Tag Archives: Calgary

Tim Blais and A Capella Science

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for information about another Canadian ‘science musician’. Tim Blais has been producing science music videos for almost two years now. His first video, posted on YouTube, in August 2012 featured an Adele tune ‘Rolling in the deep’ sung to lyrics featuring the Higgs Boson (‘Rolling in the Higgs’),

He shares the text of the lyrics (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtItBX1l1VY&list=UUTev4RNBiu6lqtx8z1e87fQ),

There’s a collider under Geneva
Reaching new energies that we’ve never achieved before
Finally we can see with this machine
A brand new data peak at 125 GeV
See how gluons and vector bosons fuse
Muons and gamma rays emerge from something new
There’s a collider under Geneva
Making one particle that we’ve never seen before

The complex scalar
Elusive boson
Escaped detection by the LEP and Tevatron
The complex scalar
What is its purpose?
It’s got me thinking

Chorus:
We could have had a model (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
Without a scalar field (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)
But symmetry requires no mass (Particle breakthrough, at the LHC)
So we break it, with the Higgs (5-sigma result, could it be the Higgs)

Baby I have a theory to be told
The standard model used to discover our quantum world
SU(3), U(1), SU(2)’s our gauge
Make a transform and the equations shouldn’t change

The particles then must all be massless
Cause mass terms vary under gauge transformation
The one solution is spontaneous
Symmetry breaking

Roll your vacuum to minimum potential
Break your SU(2) down to massless modes
Into mass terms of gauge bosons they go
Fermions sink in like skiers into snow

Lyrics and arrangement by Tim Blais and A Capella Science
Original music by Adele

In a Sept. 17, 2012 article by Ethan Yang for The McGill Daily (University of McGill, Montréal, Québec) Blais describes his background and inspiration,

How does a master’s physics student create a Higgs boson-based parody of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” that goes viral and gets featured in popular science magazines and blogs? We sat down with Tim Blais to learn more about the personal experiences leading to his musical and scientific project, “A Capella Science”.

McGill Daily: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from, your childhood, and other experiences that in hindsight you think might have led you to where you are now?
Tim Blais: I grew up in a family of five in the little town of Hudson, Quebec, twenty minutes west of the island of Montreal. My childhood was pretty full of music; I started experimenting with the piano, figuring out songs my older siblings were playing, when I was about four, and soon got actual piano lessons. My mom also ran, and continues to run, our local church choir, so from the time I was three I was singing in front of people as well. Also at about three or four a kid in my preschool introduced me to Bill Nye the Science Guy, which became the only TV I watched for about six years. After kindergarten I didn’t go to school until Grade 10, but was homeschooled by my parents. We had a very multifaceted way of learning [...] that I think allowed me to see the big picture of things without getting bogged down in the horrible little details that are often the stumbling block when you start learning something. That gave me a fascination with science that’s essentially carried me through a science DEC and one-and-a-half university degrees. But my parents have always been super cool about not pressuring us kids to be anything in particular, and now to show for it they’ve got an emerging rock star – my brother, Tom; a dedicated speech pathologist – my sister, Mary-Jane; and me, researcher in incomprehensible physics and recently popular internet fool. I think they did alright.

Since 2012, Blais has graduated with a masters in physics and is now devoted to a life as a musician (from a 2013 [?] posting on redefineschool.com),

Blais has just finished up his master’s degree program at McGill, and he says he’s putting academia aside for a while. “I’ve been in school all my life so I’m switching gears and being a musician this year!” he tweeted. And that career choice is just fine by McGill theoretical physicist Alex Maloney, Blais’ faculty adviser.

To bring us up-to-date with Blais, David has featured the latest A Capella Science music video titled: ‘Eminemium (Choose Yourself)’ in his July 16, 2014 ‘musical science’ posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog.

One last tidbit, Blais will be appearing at Calgary’s (Alberta) Beakerhead ‘festival’ (Sept. 10 – 14, 2014). Specifically, he will be at (from the TELUS Sept. 11, 2014 event page):

TELUS Spark Adults Only Night
September 11 [2014] @ 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
[TELUS Spark Adults Only Night]

Mark your calendar for this special Beakerhead-themed adult night at TELUS Spark Science Centre. Meet the Festo Automation folks from Germany and see their mind-boggling biomechanical creatures up close. Are you also a fan of the internet sensation A Capella Science Bohemian Gravity? Meet the maker, Tim Blais, here in Calgary for Beakerhead.

This event is included with Admission and Membership. TOP TIP: Skip the queue with advance tickets. [go to TELUS event page to buy tickets]

You can find out more about A Capella Science on its Facebook page or via its Twitter feed. For more about Beakerhead events, go here.

Carbon Management Canada announces research for an affordable CO2 nanosensor

Researchers at the University of Toronto (Ontario) and St. Francis Xavier University (Nova Scotia) have received funding from Carbon Management Canada (a Network Centre for Excellence [NCE]) to develop an ultra-sensitive and affordable CO2 nanosensor. From the Feb. 4, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at the Universities of Toronto and St. Francis Xavier are developing an affordable, energy efficient and ultra-sensitive nano-sensor that has the potential to detect even one molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Current sensors used to detect CO2 at surface sites are either very expensive or they use a lot of energy. And they’re not as accurate as they could be. Improving the accuracy of measuring and monitoring stored CO2 is seen as key to winning public acceptance of carbon capture and storage as a greenhouse gas mitigation method.

With funding from Carbon Management Canada (CMC), Dr. Harry Ruda of the Centre for Nanotechnology at the University of Toronto and Dr. David Risk of St. Francis Xavier are working on single nanowire transistors that should have unprecedented sensitivity for detecting CO2 emissions.

The Carbon Management Canada (CMC) Feb. 4, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, provides  details about the funding and reasons for the research,

CMC, a national network that supports game-changing research to reduce CO2 emissions in the fossil energy industry as well as from other large stationary emitters, is providing Ruda and his team $350,000 over three years. [emphasis mine] The grant is part of CMC’s third round of funding which saw the network award $3.75 million to Canadian researchers working on eight different projects.

