accountability. Science advisers are not superheroes with special access and supra-political authority. Making effective use of the position within government requires the scientific community to realistically calibrate their expectations for the role.

He does outline some specific roles (the fourth was bit of a surprise to me)

Budget champion. The science adviser is a coordinator, and at times, a champion for research funding across the federal government.

Issue expert. The science adviser has a unique ability to assemble expertise to address specialised or cross-cutting policy issues.

Options Czar. The science adviser may also serve as what I have called an “honest broker of policy options”, helping the president or prime minister to understand the scope of available choice on a particular topic.

Institution builder. A fourth role is to oversee the institutionalisation of scientific advice across government. The provision of useful advice requires a commitment from policymakers to the use of evidence, but also to the creation and maintenance of strong institutions. The science adviser has a crucial role to ensure institutional integrity by providing advice on advice. [emphasis mine]

Taking into account that fourth option and this final paragraph, I have a question,

The UK has more than its fair share of this expertise, which I encourage you to take full advantage of during your tenure. These experts can provide you with much useful advice on advice. [emphasis mine] Just as there are calls for policymaking across government to be more evidence-based, so too should science and technology policy.

Has Pielke been reading Frank Herbert’s Dune? This business about “advice on advice” reminds me of a writing device Herbert used “the feint within the feint within the feint.”  Herbert, of course, was suggesting that there was layer upon layer of meaning and strategy within all exchanges. It seems to me Pielke is either suggesting that there are already layer upon layer of meaning and strategy within the business of being a science *advisor or, perhaps, he’d like to add those layers.

I gather the Walport appointment was announced well in advance as Colin Macilwain wrote an Aug. 28, 2012 essay, with a radically different perspective about the appointment and the situation regarding chief science advisers in the UK, for Nature,

The position of scientific adviser wasn’t set up to secure science budgets or communicate government policies to the public. Instead, advisers were meant to address competitiveness by bridging the great divide between what UK physicist C. P. Snow called the “two cultures”: scientists and engineers on the one hand, and the non-technical elites who govern London and Washington DC, on the other.  [emphasis mine]

It was the launch of Sputnik that led US President Dwight Eisenhower to appoint James Killian as his country’s first scientific adviser, in 1957. Seven years later, Harold Wilson was elected UK prime minister after pledging that a new Britain would be “forged in the white heat” of scientific and technological revolution. He appointed his first scientific adviser, Solly Zuckerman, in the same year.

Neither Eisenhower nor Wilson hired a scientific adviser so that their countries’ researchers could win more Nobel prizes or publish more papers. What they meant by ‘science’ was military and industrial competitiveness achieved by harnessing science and technology. …

Unfortunately, in both countries, the scientific adviser’s role has evolved in ways that marginalize its impact on competitiveness. …

I have read C. P. Snow’s essay where two cultures are mentioned and while he notes many versions of  ‘two cultures’ notably the ‘developed and developing’ worlds and ‘science and the arts’, I don’t recall anything about government and scientists. Still, Macilwain’s essay provides a contrast to Pielke’s take on science *advisor positions.

One last thing about science *advisers, the City of Southampton appointed their own in Aug. 2012, as per David Bruggeman’s Aug. 9, 2012 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The U.K. local council for Southampton has announced the appointment of a chief scientific adviser.  Professor AbuBakr Bahaj is the first person to hold the post, and is Professor of Sustainable Energy at Southampton University.  Southampton is a major port city on the southern coast, and part of a major urban area of over a million people.

The City Council, in announcing the appointment, describes the position of science adviser as a “role to champion science and engineering as a key driver of the economy and ensure the city uses science effectively in all policy-making.”  [emphasis mine] Perhaps based on Professor Bahaj’s background, his first projects will involve energy efficiency in city buildings and services.  To emphasize the partnership with Southampton University, the City Council leader will sit on two university panels concerned with research.

Note that the City if Southampton hies to the original impulse behind the ‘chief scientific adviser’ position. I did check the city website (Southampton City Council) today (Apr. 15, 2013) and was not able to find any further information about the position. They do not have seem to have created a webpage devoted to their Chief Science Adviser nor is there mention of the position on Professor AbuBakr Bahaj’s University of Southampton webpage.

Professor Bahaj did write about his hopes for the position in an Aug. 9, 2012 posting (on the one of the Guardian blogs) about being appointed as Chief Science Adviser for the city of Southampton (Note: A link has been removed),

The role of a city CSA [Chief Science Adviser] is not only to provide advice in addressing the above challenges, but also to establish city- and region-wide networks that will create new mechanisms to support local authorities and its communities.

