Tag Archives: Eliot Phillipson

AAAS 2013 meeting in Boston,US and Canadian research excellence

The 2013 annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will be held in Boston, Massachusetts from Feb. 14 – 18, 2013 with a much better theme this year, The Beauty and Benefits of Science, than last year’s, Flattening the World. (It didn’t take much to improve the theme, eh?)

Plenary speakers range from AAAS’s president, William N. Press to Nathan Myhrvold, a venture capitalist to astrophysicist, Robert Kirshner to Cynthia Kenyon, a molecular biologist to Sherry Turkle. From the AAAS webpage describing Turkle’s 2013 plenary lecture,

Sherry Turkle

Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT

The Robotic Moment: What Do We Forget When We Talk to Machines?

Dr. Turkle is founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. She received a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University and is a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of human relationships with technology, especially in the realm of how people relate to computational objects. She is an expert on mobile technology, social networking, and sociable robotics and a regular media commentator on the social and psychological effects of technology. Her most recent book is Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Given my experience last year in the 2012 meeting media room, I’m surprised to see a social media session is planned, from the session webpage,

Engaging with Social Media
Communicating Science
Thursday, February 14, 2013: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Ballroom A (Hynes Convention Center)

In a constantly changing online landscape, what is the best way for scientists and engineers to engage the public through social media? This session will discuss how people are accessing science information via blogs and social networks and the importance of researchers getting involved directly. [emphasis mine]  Speakers will address the ways that researchers can create meaningful interactions with the public through social media.

Organizer: Cornelia Dean, The New York Times
Co-Organizer: Dennis Meredith, Science Communication Consultant
Moderator: Carl Zimmer, Independent Science Journalist

XXXX Scicurious, Neurotic Physiology
Science Blogging for Fun and Profit
Christie Wilcox, University of Hawaii
Science in a Digital Age
Dominique Brossard, University of Wisconsin
Science and the Public in New Information Environments

I’d love to see how the theme of ‘researcher engaging directly’ gets developed. In theory, I have no problems with the concept. Unfortunately, those words are sometimes code for this perspective, ‘only experts (scientists/accredited journalists) should discuss or write about science’. A couple of quick comments, my Jan. 13, 2012 posting featured an interview with Carl Zimmer, this session’s moderator, about his science tattoo book and Dominique Brossard, one of the speakers, was last mentioned here in my Jan. 24, 2013 posting titled, Tweet your nano, in the context of a research study on social media and nanotechnology.

In keeping with the times (as per my Jan. 28, 2013 posting about the colossal research prizes for the Graphene and Human Brain Project initiatives), the 2012 AAAS annual meeting features a Brain Function and Plasticity thread or subtheme. There’s this session amongst others,

The Connectome: From the Synapse to Brain Networks in Health and Disease
Brain Function and Plasticity
Saturday, February 16, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 304 (Hynes Convention Center)

A series of innovative studies are being done to map the brain from the molecular to the systems level both structurally and functionally. At the synaptic level, how neurotransmitters, their receptors, and signaling pathways influence neural function and plasticity is becoming much better understood. Integrating neuronal function at the level of single neurons and groups of neurons into larger circuits at the anatomical level in the mammalian brain, while a daunting task, is being studied by advanced imaging techniques requiring vast amounts of information storage and processing. To integrate local circuit function with whole brain function, understanding the structure and processing of brain networks is critical. A major project to accomplish this task, the Human Connectome Project, is in the process of integrating the structure and function of brain networks using the most advanced imaging and analysis techniques in 1,200 people, including twins and their nontwin siblings. This step will allow for major new insights into not only brain structure and function, but also their genetic underpinnings. Comparing this information in both the normal brain and in different brain disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases is providing novel insights into how understanding brain function from the molecular to the systems level will provide insights into normal brain function and disease pathogenesis as well as provide new treatment strategies.


David Holtzman, Washington University


Mark F. Bear, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Molecules and Mechanisms Involved in Synaptic Plasticity in Health and Disease
Jeff Lichtman, Harvard University
Connectomics: Developing a Wiring Diagram for the Mammalian Brain
Steve Petersen, Washington University
The Human Connectome Project
Marcus E. Raichle, Washington University
The Brain’s Dark Energy and the Default Mode Network
Nicole Calakos, Duke University
Synaptic Plasticity in the Basal Ganglia in Health and Disease
William W. Seeley, University of California
Brain Networks: Linking Structure and Function in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Then, there’s this session featuring graphene,

What’s Hot in Cold
Sunday, February 17, 2013: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM
Room 308 (Hynes Convention Center)

