Tag Archives: Canada

US Dept. of Agriculture announces its nanotechnology research grants

I don’t always stumble across the US Department of Agriculture’s nanotechnology research grant announcements but I’m always grateful when I do as it’s good to find out about  nanotechnology research taking place in the agricultural sector. From a July 21, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced 13 grants totaling $4.6 million for research on the next generation of agricultural technologies and systems to meet the growing demand for food, fuel, and fiber. The grants are funded through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Nanotechnology is being rapidly implemented in medicine, electronics, energy, and biotechnology, and it has huge potential to enhance the agricultural sector,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “NIFA research investments can help spur nanotechnology-based improvements to ensure global nutritional security and prosperity in rural communities.”

A July 20, 2017 USDA news release, which originated the news item, lists this year’s grants and provides a brief description of a few of the newly and previously funded projects,

Fiscal year 2016 grants being announced include:

Nanotechnology for Agricultural and Food Systems

  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, $450,200
  • Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, $340,000
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts, $444,550
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada,$150,000
  • North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, $149,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $455,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, $450,200
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, $402,550
  • University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, $405,055
  • Gordon Research Conferences, West Kingston, Rhode Island, $45,000
  • The University of Tennessee,  Knoxville, Tennessee, $450,200
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $450,200
  • The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., $450,200

Project details can be found at the NIFA website (link is external).

Among the grants, a University of Pennsylvania project will engineer cellulose nanomaterials [emphasis mine] with high toughness for potential use in building materials, automotive components, and consumer products. A University of Nevada-Las Vegas project will develop a rapid, sensitive test to detect Salmonella typhimurium to enhance food supply safety.

Previously funded grants include an Iowa State University project in which a low-cost and disposable biosensor made out of nanoparticle graphene that can detect pesticides in soil was developed. The biosensor also has the potential for use in the biomedical, environmental, and food safety fields. University of Minnesota (link is external) researchers created a sponge that uses nanotechnology to quickly absorb mercury, as well as bacterial and fungal microbes from polluted water. The sponge can be used on tap water, industrial wastewater, and in lakes. It converts contaminants into nontoxic waste that can be disposed in a landfill.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and promotes transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel has resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts, sign up for email updates (link is external) or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA (link is external), #NIFAImpacts (link is external).

Given my interest in nanocellulose materials (Canada was/is a leader in the production of cellulose nanocrystals [CNC] but there has been little news about Canadian research into CNC applications), I used the NIFA link to access the table listing the grants and clicked on ‘brief’ in the View column in the University of Pennsylania row to find this description of the project,

ENGINEERING CELLULOSE NANOMATERIALS WITH HIGH TOUGHNESS

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) are natural materials with exceptional mechanical properties that can be obtained from renewable plant-based resources. CNFs are stiff, strong, and lightweight, thus they are ideal for use in structural materials. In particular, there is a significant opportunity to use CNFs to realize polymer composites with improved toughness and resistance to fracture. The overall goal of this project is to establish an understanding of fracture toughness enhancement in polymer composites reinforced with CNFs. A key outcome of this work will be process – structure – fracture property relationships for CNF-reinforced composites. The knowledge developed in this project will enable a new class of tough CNF-reinforced composite materials with applications in areas such as building materials, automotive components, and consumer products.The composite materials that will be investigated are at the convergence of nanotechnology and bio-sourced material trends. Emerging nanocellulose technologies have the potential to move biomass materials into high value-added applications and entirely new markets.

It’s not the only nanocellulose material project being funded in this round, there’s this at North Dakota State University, from the NIFA ‘brief’ project description page,

NOVEL NANOCELLULOSE BASED FIRE RETARDANT FOR POLYMER COMPOSITES

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Synthetic polymers are quite vulnerable to fire.There are 2.4 million reported fires, resulting in 7.8 billion dollars of direct property loss, an estimated 30 billion dollars of indirect loss, 29,000 civilian injuries, 101,000 firefighter injuries and 6000 civilian fatalities annually in the U.S. There is an urgent need for a safe, potent, and reliable fire retardant (FR) system that can be used in commodity polymers to reduce their flammability and protect lives and properties. The goal of this project is to develop a novel, safe and biobased FR system using agricultural and woody biomass. The project is divided into three major tasks. The first is to manufacture zinc oxide (ZnO) coated cellulose nanoparticles and evaluate their morphological, chemical, structural and thermal characteristics. The second task will be to design and manufacture polymer composites containing nano sized zinc oxide and cellulose crystals. Finally the third task will be to test the fire retardancy and mechanical properties of the composites. Wbelieve that presence of zinc oxide and cellulose nanocrystals in polymers will limit the oxygen supply by charring, shielding the surface and cellulose nanocrystals will make composites strong. The outcome of this project will help in developing a safe, reliable and biobased fire retardant for consumer goods, automotive, building products and will help in saving human lives and property damage due to fire.

One day, I hope to hear about Canadian research into applications for nanocellulose materials. (fingers crossed for good luck)

Science for the global citizen course at McMaster University in Winter 2018

It’s never too early to start planning for your course load if a June 20, 2017 McMaster University (Ontario, Canada) news release is to be believed,

In the Winter 2018 term, the School of Interdisciplinary Science is offering Science 2M03: Science for the Global Citizen, a new course designed to explore those questions and more. In this blended-learning course, students from all Faculties will examine the links between science and the larger society through live guest lecturers and evidence-based online discussions.This course is open to students enrolled in Level II or above in any program. No scientific background is needed, only an interest in becoming a more engaged and informed citizen.

The new course will cover a broad range of contemporary scientific issues with significant political, economic, social, and health implications. Topics range from artificial intelligence (AI) to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to space exploration.

Course instructors, Dr. Kim Dej, Dr. Chad Harvey, Dr. Rosa da Silva, and Dr. Sarah Symons, all from the School of Interdisciplinary Science, will examine the basic scientific theories and concepts behind these topical issues, and highlight the application and interpretation of science in popular media and public policy.

After taking this course, students from all academic backgrounds will have a better understanding of how science is conducted, how knowledge changes, and how we can become better consumers of scientific information and more informed citizens.

3 
 63 
 1 
 68 How can science help address the key challenges in our society? How does society affect the way that science is conducted? Do citizens have a strong enough understanding of science and its methods to answer these and other similar questions? In the Winter 2018 term, the School of Interdisciplinary Science is offering Science 2M03: Science for the Global Citizen, a new course designed to explore those questions and more. In this blended-learning course, students from all Faculties will examine the links between science and the larger society through live guest lecturers and evidence-based online discussions. This course is open to students enrolled in Level II or above in any program. No scientific background is needed, only an interest in becoming a more engaged and informed citizen. The new course will cover a broad range of contemporary scientific issues with significant political, economic, social, and health implications. Topics range from artificial intelligence (AI) to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to space exploration. Course instructors, Dr. Kim Dej, Dr. Chad Harvey, Dr. Rosa da Silva, and Dr. Sarah Symons, all from the School of Interdisciplinary Science, will examine the basic scientific theories and concepts behind these topical issues, and highlight the application and interpretation of science in popular media and public policy. After taking this course, students from all academic backgrounds will have a better understanding of how science is conducted, how knowledge changes, and how we can become better consumers of scientific information and more informed citizens.

I’m glad to see this kind of course being offered. It does seem a bit odd that none of the instructors involved with this course appear to be from the social sciences or humanities. Drs. Dej, Harvey, and da Silva all have a background in biological sciences and Dr. Symons is a physicist. Taking another look at this line from the course description, “The new course will cover a broad range of contemporary scientific issues with significant political, economic, social, and health implications,” has me wondering how these scientists are going to cover the material, especially as I couldn’t find any papers on these topics written by any of these instructors. This section puzzles me even more, “… highlight the application and interpretation of science in popular media and public policy.” Again none of these instructors seem to have published on the topic of science in popular media or science public policy.