Today about 51% of the world’s population live in cities, which occupy about 2% of land mass yet consume approximately 80% of the global resources. The world population is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 from its current estimate of 7 billion. Such an increase will undoubtedly affect the urban areas of the world, requiring new thinking in how cities could adapt to such population growth.

As for *advisor/*adviser, I tend to write advisor but both spellings are perfectly fine as per Wicktionary [advisor],

In general, adviser and advisor are interchangeable. However, adviser is used more generally to mean someone who is giving advice (what they are doing), whereas advisor is more commonly used when it means the primary role (what they are), such as job title, etc.

In the UK, Ireland and Asia the spelling is traditionally adviser, though US spelling advisor is becoming increasingly common …

For some reason, I just couldn’t make up my mind as to which spelling to use today.

Inspiring kids, again? High schoolers at Argonne National Laboratory

C. P. Snow’s 1959 lecture and book, Two Cultures, spends a fair chunk of time on the issue of encouraging the next generation to study science and engineering. As Snow perceived the problem, the UK was falling behind both the US and Russia in the science race. I haven’t investigated what the perceptions were in the US and Russia at the time but I have noticed that descriptions of the race to get someone on the moon feature a great deal of anxiety in the US about Russian supremacy in science. Given human nature, I imagine the Russians were worried too. Plus ça change, n’est ce pas?

Today, everyone is worried that someone else is going to get there (wherever that might be) first and there is enormous pressure internationally to inspire the next generation to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

I see that the Argonne National Laboratory in the US has opened up its doors to high schoolers for a special programme. From the June 6, 2012 news item by Tona Kunz on Nanowerk,

In commencement speeches across the country, graduates have , been warned to expect rocky times breaking into the workforce. Unemployment hovers between 8 and 9 percent. Competition is tough.

Unless you studied science or engineering. Those jobs have a 2 percent unemployment rate, which has led some Fortune 500 companies to complain about offices they can’t fill.

So it’s no surprise that when the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory decided to give high school students a chance to test-drive a science career, it found students, parents and school officials from Naperville, Ill. eager to hop on board.

Kunz’s June 6, 2012 news release on the Argonne National Laboratory website mentions (Note: I have removed links from the excerpt),

…  Teachers received training in the workings of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), the brightest high-energy X-ray machine in the Western Hemisphere, and the Electron Miscroscopy Center (EMC). Students from Naperville’s two high schools then competed for slots on four research teams that used X-ray beams to decipher what matter is made of, how it’s built and how it reacts.

More than 5,000 researchers from throughout the world use the APS and EMC annually to target society’s greatest challenges: how to make better pharmaceuticals, sustainable fuels and high-performance materials. These challenges will feed scientific jobs for decades to come.

“I think there is a huge push in our district from the community for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education,” said Tricia Noblett, a teacher and science club advisor at Neuqua Valley High School. “I think they are seizing on what has been out there in the media that STEM fields are where the jobs are and that science careers can be interesting.”

Students drew on experiences in their lives to choose research topics and explained their results to scientists at the annual meeting held in May at Argonne for users of the APS, EMC and Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM).

Inspired by the recent cleanup of a contaminated portion of the west branch of the DuPage River near their school, one group of students studied how to increase the efficiency of water filtration systems.

Another group worked with the Naperville wastewater facility to evaluate how corrosion affects the lifespan of water pipes.

And another group looked at how to improve the efficiency of graphene, a nanomaterial that may hold the key to building faster semiconductors for smart phones and the next-generation of research tools.

It’s exciting stuff and I’m always glad to have a chance to pass on information about these kinds of programmes. As for the history, I find it interesting to note the similarities with and the differences from the past.

Celebrating 350 years of the Royal Society’s Library

The One Culture Festival, which took place this last weekend (Oct. 2-3, 2011), celebrates the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society’s Library (my Dec. 2, 2010 posting noted the Royal Society kicked off its 350th anniversary with a report). One assumes that the Royal Society was founded some months before the library was created. From the introduction to the festival by Professor Uta Frith,

This year we are celebrating the anniversary of the foundation of the library and collections of the Royal Society. It all started small, with a single book, and a tiny one at that. Diplomat, natural philosopher and founder member of the Royal Society, Kenelm Digby donated this gift and thereby inspired others to do likewise. In this way he initiated what has now grown into a national treasure. What could be more fitting for a celebration than a festival for literature, arts and science! Its apt name ‘One Culture’ confronts the famous C.P. Snow lecture “Two Cultures” (1959), which pointed out that modern society suffered from a lack of communication between sciences and humanities, and reminds us that the separation of science from other cultural achievements is both artificial and unnecessary.

