Tag Archives: Kenya

Symbiosis (science education initiative) in British Columbia (Canada)

Is it STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or is it STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics)?

It’s STEAM as least as far as Dr. Scott Sampson is concerned. In his July 6, 2018 Creative Mornings Vancouver talk in Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) he mentioned a major science education/outreach initiative taking place in the province of British Columbia (BC) but intended for all of Canada, Symbiosis There was some momentary confusion as Sampson’s slide deck identified it as a STEM initiative. Sampson verbally added the ‘A’ for arts and henceforth described it as a STEAM initiative. (Part of the difficulty is that many institutions have used the term STEM and only recently come to the realization they might want to add ‘art’ leading to confusion in Canada and the US, if nowhere else, as old materials require updating. Actually, I vote for adding the humanities too so that we can have SHTEAM.)

You’ll notice, should you visit the Symbiosis website, that the STEM/STEAM confusion extends further than Sampson’s slide deck.

Sampson,  “a dinosaur paleontologist, science communicator, and passionate advocate for reimagining cities as places where people and nature thrive, serves (since 2016) as president and CEO of Science World British Columbia” or as they’re known on their website:  Science World at TELUS World of Science. Unwieldy, eh?

The STEM/STEAM announcement

None of us in the Creative Mornings crowd had heard of Symbiosis or Scott Sampson for that matter (apparently, he’s a huge star among the preschool set due to his work on the PBS [US Public Broadcasting Service] children’s show ‘Dinosaur Train’). Regardless, it was good to hear  of this effort although my efforts to learn more about it have been a bit frustrated.

First, here’s what I found: a May 25, 2017 Science World media release (PDF) about Symbiosis,

Science World Introduces Symbiosis
A First-of Its-Kind [sic] Learning Ecosystem forCanada

We live in a time of unprecedented change. High-tech innovations are rapidly transforming 21st century societies and the Canadian marketplace is increasingly dominated by novel, knowledge-based jobs requiring high levels of literacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Failing to prepare the next generation to be STEM literate threatens the health of our youth, the economy and the places we live. STEM literacy needs to be integrated into the broader context of what it means to be a 21st century citizen. Also important is inclusion of an extra letter, “A,” for art and design, resulting in STEAM. The idea behind Symbiosis is to make STEAM learning accessible across Canada.

Every major Canadian city hosts dozens to hundreds of organizations that engage children and youth in STEAM learning. Yet, for the most part, these organizations operate in isolation. The result is that a huge proportion of Canadian youth, particularly in First Nations and other underserved communities, are not receiving quality STEAM learning opportunities.

In order to address this pressing need, Science World British Columbia (scienceworld.ca) is spearheading the creation of Symbiosis, a deeply collaborative STEAM learning ecosystem. Driven by a diverse network of cross-sector partners, Symbiosis will become a vibrant model for scaling the kinds of learning and careers needed in a knowledge-based economy.

Today [May 25, 2017], Science World is proud to announce that Symbiosis has been selected by STEM Learning Ecosystems, a US-based organization, to formally join a growing movement. In just two years, the STEM Learning Ecosystems  initiative has become a thriving network of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, joined in regional partnerships with the objective of collaborating in new and creative ways to increase equity, quality, and STEM learning outcomes for all youth. Symbiosis will be the first member of this initiative outside the United States.

Symbiosis was selected to become part of the STEM Learning Ecosystem initiative because of a demonstrated [emphasis mine] commitment to cross-sector collaborations in schools and beyond the classroom. As STEM Ecosystems evolve, students will be able to connect what they’ve learned, in and out of school, with real-world, community-based opportunities.

I wonder how Symbiosis demonstrated their commitment. Their website doesn’t seem to have existed prior to 2018 and there’s no information there about any prior activities.