Guest speakers can help to fill in the blanks but with four instructors (and I would imagine a tight budget) it’s hard to believe there are going to be that many guests.

I appreciate that this is more of what they used to call a ‘survey course’ meant to introduce a number of ideas rather than conveying any in depth information but I do find the instructors’ apparent lack of theoretical knowledge about anything other than their respective fields of science somewhat disconcerting.

Regardless, I wish both the instructors and the students all the best.

Ingenium or (as we used to call it) the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC)

The Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC) has always been an unwieldy name in light of the fact that one of the three museums in the cluster is called the Canada Science and Technology Museum. (The other two are the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.) So, the July 6, 2017 CSTMC announcement (received via email) is a relief from the unwieldy corporate name,

A new national brand launched on June 26, 2017, to celebrate ingenuity
in Canada. Known as INGENIUM – CANADA’S MUSEUMS OF SCIENCE AND
INNOVATION, this corporate brand encompasses three national
institutions—the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada
Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

From the Canadarm to canola and insulin, Canadians have made significant
contributions in the worlds of science and technology. INGENIUM –
CANADA’S MUSEUMS OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION will continue the important
mission of preserving Canada’s scientific and technological heritage
and sharing its stories with Canadians. Under the Ingenium brand, the
three museums will be places where the past meets the future, with
spaces where visitors can learn and explore, play and discover. Ingenium
will provide an immersive, sensory encounter with human ingenuity and
tell the stories of those who dared to think differently and test the
limits of what we know and what we can do.

Currently under construction, Ingenium’s Collections Conservation
Centre [4], including a Research Institute and Media Lab, will protect
priceless Canadian heritage artifacts for the benefit of Canadians for
generations to come. Ingenium’s unique collection, and digital and
social media platforms will connect Canadians to the world stage in
unexpected ways by sharing their passions, memories, and everyday
experience, no matter where they live

You can find the Ingenium website here. Oddly, the organization’s June 27, 2017 news release is found on the About page,

With Canada just days away [July 1, 2017] from celebrating the 150th anniversary of Confederation, a new national brand is launching to celebrate ingenuity in Canada. Known as Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation, this corporate brand, inspired from the Latin root for “ingenuity,” [this word will come up again in my commentary at the end of the post] encompasses three national institutions—the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

From the Canadarm to canola and insulin, Canadians have made significant contributions in the worlds of science and technology. Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation will continue the important mission of preserving Canada’s scientific and technological heritage and sharing its stories with Canadians.

Under the Ingenium brand, the three museums will be places where the past meets the future, with spaces where visitors can learn and explore, play and discover. Ingenium will provide an immersive, sensory encounter with human ingenuity and tell the stories of those who dared to think differently and test the limits of what we know and what we can do.

Currently under construction, Ingenium’s Collections Conservation Centre, including a Research Institute and Media Lab, will protect priceless Canadian heritage artifacts for the benefit of Canadians for generations to come‎. Ingenium’s unique collection, and digital and social media platforms will connect Canadians to the world stage in unexpected ways by sharing their passions, memories, and everyday experience, no matter where they live.

November 17, 2017, will mark the next milestone for Ingenium when the Canada Science and Technology Museum reopens its doors. This modern, world-class museum mixes the best of its previous incarnation with new technologies and exhibition techniques to tell Canada’s science and technology story in an immersive, educational, and fun way. It will feature more than 7,400 m2 (80,000 sq. ft.) of completely redesigned exhibition space (the equivalent of nearly five NHL rinks), including a specially designed hall to house international travelling exhibitions.

QUOTES

Ingenium will bring a consistent voice and identity to our corporation. It will allow us to reach beyond our four walls and engage with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and with international audiences. Ingenium is where the past meets the future and inspires the next generation of young innovators.”
– Fernand Proulx, Interim President and CEO of Ingenium

ABOUT INGENIUM – CANADA’S MUSEUMS OF SCIENCE AND INNOVATION

DIGITAL AND TRAVELLING PRODUCTS

Ingenium offers unique digital and social media platforms that put ingenuity in the spotlight for unforgettable and immediate experiences to inspire children, families, and scientists alike.

Highlights

Mobile games: Ace AcademyAce Academy: Black FlightAce Academy: Skies of FuryBee OdysseySpace Frontiers: Dawn of Mars

Digital platforms: Open HeritageOpen DataOpen Archivesonline collectionReboot: A Future Museum documentaryIngenium Channel

Travelling exhibitions: International Bicycle travelling exhibition (set for July 2017 launch in Israel); Space to SpoonCanola: A Story of Canadian InnovationFood for HealthGame ChangersClimate Change is Here

CANADA AGRICULTURE AND FOOD MUSEUM 

About the Museum: The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is located at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm, which traces its roots to 1886 and is the world’s only working farm in the heart of a capital city. The Museum offers programs and exhibitions on Canada’s agricultural heritage, food literacy, and on the benefits and relationship of agricultural science and technology to Canadians’ everyday lives. It provides visitors with a unique opportunity to see diverse breeds of farm animals important to Canadian agriculture past and present, and to learn about the food they eat. In addition to breeds common to Canadian agriculture, such as Holstein dairy cows and Angus beef cows, the Museum also has Canadienne dairy cows, Tamworth pigs, and Clydesdale horses. Many other breeds of dairy and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, horses, poultry, goats, and rabbits round out the collection.

Public programming includes special weekend theme events, school programs, summer day camps, interpretive tours, demonstrations, and joint undertakings with community groups and associations.

Museum Highlights: Canola! Seeds of Innovation; 150 farm animals in a demonstration farm; historical tractor collection; special events such as BaconpaloozaGlobal Tastes and the Ice Cream Festival.

CANADA AVIATION AND SPACE MUSEUM

About the Museum: Located on a former military air base just 5 kilometres from the Prime Minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, the Museum focuses on aviation in Canada within an international context, from its beginnings in 1909 to the present day. As Canada’s contribution to aviation expanded to include aerospace technology, the Museum’s collection and mandate grew to include space flight. The Collection itself consists of more than 130 aircraft and artifacts (propellers, engines) from both civil and military service. It gives particular, but not exclusive, reference to Canadian achievements. The most extensive aviation collection in Canada, it is also considered one of the finest aviation museums in the world.

Museum Highlights: Largest surviving piece of the famous Avro Arrow (its nose section); the original Canadarm used on the Endeavour space shuttle; Lancaster WWII bomberLife in Orbit: The International Space Station exhibition.

CANADA SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MUSEUM 

Established and opened in 1967 as a Centennial project, the Canada Science and Technology Museum is responsible for preserving, promoting, and sharing knowledge about Canada’s scientific and technological heritage. The Museum is currently undergoing an $80.5-million renewal of its entire building. When it opens, it will feature over 7,400 m2 (80,000 sq. ft.) of redesigned exhibition space, including an 850 m2 (9,200 sq. ft.) temporary exhibition hall to accommodate travelling exhibitions from around the world. It is scheduled to open to the public on November 17, 2017, marking its 50th Anniversary during Canada 150 celebrations.

Museum Highlights: 11 new exhibitions with the capacity to showcase international travelling exhibitions from around the world. Long-time visitor favourites, the Crazy Kitchen and locomotives will also make a comeback in addition to the Game Changers travelling exhibition which is currently touring across Canada, Artifact Alley, a Children’s gallery, a demonstration stage, classrooms, the Exploratek maker studio, and three new apps.

THE NATIONAL COLLECTION

Ingenium is the steward of Canada’s largest and most comprehensive museum collection devoted to science and technology. It preserves and provides access to extensive holdings of artifacts and library and archival materials that document this priceless material heritage. Comprising over 100,000 objects and hundreds of thousands of books, historic photographs, and archival documents, the collection is particularly strong in the areas of transportation (air, space, land, marine), physical sciences, medicine, communications, agriculture, and natural resources.

