Tag Archives: Canada

Nanoparticles in baby formula

Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND

Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU [Arizona State University] researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND

Nanowerk is featuring an essay about hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in baby formula written by Dr. Andrew Maynard in a May 17, 2016 news item (Note: A link has been removed),

There’s a lot of stuff you’d expect to find in baby formula: proteins, carbs, vitamins, essential minerals. But parents probably wouldn’t anticipate finding extremely small, needle-like particles. Yet this is exactly what a team of scientists here at Arizona State University [ASU] recently discovered.

The research, commissioned and published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) – an environmental advocacy group – analyzed six commonly available off-the-shelf baby formulas (liquid and powder) and found nanometer-scale needle-like particles in three of them. The particles were made of hydroxyapatite – a poorly soluble calcium-rich mineral. Manufacturers use it to regulate acidity in some foods, and it’s also available as a dietary supplement.

Andrew’s May 17, 2016 essay first appeared on The Conversation website,

Looking at these particles at super-high magnification, it’s hard not to feel a little anxious about feeding them to a baby. They appear sharp and dangerous – not the sort of thing that has any place around infants. …

… questions like “should infants be ingesting them?” make a lot of sense. However, as is so often the case, the answers are not quite so straightforward.

Andrew begins by explaining about calcium and hydroxyapatite (from The Conversation),

Calcium is an essential part of a growing infant’s diet, and is a legally required component in formula. But not necessarily in the form of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles.

Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t automatically make it safe to ingest outright.

The issue here is what the hydroxyapatite in formula might do before it’s digested, dissolved and reconstituted inside babies’ bodies. The size and shape of the particles ingested has a lot to do with how they behave within a living system.

He then discusses size and shape, which are important at the nanoscale,

Size and shape can make a difference between safe and unsafe when it comes to particles in our food. Small particles aren’t necessarily bad. But they can potentially get to parts of our body that larger ones can’t reach. Think through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and into organs and cells. Ingested nanoscale particles may be able to interfere with cells – even beneficial gut microbes – in ways that larger particles don’t.

These possibilities don’t necessarily make nanoparticles harmful. Our bodies are pretty well adapted to handling naturally occurring nanoscale particles – you probably ate some last time you had burnt toast (carbon nanoparticles), or poorly washed vegetables (clay nanoparticles from the soil). And of course, how much of a material we’re exposed to is at least as important as how potentially hazardous it is.

Yet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the safety of intentionally engineered nanoparticles in food. Toxicologists have started paying close attention to such particles, just in case their tiny size makes them more harmful than otherwise expected.

Currently, hydroxyapatite is considered safe at the macroscale by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the agency has indicated that nanoscale versions of safe materials such as hydroxyapatite may not be safe food additives. From Andrew’s May 17, 2016 essay,

Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t automatically make it safe to ingest outright.

The issue here is what the hydroxyapatite in formula might do before it’s digested, dissolved and reconstituted inside babies’ bodies. The size and shape of the particles ingested has a lot to do with how they behave within a living system. Size and shape can make a difference between safe and unsafe when it comes to particles in our food. Small particles aren’t necessarily bad. But they can potentially get to parts of our body that larger ones can’t reach. Think through the gut wall, into the bloodstream, and into organs and cells. Ingested nanoscale particles may be able to interfere with cells – even beneficial gut microbes – in ways that larger particles don’t.These possibilities don’t necessarily make nanoparticles harmful. Our bodies are pretty well adapted to handling naturally occurring nanoscale particles – you probably ate some last time you had burnt toast (carbon nanoparticles), or poorly washed vegetables (clay nanoparticles from the soil). And of course, how much of a material we’re exposed to is at least as important as how potentially hazardous it is.Yet there’s a lot we still don’t know about the safety of intentionally engineered nanoparticles in food. Toxicologists have started paying close attention to such particles, just in case their tiny size makes them more harmful than otherwise expected.

Putting particle size to one side for a moment, hydroxyapatite is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “Generally Regarded As Safe.” That means it considers the material safe for use in food products – at least in a non-nano form. However, the agency has raised concerns that nanoscale versions of food ingredients may not be as safe as their larger counterparts.Some manufacturers may be interested in the potential benefits of “nanosizing” – such as increasing the uptake of vitamins and minerals, or altering the physical, textural and sensory properties of foods. But because decreasing particle size may also affect product safety, the FDA indicates that intentionally nanosizing already regulated food ingredients could require regulatory reevaluation.In other words, even though non-nanoscale hydroxyapatite is “Generally Regarded As Safe,” according to the FDA, the safety of any nanoscale form of the substance would need to be reevaluated before being added to food products.Despite this size-safety relationship, the FDA confirmed to me that the agency is unaware of any food substance intentionally engineered at the nanoscale that has enough generally available safety data to determine it should be “Generally Regarded As Safe.”Casting further uncertainty on the use of nanoscale hydroxyapatite in food, a 2015 report from the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) suggests there may be some cause for concern when it comes to this particular nanomaterial.Prompted by the use of nanoscale hydroxyapatite in dental products to strengthen teeth (which they consider “cosmetic products”), the SCCS reviewed published research on the material’s potential to cause harm. Their conclusion?

The available information indicates that nano-hydroxyapatite in needle-shaped form is of concern in relation to potential toxicity. Therefore, needle-shaped nano-hydroxyapatite should not be used in cosmetic products.

This recommendation was based on a handful of studies, none of which involved exposing people to the substance. Researchers injected hydroxyapatite needles directly into the bloodstream of rats. Others exposed cells outside the body to the material and observed the effects. In each case, there were tantalizing hints that the small particles interfered in some way with normal biological functions. But the results were insufficient to indicate whether the effects were meaningful in people.

As Andrew also notes in his essay, none of the studies examined by the SCCS OEuropean Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) looked at what happens to nano-hydroxyapatite once it enters your gut and that is what the researchers at Arizona State University were considering (from the May 17, 2016 essay),

The good news is that, according to preliminary studies from ASU researchers, hydroxyapatite needles don’t last long in the digestive system.

This research is still being reviewed for publication. But early indications are that as soon as the needle-like nanoparticles hit the highly acidic fluid in the stomach, they begin to dissolve. So fast in fact, that by the time they leave the stomach – an exceedingly hostile environment – they are no longer the nanoparticles they started out as.

These findings make sense since we know hydroxyapatite dissolves in acids, and small particles typically dissolve faster than larger ones. So maybe nanoscale hydroxyapatite needles in food are safer than they sound.

This doesn’t mean that the nano-needles are completely off the hook, as some of them may get past the stomach intact and reach more vulnerable parts of the gut. But the findings do suggest these ultra-small needle-like particles could be an effective source of dietary calcium – possibly more so than larger or less needle-like particles that may not dissolve as quickly.

Intriguingly, recent research has indicated that calcium phosphate nanoparticles form naturally in our stomachs and go on to be an important part of our immune system. It’s possible that rapidly dissolving hydroxyapatite nano-needles are actually a boon, providing raw material for these natural and essential nanoparticles.