Here’s a description of some of the festival events from Anna Perman’s Oct. 3, 2011 post for the Guardian Science blogs (Notes and Theories; Dispatches from the Science Desk),

This weekend at the Royal Society, the One Culture festival explored the sweeping narratives and the smaller dramas of science and literature, of individual scientists and their great ideas. Science’s most elite club opened its doors to writers like Sebastian Faulks, Michael Frayn, John Banville; dancers from the Rambert Dance Company; Take the Space theatre company; and scientists who manage to combine artistic pursuits with a research career.

In his conversation with Uta Frith on Sunday, Sebastian Faulks described how he starts with a big idea, then narrows his focus to a story that can illustrate it, and the characters who can make that possible: much like a scientist, who starts with a question about how the world works and narrows the focus of their microscope to the tiny part of it that can answer that question. Through focusing on single molecules of human existence, Faulks reveals the wider truths about humanity.

For the Rambert Dance Company, and their scientist in residence Nicky Clayton, the big ideas of science have informed some of their most challenging dances. For them, the boundaries of “science” and “art” are artificial – what links them is far more basic. As Mark Baldwin, director of Rambert, put it:

“The commonalities at the base of it all are enormous. We’re talking about ideas.”

The ideas they both get excited about are big, abstract ones. Clayton, as scientist in residence at Rambert, talks to the dancers about scientific ideas. She has to think carefully about what can be put into movement. For her, these movements are not just a way of communicating, or illustrating these ideas. They are about inspiration. And this inspiration has found its way back into her science, as shown by this video from Cambridge University (note the opening Stephen Fry voiceover!) [I will be placing the video a little further down.]

Both in this article and in Frith’s introduction there’s a description of C. P. Snow’s 1959 book (originally a lecture), Two Cultures as being about the two cultures of art and science. I read it a few years ago and found that Snow also opined at length about the developed and developing worlds, science education, and worries over Britain’s science primacy being threatened. I probably wouldn’t have noticed the other themes since the art/science theme is the first idea he mentions and he offers personal anecdotes about his experiences, which makes it more memorable, if I hadn’t come across a commentary pointing out these other themes in the book. (I did post about Two Cultures, May 8, 2009 on its 50th anniversary. [scroll down about 1/3 of the way])

Here’s the video featuring Nicky Clayton, scientist-in-residence with the Rambert Dance Company. Prepare yourself for birds and Argentine tango.

Nano augments reality; PEN’s consumer nano products inventory goes mobile and interactive; Two Cultures; Michael Geller’s ‘Look at Vancouver’ event

There was a nanotechnology mention hidden in a recent article (Augmented Reality is Both a Fad and the Future — Here’s Why by Farhad Manjoo in Fast Company) about a new iPhone application by Yelp, Monocle. From the article,

Babak Parviz, a bio-nanotechnologist at the University of Washington, has been working on augmented-reality contact lenses that would layer computer graphics on everything around us — in other words, we’d have Terminator eyes. “We have a vast amount of data on the Web, but today we see it on a flat screen,” says Michael Zöllner, an augmented-reality researcher at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research. “It’s only a small step to see all of it superimposed on our lives.” Much of this sounds like a comic-book version of technology, and indeed, all of this buzz led the research firm Gartner to put AR on its “hype cycle” for emerging technologies — well on its way to the “peak of inflated expectations.”

Manjoo goes on to note that augmented reality is not new although he’s not able to go back to the 1890s as I did in yesterday’s (Nov. 11, 2009) posting about using clouds to display data.

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has produced an exciting new iPhone application, findNano which allows users to access PEN’s consumer products inventory via their mobile phones. From the news item on Azonano,

findNano allows users to browse an inventory of more than 1,000 nanotechnology-enabled consumer products, from sporting goods to food products and electronics to toys, using the iPhone and iPod Touch. Using the built-in camera, iPhone users can even submit new nanotech products to be included in future inventory updates.

That bit about users submitting information for their database reminds me of a news item about scientists in the UK setting up a database that can be accessed by mobile phones allowing ordinary citizens to participate in gathering science information (I posted about it here). I wonder how PEN will track participation and if they will produce a report on the results (good and/or bad).

One thing I did notice is that PEN’s consumer products inventory has over 1000 items while the new European inventory I mentioned in my Nov. 10, 2009 posting has 151 items.