Collection Highlights: The test model of Alouette 1, Canada’s first satellite; the world’s first IMAX projector and camera; the first successful electron microscope built in North America; the first automobile made in Canada; the oldest surviving aircraft to have flown in Canada; the “Sackbut,“ the world’s first electronic sound synthesizer

This rebranded name bears an uncanny resemblance to the title of new book about Canadian inventions,’ Ingenuity’ (see my May 30, 2017 posting for the Vancouver book launch; scroll down about 60% of the way) by Tom Jenkins and David C. Johnston (current Governor General).

As it turns out, Alex Benay, then president and Chief Executive Officer of the CSTMC (see my June 19, 2014 posting about Benay’s appt.) worked for Tom Jenkins at Open Text for several years.

(As of March 24, 2017 Benay was appointed to the position of Canada’s Chief Information Officer [see March 27, 2017 notice on Libararianship.ca]). Anyone who’s been involved with rebrands and renaming knows that the name is picked in months in advance so this rebrand has Benay’s (and, possibly, Jenkins’) pawprints all over it.

Democracy through mathematics

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised electoral reform before he and his party won the 2015 Canadian federal election. In February 2017, Trudeau’s government abandoned any and all attempts at electoral reform (see Feb. 1, 2017 article by Laura Stone about the ‘broken’ promise for the Globe and Mail). Months later, the issue lingers on.

Anyone who places the cross for a candidate in a democratic election assumes the same influence as all other voters. Therefore, as far as the population is concerned, the constituencies should be as equal as possible. (Photo: Fotolia / Stockfotos-MG)

While this research doesn’t address the issue of how to change the system so that votes might be more meaningful especially in districts where the outcome of any election is all but guaranteed, it does suggest there are better ways of changing the electoral map (redistricting), from a June 12, 2017 Technical University of Munich (TUM) press release (also on EurekAlert but dated June 23, 2017),

For democratic elections to be fair, voting districts must have similar sizes. When populations shift, districts need to be redistributed – a complex and, in many countries, controversial task when political parties attempt to influence redistricting. Mathematicians at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have now developed a method that allows the efficient calculation of optimally sized voting districts.

When constituents cast their vote for a candidate, they assume it carries the same weight as that of the others. Voting districts should thus be sized equally according to population. When populations change, boundaries need to be redrawn.

For example, 34 political districts were redrawn for the upcoming parliamentary election in Germany – a complex task. In other countries, this process often results in major controversy. Political parties often engage in gerrymandering, to create districts with a disproportionately large number of own constituents. In the United States, for example, state governments frequently exert questionable influence when redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts.

“An effective and neutral method for political district zoning, which sounds like an administrative problem, is actually of great significance from the perspective of democratic theory,” emphasizes Stefan Wurster, Professor of Policy Analysis at the Bavarian School of Public Policy at TUM. “The acceptance of democratic elections is in danger whenever parties or individuals gain an advantage out of the gate. The problem becomes particularly relevant when the allocation of parliamentary seats is determined by the number of direct mandates won. This is the case in majority election systems like in USA, Great Britain and France.”
Test case: German parliamentary election

Prof. Peter Gritzmann, head of the Chair of Applied Geometry and Discrete Mathematics at TUM, in collaboration with his staff member Fabian Klemm and his colleague Andreas Brieden, professor of statistics at the University of the German Federal Armed Forces, has developed a methodology that allows the optimal distribution of electoral district boundaries to be calculated in an efficient and, of course, politically neutral manner.

The mathematicians tested their methodology using electoral districts of the German parliament. According to the German Federal Electoral Act, the number of constituents in a district should not deviate more than 15 percent from the average. In cases where the deviation exceeds 25 percent, electoral district borders must be redrawn. In this case, the relevant election commission must adhere to various provisions: For example, districts must be contiguous and not cross state, county or municipal boundaries. The electoral districts are subdivided into precincts with one polling station each.
Better than required by law

“There are more ways to consolidate communities to electoral districts than there are atoms in the known universe,” says Peter Gritzmann. “But, using our model, we can still find efficient solutions in which all districts have roughly equal numbers of constituents – and that in a ‘minimally invasive’ manner that requires no voter to switch precincts.”

Deviations of 0.3 to 8.7 percent from the average size of electoral districts cannot be avoided based solely on the different number of voters in individual states. But the new methodology achieves this optimum. “Our process comes close to the theoretical limit in every state, and we end up far below the 15 percent deviation allowed by law,” says Gritzmann.
Deployment possible in many countries

The researchers used a mathematical model developed in the working group to calculate the electoral districts: “Geometric clustering” groups the communities to clusters, the optimized electoral districts. The target definition for calculations can be arbitrarily modified, making the methodology applicable to many countries with different election laws.

The methodology is also applicable to other types of problems: for example, in voluntary lease and utilization exchanges in agriculture, to determine adequate tariff groups for insurers or to model hybrid materials. “However, drawing electoral district boundaries is a very special application, because here mathematics can help strengthen democracies,” sums up Gritzmann.

Although the electoral wards for the German election were newly tailored in 2012, already in 2013, the year of the election, population changes led to deviations above the desired maximum value in some of them (left). The mathematical method results in significantly lower deviations, thus providing better fault tolerance. (Image: F. Klemm / TUM)

 

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

Constrained clustering via diagrams: A unified theory and its application to electoral district design by Andreas Brieden, Peter Gritzmann, Fabian Klemma. European Journal of Operational Research Volume 263, Issue 1, 16 November 2017, Pages 18–34 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejor.2017.04.018

This paper is behind a paywall.

While the redesign of electoral districts has been a contentious issue federally and provincially in Canada (and I imagine in municipalities where this is representation by districts), the focus for electoral reform had been on eliminating the ‘first-past-the-post’ system and replacing it with something new. Apparently, there is also some interest in the US. A June 27, 2017 article by David Daley for salon.com describes one such initiative,

Some people blame gerrymandering, while others cite geography or rage against dark money. All are corrupting factors. All act as accelerants on the underlying issue: Our winner-take-all [first-ast-the-post]system of districting that gives all the seats to the side with 50 percent plus one vote and no representation to the other 49.9 percent. We could end gerrymandering tomorrow and it wouldn’t help the unrepresented Republicans in Connecticut, or Democrats in Kansas, feel like they had a voice in Congress.

A Virginia congressman wants to change this. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat, introduced something called the Fair Representation Act this week. Beyer aims to wipe out today’s map of safe red and blue seats and replace them with larger, multimember districts (drawn by nonpartisan commissions) of three, four or five representatives. Smaller states would elect all members at large. All members would then be elected with ranked-choice voting. That would ensure that as many voters as possible elect a candidate of their choice: In a multimember district with five seats, for example, a candidate could potentially win with one-sixth of the vote.

This is how you fix democracy. The larger districts would help slay the gerrymander. A ranked-choice system would eliminate our zero-sum, winner-take-all politics. Leadership of the House would belong to the side with the most votes — unlike in 2012, for example, when Democratic House candidates received 1.4 million more votes than Republicans, but the GOP maintained a 33-seat majority. No wasted votes and no spoilers, bridge builders in Congress, and (at least in theory) less negative campaigning as politicians vied to be someone’s second choice if not their first. There’s a lot to like here.

There are other similar schemes but the idea is always to reestablish the primacy (meaningfulness) of a vote and to achieve better representation of the country’s voters and interests. As for the failed Canadian effort, such as it was, the issue’s failure to fade away hints that Canadian politicians at whatever jurisdictional level they inhabit might want to tackle the situation a little more seriously than they have previously.

Mathematics/Music/Art/Architecture/Education/Culture: Bridges 2017 conference in Waterloo, Canada

Bridges 2017 will be held in Waterloo, Canada from July 27 – 31, 2017. Here’s the invitation which was released last year,

To give you a sense of the range offered, here’s more from Bridges 2017 events page,

Every Bridges conference includes a number of events other than paper presentations. Please click on one of the events below to learn more about it.