While it’s comforting to know that preliminary research suggests that the hydroxyapatite nanoparticles are likely safe for use in food products, Andrew points out that more needs to be done to insure safety (from the May 17, 2016 essay),

And yet, even if these needle-like hydroxyapatite nanoparticles in infant formula are ultimately a good thing, the FoE report raises a number of unresolved questions. Did the manufacturers knowingly add the nanoparticles to their products? How are they and the FDA ensuring the products’ safety? Do consumers have a right to know when they’re feeding their babies nanoparticles?

Whether the manufacturers knowingly added these particles to their formula is not clear. At this point, it’s not even clear why they might have been added, as hydroxyapatite does not appear to be a substantial source of calcium in most formula. …

And regardless of the benefits and risks of nanoparticles in infant formula, parents have a right to know what’s in the products they’re feeding their children. In Europe, food ingredients must be legally labeled if they are nanoscale. In the U.S., there is no such requirement, leaving American parents to feel somewhat left in the dark by producers, the FDA and policy makers.

As far as I’m aware, the Canadian situation is much the same as the US. If the material is considered safe at the macroscale, there is no requirement to indicate that a nanoscale version of the material is in the product.

I encourage you to read Andrew’s essay in its entirety. As for the FoE report (Nanoparticles in baby formula: Tiny new ingredients are a big concern), that is here.

AquAdvantage salmon (genetically modified) approved for consumption in Canada

This is an update of the AquAdvantage salmon story covered in my Dec. 4, 2015 post (scroll down about 40% of the way). At the time, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had just given approval for consumption of the fish. There was speculation there would be a long hard fight over approval in Canada. This does not seem to have been the case, according to a May 10, 2016 news item announcing Health Canada’s on phys.org,

Canada’s health ministry on Thursday [May 19, 2016] approved a type of genetically modified salmon as safe to eat, making it the first transgenic animal destined for Canadian dinner tables.

This comes six months after US authorities gave the green light to sell the fish in American grocery stores.

The decisions by Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration follow two decades of controversy over the fish, which is an Atlantic salmon injected with genes from Pacific Chinook salmon and a fish known as the ocean pout to make it grow faster.

The resulting fish, called AquAdvantage Salmon, is made by AquaBounty Technologies in Massachusetts, and can reach adult size in 16 to 18 months instead of 30 months for normal Atlantic salmon.

A May 19, 2016 BIOTECanada news release on businesswire provides more detail about one of the salmon’s Canadian connections,

Canadian technology emanating from Memorial University developed the AquAdvantage salmon by introducing a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon into the genome of Atlantic salmon. This results in a salmon which grows faster and reaches market size quicker and AquAdvantage salmon is identical to other farmed salmon. The AquAdvantage salmon also received US FDA approval in November 2015. With the growing world population, AquaBounty is one of many biotechnology companies offering safe and sustainable means to enhance the security and supply of food in the world. AquaBounty has improved the productivity of aquaculture through its use of biotechnology and modern breeding technics that have led to the development of AquAdvantage salmon.

“Importantly, today’s approval is a result of a four year science-based regulatory approval process which involved four federal government departments including Agriculture and AgriFood, Canada Food Inspection Agency, Environment and Climate Change, Fisheries and Oceans and Health which demonstrates the rigour and scope of science based regulatory approvals in Canada. Coupled with the report from the [US] National Academy of Sciences today’s [May 19, 2016] approval clearly demonstrates that genetic engineering of food is not only necessary but also extremely safe,” concluded Casey [Andrew Casey, President and CEO BIOTECanada].

There’s another connection, the salmon hatcheries are based in Prince Edward Island.

While BIOTECanada’s Andrew Casey is crowing about this approval, it should be noted that there was a losing court battle with British Columbia’s Living Oceans Society and Nova Scotia’s Ecology Action Centre both challenging the federal government’s approval. They may have lost battle but, as the cliché goes, ‘the war is not over yet’. There’s an Issue about the lack of labeling and there’s always the  possibility that retailers and/or consumers may decide to boycott the fish.

As for BIOTECanada, there’s this description from the news release,

BIOTECanada is the national industry association with more than 230 members reflecting the diverse nature of Canada’s health, industrial and agricultural biotechnology sectors. In addition to providing significant health benefits for Canadians, the biotechnology industry has quickly become an essential part of the transformation of many traditional cornerstones of the Canadian economy including manufacturing, automotive, energy, aerospace and forestry industries. Biotechnology in all of its applications from health, agriculture and industrial is offering solutions for the collective population.

You can find the BIOTECanada website here.

Personally, I’m a bit ambivalent about it all. I understand the necessity for changing our food production processes but I do think more attention should be paid to consumers’ concerns and that organizations such as BIOTECanada could do a better job of communicating.

Chief science adviser/advisor for Canada (we’re still waiting)

I half-thought we might get an announcement about Canada’s new science adviser/advisor/officer during the 2016 Science Odyssey  (formerly Canada’s National Science and Technology Week) being held from May 6–15, 2016. Especially in light of Science Minister Kirsty Duncan’s May 6, 2016 article “Duncan: New federal science adviser will be key to evidence-based policy” for the Ottawa Citizen,

The creation of a permanent Chief Science Officer demonstrates our government’s commitment to making sure science finds its rightful place at the federal table. In the six months since arriving in office, I have consulted extensively – both domestically and internationally – on this position. I have examined how similar positions, often called a chief science adviser, work in other countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States and Israel. My survey of international models will help create a position that is modern and yet tailor-made to suit Canada.

To-date, I have received valuable input from more than 80 experts, stakeholders and parliamentary colleagues from across the political spectrum. They have provided views such as the importance of recruiting someone who can provide independent, transparent and non-partisan scientific advice to the prime minister and our government. Our consultations have also underscored the importance of building relationships between a Chief Science Officer and the research community that allow for the best scientific expertise to be part of decision-making at the highest levels of government.

Our stakeholders also emphasized the importance of appointing someone who would have access to and an open dialogue with federal scientists, along with other scientists across Canada and abroad.

And when I speak of scientists here, I mean all scientists. As Stephen J. Toope, president of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, wrote in the Citizen Friday [May 6, 2016], our lead scientist would be welcome to gather the best evidence from all scientific disciplines: the natural and applied sciences, engineering, health sciences and the social sciences and humanities. The officer would do so without the influence of political agendas. And with ease in both official languages.

I have learned from my consultations that in order for Canada to enhance its science advisory system and give this new position permanence, it is important to properly define and take the time necessary to recruit someone who has a deep respect for Canada’s scientists and the role of science in society. So far, I am encouraged that members of our stakeholder community and parliamentarians understand the need for a credible process to appoint a worthy individual who will serve our prime minister, our government, our citizens and scientists.