The sensor technology needed to monitor and validate the amount of CO2 being emitted has not kept pace with the development of other technologies required for carbon capture and storage (CCS), says Ruda.

“This is especially true when it comes to surface monitoring verification and accounting (MVA),” he says. “Improving MVA is essential to meet the potential of carbon capture and storage.”

And that’s where the ultra-sensitive sensor comes in. “It’s good for sounding the alarm but it’s also good from a regulatory point of view because you want to able to tell people to keep things to a certain level and you need sensors to ensure accurate monitoring of industrial and subsurface environments,” Ruda says.

Given CMC’s vision for ‘game-changing research to reduce carbon emissions’, it bears noting that this organization is located in Calgary (the street address ‘EEEL 403, 2500 University Drive NW Calgary‘ as per my search today [Feb.4.13] on Google [https://www.google.ca/search?q=CMC+address+Calgary&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a] suggests the University of Calgary houses the organization). Calgary is the home of the Canadian fossil fuel industry and a centre boasting many US-based fossil fuel-based companies due to its size and relative proximity to the Alberta oil sands (aka, Athabaska oil sands). From the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

The Athabasca oil sands or Athabasca tar sands are large deposits of bitumen or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta, Canada – roughly centred on the boomtown of Fort McMurray. These oil sands, hosted in the McMurray Formation, consist of a mixture of crude bitumen (a semi-solid form of crude oil), silica sand, clay minerals, and water. The Athabasca deposit is the largest known reservoir of crude bitumen in the world and the largest of three major oil sands deposits in Alberta, along with the nearby Peace River and Cold Lake deposits.

Together, these oil sand deposits lie under 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) of boreal forest and muskeg (peat bogs) and contain about 1.7 trillion barrels (270×109 m3) of bitumen in-place, comparable in magnitude to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum. Although the former CEO of Shell Canada, Clive Mather, estimated Canada’s reserves to be 2 trillion barrels (320 km3) or more, the International Energy Agency (IEA) lists Canada’s reserves as being 178 billion barrels (2.83×1010 m3).

As for locating a carbon management organization in Calgary, it does make sense of a sort. Here’s a somewhat calmer description of Carbon Management Canada on the website’s About CMC page,

Carbon Management Canada CMC-NCE [Network Centre for Escellence] is a national network of academic researchers working with experts in the fossil energy industry, government, and the not-for-profit sector. Together, we are developing the technologies, the knowledge and the human capacity to radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the fossil energy industry and other large stationary emitters.

Carbon emissions and the growing global concern about its effects present a unique opportunity for innovation and collaboration, especially in the fossil energy industry. Rapidly increasing global complexity demands robust, responsive innovation that can only develop in a highly collaborative context involving industry, scientists, policy makers, politicians and industry leaders in concert with an informed, supportive public.

Carbon Management Canada is the national body charged with harnessing the collective energy of this diverse group in order to push forward an ambitious agenda of innovation and commercialization to bring research from the lab into the world of practice.

Funding

Funding for CMC was provided through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence ($25 million) and the Province of Alberta through Alberta Environment ($25 million). Industry has also provided $5.7 million in contributions.

The Network has over 160 investigators at 27 Canadian academic institutions and close to 300 graduate and postdoctoral students working on research projects. CMC currently has invested $22 million in 44 research projects.

Our Themes

CMC is an interdisciplinary network with scientists working in fields that range from engineering to nanotechnology to geoscience to business to political science and communications. These investigators work in 4 themes: Recovery, Processing and Capture; Enabling and Emerging Technologies; Secure Carbon Storage; and Accelerating Appropriate Deployment of Low Carbon Emission Technologies.

Given that CMC is largely government-funded, it seems odd (almost as if they don’t want anyone to know) that the website does not feature a street address. In addition to trying  a web search, you can find the information on the last page of the 2012 annual/financial report. One final note, the chair of CMC’s board is Gordon Lambert who is also Vice President, Sustainable Development, Suncor Energy. From Suncor’s About Us webpage,

n 1967, we pioneered commercial development of Canada’s oil sands — one of the largest petroleum resource basins in the world. Since then, Suncor has grown to become a globally competitive integrated energy company with a balanced portfolio of high-quality assets, a strong balance sheet and significant growth prospects. Across our operations, we intend to achieve production of one million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Then, there’s this on the company’s home page,

We create energy for a better world

Suncor’s vision is to be trusted stewards of valuable natural resources. Guided by our values, we will lead the way to deliver economic prosperity, improved social well-being and a healthy environment for today and tomorrow.

The difficulty I’m highlighting is the number of competing interests. Governments which are dependent on industry for producing jobs and tax dollars are also funding ‘carbon management’. The fossil fuel-dependent industry make a great deal money from fossil fuels and doesn’t have much incentive to explore carbon management as that costs money and doesn’t add to profit. Regardless of how enlightened any individuals within that industry may be they have a fundamental problem similar to an asthmatic who’s being poisoned by the medication they need to breathe. Do you get immediate relief from the medication, i.e., breathe, or do you refuse the medication which causes damage years in the future and continue struggling for air?

All of these institutions (CMC, Suncor, etc.) would have more credibility if they addressed the difficulties rather than ignoring them.

How to start art/science collaborations (roundup) and an art/engineering festival in Calgary (Canada)

Generally speaking I’ve viewed art/science collaborations from an ‘arts’ perspective so it’s with some interest that I’ve been reading Johanna Kieniewicz’s postings as she has a scientist’s perspective, from her Nov. 22, 2012 posting on the PLoS (Public Library of Science) At the Interface; where art and science meet blog,

Last week, I attended an environmental science conference with an evening reception that featured a short talk on art/science collaborations in the context of environmental science. The talk was followed by a musical performance – inspired by the fragility of peatbog environments – after which I overheard a scientist mutter “What was that? That better not have had research council funding.” He was not the only one; I heard similar sentiments expressed by several others as I walked to dinner.