UWAG Exhibition

The University of Waterloo Art Gallery (UWAG) has partnered with Bridges to create an exhibition of five local artists who explore mathematical themes in their work. The exhibition runs concurrently with the conference.

 

Theatre Night

An evening dramatic performance that explores themes of art, mathematics and teaching, performed by Peter Taylor and Judy Wearing from Queen’s University.

 

Formal Music Night

An evening concert of mathematical choral music, performed by a specially-formed ensemble of choristers and professional soloists.

 

Family Day

An afternoon of community activities, games, workshops, interactive demonstrations, presentations, performances, and art exhibitions for children and adults, free and open to all.

 

Poetry Reading

A session of invited readings of poetry exploring mathematical themes, in a wide range of styles. Attendees will also be invited to share their own poetry in an open mic session. A printed anthology will be available at the conference.

 

Informal Music Night

A longstanding tradition at Bridges—a casual variety show in which all conference participants are invited to share their talents, musical or otherwise, with a brief performance.

I have some more details about the exhibition at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (UWAG) from a July 19, 2017 ArtSci Salon notice received via email,

P A S S A G E  +  O B S T A C L E
PATRICK CULL
LAURA DE DECKER
PAUL DIGNAN
SOHEILA ESFAHANI
ANDREW JAMES SMITH

JULY 27–30

OPEN DAILY: 12–5 PM
EXHIBITION RECEPTION: FRIDAY JULY 28, 5–8 PM
PRESENTED IN COOPERATION WITH BRIDGES WATERLOO 2017
BRIDGESMATHART.ORG [8]

PASSAGE + OBSTACLE features a selection of work by multidisciplinary
area artists Patrick Cull, Paul Dignan, Laura De Decker, Soheila
Esfahani, and Andrew James Smith. Sharing a rigorous approach to
materials and subject matter, their artworks parallel Bridges’ stated
goal to explore “mathematical connections in art, music, architecture,
education and culture”. The exhibition sets out to complement and
expand on the theme by contrasting subtle and overt links between the
use of geometry, pattern, and optical effects across mediums ranging
from painting and installation to digital media. Using the bridge as a
metaphor, the artworks can be appreciated as a means of getting from A
to B by overcoming obstructions, whether perceptual or otherwise.

EXHIBITION IS FREE AND OPEN TO BOTH CONFERENCE VISITORS AND THE PUBLIC

ADMIT EVERYONE
University of Waterloo Art Gallery
East Campus Hall 1239
519.888.4567 ext. 33575
uwag.uwaterloo.ca [9]
facebook.com/uwag.waterloo [10]

CONTACT
Ivan Jurakic, Director / Curator
519.888.4567 ext. 36741
ijurakic@uwaterloo.ca

DRIVING
263 Phillip Street, Waterloo
East Campus Hall (ECH) is located north of University Avenue West
across from Engineering 6

PARKING
Visitor Parking is available in Lot E6 or Q for a flat rate of $5
uwaterloo.ca/map/ [11]

MAILING
University of Waterloo Art Gallery
200 University Avenue West
Waterloo, ON, Canada N2L 3G1

You can find out more about Bridges 2017 including how to register here (the column on the left provides links to registration, program, and more information.

 

Making a trademark claim memorable and fun

Usually when I write about intellectual property, it concerns technology and/or science disputes but this particular response to an alleged trademark violation amuses me greatly, swipes at a few Canadian stereotypes, and could act as a model for anyone who wants to lodge such protests. Before getting to the video, here are some details bout the dispute from a July 13, 2017 posting by Mike Masnick for Techdirt,

… — a few years ago, there was a virally popular rap song and video, by Brendan “B.Rich” Richmond, called Out for a Rip, spoofing Canadian culture/stereotypes. It got over 12 million views, and has become a bit of an anthem.

So, yeah. Coca Cola is using the phrase “out for a rip” on its Coke bottles and Richmond and his lawyer Kittredge decided the best way to respond was to write a song calling out Coca Cola on this and then recording a whole video. At the end of the video there’s an actual letter (part of which is dictated in the song itself) which is also pretty damn amusing:

Dear Coke,

I represent Brendan (B.Rich) Richmond (a.k.a. Friggin’ Buddy). You jacked his catchphrase, but you already know that.

Buddy owns the registered trademark “OUT FOR A RIP” in Canada (TMA934277). The music video for buddy’s original composition “OUT FOR A RIP” has been viewed more than 12 million times. Canadians associate the phrase “OUT FOR A RIP” with him.

Personally, I’m pretty psyched about this once-in-a-career opportunity to send a demand letter in the form of a rap video. Nonetheless, unlicensed use of OUT FOR A RIP violates my client’s rights. From what I understand, you guys do fairly well for yourselves – at least in comparison to most other multinational corporations, the GDP of most countries, or, say, the average musician, right? No room in your budget to clear IP rights?

Contact me no later than August 1, 2017 to discuss settlement of this matter. If you do not wish to discuss settlement, we require that you immediately cease using the OUT FOR A RIP mark, recall all OUT FOR A RIP bottles, and take immediate steps to preserve all relevant evidence in anticipation of possible litigation.

Regards,
Rob Kittredege

….

Here’s the ‘cease and desist’ video,

Enjoy!

La Machine, Ottawa (Canada), and the Canada Aviation and Space Museum

First, you have to see the video,

La Machine

The ‘dragon’ and the ‘spider’ have sprung forth from a French street theatre group known as La Machine and the  La Machine ‘experience’ is making its début in North America in Ottawa, Ontario (July 27 – 30, 2017) as part of Canada’s 150th celebration.

Here’s more about La Machine and the ‘experience’ from the city of Ottawa’s event page,

Making its debut in North America, La Machine will captivate the public with its travelling urban theatre in the streets of downtown Ottawa.

Wandering around in public spaces, the protagonists will invade the heart of the capital in a show entitled “The Spirit of the Dragon-Horse, With Stolen Wings”. They will live among us for 24 hours a day over the course of four days as they pursue their quest and fulfill their destiny.

LongMa

Part dragon and part horse, LongMa stands 12 metres high, 5 metres wide and weighs 45 tons. Although his body is made of wood and steel, we quickly fall under his spell and connect with him on an ethereal level. From the top of his hooves, he trots with elegance, gallops, rears himself up and lies down.

With his piercing gaze, LongMa scours the crowd and interacts with them thanks as his neck rises, lowers and oscillates from left to right. His ribcage swells under the pressure of his lungs. But be careful, the warm breath coming out of his nostrils could quickly be transformed into fire coming out of his mouth.

The Spider

Beautiful and repulsive, aggressive and gentle, the giant spider will give you chills. Her eight legs and body that synchronize as she crawls around town gracefully. Like a dancer, she wanders, steps over trees, streetlights and bus shelters… At rest, she is 5.7 metres high and 6 metres wide, but she can reach up to 13 metres when in motion.  Fully outstretched, she is about 20 metres long.

Will she extinguish LongMa’s flames with the water deployed from her abdomen?

Credit: Jordi Bover


About La Machine Company

La Machine is a street theatre company founded in 1999 and leaded by François Delarozière. Its conception is thanks to artists, technicians and theatre designers working together for the construction of unusual theatre objects. Today, La Machine develops many projects in the field of urban development as well as for street theatre. At the heart of La Machine’s artistic approach, movement is read as a language, as a source of emotion. Through each of these living architectures, the idea is to dream of tomorrow’s cities, and thanks to this, transform the way we look at our towns. To bring its creations to life, La Machine has set up two workshops, one in Nantes and one in Tournefeuille. They bring together many different trades and crafts from theatre and the arts, to industry and advanced technology. People and their skills are the very essence of the creative process.