A very Canadian sigh

I checked the STEM Learning Ecosystems website for its Press Room and found a couple of illuminating press releases. Here’s how the addition of Symbiosis was described in the May 25, 2017 press release,

The 17 incoming ecosystem communities were selected because they demonstrate a commitment to cross-sector collaborations in schools and beyond the classroom—in afterschool and summer programs, at home, with local business and industry partners, and in science centers, libraries and other places both virtual and physical. As STEM Ecosystems evolve, students will be able to connect what is learned in and out of school with real-world opportunities.

“It makes complete sense to collaborate with like-minded regions and organizations,” said Matthew Felan of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance STEM Initiative, one of the founding Ecosystems. “STEM Ecosystems provides technical assistance and infrastructure support so that we are able to tailor quality STEM learning opportunities to the specific needs of our region in Michigan while leveraging the experience of similar alliances across the nation.”

The following ecosystem communities were selected to become part of this [US} national STEM Learning Ecosystem:

  • Arizona: Flagstaff STEM Learning Ecosystem
  • California: Region 5 STEAM in Expanded Learning Ecosystem (San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey Counties)
  • Louisiana: Baton Rouge STEM Learning Network
  • Massachusetts: Cape Cod Regional STEM Network
  • Michigan: Michigan STEM Partnership / Southeast Michigan STEM Alliance
  • Missouri: Louis Regional STEM Learning Ecosystem
  • New Jersey: Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance (Burlington County)
  • New Jersey: Newark STEAM Coalition
  • New York: WNY STEM (Western New York State)
  • New York: North Country STEM Network (seven counties of Northern New York State)
  • Ohio: Upper Ohio Valley STEM Cooperative
  • Ohio: STEM Works East Central Ohio
  • Oklahoma: Mayes County STEM Alliance
  • Pennsylvania: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery STEM Learning Ecosystem
  • Washington: The Washington STEM Network
  • Wisconsin: Greater Green Bay STEM Network
  • Canada: Symbiosis, British Columbia, Canada

Yes, somehow a Canadian initiative becomes another US regional community in their national ecosystem.

Then, they made everything better a year later in a May 29, 2018 press release,

New STEM Learning Ecosystems in the United States are:

  • California: East Bay STEM Network
  • Georgia: Atlanta STEAM Learning Ecosystem
  • Hawaii: Hawai’iloa ecosySTEM Cabinet
  • Illinois: South Suburban STEAM Network
  • Kentucky: Southeastern Kentucky STEM Ecosystem
  • Massachusetts: MetroWest STEM Education Network
  • New York: Greater Southern Tier STEM Learning Network
  • North Carolina: STEM SENC (Southeastern North Carolina)
  • North Dakota: North Dakota STEM Ecosystem
  • Texas: SA/Bexar STEM/STEAM Ecosystem

The growing global Community of Practice has added: [emphasis mine]

  • Kenya: Kenya National STEM Learning Ecosystem
  • México: Alianza Para Promover la Educación en STEM (APP STEM)

Are Americans still having fantasies about ‘manifest destiny’? For those unfamiliar with the ‘doctrine’,

In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America.  …

They seem to have given up on Mexico but the dream of acquiring Canadian territory rears its head from time to time. Specifically, it happens when Quebec holds a referendum (the last one was in 1995) on whether or not it wishes to remain part of the Canadian confederation. After the last referendum, I’d hoped that was the end of ‘manifest destiny’ but it seems these 21st Century-oriented STEM Learning Ecosystems people have yet to give up a 19th century fantasy. (sigh)

What is Symbiosis?

For anyone interested in the definition of the word, from Wordnik,



from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Biology A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.
  • n. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A relationship of mutual benefit.
  • n. A close, prolonged association between two or more organisms of different species, regardless of benefit to the members.
  • n. The state of people living together in community.

As for this BC-based organization, Symbiosis, which they hope will influence Canadian STEAM efforts and learning as a whole, I don’t have much. From the Symbiosis About Us webpage,

A learning ecosystem is an interconnected web of learning opportunities that encompasses formal education to community settings such as out-of-school care, summer programs, science centres and museums, and experiences at home.