On some level, I was disappointed by this response, but I wasn’t really surprised. Despite great progress amongst those who are ensconced in the world of science communication to the idea of collaborations between scientists and artists, this is something that many scientists still don’t “get”. Other researchers are openly hostile, and certainly think that scientific research organisations have no business funding this type of work.

To be fair, these are not necessarily the attitudes of people who are disinterested in art — I’d be willing to bet that a fair few of those who walked away from the performance muttering about scientific research council funding being wasted on the arts also have memberships at cultural institutions. That said, whilst being consumers of culture, few scientists really see themselves as having much of a role in its creation. In an increasingly competitive funding landscape, does it really make sense to spend research money on an art project? Does engaging with the arts mean that they are less serious as scientists?

Kieniewicz goes on to give a number of reasons why she thinks art/science collaborations are important, including this one,

Although art cannot directly communicate science or change minds, it can create a space for dialogue around difficult issues.

In a followup Dec. 6, 2012 posting, Kieniewicz goes on to explain how artists and scientists get together for collaborations and she also provides an extensive roundup art/science collaborations (Note: I have removed links),

Following on from my last post on the ‘why’ of collaborations between artists and scientists, here I’d like to look at the ‘how’. When scientists and artists don’t typically have professional reasons for mixing, what are the mechanisms that enable collaboration?

Artist in Residency Schemes

Some of the more outward-looking scientific research organisations realise that there is something to be gained from a scheme that brings artists through their doors. It could be couched as a box-ticking ‘outreach’ exercise, but it is also an opportunity to bring the science happening behind their doors alive to the wider public. This approach has been particularly embraced by the physics community, where studies of the interactions between subatomic particles — which have serious implications for science and cost a great deal of taxpayer money — nonetheless seem of little relevance to the man on the street. As physicist David Weinberg notes based on his collaboration with Josiah McElheny (below), “far more people saw [our collaboration] in one day in Madrid than have ever read my Astrophysical Journal articles.”

Artist/Scientist Pairing Schemes

I think of artist/scientist pairing schemes as something of a matchmaking exercise, in which a number of artists are invited into a research institute and paired with interested and willing scientists. Like any matchmaking process, it seems to me that this is something that can go either way: sometimes it will work out, but other times it may not.

Individual collaborations between artists and scientists

Unsurprisingly, collaboration between an individual artist and scientist generally starts with an introduction, a conversation, and an interest/openness from both parties to trying something a little different. Collaboration in these circumstances is often initiated by the artist who may have an idea and an interest, but who recognises that they would benefit from the help of a scientist in order to fully realise their vision.

In the UK, there is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funding programme, Science in Culture, designed to stimulate art/science collaborations. There was funding in Canada for this type of collaboration. The Canada Council for the Arts had joint programmes with the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the National Research Council in the early 2000′s.

There is a new initiative, Beakerhead, being organized in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) for 2013 mentioned in my Nov. 13, 2012 posting (this is more of an arts/engineering collaborative event),

Beakerhead is an annual movement that culminates in a five-day citywide spectacle that brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity and entertainment.

Starting annually in 2013, Beakerhead will take place in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities.
From performances and installations to workshops and concerts, Beakerhead is made possible by a continuously growing list of partners who share the desire of staging a collaborative event of epic proportions.

There is more information about the aspirations for this event on the Beakerhead Program page,

When fully realized, Beakerhead will be a five-day citywide highly participatory event that explodes in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities. Through programming partnerships and community initiatives, Beakerhead is fuelled by groups and individuals in art, culture, science, engineering and technology.

Everyone is empowered to build, stage, exhibit and compete in interactive works, so people can experience and explore engineered creations from around the world – all at once! The following three streams are guiding Beakerhead’s programming vision:

1) Productions: local and internationally commissioned and co-produced grand openings, premieres, productions, and concerts.

2) Programs: city-wide illuminated art works and 3-D projections, international professional and student challenges, massive mechanical sculptures, interactive races, local restaurant programs and more.

3) Speakerhead: education and outreach programs such as artist and engineer-in-residence programs, professional speaker series, classroom programs and more.

Format and Goals:

Events will take place indoors and out, including ticketed and free events, and involving venues and public spaces throughout the city – and it’s all starting now! Partnerships are continuously forming and a calendar of events and programs is being developed to be announced in late 2012.

Together, Beakerhead will:

  • Engage people and communities – in hands-on public spectacles and contests.
  • Experiment – culturally – with science, art and engineering. Let’s test limits!
  • Commission new works – in new media, music, theatre, visual arts, dance.
  • Invite collaborations – between artists, scientists and engineers.
  • Invite collaborations – between local, Canadian and international experts.
  • Curate new exhibitions and performances.

FrogHeart (part 1) at the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (& Thinking big panel)

Unfortunately, I was only present for one day (Nov. 6, 2012) at the Fourth Canadian Science Policy Conference in Calgary, Alberta. In fact, my one day was more like a 1/2 day due to delays at the airport. It broke my heart to miss most of Panel 13: Dissecting Canada’s Science & Technology Landscape, which featured a discussion of the Council of Canadian Academies’ latest assessment, “The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012.” I have my fingers crossed that a video of the presentation will be posted in the not too distant future.

Jeffrey Simpson, Ph.D and National Affairs Columnist at The Globe and Mail moderated the panel discussion about this latest assessment (the last one was in 2006) which was requested by Industry Canada. The panel included: Dr. Eliot Phillipson, Ph.D, Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Toronto (he led the expert panel which presided over the assessment); Lorraine Whale, Ph.D and Manager of Unconventional Resource Research at Shell Global Solutions (Canada); and R. Peter MacKinnon, former President of the University of Saskatchewan.