Tim Lougheed in a Feb. 29, 2016 article for the Canadian Science Policy Centre passed on a few thoughts from Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor (CSO; either advisor or adviser seems to be correct) to New Zealand’s Prime Minister,

So, the Canadian science adviser is supposed to have an impact on policy,

“There can be expectations that when you’re fighting for a science advisor you’re fighting for an in-house lobbyist for the science community,” he cautions. “But of course you’re not: you’re fighting for an in-house lobbyist for the use of science by government. There’s a really important difference.”

Gluckman was honoured this February [2016] in Washington [DC] at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which gave him its 2015 Award for Science Diplomacy. He understands the need for diplomacy in any kind of CSO undertaking, especially whenever he has found himself wedged in between a political leadership seeking objective consultation and a research community disappointed with their share of government funding.

“When the roles of science advisors get conflated, they tend to get more politicized,” he explains. “What we try to do is to show that science can be an apolitical powerful input into better decision-making by governments.”

Canada [has] already long taken advantage of this powerful input through the Science Technology and Innovation Council, created in 2007, and before that the Council of Science and Technology Advisors, which dates back to 1996. However, the deliberations of these bodies largely took place behind closed doors and neither was ever intended to maintain the public accountability and profile of a CSO, who could easily become a lightning rod in exceptional circumstances such as those that highlighted Koop’s career.

“They’re going to have to earn the trust of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet,” says University of Ottawa Biology Professor Rees Kassen. “They have to show value and at the same time they have to show value to the country.”

Kassen, a longtime advocate of bridge-building between government and the research community, underscores that “country” refers to everyone, not just those two parties. In order to succeed, the CSO must be seen to benefit Canada as a whole.

“I would like to see the role of science advisor not rely solely on the heroic capabilities of one person,” he adds. “We have a very rich ecosystem of scientific knowledge creation, of scientific activity, of scientific translation — and potentially, of scientific advice.”

Kassen, a longtime advocate of bridge-building between government and the research community, underscores that “country” refers to everyone, not just those two parties. In order to succeed, the CSO must be seen to benefit Canada as a whole.

“I would like to see the role of science advisor not rely solely on the heroic capabilities of one person,” he adds. “We have a very rich ecosystem of scientific knowledge creation, of scientific activity, of scientific translation — and potentially, of scientific advice.”

Gluckman — who himself coordinates the work of a variety of other science advisors located in other parts of the New Zealand government, and collaborates closely with the Royal Society of New Zealand (the National Academy)— absolutely agrees. Moreover, he concludes that the effectiveness of any CSO will depend on how far and wide their influence extends.

“That really determines how this role works,” he says. “Ultimately if this person doesn’t report across the whole of government, they can’t do the role I’m talking about.”

Of course, there are some assumptions being made as Paul Cairney *notes* in his March 10, 2016 article for the Guardian about science advice and its impact on policy and policymakers,

… these efforts will fail if scientists and other experts fail to understand how the policy process works. To do so requires us to reject two romantic notions: first, that policymakers will ever think like scientists; and second, that there is a clearly identifiable point of decision at which scientists can contribute evidence to make a demonstrable impact.

To better understand how policymakers think, we need a full account of “bounded rationality.” This phrase describes the fact that policymakers can only gather limited information before they make decisions quickly. They will have made a choice before you have a chance to say “more research is needed”! To do so, they use two short cuts: rational ways to gather quickly the best evidence on solutions to meet their goals; and irrational ways – including drawing on emotions and gut feeling – to identify problems even more quickly.

This highlights a potential flaw in academic strategies. The most common response to bounded rationality in scientific articles is to focus on the supply of evidence: to develop a hierarchy of evidence, which often privileges randomised control trials; to generate knowledge; and to present it in a form that is understandable to policymakers.

We need to pay more attention to the demand for evidence, taking more account of lurches of policymaker attention, often driven by quick and emotional decisions. For example, there is no point in taking the time to make evidence-based solutions easier to understand if policymakers are no longer interested. Successful advocates recognise the value of emotional appeals and simple stories to draw attention to a problem.

To identify when and how to contribute evidence, we need to understand the complicated environment in which policymaking takes place. There is no “policy cycle” in which to inject scientific evidence at the point of decision. Rather, the policy process is messy and often unpredictable. It is a complex system in which the same injection of evidence can have no effect, or a major effect.

The article offers more insight into the issues with science advice, evidence, and policymaking. Coincidentally Cairney was promoting a new book at the time (from Cairney’s article),

… his new book The Politics of Evidence Based Policymaking, which was launched this week by the Alliance for Useful Evidence. More details are available on his website.

All this speculation has been quite interesting and I look forward to an announcement at some point. For those who’d like more opinions about the matter, there’s the Canadian Science Policy Centre’s Chief Science Officer: Insights and Recommendations webpage, which, as of May 19, 2016, hosts seven opinion pieces including one from Ted Hsu, former Liberal Member of Parliament, one of the few to hold a science degree (in his case, physics).

*’notes’ added on May 19,2016 at 1412 PDT.

First Canadian Governor-General’s innovation award goes to professor Robert Burrell (nanoscientist) at the University of Alberta

The first innovation award ever given by the Canadian Governor General* has gone to a nanomedicine pioneer at the University of Alberta. From a May 12, 2016 news article by Marc Montgomery for Radio Canada International*, Note: A link has been removed,

Professor Robert Burrell of the University of Alberta has won a prestigious Governor-General’s Innovation Award for the world’s first therapeutic use of nanotechnology.

Professor Burrell used nano-technology on a wound bandage that has already begun transforming treatment of wounds in situations around the world.

Robert Burrell,  Professor in the Faculty of Chemical and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alberta, is also Canada Research Chair in Nanostructured Biomaterials, and Chair, Biomedical Engineering at the university.

Burrell’s development called Acticoat came from research into nano-forms of silver.  When silver is reduced to nano scale it’s properties and chemical activity change.

In his research prior to joining the University in 2002, Burrell created a coating of nano-crystals of silver which not only kills bacteria but also has anti-inflammatory properties.

A May 9, 2016 University of Alberta news release has a bit more information,

… The chair of the U of A Department of Biomedical Engineering has been awarded a new national innovation prize in recognition of an invention that transformed wound care around the world.

Rob Burrell PhD, FCAHS, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Nanostructure Biomaterials and leads the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is one of six Canadians to win the inaugural round of the Governor General’s Innovation Awards. The awards recognize “exceptional and transformative work” that has helped “shape our future and positively impact our quality of life.”

“It was a nice surprise,” Burrell says of receiving the award. “I got an email in April—and was wondering why the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada [David Johnston is the current Governor General] wanted to talk to me. When we had our phone call he congratulated me on winning the award.”

Burrell invented Acticoat, a new wound dressing that uses nanocrystalline silver to fight bacteria and inflammation in wounds, while working for Westaim Biomedical, later Nucryst Pharmaceuticals. He joined the Faculty of Engineering in 2002.