Ottawa and La Machine

I think this Ottawa event is much more engaging than Toronto’s giant rubber duck (which has proved to be controversial( e.g. June ?, 2017 posting on blogTO and Alina Bykova’s June 30, 3017 article for thestar.com) on July 1, 2017. Getting back to Ottawa, Judy Trinh’s June 1, 2016 article for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online previews and provides some inside scoop about the 2017 event (Note: A link has been removed),

A giant mechanical dragon and spider from France will roam the streets of Ottawa next summer as part of celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday.

It will be the first time the fire-breathing and water spraying creatures invade North America.

Securing the performance of the monsters from La Machine, a production company based in Nantes, France comes at a cost of $3 million — an amount that will be shared by both the public and private sector.

The Ottawa 2017 organizing committee has been working on booking the show for nearly a year and a half.

Negotiations didn’t just involve the City of Ottawa and the French production company. It also involved a Chinese businessman — Adam Yu, an entrepreneur based in Beijing who owns the rights to the dragon for La Machine.

Laflamme [executive director of Ottawa 2017, Guy Laflamme] said mayor Jim Watson set aside time during his economic mission to China to meet with Yu and make the case for loaning the dragon to Ottawa.

Organizers have just started “storyboarding” the show with La Machine’s artistic director, François Delarozière.

Although he’s reticent to describe what the show will look like, Laflamme does provide some hints: the operators will be dressed like they stepped out of the movie, The Matrix [movi e description], and the giant robots will make stops at Ottawa landmarks and interact with spectators.

Local musicians will also be hired to form a travelling orchestra for the soundtrack to the dragon’s and spider’s adventures.

If I read that rightly, planning seems to have started in 2014.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum

While La Machine is in Ottawa with their mechanicals, there will be a preview (from an Ingenium [formerly Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation] July 12, 2017 notice received via email), Note: Links have been removed,

EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK
Presented as part of Ottawa 2017

Making its debut in North America, _La Machine_ will captivate the
public with its dramatic urban theatre experience – and you can get
exclusive access at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum!

From July 15 to 24 [2017; emphasis mine], the Museum will be hosting a variety of
larger-than-life activities leading up to the big performance.
Activities include special viewing areas, a mini exhibition about _La
Machine_, a film about Long Ma the Dragon-Horse, creative activities and
a special lecture with _La Machine_’s creator. All activities are FREE
with Museum admission. Find out more by visiting our website.   [3]

SPECIAL LECTURE
THE MAKING OF_ LA MACHINE_ WITH FRANÇOIS DELAROZIÈRE
Join François Delarozière, the visionary artistic director and
engineer behind the wonders of _La Machine_, for an afternoon of insight
and conversation exploring the street theatre company’s history and
the creative process behind its fantastical mechanical masterpieces.
(Bilingual presentation)

Saturday, July 15, 2017
2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Mauril Bélanger Theatre

SPACE IS LIMITED, REGISTER HERE!  [4]

[5]

UN AVANT-GOÛT EXCLUSIF

Présenté dans le cadre d’Ottawa 2017

Pour la première fois en Amérique du Nord,_ La Machine_ s’apprête
à captiver le public avec son impressionnant théâtre urbain. De plus,
vous aurez droit à un accès exclusif au Musée de l’aviation et de
l’espace du Canada!

Du 15 au 24 juillet, le Musée tiendra une série d’activités hors du
commun dans l’attente de la grande représentation.  On y comptera des
projections spéciales; une mini-exposition sur _La Machine_; un film
racontant l’histoire de Long Ma, le cheval-dragon; des activités
créatives et une conférence spéciale en compagnie du créateur de _La
Machine_. Tous les activités sont comprises dans le prix d’entrée au
Musée.  Visitez notre site Web [6] pour obtenir plus de renseignements.

CONFÉRENCE SPÉCIALE
LA RÉALISATION DE _LA MACHINE_ AVEC FRANÇOIS DELAROZIÈRE
Venez échanger avec François Delarozière, directeur artistique de _La
Machine_ et concepteur visionnaire de ces merveilles mécaniques, et
découvrez l’histoire de cette compagnie de théâtre de rue et le
processus ayant mené à la création de ses fantastiques
chefs-d’œuvre mécaniques.  (Présentation bilingue)

Samedi 15 juillet 2017
De 14 h à 15 h
Musée de l’aviation et de l’espace du Canada
Théâtre Mauril Bélanger

INSCRIVEZ-VOUS ICI – LE NOMBRE DE PLACES EST LIMITÉ!  [7]

You can sign up for the talk with François Delarozière here. It is a bilingual presentation included with the entrance fee (as noted previously) to the museum entitling you to a seat assuming you sign up quickly.

For the curious, you can find more about La Machine at its website. The images on the banner are stunning.

Ora Sound, a Montréal-based startup, and its ‘graphene’ headphones

For all the excitement about graphene there aren’t that many products as Glenn Zorpette notes in a June 20, 2017 posting about Ora Sound and its headphones on the Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website; Note: Links have been removed),

Graphene has long been touted as a miracle material that would deliver everything from tiny, ultralow-power transistors to the vastly long and ultrastrong cable [PDF] needed for a space elevator. And yet, 13 years of graphene development, and R&D expenditures well in the tens of billions of dollars have so far yielded just a handful of niche products. The most notable by far is a line of tennis racquets in which relatively small amounts of graphene are used to stiffen parts of the frame.

Ora Sound, a Montreal-based [Québec, Canada] startup, hopes to change all that. On 20 June [2017], it unveiled a Kickstarter campaign for a new audiophile-grade headphone that uses cones, also known as membranes, made of a form of graphene. “To the best of our knowledge, we are the first company to find a significant, commercially viable application for graphene,” says Ora cofounder Ari Pinkas, noting that the cones in the headphones are 95 percent graphene.

Kickstarter

It should be noted that participating in a Kickstarter campaign is an investment/gamble. I am not endorsing Ora Sound or its products. That said, this does look interesting (from the ORA: The World’s First Graphene Headphones Kickstarter campaign webpage),

ORA GQ Headphones uses nanotechnology to deliver the most groundbreaking audio listening experience. Scientists have long promised that one day Graphene will find its way into many facets of our lives including displays, electronic circuits and sensors. ORA’s Graphene technology makes it one of the first companies to have created a commercially viable application for this Nobel-prize winning material, a major scientific achievement.

The GQ Headphones come equipped with ORA’s patented GrapheneQ™ membranes, providing unparalleled fidelity. The headphones also offer all the features you would expect from a high-end audio product: wired/wireless operation, a gesture control track-pad, a digital MEMS microphone, breathable lambskin leather and an ear-shaped design optimized for sound quality and isolated comfort.

They have produced a slick video to promote their campaign,

At the time of publishing this post, the campaign will run for another eight days and has raised $650,949 CAD. This is more than $500,000 dollars over the company’s original goal of $135,000. I’m sure they’re ecstatic but this success can be a mixed blessing. They have many more people expecting a set of headphones than they anticipated and that can mean production issues.

Further, there appears to be only one member of the team with business experience and his (Ari Pinkas) experience includes marketing strategy for a few years and then founding an online marketplace for teachers. I would imagine Pinkas will be experiencing a very steep learning curve. Hopefully, Helge Seetzen, a member of the company’s advisory board will be able to offer assistance. According to Seetzen’s Wikipedia entry, he is a “… German technologist and businessman known for imaging & multimedia research and commercialization,” as well as, having a Canadian educational background and business experience. The rest of the team and advisory board appear to be academics.

The technology

A March 14, 2017 article by Andy Riga for the Montréal Gazette gives a general description of the technology,

A Montreal startup is counting on technology sparked by a casual conversation between two brothers pursuing PhDs at McGill University.

They were chatting about their disparate research areas — one, in engineering, was working on using graphene, a form of carbon, in batteries; the other, in music, was looking at the impact of electronics on the perception of audio quality.

At first glance, the invention that ensued sounds humdrum.