I did manage to attend Panel 16: The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese: Turning Talk of Creativity Into a Sustainable Creative Economy which featured a slew of creative types such as Mary Anne Moser, Ph.D and Co-Founder of Beakerhead; Jay Ingram, Co-Founder of Beakerhead; Jasmine Palardy, Program Manager of Beakerhead;  Patrick Finn, Ph.D and Performance Expert, University of Calgary; and Haley Simons, Ph.D, Executive Director of Creative Alberta.

Creativity workshops are to hard to pull off, especially when you pepper them with leadership information, an argument for the importance of creativity in examinations of the economy, descriptions of the creative process, etc. while leading the group through the process of designing a better mouse trap. It was an odd choice for a creativity exercise, notwithstanding the metaphor in the group’s panel title. I liked some of the ideas they were trying to discuss and demonstrate but I associate creativity with an element of play and letting loose. Devising a better mouse trap didn’t activate my sense of play nor was there time to let loose any creative/chaotic impulses as we were either listening to someone giving us information or trying to complete the exercises we were given.

For anyone who’s noticed the incidence of the institution, Beakerhead, amongst the panelists, it’s a new  art/engineering event which will be taking place in Calgary during the Calgary Stampede, I believe (from the About page),

Beakerhead is an annual movement that culminates in a five-day citywide spectacle that brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity and entertainment.

Starting annually in 2013, Beakerhead will take place in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities.
From performances and installations to workshops and concerts, Beakerhead is made possible by a continuously growing list of partners who share the desire of staging a collaborative event of epic proportions.

I wish them well with Beakerhead while I’m somewhat unclear as to what the workshop was supposed to achieve. Personally, I would have preferred working on a Beakerhead event for 2013. Imagine if those of us at the 2012 CSPC “Second mouse” presentation had developed something that might actually take place. That’s creativity in action and I think they could have drawn together all that other stuff they were trying to communicate to us by inviting us to participate in something meaningful.

Next up was Panel 19: Thinking big: science culture and policy in Canada, which I was moderating. From my Oct. 1, 2012 posting,

… here’s the description,

Science culture is more than encouraging kids to become scientists to insure our economic future; more than having people visit a science museum or centre and having fun; more than reading an interesting article in a newspaper or magazine about the latest whizbang breakthrough; more than educating people so they become scientifically literate and encourage ‘good’ science policies; it is a comprehensive approach to community- and society-building.

We live in a grand (in English, magnificent and en francais, big) country, the 2nd largest in the world and it behooves us all to be engaged in developing a vibrant science culture which includes

  • artists (performing and visual),
  • writers,
  • scientists,
  • children,
  • seniors,
  • games developers,
  • doctors,
  • business people,
  • elected officials,
  • philosophers,
  • government bureaucrats,
  • educators,
  • social scientists,
  • and others

as we grapple with 21st century scientific and technical developments.

As scientists work on prosthetic neurons for repair in people with Parkinsons and other neurological diseases, techniques for tissue engineering, self-cleaning windows, exponentially increased tracking capabilities for devices and goods tagged with RFID devices, engineered bacteria that produce petroleum and other products (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Living Foundries project), and more, Canadians will be challenged to understand and adapt to a future that can be only dimly imagined.

Composed of provocative thinkers from the worlds of science writing, science education, art/science work, and scientific endeavour, during this panel discussion they will offer their ideas and visions for a Canadian science culture and invite you to share yours. In addition to answering questions, each panelist will prepare their own question for audience members to answer.

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

Marie-Claire Shanahan is a professor of science education and science communication at the University of Alberta. She is interested in how and why students make decisions to pursue their interests science, in high schools, post-secondary education and informal science education. She also conducts research on interactions between readers and writers in online science communications.

Stephen Strauss

Stephen Strauss, Canadian Science Writers’ Association president, has been writing about science for 30 years. After receiving a B.A. (history) from the University of Colorado, he worked as an English teacher, a social worker, an editor before joining the Globe and Mail in 1979. He began writing about science there.

Since leaving the newspaper in 2004 he has written for the CBC.ca, Nature, New Scientist, The Canadian Medical Association Journal as well as authored books and book chapters. He has written for organizations such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Government of Ontario and has won numerous awards.

Amber Didow

Amber Didow is the Executive Director for the Canadian Association of Science Centres. She has over 20 years experience in the non-profit sector and advancing informal education. She has worked within the Science Centre field for many years including the Saskatchewan Science Centre and Science World British Columbia.  Amber’s background includes new business development; educational outreach; programming with at-risk youth; creating community based science events; melding science with art and overseeing the creation and development of both permanent and travelling exhibitions. Amber has a strong passion for community development within the sector.

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

Maryse de la Giroday currently runs one of the largest and longest running Canadian science blogs (frogheart.ca) where she writes commentary on  nanotechnology, science policy, science communication, society, and the arts. With a BA in Communication (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and an MA in Creative Writing and New Media (De Montfort University, UK), she combines education and training in the social sciences and humanities with her commitment as an informed member of the science public. An independent scholar, she has presented at international conferences on topics of nanotechnology, storytelling, and memristors.

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

Dr. Moira Stilwell was appointed Minister of Social Development  for the province of British Columbia in September 2012. Elected MLA for Vancouver-Langara in the 2009 provincial general election. She previously served as Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health with a focus on Health Innovation. She also served as Vice Chair of the Cabinet Committee on Jobs and Economic Growth. In her first cabinet appointment, she served as Minister of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development from June 2009 to October 2010.

Prior to her political career, Stilwell graduated from the University of Calgary Medical School. She received further training in nuclear medicine at the University of British Columbia and in radiology at the University of Toronto after that. She served for several years as the Head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic but left all those positions in 2009 to run for public office.

The driving force behind the province’s Year of Science in BC (2010-11) initiative for schools, Stilwell has a passionate interest and commitment to integrating science awareness and culture in government, education, and society.