The dressing was the world’s first therapeutic use of nanotechnology and has saved thousands of lives and limbs, transforming the treatment of burns and wounds.

“We have three projects on the go now. We’ve developed a new dressing and applied for a patent on it for scar control and we’re looking at commercializing that,” he said. “I have two of my grad students—and this summer we will have three summer students—working on a diagnostic tool that will allow a surgeon in an operating room to assess a tumour in 10 to 15 minutes. The analysis of the tumour can determine the type of surgery and post-surgical care the patient receives.”

You can find out more about the Governor General awards, which include, in addition to the new innovation category, the arts,  the sciences and humanities, and more here.

* I have a couple of explanatory notes for those unfamiliar with the concept of a Governor General and/or those who may be curious about Radio Canada International.

The Governor General is the Queen’s or the British monarch’s representative in Canada. Here’s another more general definition from a Wikipedia entry,

Governor-general or governor general, in modern usage, is the title of an office-holder appointed to represent the monarch of a sovereign state in the governing of an independent realm. Governors-general have also previously been appointed in respect of major colonial states or other territories held by either a monarchy or republic, such as French Indochina.

Radio Canada International is a little complicated. Radio Canada is the French language arm of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the name ‘Radio Canada’ refers to its radio, television, and internet services.

Interestingly Radio Canada International is the global outreach for both Radio Canada and CBC, presumably, uniting the English and French language services under one banner.

2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference call for proposals

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s May 18, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for reminding me of the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference,

The 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference (CSPC), the eighth such event, will return to the nation’s capital [Ottawa] from November 8-10.  This is the third year the Conference will take place in Ottawa, and the first time it has been held in the same city in consecutive years.  I attended the first conference in 2009, and the event has grown in size and stature every year since.  I’d encourage anyone interested in Canadian science policy, or even in how interested researchers and practitioners form and grow a community, to review previous conferences and consider attending the event.

From a May 4, 2016 call for proposals (received via email), here are the conference themes and information about submitting ideas,

Here are CSPC 2016 Themes:

A New Culture of Policy Making and Evidence-Based Decision-Making: Horizons and Challenges

A New Innovation Agenda or Canada: What are we building?

Science Funding Review: New Visions and New Directions

Clean Energy and Climate Change as Global Priorities: Implications for Canada?

Canada’s Return to the International Stage: How Can Science Help Foreign Policy?

To read more click here.

The CSPC 2016 call for panel proposals is now open! We invite proposals in different presentation formats that revolve around any of the above mentioned conference themes. The variety of presentation formats throughout the conference makes it possible for delegates and organizations to share their thoughts, views and experiences in the most convenient manner possible. Proposals of organizations and individuals from across all sectors and disciplines are welcome.The proposals will be reviewed, selected and presented at the next conference. Everyone is invited to participate.

The deadline for submitting your proposal is Friday June 17th 2016. This year CSPC urges the submitters to emphasize a futuristic approach on their proposals, presenting the best solutions to the challenges, while using interactive formats for the panels. A detailed description of the submission criteria and panel formats (streams) can be found here. [There is a discrepancy as of May 19, 2016 the deadline on this page has not been updated]

To submit a panel please click here

Given the titles for four of the five themes, the organizers are very excited about the ‘new’ government and the ‘return’ of the Liberals.

Side note: I’m watching the situation with Prime Minister Trudeau and his recent shoving incident in Parliament’s House of Commons with some interest as I ponder what impact, if any, this may have on more open relations with the media and possible fallout for science and media. For anyone not familiar with the situation, there’s this May 19, 2016 article by Tonya Michaels for Star.com,

Parliament turned downright ugly when an impatient Prime Minister Justin Trudeau crossed the aisle to drag an opposition MP forward so a vote could take place, knocking aside a female NDP [New Democratic Party] MP who was so shaken she had to leave the chamber.

The encounter Wednesday led to a shouting match between Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair after Trudeau briefly crossed the floor a second time appearing to look for someone. Mulcair can be heard on Commons video footage yelling at Trudeau: “What kind of man elbows a woman? You’re pathetic.”

The confrontation took place late in the day prior to a vote on a government bid to limit debate on its assisted suicide bill, with the opposition already furious at another Liberal move to seize control over the parliamentary agenda.

Michaels goes into more detail about the vote and the tension in her article which also hosts an embedded video of the incident. For the record, he did apologize.

*Ooops! I forgot to give this title. Corrected May 19, 2016 2 minutes after first publication.

The song is you: a McGill University, University of Cambridge, and Stanford University research collaboration

These days I’m thinking about sound, music, spoken word, and more as I prepare for a new art/science piece. It’s very early stages so I don’t have much more to say about it but along those lines of thought, there’s a recent piece of research on music and personality that caught my eye. From a May 11, 2016 news item on phys.org,

A team of scientists from McGill University, the University of Cambridge, and Stanford Graduate School of Business developed a new method of coding and categorizing music. They found that people’s preference for these musical categories is driven by personality. The researchers say the findings have important implications for industry and health professionals.

A May 10, 2016 McGill University news release, which originated the news item, provides some fascinating suggestions for new categories for music,

There are a multitude of adjectives that people use to describe music, but in a recent study to be published this week in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers show that musical attributes can be grouped into three categories. Rather than relying on the genre or style of a song, the team of scientists led by music psychologist David Greenberg with the help of Daniel J. Levitin from McGill University mapped the musical attributes of song excerpts from 26 different genres and subgenres, and then applied a statistical procedure to group them into clusters. The study revealed three clusters, which they labeled Arousal, Valence, and Depth. Arousal describes intensity and energy in music; Valence describes the spectrum of emotions in music (from sad to happy); and Depth describes intellect and sophistication in music. They also found that characteristics describing music from a single genre (both rock and jazz separately) could be grouped in these same three categories.

The findings suggest that this may be a useful alternative to grouping music into genres, which is often based on social connotations rather than the attributes of the actual music. It also suggests that those in academia and industry (e.g. Spotify and Pandora) that are already coding music on a multitude of attributes might save time and money by coding music around these three composite categories instead.

The researchers also conducted a second study of nearly 10,000 Facebook users who indicated their preferences for 50 musical excerpts from different genres. The researchers were then able to map preferences for these three attribute categories onto five personality traits and 30 detailed personality facets. For example, they found people who scored high on Openness to Experience preferred Depth in music, while Extraverted excitement-seekers preferred high Arousal in music. And those who scored high on Neuroticism preferred negative emotions in music, while those who were self-assured preferred positive emotions in music. As the title from the old Kern and Hammerstein song suggests, “The Song is You”. That is, the musical attributes that you like most reflect your personality. It also provides scientific support for what Joni Mitchell said in a 2013 interview with the CBC: “The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.”

The researchers hope that this information will not only be helpful to music therapists but also for health care professions and even hospitals. For example, recent evidence has showed that music listening can increase recovery after surgery. The researchers argue that information about music preferences and personality could inform a music listening protocol after surgery to boost recovery rates.