It’s a replacement for an item you use every day. It’s paper thin, you probably don’t realize it’s there and its design has not changed much in more than a century. Called a membrane or diaphragm, it’s the part of a loudspeaker that vibrates to create the sound from the headphones over your ears, the wireless speaker on your desk, the cellphone in your hand.

Membranes are normally made of paper, Mylar or aluminum.

Ora’s innovation uses graphene, a remarkable material whose discovery garnered two scientists the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics but which has yet to fulfill its promise.

“Because it’s so stiff, our membrane gets better sound quality,” said Robert-Eric Gaskell, who obtained his PhD in sound recording in 2015. “It can produce more sound with less distortion, and the sound that you hear is more true to the original sound intended by the artist.

“And because it’s so light, we get better efficiency — the lighter it is, the less energy it takes.”

In January, the company demonstrated its membrane in headphones at the Consumer Electronics Show, a big trade convention in Las Vegas.

Six cellphone manufacturers expressed interest in Ora’s technology, some of which are now trying prototypes, said Ari Pinkas, in charge of product marketing at Ora. “We’re talking about big cellphone manufacturers — big, recognizable names,” he said.

Technology companies are intrigued by the idea of using Ora’s technology to make smaller speakers so they can squeeze other things, such as bigger batteries, into the limited space in electronic devices, Pinkas said. Others might want to use Ora’s membrane to allow their devices to play music louder, he added.

Makers of regular speakers, hearing aids and virtual-reality headsets have also expressed interest, Pinkas said.

Ora is still working on headphones.

Riga’s article offers a good overview for people who are not familiar with graphene.

Zorpette’s June 20, 2017 posting (on Nanoclast) offers a few more technical details (Note: Links have been removed),

During an interview and demonstration in the IEEE Spectrum offices, Pinkas and Robert-Eric Gaskell, another of the company’s cofounders, explained graphene’s allure to audiophiles. “Graphene has the ideal properties for a membrane,” Gaskell says. “It’s incredibly stiff, very lightweight—a rare combination—and it’s well damped,” which means it tends to quell spurious vibrations. By those metrics, graphene soundly beats all the usual choices: mylar, paper, aluminum, or even beryllium, Gaskell adds.

The problem is making it in sheets large enough to fashion into cones. So-called “pristine” graphene exists as flakes, [emphasis mine] perhaps 10 micrometers across, and a single atom thick. To make larger, strong sheets of graphene, researchers attach oxygen atoms to the flakes, and then other elements to the oxygen atoms to cross-link the flakes and hold them together strongly in what materials scientists call a laminate structure. The intellectual property behind Ora’s advance came from figuring out how to make these structures suitably thick and in the proper shape to function as speaker cones, Gaskell says. In short, he explains, the breakthrough was, “being able to manufacture” in large numbers, “and in any geometery we want.”

Much of the R&D work that led to Ora’s process was done at nearby McGill University, by professor Thomas Szkopek of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department. Szkopek worked with Peter Gaskell, Robert-Eric’s younger brother. Ora is also making use of patents that arose from work done on graphene by the Nguyen Group at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill.

Robert-Eric Gaskell and Pinkas arrived at Spectrum with a preproduction model of their headphones, as well as some other headphones for the sake of comparison. The Ora prototype is clearly superior to the comparison models, but that’s not much of a surprise. …

… In the 20 minutes or so I had to audition Ora’s preproduction model, I listened to an assortment of classical and jazz standards and I came away impressed. The sound is precise, with fine details sharply rendered. To my surprise, I was reminded of planar-magnetic type headphones that are now surging in popularity in the upper reaches of the audiophile headphone market. Bass is smooth and tight. Overall, the unit holds up quite well against closed-back models in the $400 to $500 range I’ve listened to from Grado, Bowers & Wilkins, and Audeze.

Ora’s Kickstarter campaign page (Graphene vs GrapheneQ subsection) offers some information about their unique graphene composite,

A TECHNICAL INTRODUCTION TO GRAPHENE

Graphene is a new material, first isolated only 13 years ago. Formed from a single layer of carbon atoms, Graphene is a hexagonal crystal lattice in a perfect honeycomb structure. This fundamental geometry makes Graphene ridiculously strong and lightweight. In its pure form, Graphene is a single atomic layer of carbon. It can be very expensive and difficult to produce in sizes any bigger than small flakes. These challenges have prevented pristine Graphene from being integrated into consumer technologies.

THE GRAPHENEQ™ SOLUTION

At ORA, we’ve spent the last few years creating GrapheneQ, our own, proprietary Graphene-based nanocomposite formulation. We’ve specifically designed and optimized it for use in acoustic transducers. GrapheneQ is a composite material which is over 95% Graphene by weight. It is formed by depositing flakes of Graphene into thousands of layers that are bonded together with proprietary cross-linking agents. Rather than trying to form one, continuous layer of Graphene, GrapheneQ stacks flakes of Graphene together into a laminate material that preserves the benefits of Graphene while allowing the material to be formed into loudspeaker cones.

Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Comparison
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Comparison

If you’re interested in more technical information on sound, acoustics, soundspeakers, and Ora’s graphene-based headphones, it’s all there on Ora’s Kickstarter campaign page.

The Québec nanotechnology scene in context and graphite flakes for graphene

There are two Canadian provinces that are heavily invested in nanotechnology research and commercialization efforts. The province of Québec has poured money into their nanotechnology efforts, while the province of Alberta has also invested heavily in nanotechnology, it has also managed to snare additional federal funds to host Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT). (This appears to be a current NINT website or you can try this one on the National Research Council website). I’d rank Ontario as being a third centre with the other provinces being considerably less invested. As for the North, I’ve not come across any nanotechnology research from that region. Finally, as I stumble more material about nanotechnology in Québec than I do for any other province, that’s the reason I rate Québec as the most successful in its efforts.

Regarding graphene, Canada seems to have an advantage. We have great graphite flakes for making graphene. With mines in at least two provinces, Ontario and Québec, we have a ready source of supply. In my first posting (July 25, 2011) about graphite mines here, I had this,

Who knew large flakes could be this exciting? From the July 25, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Northern Graphite Corporation has announced that graphene has been successfully made on a test basis using large flake graphite from the Company’s Bissett Creek project in Northern Ontario. Northern’s standard 95%C, large flake graphite was evaluated as a source material for making graphene by an eminent professor in the field at the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is doing research making graphene sheets larger than 30cm2 in size using the graphene oxide methodology. The tests indicated that graphene made from Northern’s jumbo flake is superior to Chinese powder and large flake graphite in terms of size, higher electrical conductivity, lower resistance and greater transparency.

Approximately 70% of production from the Bissett Creek property will be large flake (+80 mesh) and almost all of this will in fact be +48 mesh jumbo flake which is expected to attract premium pricing and be a better source material for the potential manufacture of graphene. The very high percentage of large flakes makes Bissett Creek unique compared to most graphite deposits worldwide which produce a blend of large, medium and small flakes, as well as a large percentage of low value -150 mesh flake and amorphous powder which are not suitable for graphene, Li ion batteries or other high end, high growth applications.

Since then I’ve stumbled across more information about Québec’s mines than Ontario’s  as can be seen:

There are some other mentions of graphite mines in other postings but they are tangential to what’s being featured:

  • (my Oct. 26, 2015 posting about St. Jean Carbon and its superconducting graphene and
  • my Feb. 20, 2015 posting about Nanoxplore and graphene production in Québec; and
  • this Feb. 23, 2015 posting about Grafoid and its sister company, Focus Graphite which gets its graphite flakes from a deposit in the northeastern part of Québec).

 

After reviewing these posts, I’ve begun to wonder where Ora’s graphite flakes come from? In any event, I wish the folks at Ora and their Kickstarter funders the best of luck.