Rob Annan

Rob is the Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation at Mitacs, a leading Canadian not-for-profit that supports innovation through skills development, research, and collaboration between students, researchers, and industry. Mitacs supports research across sciences, humanities and social sciences and understands that innovation often occurs at the intersection of science and culture. Mitacs’ approach to innovation is reflected in our outreach activities, most notably Math Out Loud – a theatre musical designed to inspire Canadian students to understand and appreciate the mathematics that surround them. Inspired by Laval University’s renowned Professor of Mathematics Jean-Marie De Koninck and produced by Academy Award winner Dale Hartleben, Math Out Loud explores the relationships between math and culture as an effective outreach tool.

Prior to joining Mitacs, Rob worked as a consultant to universities, researchers and non-profit agencies for strategic planning and policy, and was active as a blogger on science policy issues in Canada. Rob embodies the intersection of arts and science, with a PhD in Biochemistry from McGill University, a BSc in Biology from UVic and a BA in English from Queen’s University.

We started late and I think it went relatively well although next time (assuming there is one) I’ll practice cutting people off in a timely fashion and giving more direction. In other words, any criticisms of the session should be directed at me. The panelists were great.

Marie-Claire Shanahan, professor of science education at the University of Alberta, introduced a provocative question in the context of acknowledging Canada’s excellent science education programmes, Why isn’t there an active science discourse in Canada? Audience members tried to answer that question and came to no general agreement.

Stephen Strauss, president of the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA), introduced what I thought was a very exciting idea, a science entrepot supported by the CSWA. The entrepot would be a storage webspace for all Canadian science news releases and a place where the people producing the news releases would get feedback on their efforts. The feedback idea is an acknowledgement that, increasingly,  scientists in Canada are writing their own news releases. There wasn’t much uptake from the audience on this idea but perhaps people need more time think about something that changes their relationship to the media.

The Honourable Dr. Moira Stilwell discussed her experiences trying to introduce science into government, that is, trying to use more scientific approaches in the various BC ministries. The former head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Clinic described the process by which her big idea became part of a government initiative and changed mightily in the process.

Rob Annan, director of policy, research, and evaluation at Mitacs, talked about different approaches Mitacs has taken to embedding science culture in Canada and he challenged the audience about the notion of expertise with regard to science as one of the audience members expressed great distress (sadness mixed with anger/indignation) over the ‘declining’ trust in science experts. I hope Rob will correct me if I get this wrong, I believe his point was that experts need to stop assuming that they are right and the public just has to listen and do as they are told. The audience member did not couch his comments that way but the assumption that we, the unwashed must do as we are told and our concerns are not relevant or wrong, is often at the heart of the ‘expertise’ claim. (Also I’m going to interject, I think the audience member had flipped the issue around. The question I’d be asking is why expertise in science is accepted unthinkingly in some areas and distrusted in others.)

Amber Didow, executive director of the Canadian Association of Science Centres, spoke about the importance of these centres with regard to science culture, the extensive programming they provide, and their relationship to their communities both locally and further afield. The fact that we were in Calgary’s new ‘science world’ (in Calgary, it’s Telus Spark) added greatly to the experience.

I did attend one more session, Kennedy Stewart’s NDP (New Democratic Party) Science Policy session but that’s for part 2.

ETA Nov. 14, 2012: I’ve forgotten my manners and I apologize for not doing this sooner. Thank you to the organizers for an exciting and well paced conference. Special thanks to Marissa Bender who eased my way before, during, and after; Dustin Rivers for making sure that I didn’t fall over from hunger once I finally arrived and  his impeccable graciousness, Mehrdad Hariri for his understanding and for extending a helping hand in the midst of what must have been one of heaviest organizational periods for the 2012 conference (I am impressed), Sean for his invaluable advice regarding rush hour traffic in Calgary, and the two heroic women who managed the portable mikes for my session.

Canadian Science Policy Conference (in Calgary): call for papers and presentations

The 4th edition of the Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) will take place in Calgary, Alberta as I hinted (I also suggested that Edmonton was in contention)  in my Feb. 20, 2012 posting. If you have an interest in presenting at the conference, this is the time to submit your session proposals.  From the April 23, 2012 CSPC notice,

Call for Canadian Science Policy Conference 2012 Sessions

Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC) 2012 is inviting members of the science policy community to submit proposals for the conference program Nov 5-6, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta. All submissions must be received online by end of day June 8, 2012.

This year’s conference sessions will be under the following 4 themes:

  • Innovating on energy supply and demand for more sustainable resource management: a critical test for the integration of science, technology and policy
  • Re-imagining Canadian Healthcare: How innovation in science and policy can contribute to a more sustainable system
  • Food, Fuel and Farmers: Agriculture at the convergence of multi-disciplinary science policy issues
  • Science-Technology-Society-Nexus

CSPC has become the focal point for Canadian science policy issues, in large part because of the active participation it encourages from the science policy community. Bringing together professionals from business, academia, government and non-profit, CSPC provides an annual forum to discuss the most relevant issues to science, technology and innovation in Canada during its conference sessions. Help shape this year’s dialogue by submitting your session proposal now!

There are more details at the CSPC 2012 website including this excerpt from the conference’s Themes page,

Re-imagining Canadian Healthcare: How innovation in science and policy can contribute to a more sustainable system?

Canadian healthcare spending has been rising steadily over the past few decades with health expenditure to GDP ratios rising from 7% in 1979 to a peak at almost 12% in 2009. Canada, like many nations, has a population that is getting older, living longer, and demanding quality care as well as improvements to the universal healthcare system. Innovation can contribute to improved performance of the system, but the impacts of innovation on cost, efficiency, and health outcomes are not always straightforward.

This CSPC theme will explore the policies and approaches for innovation to positively impact the health system. It will examine innovation and policy issues that related to improving effective and efficient care, accessibility, universality, sustainability, and cost versus benefits.