The article is another in a series of studies that Greenberg and his team have published on music and personality. This past July [2015], they published an article in PLOS ONE showing that people’s musical preferences are linked to thinking styles. And in October [2015], they published an article in the Journal of Research in Personality, identifying the personality trait Openness to Experience as a key predictor of musical ability, even in non-musicians. These series of studies tell us that there are close links between our personality and musical behavior that may be beyond our control and awareness.

Readers can find out how they score on the music and personality quizzes at www.musicaluniverse.org.

David M. Greenberg, lead author from Cambridge University and City University of New York said: “Genre labels are informative but we’re trying to transcend them and move in a direction that points to the detailed characteristics in music that are driving people preferences and emotional reactions.”

Greenberg added: “As a musician, I see how vast the powers of music really are, and unfortunately, many of us do not use music to its full potential. Our ultimate goal is to create science that will help enhance the experience of listening to music. We want to use this information about personality and preferences to increase the day-to-day enjoyment and peak experiences people have with music.”

William Hoffman in a May 11, 2016 article for Inverse describes the work in connection with recently released new music from Radiohead and an upcoming release from Chance the Rapper (along with a brief mention of Drake), Note: Links have been removed,

Music critics regularly scour Thesaurus.com for the best adjectives to throw into their perfectly descriptive melodious disquisitions on the latest works from Drake, Radiohead, or whomever. And listeners of all walks have, since the beginning of music itself, been guilty of lazily pigeonholing artists into numerous socially constructed genres. But all of that can be (and should be) thrown out the window now, because new research suggests that, to perfectly match music to a listener’s personality, all you need are these three scientific measurables [arousal, valence, depth].

This suggests that a slow, introspective gospel song from Chance The Rapper’s upcoming album could have the same depth as a track from Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. So a system of categorization based on Greenberg’s research would, surprisingly but rightfully, place the rap and rock works in the same bin.

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

The Song Is You: Preferences for Musical Attribute Dimensions Reflect Personality by David M. Greenberg, Michal Kosinski, David J. Stillwell, Brian L. Monteiro, Daniel J. Levitin, and Peter J. Rentfrow. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550616641473, first published on May 9, 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the October 2015 paper

Personality predicts musical sophistication by David M. Greenberg, Daniel Müllensiefen, Michael E. Lamb, Peter J. Rentfrow. Journal of Research in Personality Volume 58, October 2015, Pages 154–158 doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2015.06.002 Note: A Feb. 2016 erratum is also listed.

The paper is behind a paywall and it looks as if you will have to pay for it and for the erratum separately.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the July 2015 paper,

Musical Preferences are Linked to Cognitive Styles by David M. Greenberg, Simon Baron-Cohen, David J. Stillwell, Michal Kosinski, Peter J. Rentfrow. PLOS [Public Library of Science ONE]  http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0131151 Published: July 22, 2015

This paper is open access.

I tried out the research project’s website: The Musical Universe. by filling out the Musical Taste questionnaire. Unfortunately, I did not receive my results. Since the team’s latest research has just been reported, I imagine there are many people trying do the same thing. It might be worth your while to wait a bit if you want to try this out or you can fill out one of their other questionnaires. Oh, and you might want to allot at least 20 mins.

The Leonardo Project and the master’s DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)

I’ve never really understood the mania for digging up bodies of famous people in history and trying to ascertain how the person really died or what kind of diseases they may have had but the practice fascinates me. The latest famous person to be subjected to a forensic inquiry centuries after death is Leonardo da Vinci. A May 5, 2016 Human Evolution (journal) news release on EurekAlert provides details,

A team of eminent specialists from a variety of academic disciplines has coalesced around a goal of creating new insight into the life and genius of Leonardo da Vinci by means of authoritative new research and modern detective technologies, including DNA science.

The Leonardo Project is in pursuit of several possible physical connections to Leonardo, beaming radar, for example, at an ancient Italian church floor to help corroborate extensive research to pinpoint the likely location of the tomb of his father and other relatives. A collaborating scholar also recently announced the successful tracing of several likely DNA relatives of Leonardo living today in Italy (see endnotes).

If granted the necessary approvals, the Project will compare DNA from Leonardo’s relatives past and present with physical remnants — hair, bones, fingerprints and skin cells — associated with the Renaissance figure whose life marked the rebirth of Western civilization.

The Project’s objectives, motives, methods, and work to date are detailed in a special issue of the journal Human Evolution, published coincident with a meeting of the group hosted in Florence this week under the patronage of Eugenio Giani, President of the Tuscan Regional Council (Consiglio Regionale della Toscana).

The news release goes on to provide some context for the work,

Born in Vinci, Italy, Leonardo died in 1519, age 67, and was buried in Amboise, southwest of Paris. His creative imagination foresaw and described innovations hundreds of years before their invention, such as the helicopter and armored tank. His artistic legacy includes the iconic Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

The idea behind the Project, founded in 2014, has inspired and united anthropologists, art historians, genealogists, microbiologists, and other experts from leading universities and institutes in France, Italy, Spain, Canada and the USA, including specialists from the J. Craig Venter Institute of California, which pioneered the sequencing of the human genome.

The work underway resembles in complexity recent projects such as the successful search for the tomb of historic author Miguel de Cervantes and, in March 2015, the identification of England’s King Richard III from remains exhumed from beneath a UK parking lot, fittingly re-interred 500 years after his death.

Like Richard, Leonardo was born in 1452, and was buried in a setting that underwent changes in subsequent years such that the exact location of the grave was lost.

If DNA and other analyses yield a definitive identification, conventional and computerized techniques might reconstruct the face of Leonardo from models of the skull.”

In addition to Leonardo’s physical appearance, information potentially revealed from the work includes his ancestry and additional insight into his diet, state of health, personal habits, and places of residence.

According to the news release, the researchers have an agenda that goes beyond facial reconstruction and clues about  ancestry and diet,

Beyond those questions, and the verification of Leonardo’s “presumed remains” in the chapel of Saint-Hubert at the Château d’Amboise, the Project aims to develop a genetic profile extensive enough to understand better his abilities and visual acuity, which could provide insights into other individuals with remarkable qualities.

It may also make a lasting contribution to the art world, within which forgery is a multi-billion dollar industry, by advancing a technique for extracting and sequencing DNA from other centuries-old works of art, and associated methods of attribution.

Says Jesse Ausubel, Vice Chairman of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, sponsor of the Project’s meetings in 2015 and 2016: “I think everyone in the group believes that Leonardo, who devoted himself to advancing art and science, who delighted in puzzles, and whose diverse talents and insights continue to enrich society five centuries after his passing, would welcome the initiative of this team — indeed would likely wish to lead it were he alive today.”

The researchers aim to have the work complete by 2019,

In the journal, group members underline the highly conservative, precautionary approach required at every phase of the Project, which they aim to conclude in 2019 to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death.