In scientific race US sees China coming up from rear

Sometime it seems as if scientific research is like a race with everyone competing for first place. As in most sports, there are multiple competitions for various sub-groups but only one important race. The US has held the lead position for decades although always with some anxiety. These days the anxiety is focused on China. A June 15, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily suggests that US dominance is threatened in at least one area of research—the biomedical sector,

American scientific teams still publish significantly more biomedical research discoveries than teams from any other country, a new study shows, and the U.S. still leads the world in research and development expenditures.

But American dominance is slowly shrinking, the analysis finds, as China’s skyrocketing investing on science over the last two decades begins to pay off. Chinese biomedical research teams now rank fourth in the world for total number of new discoveries published in six top-tier journals, and the country spent three-quarters what the U.S. spent on research and development during 2015.

Meanwhile, the analysis shows, scientists from the U.S. and other countries increasingly make discoveries and advancements as part of teams that involve researchers from around the world.

A June 15, 2017 Michigan Medicine University of Michigan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, details the research team’s insights,

The last 15 years have ushered in an era of “team science” as research funding in the U.S., Great Britain and other European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, stagnated. The number of authors has also grown over time. For example, in 2000 only two percent of the research papers the new study looked include 21 or more authors — a number that increased to 12.5 percent in 2015.

The new findings, published in JCI Insight by a team of University of Michigan researchers, come at a critical time for the debate over the future of U.S. federal research funding. The study is based on a careful analysis of original research papers published in six top-tier and four mid-tier journals from 2000 to 2015, in addition to data on R&D investment from those same years.

The study builds on other work that has also warned of America’s slipping status in the world of science and medical research, and the resulting impact on the next generation of aspiring scientists.

“It’s time for U.S. policy-makers to reflect and decide whether the year-to-year uncertainty in National Institutes of Health budget and the proposed cuts are in our societal and national best interest,” says Bishr Omary, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the new data-supported opinion piece and chief scientific officer of Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center. “If we continue on the path we’re on, it will be harder to maintain our lead and, even more importantly, we could be disenchanting the next generation of bright and passionate biomedical scientists who see a limited future in pursuing a scientist or physician-investigator career.”

The analysis charts South Korea’s entry into the top 10 countries for publications, as well as China’s leap from outside the top 10 in 2000 to fourth place in 2015. They also track the major increases in support for research in South Korea and Singapore since the start of the 21st Century.

Meticulous tracking

First author of the study, U-M informationist Marisa Conte, and Omary co-led a team that looked carefully at the currency of modern science: peer-reviewed basic science and clinical research papers describing new findings, published in journals with long histories of accepting among the world’s most significant discoveries.

They reviewed every issue of six top-tier international journals (JAMA, Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, Nature and Science), and four mid-ranking journals (British Medical Journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, Journal of Cell Science, FASEB Journal), chosen to represent the clinical and basic science aspects of research.

The analysis included only papers that reported new results from basic research experiments, translational studies, clinical trials, metanalyses, and studies of disease outcomes. Author affiliations for corresponding authors and all other authors were recorded by country.

The rise in global cooperation is striking. In 2000, 25 percent of papers in the six top-tier journals were by teams that included researchers from at least two countries. In 2015, that figure was closer to 50 percent. The increasing need for multidisciplinary approaches to make major advances, coupled with the advances of Internet-based collaboration tools, likely have something to do with this, Omary says.

The authors, who also include Santiago Schnell, Ph.D. and Jing Liu, Ph.D., note that part of their group’s interest in doing the study sprang from their hypothesis that a flat NIH budget is likely to have negative consequences but they wanted to gather data to test their hypothesis.

They also observed what appears to be an increasing number of Chinese-born scientists who had trained in the U.S. going back to China after their training, where once most of them would have sought to stay in the U.S. In addition, Singapore has been able to recruit several top notch U.S. and other international scientists due to their marked increase in R&D investments.

The same trends appear to be happening in Great Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and other countries the authors studied – where research investing has stayed consistent when measured as a percentage of the U.S. total over the last 15 years.

The authors note that their study is based on data up to 2015, and that in the current 2017 federal fiscal year, funding for NIH has increased thanks to bipartisan Congressional appropriations. The NIH contributes to most of the federal support for medical and basic biomedical research in the U.S. But discussion of cuts to research funding that hinders many federal agencies is in the air during the current debates for the 2018 budget. Meanwhile, the Chinese R&D spending is projected to surpass the U.S. total by 2022.

“Our analysis, albeit limited to a small number of representative journals, supports the importance of financial investment in research,” Omary says. “I would still strongly encourage any child interested in science to pursue their dream and passion, but I hope that our current and future investment in NIH and other federal research support agencies will rise above any branch of government to help our next generation reach their potential and dreams.”

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

Globalization and changing trends of biomedical research output by Marisa L. Conte, Jing Liu, Santiago Schnell, and M. Bishr Omary. JCI Insight. 2017;2(12):e95206 doi:10.1172/jci.insight.95206 Volume 2, Issue 12 (June 15, 2017)

Copyright © 2017, American Society for Clinical Investigation

This paper is open access.

The notion of a race and looking back to see who, if anyone, is gaining on you reminded me of a local piece of sports lore, the Roger Banister-John Landy ‘Miracle Mile’. In the run up to the 1954 Commonwealth Games held in Vancouver, Canada, two runners were known to have broken the 4-minute mile limit (previously thought to have been impossible) and this meeting was considered an historic meeting. Here’s more from the miraclemile1954.com website,

On August 7, 1954 during the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, B.C., England’s Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy met for the first time in the one mile run at the newly constructed Empire Stadium.

Both men had broken the four minute barrier previously that year. Bannister was the first to break the mark with a time of 3:59.4 on May 6th in Oxford, England. Subsequently, on June 21st in Turku, Finland, John Landy became the new record holder with an official time of 3:58.

The world watched eagerly as both men approached the starting blocks. As 35,000 enthusiastic fans looked on, no one knew what would take place on that historic day.

Promoted as “The Mile of the Century”, it would later be known as the “Miracle Mile”.

With only 90 yards to go in one of the world’s most memorable races, John Landy glanced over his left shoulder to check his opponent’s position. At that instant Bannister streaked by him to victory in a Commonwealth record time of 3:58.8. Landy’s second place finish in 3:59.6 marked the first time the four minute mile had been broken by two men in the same race.

The website hosts an image of the moment memorialized in bronze when Landy looks to his left as Banister passes him on his right,

By Statue: Jack HarmanPhoto: Paul Joseph from vancouver, bc, canada – roger bannister running the four minute mileUploaded by Skeezix1000, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9801121

Getting back to science, I wonder if some day we’ll stop thinking of it as a race where, inevitably, there’s one winner and everyone else loses and find a new metaphor.

Artificial intelligence (AI) company (in Montréal, Canada) attracts $135M in funding from Microsoft, Intel, Nvidia and others

It seems there’s a push on to establish Canada as a centre for artificial intelligence research and, if the federal and provincial governments have their way, for commercialization of said research. As always, there seems to be a bit of competition between Toronto (Ontario) and Montréal (Québec) as to which will be the dominant hub for the Canadian effort if one is to take Braga’s word for the situation.

In any event, Toronto seemed to have a mild advantage over Montréal initially with the 2017 Canadian federal government  budget announcement that the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), based in Toronto, would launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy and with an announcement from the University of Toronto shortly after (from my March 31, 2017 posting),

On the heels of the March 22, 2017 federal budget announcement of $125M for a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, the University of Toronto (U of T) has announced the inception of the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence in a March 28, 2017 news release by Jennifer Robinson (Note: Links have been removed),

A team of globally renowned researchers at the University of Toronto is driving the planning of a new institute staking Toronto’s and Canada’s claim as the global leader in AI.

Geoffrey Hinton, a University Professor Emeritus in computer science at U of T and vice-president engineering fellow at Google, will serve as the chief scientific adviser of the newly created Vector Institute based in downtown Toronto.