Food, Fuel and Farmers: Agriculture at the convergence of multi-disciplinary science policy issues

Agriculture requires upwards of 40% of the world’s land area and over 70% of the global fresh water reserves, in turn, generating nearly $2 trillion in global revenues while feeding more than 7 billion people. The implications of agricultural practices and policies thus have a direct link to global economic, environmental and societal outcomes and impacts many other sectors. The global challenge for agriculture, therefore, is to increase production while simultaneously reducing the environmental footprint. Canadian farmers, scientists, policy makers and businesses are responding with innovations in water and land use, genetics, bioproducts and bioprocesses. Productivity isn’t just about yields any more; it’s about energy content and optimization as well as issues such as minimizing losses in the transportation and distribution systems.

This CSPC theme will explore how science is at the heart of these questions. Increasingly, we see that the next generation of farmers and ranchers need to be scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs. However, what does this mean for the universities, policies, regulation and markets that these farmers and ranchers need to thrive going forward? And what does today’s science and innovation applied to agriculture mean for agriculture, energy, environmental and trade policies in the future?

Science-Technology-Society-Nexus

Science and technology are significant pillars in our society and are increasingly transforming the world we live in as well as how we live within that world. Society expects solutions to our most pressing issues, and developments in S&T can bring answers and perspective to these issues. However, advances in S&T can also create new questions. Additionally, popular debate can polarize the public, and controversial S&T issues grow in number. It is, therefore, vital for the science policy community to identify such issues, contribute to discourse, and propose solutions or a way forward.

This theme, within the overarching context of S&T and Society, will examine a variety of issues such as engagement; education and public outreach; publication and data; peer-review; the bread and nature of the innovation system; social innovation; communication; and other major or topical issues in Canadian science policy.

Details about the proposal format, etc. are on the conference’s Submissions page,

PROPOSAL FORMAT

  1. Please submit a brief proposal that outlines the title and subject of your session, as well as proposed speakers (including bios), format and goals of the proposed conference session. Please note the word limit on the website.
  2. Proposals must be submitted to the CSPC program committee online at www.cspc2012.ca/presentationsubmissions.php for evaluation prior end of day June 8, 2012. CONFERENCE THEMES:

This year’s conference themes are under the 4 categories of energy, health, agriculture and major issues in science and society. The theme descriptions are under the following titles:

  • Innovating on energy supply and demand for more sustainable resource management: a critical test for the integration of science, technology and policy
  • Re-imagining Canadian Healthcare: How innovation in science and policy can contribute to a more sustainable system
  • Food, Fuel and Farmers: Agriculture at the convergence of multi-disciplinary science policy issues
  • Science-Technology-Society-Nexus

They are intended to spark some insightful exploration and debate on the issues, but more importantly they seek to highlight some of the innovative ways in which science, technology and policy can contribute to an integrated and systemic approach to solving these issues in Canada and the world.

EVALUATION CRITERIA:
The CSPC 2012 Program Committee will review each of the proposals and evaluate them based on the following criteria:

  • Quality of the proposed session: CSPC tries to cover topics that are highly relevant or timely for the science policy community in Canada to discuss. Sessions that can draw together strong speakers or facilitators on subjects that are either garnering much attention publically or politically, or that are enduring societal problems, will rank more competitively than those that don’t. Sessions with confirmed speakers will rank more competitively than those without.
  • Alignment with the conference objectives: The conference objectives seek to support innovation in Canada and build both community and ideas for strengthening the science policy environment. The session proposal will be evaluated on its ability to support these primary objectives.
  • Alignment with the conference themes: CSPC strives for a balance that dives deep enough into the issues to identify specific elements of what works and what doesn’t from planning through to implementation, yet is still able to make the discussion accessible to a broader audience. Sessions should include experts that can provide detailed examples under the CSPC 2012 themes to support their arguments, and translate those details into more transferable lessons learned and best practices.
  • Representation of a diverse range of speakers: CSPC doesn’t have a specific formula for evaluating session speakers, but it does embrace diversity as one of its core values. The more diverse the range of perspectives that your speakers can offer in terms of roles (government, business, academia, non-profit etc.) or discipline, gender, ethnicity, geography, experience or other aspects, the stronger your proposal will be relative to the others.

SESSION FORMAT & AUDIENCE:

Sessions are 90 minutes. Typically they have followed a panel presentation format, but some adopt more of a workshop or facilitated discussion style. CSPC has received enthusiastic feedback regarding sessions that allow for more interaction between the speakers and the delegates, and also those that bring a lively debate. Case studies and stories are easier for people to engage with than lists, facts and rhetoric. Consider challenging your speakers to be more creative when sharing their ideas.

The majority of the delegates will be fairly educated on different fields of science policy, but may not understand your field. You may want to include materials to prime the audience in order to allow your session to explore things to a greater depth. Many of the delegates are also practitioners in the science policy community, hungry for things to take back to their work beyond education and awareness. Often we’re asking people to “step outside their comfort zones” in order to foster more creativity in the way we think about and approach science, technology, policy and innovation. The more you can challenge your audience to participate in some way, such as writing down their biases or the first things that come to their mind, sharing with the person next to them what they think the key issues are, or hosting full break-out discussions the better.

Based on past attendance the majority is from academic, government, or non-profit institutions. CSPC is trying to target participants from the private sector for whom science policy is highly relevant, yet underrepresented. If you can propose a session which will engage this audience or if you have suggestions on how to better engage this sector please let us know!

Conference registration is free for speakers and facilitators.

As for suggestions about how to engage with folks from the private sector, that’s an interesting problem. I find it encouraging that they want to extend the discussion to a larger audience but I’m  not sure which part of the private sector they want to engage.  Investors? Venture capitalists? Bankers? Lawyers? Startup business owners? Big business? Accountants? Youthful entrepreneurs? New media? Gamers? etc.This gives me a lot to think about.

One small historical note, the first CSPC conference led to the creation of the Canadian Science Policy Centre which exists online here.

Good luck with your submissions!