For example, one objective is to verify whether fingerprints on Leonardo’s paintings, drawings, and notebooks can yield DNA consistent with that extracted from identified remains.

Early last year, Project collaborators from the International Institute for Humankind Studies in Florence opened discussions with the laboratory in that city where Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi has been undergoing restoration for nearly two years, to explore the possibility of analyzing dust from the painting for possible DNA traces. A crucial question is whether traces of DNA remain or whether restoration measures and the passage of time have obliterated all evidence of Leonardo’s touch.

In preparation for such analysis, a team from the J. Craig Venter Institute and the University of Florence is examining privately owned paintings believed to be of comparable age to develop and calibrate techniques for DNA extraction and analysis. At this year’s meeting in Florence, the researchers also described a pioneering effort to analyze the microbiome of a painting thought to be about five centuries old.

If human DNA can one day be obtained from Leonardo’s work and sequenced, the genetic material could then be compared with genetic information from skeletal or other remains that may be exhumed in the future.

Here’s a list of the participating organizations (from the news release),

  • The Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Paris
  • The International Institute for Humankind Studies, Florence
  • The Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology and Paleogenetics, Biology Department, University of Florence
  • Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, in Vinci, Italy
  • J. Craig Venter Institute, La Jolla, California
  • Laboratory of Genetic Identification, University of Granada, Spain
  • The Rockefeller University, New York City

You can find the special issue of Human Evolution (HE Vol. 31, 2016 no. 3) here. The introductory essay is open access but the other articles are behind a paywall.

Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab opens new facility in India and competes in the Carbon XPRIZE

India

The Ingenuity Lab in Alberta has made two recent announcements. The first one to catch my attention was a May 7, 2016 news item on Nanotechnology Now,

Ingenuity Lab is proud to announce the opening of the Ingenuity Lab Research Hub at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala India, to implement applied research and enable the translation of new 22nd century technologies. This new facility is the result of collaboration between the International and Inter University Centre for Nanoscience Nanotechnology (IIUCNN) and Ingenuity Lab to leverage what each participant does best.

Should the Nanotechnology Now news item not be available you can find the same information in a May 6, 2016 news item in The Canadian Business News Journal. Here’s the rest of the news item,

Ingenuity Lab, led by Dr. Carlo Montemagno, brings the best minds together to address global challenges and was in 2014 voted the Best Nanotechnology Research Organisation in 2014 by The New Economy. IIUCNN is led by Professor Sabu Thomas, whose vision it is to perform and coordinate academic and research activities in the frontier areas of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology by incorporating physical, chemical, biological and environmental aspects.

The two institutions are world-renowned for their work, and the new partnership should cover areas as diverse as catalysis, macromolecules, environmental chemistry, biological processes and health and wellness.

“The initial focus,” according to Ingenuity Lab’s Director Dr. Carlo Montemagno, “Will be on inexpensive point of care healthcare technologies and water availability for both agriculture and personal consumption.” However, in the future, he says, “We plan to expand the scope to include food safety and energy systems.”

Ingenuity Lab’s role is to focus on producing, adapting and supplying new materials to Ingenuity Lab India to focus on final device development and field-testing. The India team members know what system characteristics work best in developing economies, and will establish the figures of merit to make an appropriate solution. Alberta team members will then use this information to exercise its skills in advance materials and systems design to be crafted into its final form and field-tested.

The collaboration is somewhat unique in that it includes the bilateral exchange of students and researchers to facilitate the commercial translation of new and game changing technologies.

Dr. Babu Sebastian, Honourable Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, will declare the opening of the new facility in the presence of Dr. Montemagno, who will explain the vision of this research hub in association with his plenary lecture of ICM 2016.

Carbon XPRIZE

A May 9, 2016 press release on Market Wired describes Ingenuity Lab’s latest venture into carbon ‘transformation’,

Alberta-based Ingenuity Lab has entered the Carbon XPRIZE under the name of Ingenuity Carbon Solutions. With competition registration taking place in March, Ingenuity Carbon Solutions plans to launch its latest carbon transformation technology and win the backing it so deserves on the world stage.

Ingenuity Lab is working to develop a technology that transforms CO2 emissions and changes the conversation on carbon and its consequences for the environment. By developing nano particles that have the capability to sequester CO2 from facility gas flue emissions, the technology can metabolize emissions into marketable by-products.

The Carbon XPRIZE this year seeks to inspire solutions to the issue of climate change by incentivizing the development of new and emerging CO2 conversation technologies. Described recently in a WEF [World Economic Forum] survey as the biggest potential threat to the economy in 2016, climate change has been targeted as a priority issue, and the XPRIZE has done a great deal to provide answers to the climate question.

Renowned for its role in bringing new and radical thought leaders into the public domain, the XPRIZE Board of Trustees include Elon Musk, James Cameron and Arianna Huffington and the prize never fails to attract the world’s brightest minds.

This year’s Carbon XPRIZE challenges participants including Ingenuity Lab and its Ingenuity Carbon Solutions team to reimagine the climate question by accelerating the development of technologies to convert CO2 into valuable products. Ingenuity Carbon Solutions and others will compete in a three-round competition for a total prize purse of $20m, with the winnings going towards the technology’s continued development.

I hope to hear more good news soon. Alberta could certainly do with some of that as it copes with Fort McMurray’s monstrous wildfire (more here in a NASA/ Goddard Space Flight Center May 9, 2016 news release on EurekAlert).

For anyone interesting Alberta’s ‘nano’ Ingenuity Lab, more can be found here.

Nanosafety Cluster newsletter—excerpts from the Spring 2016 issue

The European Commission’s NanoSafety Cluster Newsletter (no.7) Spring 2016 edition is some 50 pp. long and it provides a roundup of activities and forthcoming events. Here are a few excerpts,

“Closer to the Market” Roadmap (CTTM) now finalised

Hot off the press! the Cluster’s “Closer to the Market” Roadmap (CTTM)  is  a  multi-dimensional,  stepwise  plan  targeting  a framework to deliver safe nano-enabled products to the market. After some years of discussions, several consultations of a huge number of experts in the nanosafety-field, conferences at which the issue of market implementation of nanotechnologies was talked  about,  writing  hours/days,  and  finally  two public consultation rounds, the CTTM is now finalized.

As stated in the Executive Summary: “Nano-products and nano-enabled applications need a clear and easy-to-follow human and environmental safety framework for the development along the innovation chain from initial idea to market and beyond that facilitates  navigation  through  the  complex  regulatory and approval processes under which different product categories fall.

Download it here, and get involved in its implementation through the Cluster!
Authors: Andreas Falk* 1, Christa Schimpel1, Andrea Haase3, Benoît Hazebrouck4, Carlos Fito López5, Adriele Prina-Mello6, Kai Savolainen7, Adriënne Sips8, Jesús M. Lopez de Ipiña10, Iseult Lynch11, Costas Charitidis12, Visser Germ13

NanoDefine hosts Synergy Workshop with NSC projects

NanoDefine  organised  the  2nd Nanosafety  Cluster  (NSC)  Synergy Workshop  at  the  Netherlands  House  for Education  and  Research  in Brussels  on  2nd  February  2016. The  aim  was  to  identify  overlaps and synergies existing between different projects that could develop into
outstanding cooperation opportunities.