The study of ultracold atoms and molecules is now the frontier of low-temperature science, reaching temperatures of a few hundred picokelvin above absolute zero. This field was made possible by a technique that did not exist 30 years ago: laser cooling of atoms. It is hardly obvious that the laser, which produces the most intense light on Earth and is routinely used in industrial applications for cutting and welding medal, would also provide the most powerful coolant. Such are the surprises of science, where a breakthrough in one area transforms others in unexpected ways. Since 1997, eight Nobel Laureates in physics have been recognized for contributions to ultracold atomic and molecular science, which has become one of the most vibrant fields in physics, cutting across traditional disciplinary boundaries, e.g., atomic, molecular, and optical; condensed matter; statistical physics; and nuclear and particle physics. This field builds on two accomplishments that it was the first to achieve: first, the production of quantum degenerate matter using a wide range of elements and, second, exquisite control of quantum degenerate matter at the atomic level. These have led to record low temperatures, ultraprecise atomic clocks, and new forms of quantum matter that generalize ideas from magnetism superconductivity and graphene physics.


Charles W. Clark, Joint Quantum Institute


Markus Greiner, Harvard University
Quantum Simulation: A Microscopic View of Quantum Matter
Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado
Atomic Clocks: From Precise Timekeepers to Quantum Simulators
Daniel Greif, ETH Zurich
Exploring Dirac Points with Ultracold Fermions in a Tunable Honeycomb Lattice
Gretchen Campbell, Joint Quantum Institute
Superflow in Bose-Einstein Condensate Rings: Tunable Weak Links in Atom Circuits
Benjamin Lev, Stanford University
New Physics in Strongly Magnetic Ultracold Gases

Amongst all these other sessions, there’s a session about Canadian science,

Introduction to Canadian Research Excellence: Evidence & Examples
Friday, February 15, 2013: 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Room 205 (Hynes Convention Center)

The Canada Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall gives a taste of what lies north of Boston and the 49th parallel. Join us at this workshop to learn about opportunities in Canada for research and study. Canada recently completed a comprehensive analysis of its domestic science and technology strengths. The final report of the expert panel of the Council of Canadian Academies will be presented, including the use of global benchmarks and insights on international collaborations. Two of the drivers for Canadian excellence will be introduced: large-scale science facilities in key fields and a system of targeted fellowships and research chairs that recruit globally.


Tim Meyer, TRIUMF


Tim Meyer, TRIUMF,
Chad Gaffield, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
Eliot Phillipson, University of Toronto

“Introduced,” really? Large scale science facilities are not new in Canada or anywhere else for that matter and the programmes of targeted fellowships have been around long enough and successful enough that it is being copied.

First, there was the Canada Research Chair programme, which was instituted in 2000. From the About Us page (Note: A link has been removed),

The Canada Research Chairs program stands at the centre of a national strategy to make Canada one of the world’s top countries in research and development. [emphasis mine]

In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships—Canada Research Chairs—in eligible degree-granting institutions across the country.

The Canada Research Chairs program invests $300 million per year to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds.

This was programme was followed up with the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program in 2008, from the Background page (Note: A link has been removed),

Launched in 2008, the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program supports Canadian universities in their efforts to build on Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. The program awards world-renowned researchers and their teams up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities. These awards are among the most prestigious and generous available globally.

In May 2010, the first group of Canada Excellence Research Chairs was announced. Selected through a rigorous, multilevel peer review process, these chairholders are helping Canada build a critical mass of expertise in the four priority research areas of the federal government’s science and technology strategy …

Here’s an excerpt from my Feb. 21, 2012 posting,

Canadians have been throwing money at scientists for some years now (my May 20, 2010 posting about the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programme). We’ve attempted to recruit from around the world with our ‘research chairs’ and our ‘excellence research chairs’ and our Network Centres of Excellence (NCE) all serving as enticements.

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced that they will be trying to beat us at our own game at the AAAS 2012 annual meeting in Vancouver (this new ERC programme was launched in Boston, Massachusetts in January 2012).

The Canadian report these folks will be discussing was released in Sept. 2012 and was  featured here in a two-part commentary,

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 1: the executive summary)

The State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report—examined (part 2: the rest of the report)

My Sept. 27, 2012 posting features my response to the report’s launch on that day.

As for the AAAS 2013 annual meeting, there’s a lot, lot more of it and it’s worth checking out, if for no other reason than to anticipate the types of science stories you will be seeing in the coming months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… here’s the description,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The panelists are:

Marie-Claire Shanahan

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

Stephen Strauss

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

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

Amber Didow

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

Maryse de la Giroday (moderator)

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

Dr. Moira Stilwell, MLA

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

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

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

Rob Annan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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