Alberta’s Domino (point-of-care diagnostic) and Navacim (nano drug delivery) competing for $175,000 prize

It’s interesting that two nanomedicine products are in contention for TEC Edmonton‘s NanoVenture Prize. It’s a new prize category for the business accelerator in this, their 10th anniversary year. From TEC Edmonton’s March 27, 2012 news release,

The NanoVenturePrize finalists are Aquila Diagnostics of Edmonton and Calgary’s Parvus Therapeutics.

Aquila Diagnostics uses the Domino nanotechnology platform developed at the University of Alberta to provide on-site, easy-to-use genetic testing that can quickly test for infectious diseases and pathogens in livestock. The mobile diagnostic platform is portable, low-cost, fast and easy to use.

Parvus Therapeutics’ breakthrough nanomedicines may hold the cure for difficult-to-treat autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Parvus’ new Navacim medicines are nanoparticles coated with immune system proteins that can target specific autoimmune conditions.

The University of Alberta has issued its own April 24, 2012 news release by Bryan Alary about the Domino,

Dubbed the Domino, the technology—developed by a U of A research team—has the potential to revolutionize point-of-care medicine. The innovation has also earned Aquila Diagnostic Systems, the Edmonton-based nano startup that licensed the technology, a shot at $175,000 as a finalist for the TEC NanoVenturePrize award.

“We’re basically replacing millions of dollars of equipment that would be in a conventional, consolidated lab with something that costs pennies to produce and is field portable so you can take it where needed. That’s where this technology shines,” said Jason Acker, an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the U of A and chief technology officer with Aquila.

The Domino employs polymerase chain reaction technology used to amplify and detect targeted sequences of DNA, but in a miniaturized form that fits on a plastic chip the size of two postage stamps. The chip contains 20 gel posts—each the size of a pinhead—capable of identifying sequences of DNA with a single drop of blood.

Each post performs its own genetic test, meaning you can not only find out whether you have malaria, but also determine the type of malaria and whether your DNA makes you resistant to certain antimalarial drugs. It takes less than an hour to process one chip, making it possible to screen large populations in a short time.

“That’s the real value proposition—being able to do multiple tests at the same time,” Acker said, adding that the Domino has been used in several recently published studies, showing similar accuracy to centralized labs.

Linda Pilarski, an oncology professor at the University of Alberta (mentioned in my Jan. 4, 2012 posting about her diagnostics-on-a-chip work), and her team developed Domino according to the April 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

In 2008, her team received $5 million over five years from Alberta Innovates Health Solutions to perfect and commercialize the technology. As an oncologist, Pilarski is interested in its pharmacogenomic testing capabilities, such as determining whether breast cancer patients are genetically disposed to resist certain drugs.

“With most cancers you want to treat the patient with the most effective therapeutic as possible,” she said. “That’s what this does: it really enables personalized medicine. It will be able to test every patient at the right time, right in their doctor’s office. That’s currently not feasible because it’s too expensive.”

This product is intended for the market but not the one you might expect (from the April 25, 2012 news item on Nanowerk),

Along with its versatility, two key selling points are affordability and portability, with each portable box expected to cost about $5,000 and each chip a few dollars, says Aquila president David Alton. It’s also designed to be easy to use and rugged—important features for the livestock industry, the company’s first target market. [emphasis mine] The Domino will be put through trials within a year at one of the country’s largest feedlots in southern Alberta.

Alton credits Aquila’s relationship with the U of A, not just for the research but for the business relationship with TEC Edmonton that has helped the company license and patent Domino. TEC Edmonton is a joint venture between the U of A and Edmonton Economic Development Corporation with resources and expertise to help startups in the early stages of operations.

“We see a huge potential market for the technology and we’re looking at applying the technology developed here at the U of A to markets first in Alberta and then globally, to address important health issues here and throughout the world.”

Given that the originator is an oncologist I really wasn’t expecting the first market to be livestock industry.

I have had a little less luck getting information about Parvus Therapeutics’ Navacim technology as they’ve not issued a news release about their competition for this prize but I did find some information on their website, from an April 8, 2010 news release about the Navacim technology being featured in a Popular Science article,

Parvus Therapeutics reports that an article entitled “Nanotech Vaccine Successfully Cures Type-1 Diabetes in Mice” has been published at the website of Popular Science. The article, authored by Alessandra Calderin, describes the Parvus Navacim technology and includes remarks from Parvus’ Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Pere Santamaria.

The article notes that,

“The technology behind the nanovaccine, following further research, may prove widely applicable to treat other autoimmune diseases, like arthritis and multiple sclerosis, as well.”

You may want to take a look at the news brief by Calderin. Here’s more about the technology, from the Introducing Navacims webpage on the Parvus Therapeutics website,

Our nanotechnology-based therapeutic platform and Navacims, the therapeutic candidates, are the result of two related discoveries: A new class of immune cell, and a new way to treat autoimmunity that these cells provide. Here we provide a very brief summary of how these discoveries came about and what they have led to since.

This summary is also intended as a roadmap to the contents of this technology section of our website, which we will role out over a period of weeks and adapt based on reader feedback and requests. The casual reader may find the background information helpful, while our professional colleagues will probably want to get straight down to the technical details and published papers. We have tried to design the content to cater to all tastes and it can be read in any order, although like all good stories, we highly recommend starting at the beginning.

As with the remainder of our site, we have injected a little colour and a little humour to keep your spirits up if the science appears a little daunting. In all, we have attempted to strike a balance between scientific detail and general accessibility and if you think we have that balance wrong, or you feel something is missing, please let us know — via the form on the Contacts page — and we will try to put it right. We love to hear from you.

The Story So Far

[1] In a series of experiments, only tangentially related to our current activities, we designed p-MHC-coated nanoparticles (NPs) as a way to load iron into effector T-cells and have them ferry the iron to the pancreas so we could visualize pancreatic islet cell inflammation in-vivo, in real-time — this amounts to the use of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) contrast agent.