One central issue was the building of a common ontology and a European framework for data management and analysis, as planned within eNanoMapper, to facilitate a closer interdisciplinary collaboration between  NSC projects and to better address the need for proper data storage, analysis and sharing (Open Access).

Unexpectedly, there’s a Canadian connection,

Discovering protocols for nanoparticles: the soils case
NanoFASE WP7 & NanoSafety Cluster WG3 Exposure

In NanoFASE, of course, we focus on the exposure to nanomaterials. Having consistent and meaningful protocols to characterize the fate of nanomaterials in different environments is therefore of great interest to us. Soils and sediments are in this respect very cumbersome. Also in the case of conventional chemicals has the development of  protocols for fate description in terrestrial systems been a long route.

The special considerations of nanomaterials make this job even harder. For instance, how does one handle the fact that the interaction between soils and nanoparticles is always out of equilibrium? How does one distinguish between the nanoparticles that are still mobile and those that are attached to soil?

In the case of conventional chemicals, a single measurement of a filtered soil suspension often suffices to find the mobile fraction, as long one is sure that equilibrium has been attained. Equilibrium never occurs in the case of  nanoparticles, and the distinction between attached/suspended particles is analytically less clear to do.

Current activity in NanoFASE is focusing at finding protocols to characterize this interaction. Not only does the protocol have to provide meaningful parameters that can be used, e.g. in modelling, but also the method itself should be fast and cheap enough so that a lot of data can be collected in a reasonable amount of time. NanoFASE is  in a good position to do this, because of its focus on fate and because of the many international collaborators.

For  instance,  the Swedish  Agricultural  University (Uppsala)  is  collaborating  with  McGill  University (Montreal, Canada [emphasis mine]), an advisory partner to NanoFASE, in developing the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] protocol for column tests (OECD test nr 312:  “Leaching in soil columns”). The effort is led by Yasir Sultan from Environment Canada and by Karlheinz Weinfurtner from the Frauenhofer institute in Germany. Initial results show the transport of nanomaterials in soil columns to be very limited.

The OECD protocol therefore does not often lead to measurable breakthrough curves that can be modelled to provide information about  nanomaterial  mobility  in  soils  and  most  likely  requires adaptations  to  account  for  the  relatively  low mobility  of  typical pristine nanomaterials.

OECD 312 prescribes to use 40 cm columns, which is most likely too long to show a breakthrough in the case of nanoparticles. Testing in NanoFASE will therefore focus on working with shorter columns and also investigating the effect of the flow speed.

The progress and the results of this action will be reported on our website (www.nanofase.eu).

ENM [engineered nanomaterial] Transformation in and Release from Managed Waste Streams (WP5): The NanoFASE pilot Wastewater Treatment Plant is up and running and producing sludge – soon we’ll be dosing with nanoparticles to test “real world” aging.

Now, wastewater,

ENM [engineered nanomaterial] Transformation in and Release from Managed Waste Streams (WP5): The NanoFASE pilot Wastewater Treatment Plant is up and running and producing sludge – soon we’ll be dosing with nanoparticles to test “real world” aging.

WP5 led by Ralf Kaegi of EAWAG [Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology] (Switzerland) will establish transformation and release rates of ENM during their passage through different reactors. We are focusing on wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), solid waste and dedicated sewage sludge incinerators as well as landfills (see figure below). Additionally, lab-scale experiments using pristine and well characterized materials, representing the realistic fate relevant forms at each stage, will allow us to obtain a mechanistic understanding of the transformation processes in waste treatment reactors. Our experimental results will feed directly into the development of a mathematical model describing the transformation and transfer of ENMs through the investigated reactors.

I’m including this since I’ve been following the ‘silver nanoparticle story’ for some time,

NanoMILE publication update: NanoMILE on the air and on the cover

Dramatic  differences  in  behavior  of  nano-silver during  the  initial  wash  cycle  and  for  its  further dissolution/transformation potential over time depending on detergent composition and form.

In an effort to better relate nanomaterial aging procedures to those which they are most likely to undergo during the life cycle of nano-enhanced products, in this paper we describe the various transformations which are possible when exposing Ag engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) to a suite of commercially available washing detergents (Figure 1). While Ag ENP transformation and washing of textiles has received considerable attention in recent years, our study is novel in that we (1) used several commercially available detergents allowing us to estimate the various changes possible in individual homes and commercial washing settings; (2) we have continued  method  development  of  state  of  the  art nanometrology techniques, including single particle ICP-MS, for the detection and characterization of ENPs in complex media; and (3) we were able to provide novel additions to the knowledge base of the environmental nanotechnology research community both in terms of the analytical methods (e.g. the first time ENP aggregates have been definitively analyzed via single particle ICP-MS) and broadening the scope of “real world” conditions that should be considered when understanding AgENP through their life cycle.

Our findings, which were recently published in Environmental Science and Toxicology (2015, 49: 9665), indicate that the washing detergent chemistry causes dramatic differences in ENP behavior during the initial wash cycle and has ramifications for the dissolution/transformation potential of the Ag ENPs over time (see Figure 2). The use of silver as an  antimicrobial  treatment  in  textiles  continues  to garner  considerable  attention.  Last  year  we  published  a manuscript in ACS Nano that considered how various silver treatments to textiles (conventional and nano) both release  nano-sized  material  after  the  wash  cycle  with  similar chemical  characteristics.  That  study  essentially conveyed that multiple silver treatments would become more similar through the product life cycle. Our newest  work expands this by investigating one silver ENP under various washing conditions thereby creating more varied silver products as an end result.

Fascinating stuff if you’ve been following the issues around nanotechnology and safety.

Towards the end of the newsletter on pp. 46-48, they list opportunities for partnerships, collaboration, and research posts and they list websites where you can check out job opportunities. Good Luck!

A dress that lights up according to reactions on Twitter

I don’t usually have an opportunity to write about red carpet events but the recent Met Gala, also known as the Costume Institute Gala and the Met Ball, which took place on the evening of May 2, 2016 in New York, featured a ‘cognitive’ dress. Here’s more from a May 2, 2016 article by Emma Spedding for The Telegraph (UK),

“Tech white tie” was the dress code for last night’s Met Gala, inspired by the theme of this year’s Met fashion exhibition, ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology’. While many of the a-list attendees interpreted this to mean ‘silver sequins’, several rose to the challenge with beautiful, future-gazing gowns which give a glimpse of how our clothes might behave in the future.