​In May 2017, Symbiosis was selected by STEM Learning Ecosystems, a US-based organization, to formally join a growing movement. As the first member of this initiative outside the United States, Symbiosis has demonstrated a commitment to cross-sector collaborations in schools and beyond the classroom. As Symbiosis evolves, students will be able to connect what they’ve learned, in and out of school, with real-world, community-based opportunities.

We live in a time of unprecedented change. High-tech innovations are rapidly transforming 21st century societies and the Canadian marketplace is increasingly dominated by novel, knowledge-based jobs requiring high levels of literacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Failing to prepare the next generation to be STEM literate threatens the health of our youth, the economy, and the places we live. STEM literacy needs to be integrated into the broader context of what it means to be a 21st century citizen. Also important is inclusion of an extra letter, “A,” for art and design, resulting in STEAM.

In order to address this pressing need, Science World British Columbia is spearheading the creation of Symbiosis, a deeply collaborative STEAM learning ecosystem. Driven by a diverse network of cross-sector partners, Symbiosis will become a vibrant model for scaling the kinds of learning and careers needed in a knowledge-based economy.


  • Acknowledges the holistic connections among arts, science and nature
  • ​Is inclusive and equitable
  • Is learner-centered​
  • Fosters curiosity and life-long learning ​​
  • Is relevant—should reflect the community
  • Honours diverse perspectives, including Indigenous worldviews
  • Is partnerships, collaboration, and mentorship
  • ​Is a sustainable, thriving community, with resilience and flexibility
  • Is research-based, data-driven
  • Shares stories of success—stories of people/role models using STEAM and critical thinking to make a difference
  • Provides a  variety of access points that are available to all learners

I was looking for more concrete information such as:

  • what is your budget?
  • which organizations are partners?
  • where do you get your funding?
  • what have you done so far?

I did get an answer to my last question by going to the Symbiosis news webpage where I found these,

We’re hiring!

 7/3/2018 [Their deadline is July 13, 2018]

STAN conference


Symbiosis on CKPG


Design Studio #2 in March


BC Science Outreach Workshop


Make of that what you will. Also, there is a 2018 copyright notice (at the bottom of the webpages) but no copyright owner is listed.

There is some Symbiosis information

A magazine known as BC Business (!) offers some details in a May 11, 2018 opinion piece, Note: Links have been removed,

… Increasingly, the Canadian marketplace is dominated by novel, knowledge-based jobs requiring high levels of literacy in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Here in B.C., the tech sector now employs over 100,000 people, about 5 percent of the province’s total workforce. As the knowledge economy grows, these numbers will rise dramatically.

Yet technology-driven businesses are already struggling to fill many roles that require literacy in STEM. …

Today, STEM education in North America and elsewhere is struggling. One study found that 60 percent of students who enter high school interested in STEM fields change their minds by graduation. Lacking mentoring, students, especially girls, tend to lose interest in STEM. [emphasis mine]Today, only 22 percent of Canadian STEM jobs are held by women. Failing to prepare the next generation to be STEM-literate threatens the prospects of our youth, our economy and the places we live.

More and more, education is no longer confined to classrooms. … To kickstart this future, a “STEM learning ecosystem” movement has emerged in the United States, grounded in deeply collaborative, cross-sector networks of learning opportunities.

Symbiosis will concentrate on a trio of impacts:

1) Dramatically increasing the number of qualified STEM mentors in B.C.—from teachers and scientists to technologists and entrepreneurs;

2) Connecting this diversity of mentors with children and youth through networked opportunities, from classroom visits and on-site shadowing to volunteering and internships; and

3) Creating a digital hub that interweaves communities, hosts a library of resources and extends learning through virtual offerings. [emphases mine]

Science World British Columbia is spearheading Symbiosis, and organizations from many sectors have expressed strong interest in collaborating—among them K-12 education, higher education, industry, government and non-profits. Several of these organizations are founding members of the BC Science Charter, which formed in 2013.