[2] It occurred to us that we might be able to use these p-MHC-NPs to delete the high avidity cytotoxic effector T cells driving disease in the NOD mouse model of type 1 diabetes (T1D).

[3] Too our surprise, therapy did not delete, but rather, very significantly expanded autoregulatory T cell pools.

[4] After careful analysis we were able to conclude that:

pMHC-NPs, now called Navacims, selectively expand a population of low avidity autoregulatory memory T cells that the disease itself generates — this population of cells was previously unknown to science. These cells target and kill antigen presenting cells (APCs), and consequently, interput the process whereby all the cytotoxic effector T cell lineages active in a disease are activated and expanded.

Navacims also directly deplete the high avidity cytotoxic effector T cells cognate to the pMHC carried by the nanoparticle. This removes one lineage of cells that cause damage in disease, but given the many antigens, and consequently the many T cell lineages, the overall therapeutic effect of removing one type is inconsequential compared to the indirect effect of the Navacim on APCs that removes all lineages.

The removal of APCs and the concomitant loss of multiple cytotoxic effector T-cell lineages that drive disease amounted to a cure for T1D in the NOD mouse model.

[5] We believe that Navacims have the potential to become the long sought after ideal treatment for autoimmunity; a therapeutic that restores immunological tolerance — the principal problem in autoimmunity — while depleting autoreactive cells that mediate the damaging effects of disease.

[6] Navacims appear to be safe and very well tolerated in animal experiments that have lasted many months, although we caution that we have yet to complete formal toxicological studies.

[7] Navacims are highly modular and a family of Navacims can be almost identical, differing only in the very short antigenic peptide that gives each one its specificity for a particular disease.

[8] Because they are so similar, we beleive that industry-standard manufacturing processes will need few if any modifications in order to produce a particular Navacim.

[9] We have protected our discoveries with patent applications in the United States, Europe, Canada, and beyond.

[10] Our work has been published in top-ranked peer-reviewed journals and showcased in the best of the popular science publications.

Good luck to both companies in their future endeavours.

ETA April 30,2012: According to the April 27, 2012 article in the Edmonton Journal, Parvus Therapeutics won the $175, 000 prize in TEC Edmonton’s new prize category.,

This year’s awards, the 10th consecutive, added a new category for nanotechnology firms. TEC partnered with Alberta Innovates — Technology Futures for the new award. Calgary’s Parvus Therapeutics, which makes medicine aimed at autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, beat out Edmonton’s Aquila Diagnostic Systems for first place. The category’s prizes totalled $175,000 in cash and services.

AAAS 2012, the Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012 experience: art/sci, HUBzero, and a news scoop from the exhibition floor

“New Concepts in Integrating Arts and Science Research for a Global Knowledge Society” at the AAAS 2012 annual meeting provided some thought provoking moments courtesy of Gunalan Nadarajan, Vice Provost at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It’s always good to be reminded that art schools are only about 300 years old and the notion of studying science as a separate discipline is only about 200 years old. We tend talk about the arts and the sciences as if they’ve always been separate pursuits when, as Nadarajan pointed out, they were part of a larger pursuit, which included philosophy and religion as well. That pursuit was knowledge.

Nadarajan mentioned a new network (a pilot project) in the US called the Network for Science Engineering Art and Design where they hope to bring scientists and artists together for collaborative work. These relationships are not always successful and Nadarajan noted that the problems tend to boil down to relationship issues (sometimes people don’t get along very well even with the best of intentions). He did say that he wanted to encourage people to get to know each other first in nonstressful environments such as sharing a meal or coffee. It sounded a little bit like dating but rather than a romantic encounter (or that might be a possibility too), the emphasis is on your work compatibility.

According to a blog posting by one of the organizers of the Network for Science Engineering Art and Design, Roger Malina, it is searching for a new name (search engine issues). You can get more information about the new network in Malina’s Feb. 19, 2012 posting.

“HUBzero: Building Collaboratories for Research on a Global Scale” was a session I anticipated with much interest and I’m glad to say it was very good with all the speakers being articulate and excited about their topics. I did not realize that there are a number of hubs in the US; I’m familiar only with the nanoHUB based at Purdue University in Indiana. (My most recent posting about this was the Dec. 5, 2011 posting about their NanoHUB-U initiative.)

nanoHUB and the others all run on an open source software designed for scientific collaboration. What I found most fascinating was the differences between the various hubs. Michael McLennan spoke about both the HUBzero software (which can be downloaded for free from the HUBzero website) and the nanoHUB, which services the nanotechnology community and has approximately 200,000 registered users at this time (they double their numbers every 12 – 18 months according to McLennan).

There are videos, papers, courses, social networking opportunities and more can be made available through the HUBzero software but uniquely configured to each group’s needs. Ellen M. Rathje (University of Texas, Austin) spoke at length about some of the challenges the earthquake engineers (NEES.org) addressed when developing their hub with regard to sharing data and some of the analytical difficulties associated with earthquake data.

Each group that uses the software to create a hub has its own culture and customs and the software has to be tweaked such that the advantages to adopting new work strategies outweigh the disadvantages of making changes. William K. Barnett whose portfolio includes encouraging the use of collaborative technologies for the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CSTI) had to adopt an approach for doctors who typically have very little time to adopt new technologies and who have requirements regarding confidentiality that are far different than that of nanoscientists or earthquake engineers.

I got my ‘scooplet’ when I visited the exhibition floor. The 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference (2012 CSPC) will be held in Alberta as you can see in this Feb. 19, 2012 posting on the Government of Canada science site.

Apparently, there are two cities under consideration and, for anyone  who’s been hoping for a meeting in Wetaskawin, I must grind your dreams into dust. As most Canadians would expect, the choice is between Edmonton and Calgary. I understand the scales are tipped towards Calgary (that’s the scooplet) but these things can change in a heartbeat (no, don’t get your hopes up about Wetaskawin). I understand we should be learning the decision soon (I wonder if Banff might emerge as a dark horse contender).