“The University of Toronto has long been considered a global leader in artificial intelligence research,” said U of T President Meric Gertler. “It’s wonderful to see that expertise act as an anchor to bring together researchers, government and private sector actors through the Vector Institute, enabling them to aim even higher in leading advancements in this fast-growing, critical field.”

As part of the Government of Canada’s Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, Vector will share $125 million in federal funding with fellow institutes in Montreal and Edmonton. All three will conduct research and secure talent to cement Canada’s position as a world leader in AI.

However, Montréal and the province of Québec are no slouches when it comes to supporting to technology. From a June 14, 2017 article by Matthew Braga for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online (Note: Links have been removed),

One of the most promising new hubs for artificial intelligence research in Canada is going international, thanks to a $135 million investment with contributions from some of the biggest names in tech.

The company, Montreal-based Element AI, was founded last October [2016] to help companies that might not have much experience in artificial intelligence start using the technology to change the way they do business.

It’s equal parts general research lab and startup incubator, with employees working to develop new and improved techniques in artificial intelligence that might not be fully realized for years, while also commercializing products and services that can be sold to clients today.

It was co-founded by Yoshua Bengio — one of the pioneers of a type of AI research called machine learning — along with entrepreneurs Jean-François Gagné and Nicolas Chapados, and the Canadian venture capital fund Real Ventures.

In an interview, Bengio and Gagné said the money from the company’s funding round will be used to hire 250 new employees by next January. A hundred will be based in Montreal, but an additional 100 employees will be hired for a new office in Toronto, and the remaining 50 for an Element AI office in Asia — its first international outpost.

They will join more than 100 employees who work for Element AI today, having left jobs at Amazon, Uber and Google, among others, to work at the company’s headquarters in Montreal.

The expansion is a big vote of confidence in Element AI’s strategy from some of the world’s biggest technology companies. Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia all contributed to the round, and each is a key player in AI research and development.

The company has some not unexpected plans and partners (from the Braga, article, Note: A link has been removed),

The Series A round was led by Data Collective, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, and included participation by Fidelity Investments Canada, National Bank of Canada, and Real Ventures.

What will it help the company do? Scale, its founders say.

“We’re looking at domain experts, artificial intelligence experts,” Gagné said. “We already have quite a few, but we’re looking at people that are at the top of their game in their domains.

“And at this point, it’s no longer just pure artificial intelligence, but people who understand, extremely well, robotics, industrial manufacturing, cybersecurity, and financial services in general, which are all the areas we’re going after.”

Gagné says that Element AI has already delivered 10 projects to clients in those areas, and have many more in development. In one case, Element AI has been helping a Japanese semiconductor company better analyze the data collected by the assembly robots on its factory floor, in a bid to reduce manufacturing errors and improve the quality of the company’s products.

There’s more to investment in Québec’s AI sector than Element AI (from the Braga article; Note: Links have been removed),

Element AI isn’t the only organization in Canada that investors are interested in.

In September, the Canadian government announced $213 million in funding for a handful of Montreal universities, while both Google and Microsoft announced expansions of their Montreal AI research groups in recent months alongside investments in local initiatives. The province of Quebec has pledged $100 million for AI initiatives by 2022.

Braga goes on to note some other initiatives but at that point the article’s focus is exclusively Toronto.

For more insight into the AI situation in Québec, there’s Dan Delmar’s May 23, 2017 article for the Montreal Express (Note: Links have been removed),

Advocating for massive government spending with little restraint admittedly deviates from the tenor of these columns, but the AI business is unlike any other before it. [emphasis misn] Having leaders acting as fervent advocates for the industry is crucial; resisting the coming technological tide is, as the Borg would say, futile.

The roughly 250 AI researchers who call Montreal home are not simply part of a niche industry. Quebec’s francophone character and Montreal’s multilingual citizenry are certainly factors favouring the development of language technology, but there’s ample opportunity for more ambitious endeavours with broader applications.

AI isn’t simply a technological breakthrough; it is the technological revolution. [emphasis mine] In the coming decades, modern computing will transform all industries, eliminating human inefficiencies and maximizing opportunities for innovation and growth — regardless of the ethical dilemmas that will inevitably arise.

“By 2020, we’ll have computers that are powerful enough to simulate the human brain,” said (in 2009) futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near, a seminal 2006 book that has inspired a generation of AI technologists. Kurzweil’s projections are not science fiction but perhaps conservative, as some forms of AI already effectively replace many human cognitive functions. “By 2045, we’ll have expanded the intelligence of our human-machine civilization a billion-fold. That will be the singularity.”

The singularity concept, borrowed from physicists describing event horizons bordering matter-swallowing black holes in the cosmos, is the point of no return where human and machine intelligence will have completed their convergence. That’s when the machines “take over,” so to speak, and accelerate the development of civilization beyond traditional human understanding and capability.

The claims I’ve highlighted in Delmar’s article have been made before for other technologies, “xxx is like no other business before’ and “it is a technological revolution.”  Also if you keep scrolling down to the bottom of the article, you’ll find Delmar is a ‘public relations consultant’ which, if you look at his LinkedIn profile, you’ll find means he’s a managing partner in a PR firm known as Provocateur.

Bertrand Marotte’s May 20, 2017 article for the Montreal Gazette offers less hyperbole along with additional detail about the Montréal scene (Note: Links have been removed),

It might seem like an ambitious goal, but key players in Montreal’s rapidly growing artificial-intelligence sector are intent on transforming the city into a Silicon Valley of AI.

Certainly, the flurry of activity these days indicates that AI in the city is on a roll. Impressive amounts of cash have been flowing into academia, public-private partnerships, research labs and startups active in AI in the Montreal area.

…, researchers at Microsoft Corp. have successfully developed a computing system able to decipher conversational speech as accurately as humans do. The technology makes the same, or fewer, errors than professional transcribers and could be a huge boon to major users of transcription services like law firms and the courts.

Setting the goal of attaining the critical mass of a Silicon Valley is “a nice point of reference,” said tech entrepreneur Jean-François Gagné, co-founder and chief executive officer of Element AI, an artificial intelligence startup factory launched last year.

The idea is to create a “fluid, dynamic ecosystem” in Montreal where AI research, startup, investment and commercialization activities all mesh productively together, said Gagné, who founded Element with researcher Nicolas Chapados and Université de Montréal deep learning pioneer Yoshua Bengio.

“Artificial intelligence is seen now as a strategic asset to governments and to corporations. The fight for resources is global,” he said.

The rise of Montreal — and rival Toronto — as AI hubs owes a lot to provincial and federal government funding.

Ottawa promised $213 million last September to fund AI and big data research at four Montreal post-secondary institutions. Quebec has earmarked $100 million over the next five years for the development of an AI “super-cluster” in the Montreal region.

The provincial government also created a 12-member blue-chip committee to develop a strategic plan to make Quebec an AI hub, co-chaired by Claridge Investments Ltd. CEO Pierre Boivin and Université de Montréal rector Guy Breton.

But private-sector money has also been flowing in, particularly from some of the established tech giants competing in an intense AI race for innovative breakthroughs and the best brains in the business.

Montreal’s rich talent pool is a major reason Waterloo, Ont.-based language-recognition startup Maluuba decided to open a research lab in the city, said the company’s vice-president of product development, Mohamed Musbah.

“It’s been incredible so far. The work being done in this space is putting Montreal on a pedestal around the world,” he said.

Microsoft struck a deal this year to acquire Maluuba, which is working to crack one of the holy grails of deep learning: teaching machines to read like the human brain does. Among the company’s software developments are voice assistants for smartphones.

Maluuba has also partnered with an undisclosed auto manufacturer to develop speech recognition applications for vehicles. Voice recognition applied to cars can include such things as asking for a weather report or making remote requests for the vehicle to unlock itself.

Marotte’s Twitter profile describes him as a freelance writer, editor, and translator.