Symbiosis will launch in fall of 2018 with two pilot communities: East Vancouver and Prince George. …

As for why students tend to lose interest in STEM, there’s a rather interesting longitudinal study taking place in the UK which attempts to answer at least some of that question. I first wrote about the ASPIRES study in a January 31, 2012 posting: Science attitude kicks in by 10 years old. This was based on preliminary data and it seemed to be confirmed by an unrelated US study of high school students also mentioned in that posting (scroll down about 40% of the way).

In short, both studies suggested that children are quite to open to science but when it comes time to think about careers, they tend to ‘aspire’ to what they see amongst family and friends. I don’t see that kind of thinking reflected in any of the information I’ve been able to find about Symbiosis and it was not present in Sampson’s, Creative Mornings talk.

However, I noted during Sampson’s talk that he mentioned his father, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and how he had based his career expectations on his father’s career. (Sampson is from Vancouver originally.) Sampson, like his father, was at one point a professor of ‘science’ at a university.

Perhaps one day someone from Symbiosis will look into the ASPIRE studies or even read my blog 🙂

You can find the latest about what is now called the ASPIRES 2 study here. (I will try to post my own update to the ASPIRES projects in the near future).

Best hopes

I am happy to see Symbiosis arrive on the scene and I wish all the best for the initiative. I am less concerned than the BC Business folks about supplying employers with the kind of employees they want to hire and hopeful that Symbiosis will attract not just the students, educators, mentors, and scientists to whom they are appealing but will cast a wider net to include philosophers, car mechanics, hairdressers, poets, visual artists, farmers, chefs, and others in a ‘pursuit of wonder’.

Aside: I was introduced to the phrase ‘pursuit of wonder’ by a friend who sent me a link to José Teodoro’s May 29, 2018 interview with Canadian filmmaker, Peter Mettler for the Brick. Mettler discusses his film about the Northern Lights and the technical challenges he met along the way.

After the April 22, 2017 US March for Science

Since last Saturday’s (April 22, 2017) US March for Science, I’ve stumbled across three interesting perspectives on the ‘movement’. As I noted in my April 14, 2017 posting, the ‘march’ has reached out beyond US borders to become international in scope. (On the day, at least 18 marches were held in Canada alone.)


John Dupuis wrote about his experience as a featured speaker at the Toronto (Ontario) march in an April 24, 2017 posting on his Confessions of a Science Librarian blog (Note: Links have been removed),

My fellow presenters were Master of Ceremonies Rupinder Brar and speakers Dawn Martin-Hill, Josh Matlow, Tanya Harrison, Chelsea Rochman, Aadita Chaudhury, Eden Hennessey and Cody Looking Horse.

Here’s what I had to say:

Hi, my name is John and I’m a librarian. My librarian superpower is making lists, checking them twice and seeing who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. The nice ones are all of you out here marching for science. And the naughty ones are the ones out there that are attacking science and the environment.

Now I’ve been in the list-making business for quite a few years, making an awful lot of lists of how governments have attacked or ignored science. I did a lot of work making lists about the Harper government and their war on science. The nicest thing I’ve ever seen written about my strange little obsession was in The Guardian.

Here’s what they said, in an article titled, How science helped to swing the Canadian election.

“Things got so bad that scientists and their supporters took to the streets. They demonstrated in Ottawa. They formed an organization, Evidence for Democracy, to bring push back on political interference in science. Awareness-raising forums were held at campuses throughout Canada. And the onslaught on science was painstakingly documented, which tends to happen when you go after librarians.”

Yeah, watch out. Don’t go after libraries and librarians. The Harper govt learned its lesson. And we learned a lesson too. And that lesson was that keeping track of things, that painstakingly documenting all the apparently disconnected little bits and pieces of policies here, regulations changed there and a budget snipped somewhere else, it all adds up.

What before had seemed random and disconnected is suddenly a coherent story. All the dots are connected and everybody can see what’s happened. By telling the whole story, by laying it all out there for everyone to see, it’s suddenly easier for all of us to point to the list and to hold the government of the day accountable. That’s the lesson learned from making lists.