Supermodel Karolina Kurkova wore a ‘cognitive’ Marchesa gown that was created in collaboration with technology company IBM. The two companies came together following a survey conducted by IBM which found that Marchesa was one of the favourite designers of its employees. The dress is created using a conductive fabric chosen from 40,000 options and embedded with 150 LED lights which change colour in reaction to the sentiments of Kurkova’s Twitter followers.

A May 2, 2016 article by Rose Pastore for Fast Company provides a little more technical detail and some insight into why Marchesa partnered with IBM,

At the Met Gala in Manhattan tonight [May 2, 2016], one model will be wearing a “cognitive dress”: A gown, designed by fashion house Marchesa, that will shift in color based on input from IBM’s Watson supercomputer. The dress features gauzy white roses, each embedded with an LED that will display different colors depending on the general sentiment of tweets about the Met Gala. The algorithm powering the dress relies on Watson Color Theory, which links emotions to colors, and on the Watson Tone Analyzer, a service that can detect emotion in text.

In addition to the color-changing cognitive dress, Marchesa designers are using Watson to get new color palette ideas. The designers choose from a list of emotions and concepts—things like romance, excitement, and power—and Watson recommends a palette of colors it associates with those sentiments.

An April 29, 2016 posting by Ann Rubin for IBM’s Think blog discusses the history of technology/art partnerships and provides more technical detail (yes!) about this one,

Throughout history, we’ve seen traces of technology enabling humans to create – from Da Vinci’s use of the camera obscura to Caravaggio’s work with mirrors and lenses. Today, cognitive systems like Watson are giving artists, designers and creative minds the tools to make sense of the world in ground-breaking ways, opening up new avenues for humans to approach creative thinking.

The dress’ cognitive creation relies on a mix of Watson APIs, cognitive tools from IBM Research, solutions from Watson developer partner Inno360 and the creative vision from the Marchesa design team. In advance of it making its exciting debut on the red carpet, we’d like to take you on the journey of how man and machine collaborated to create this special dress.

Rooted in the belief that color and images can indicate moods and send messages, Marchesa first selected five key human emotions – joy, passion, excitement, encouragement and curiosity – that they wanted the dress to convey. IBM Research then fed this data into the cognitive color design tool, a groundbreaking project out of IBM Research-Yorktown that understands the psychological effects of colors, the interrelationships between emotions, and image aesthetics.

This process also involved feeding Watson hundreds of images associated with Marchesa dresses in order to understand and learn the brand’s color palette. Ultimately, Watson was able to suggest color palettes that were in line with Marchesa’s brand and the identified emotions, which will come to life on the dress during the Met Gala.

Once the colors were finalized, Marchesa turned to IBM partner Inno360 to source a fabric for their creation. Using Inno360’s R&D platform – powered by a combination of seven Watson services – the team searched more than 40,000 sources for fabric information, narrowing down to 150 sources of the most useful options to consider for the dress.

From this selection, Inno360 worked in partnership with IBM Research-Almaden to identify printed and woven textiles that would respond well to the LED technology needed to execute the final part of the collaboration. Inno360 was then able to deliver 35 unique fabric recommendations based on a variety of criteria important to Marchesa, like weight, luminosity, and flexibility. From there, Marchesa weighed the benefits of different material compositions, weights and qualities to select the final fabric that suited the criteria for their dress and remained true to their brand.

Here’s what the dress looks like,

Courtesy of Marchesa Facebook page {https://www.facebook.com/MarchesaFashion/)

Courtesy of Marchesa Facebook page {https://www.facebook.com/MarchesaFashion/)

Watson is an artificial intelligence program,which I have written about a few times but I think this Feb. 28, 2011 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way), which mentions Watson, product placement, Jeopardy (tv quiz show), and medical diagnoses seems the most à propos given IBM’s latest product placement at the Met Gala.

Not the only ‘tech’ dress

There was at least one other ‘tech’ dress at the 2016 Met Gala, this one designed by Zac Posen and worn by Claire Danes. It did not receive a stellar review in a May 3, 2016 posting by Elaine Lui on Laineygossip.com,

People are losing their goddamn minds over this dress, by Zac Posen. Because it lights up.

It’s bullsh-t.

This is a BULLSH-T DRESS.

It’s Cinderella with a lamp shoved underneath her skirt.

Here’s a video of Danes and her dress at the Met Gala,

A Sept. 10, 2015 news item in People magazine indicates that Posen’s a different version of a ‘tech’ dress was a collaboration with Google (Note: Links have been removed),

Designer Zac Posen lit up his 2015 New York Fashion Week kickoff show on Tuesday by debuting a gorgeous and tech-savvy coded LED dress that blinked in different, dazzling pre-programmed patterns down the runway.

In coordination with Google’s non-profit organization, Made with Code, which inspires girls to pursue careers in tech coding, Posen teamed up with 30 girls (all between the ages of 13 and 18), who attended the show, to introduce the flashy dress — which was designed by Posen and coded by the young women.

“This is the future of the industry: mixing craft, fashion and technology,” the 34-year-old designer told PEOPLE. “There’s a discrepancy in the coding field, hardly any women are at the forefront, and that’s a real shame. If we can entice young women through the allure of fashion, to get them learning this language, why not?”

..

Through a micro controller, the gown displays coded patterns in 500 LED lights that are set to match the blues and yellows of Posen’s new collection. The circuit was designed and physically built into Posen’s dress fabric by 22-year-old up-and-coming fashion designer and computer science enthusiast, Maddy Maxey, who tells PEOPLE she was nervous watching Rocha [model Coco Rocha] make her way down the catwalk.

“It’s exactly as if she was carrying a microwave down the runway,” Maxey said. “It’s an entire circuit on a textile, so if one connection had come lose, the dress wouldn’t have worked. But, it did! And it was so deeply rewarding.”

Other ‘tech’ dresses

Back in 2009 I attended that year’s International Symposium on Electronic Arts and heard Clive van Heerden of Royal Philips Electronics talk about a number of innovative concepts including a ‘mood’ dress that would reveal the wearer’s emotions to whomever should glance their way. It was not a popular concept especially not in Japan where it was first tested.

The symposium also featured Maurits Waldemeyer who worked with fashion designer Chalayan Hussein and LED dresses and dresses that changed shape as the models went down the runway.

In 2010 there was a flurry of media interest in mood changing ‘smart’ clothes designed by researchers at Concordia University (Barbara Layne, Canada) and Goldsmiths College (Janis Jefferies, UK). Here’s more from a June 4, 2010 BBC news online item,

The clothes are connected to a database that analyses the data to work out a person’s emotional state.

Media, including songs, words and images, are then piped to the display and speakers in the clothes to calm a wearer or offer support.

Created as part of an artistic project called Wearable Absence the clothes are made from textiles woven with different sorts of wireless sensors. These can track a wide variety of tell-tale biological markers including temperature, heart rate, breathing and galvanic skin response.

Final comments

I don’t have anything grand to say. It is interesting to see the progression of ‘tech’ dresses from avant garde designers and academics to haute couture.