I finally finished reading The Two Cultures: and A Second Look (a publication of the text for the original talk along with an updated view) by C. P. Snow. This year is the 50th anniversary. My interest in Snow’s talk was reanimated  by Andrew Maynard’s postings about the anniversary and the talk in his 2020 Science blog. He has three commentaries starting here with a poll, and his May 5, 2009 and May 6, 2009 postings on the topic.

I had heard of The Two Cultures but understood it to be about the culture gap between the sciences and the arts/humanities. This is a profound misunderstanding of Snow’s talk/publication which was more concerned with raising the standard of living and health globally. Snow’s second look was a failed attempt to redress the misunderstanding.

From a writer’s perspective, his problem started with the title which sets the frame for his whole talk. He then opened with a discussion of literary intellectuals and scientists (bringing us back to the number two), their differences and the culture gap that ensues. Finally, over 1/2 of his talk was over by the time he started the serious discussion about extending the benefits of what he termed ‘the scientific revolution’ globally.

It’s an interesting read and some of it (the discussion about education) is still quite timely.

Michael Geller,  local architect, planner, real estate consultant, and developer in Vancouver (Canada), has organized an event to review the happenings in the city since the last election in 2008. From the news release (on Frances Bula’s blog),

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 14, 20009 marks the one year anniversary of the last election day in Vancouver; a day that resulted in a significant change in the political landscape and leadership of our city.  The purpose of this event is to mark this anniversary with a review of the highlights of the past year in Vancouver municipal politics, particularly in terms of the accomplishments of Council and staff in the areas of housing, planning and development; fiscal management and economic development; and leadership.

The event will be held at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (lower level) at 515 West Hastings from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm. Admission by donation. Geller has arranged a pretty interesting lineup for his three panel discussions although one of the commenters on Bula’s blog is highly unimpressed with both the speakers and anyone who might foolishly attend.

Copyright and The Economist, Two Cultures, and some spoken word iconoclasm

Thanks to the folks at Techdirt I found out that The Economist is having an interactive debate about copyright. They propose this, This house believes that existing copyright laws do more harm than good. They’ve invited two law professors to present competing pro and con views and readers can offer their own comments. It’s a lively debate and you can go check it out here.

I have mixed feelings on the topic although I lean towards agreement with this particular proposition. As someone who produces content, I don’t want to see anyone cheated of credit and/or monetary reward for their (my) work. Unfortunately copyright laws are being used to stifle the lively exchange of ideas and materials. For example, I just read a very bizarre interpretation of copyright in my local daily paper (The Vancouver Sun, Saturday, May 2, 2009) by Harvey Enchin. Apparently adding links to The Vancouver Sun website is infringing on their copyright. I’d rather not quote from him, even with attribution, as I’m sure he’d consider that an infringement. Can anyone out there explain how providing a link to a website e.g. The Economist infringes on their copyright? I haven’t appropriated their content (I have noted the text of the motion that propels the debate [in the interest of full disclosure, sometimes I quote from an article but never reproduce the article  in its entirety]). Plus, I am driving traffic to their website which, theoretically, should enable them to raise their advertising rates. Where’s the problem?

As far as I’m concerned, the whole area of intellectual property law (copyright, trademarks, and patents) is being appropriated by bullies who use existing legislation to intimidate the very people they claim to be protecting.

There’s a good discussion taking place on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science blog about C. P. Snow’s Two Cultures (humanities/arts and sciences). It’s a 1959 lecture that was eventually published and has proved to be quite influential. (Hmmm…Richard Feynman’s lecture, There’s plenty of the room at the bottom, was given in 1959…interesting year.) There’s also an editorial in Nature about Two Cultures. Both Maynard and the Nature editor claim that the ‘wall’ between the sciences and the humanities/arts is less formidable than it was 50 years *ago. I find it interesting that Maynard, a scientist, and the Nature editor (presumably someone versed in the sciences) are making the claim. Are there any writers or artists would agree? Here’s Maynard’s blog and Nature’s editorial. (The editorial is the one article which is not behind a paywall.)

Spoken word artist, musician, and poet, Heather Haley will be performing on Monday, May 11, 2009 at The Beaumont Studios, 315 West 5th Avenue, Vancouver, BC. Admission is $7 and the doors open at 7:15. From the news release,

AURAL Heather @ Vancouver City Limits.

Musical Showcase at Beaumont Studios
w/Christina Maria and Petunia with the Viper Band

AURAL Heather is the new weather! A unique, sublime fusion of song and spoken word by poet-iconoclast-vocalist Heather Haley and dazzling guitarist-producer, Roderick Shoolbraid.

You can check out some of Heather’s work here and you can check out the Beaumont Studios here.

*’ago’ added Sept. 12, 2017.