But back in 2013 what I saw the government doing wasn’t the run of the mill anti-science that we’d seen before. Prime Minister Harper’s long standing stated desire to make Canada a global energy superpower revealed the underlying motivation but it was the endless litany of program cuts, census cancellation, science library closures, regulatory changes and muzzling of government scientists that made up the action plan. But was it really a concerted action plan or was it a disconnected series of small changes that were really no big deal or just a little different from normal?

That’s where making lists comes in handy. If you’re keeping track, then, yeah, you see the plan. You see the mission, you see the goals, you see the strategy, you see the tactics. You see that the government was trying to be sneaky and stealthy and incremental and “normal” but that there was a revolution in the making. An anti-science revolution.

Fast forward to now, April 2017, and what do we see? The same game plan repeated, the same anti-science revolution under way [in the US]. Only this time not so stealthy. Instead of a steady drip, it’s a fire hose. Message control at the National Parks Service, climate change denial, slashing budgets and shutting down programs at the EPA and other vital agencies. Incompetent agency directors that don’t understand the mission of their agencies or who even want to destroy them completely.

Once again, we are called to document, document, document. Tell the stories, mobilize science supporters and hold the governments accountable at the ballot box. Hey, like the Guardian said, if we did it in Canada, maybe that game plan can be repeated too.

I invited my three government reps here to the march today, Rob Oliphant, Josh Matlow and Eric Hoskins and I invited them to march with me so we could talk about how evidence should inform public policy. Josh, of course, is up here on the podium with me. As for Rob Oliphant from the Federal Liberals and Eric Hoskins from the Ontario Liberals, well, let’s just say they never answered my tweets.

Keep track, tell the story, hold all of them from every party accountable. The lesson we learned here in Canada was that science can be a decisive issue. Real facts can mobilise people to vote against alternative facts.

Thank you.

I’m not as sure as Dupuis that science was a decisive issue in our 2015 federal election; I’d say it was a factor. More importantly, I think the 2015 election showed Canadian scientists and those who feel science is important that it is possible to give it a voice and more prominence in the political discourse.


Eric Leeuwerck in an April 24, 2017 posting on one of the Agence Science-Press blogs describes his participation from Rwanda (I have provided a very rough translation after),

Un peu partout dans le monde, samedi 22 avril 2017, des milliers de personnes se sont mobilisées pour la « march for science », #sciencemarch, « une marche citoyenne pour les sciences, contre l’obscurantisme ». Et chez moi, au Rwanda ?

J’aurais bien voulu y aller moi à une « march for science », j’aurais bien voulu me joindre aux autres voix, me réconforter dans un esprit de franche camaraderie, à marcher comme un seul homme dans les rues, à dire que oui, nous sommes là ! La science vaincra, « No science, no futur ! » En Arctique, en Antarctique, en Amérique latine, en Asie, en Europe, sur la terre, sous l’eau…. Partout, des centaines de milliers de personnes ont marché ensemble. L’Afrique s’est mobilisée aussi, il y a eu des “march for science” au Kenya, Nigeria, Ouganda…

Et au Rwanda ? Eh bien, rien… Pourquoi suivre la masse, hein ? Pourquoi est-ce que je ne me suis pas bougé le cul pour faire une « march for science » au Rwanda ? Euh… et bien… Je vous avoue que je me vois mal organiser une manif au Rwanda en fait… Une collègue m’a même suggéré l’idée mais voilà, j’ai laissé tomber au moment même où l’idée m’a traversé l’esprit… Cependant, j’avais quand même cette envie d’exprimer ma sympathie et mon appartenance à ce mouvement mondial, à titre personnel, sans vouloir parler pour les autres, avec un GIF tout simple.

March for science RWanda

” March for science ” Rwanda

Je dois dire que je me sens bien souvent seul ici… Les cours de biologie de beaucoup d’écoles sont créationnistes, même au KICS (pour Kigali International Community School), une école internationale américaine (je tiens ça d’amis qui ont eu leurs enfants dans cette école). Sur son site, cette école de grande renommée ici ne cache pas ses penchants chrétiens : “KICS is a fully accredited member of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) (…)” et, de plus, est reconnue par le ministère de l’éducation rwandais : “(KICS) is endorsed by the Rwandan Ministry of Education as a sound educational institution“. Et puis, il y a cette phrase sur leur page d’accueil : « Join the KICS family and impact the world for christ ».

Je réalise régulièrement des formations en pédagogie des sciences pour des profs locaux du primaire et du secondaire. Lors de ma formation sur la théorie de l’Evolution, qui a eu pas mal de succès, les enseignants de biologie m’ont confié que c’était la première fois, avec moi, qu’ils avaient eu de vrais cours sur la théorie de l’Evolution… (Je passe les débats sur l’athéisme, sur la « création » qui n’est pas un fait, sur ce qu’est un fait, qu’il ne faut pas faire « acte de foi » pour faire de la science et que donc on ne peut pas « croire » en la science, mais la comprendre…). Un thème délicat à aborder a été celui de la « construction des identités meurtrières » pour reprendre le titre du livre d’Amin Maalouf, au Rwanda comment est-ce qu’une pseudoscience, subjective, orientée politiquement et religieusement a pu mener au racisme et au génocide. On m’avait aussi formellement interdit d’en parler à l’époque, ma directrice de l’époque disait « ne te mêle pas de ça, ce n’est pas notre histoire », mais voilà, maintenant, ce thème est devenu un thème incontournable, même à l’Ecole Belge de Kigali !

Une autre formation sur l’éducation sexuelle a été très bien reçue aussi ! J’ai mis en place cette formation, aussi contre l’avis de ma directrice de l’époque (une autre) : des thèmes comme le planning familial, la contraception, l’homosexualité, gérer un débat houleux, les hormones… ont été abordées ! Première fois aussi, m’ont confié les enseignants, qu’ils ont reçu une formation objective sur ces sujets tabous.

Chaque année, je réunis un peu d’argent avec l’aide de l’École Belge de Kigali pour faire ces formations (même si mes directions ne sont pas toujours d’accord avec les thèmes ), je suis totalement indépendant et à part l’École Belge de Kigali, aucune autre institution dont j’ai sollicité le soutien n’a voulu me répondre. Mais je continue, ça relève parfois du militantisme, je l’avoue.

C’est comme mon blog, un des seuls blogs francophones de sciences en Afrique (en fait, je n’en ai jamais trouvé aucun en cherchant sur le net) dans un pays à la connexion Internet catastrophique, je me demande parfois pourquoi je continue… Je perds tellement de temps à attendre que mes pages chargent, à me reconnecter je ne sais pas combien de fois toutes les 5 minutes … En particulier lors de la saison des pluies ! Heureusement que je peux compter sur le soutien inconditionnel de mes communautés de blogueurs : le café des sciences , les Mondoblogueurs de RFI , l’Agence Science-Presse. Sans eux, j’aurais arrêté depuis longtemps ! Six ans de blogging scientifique quand même…

Alors, ce n’est pas que virtuel, vous savez ! Chaque jour, quand je vais au boulot pour donner mes cours de bio et chimie, quand j’organise mes formations, quand j’arrive à me connecter à mon blog, je « marche pour la science ».

Yeah. (De la route, de la science et du rock’n’roll : Rock’n’Science !)

(Un commentaire de soutien ça fait toujours plaisir !)

As I noted, this will be a very rough translation and anything in square brackets [] means that I’m even less sure about the translation in that bit,

Pretty much around the world, thousands will march for science against anti-knowledge/anti-science.

I would have liked to join in and to march with other kindred spirits as one in the streets. We are here! Science will triumph! No science .No future. In the Arctic, in the Antarctic, in Latin America, in Asia, in Europe,  on land, on water … Everywhere hundreds of thousands of people are marching together. Africa, too, has mobilized with marches in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda ..

And in Rwanda? Well, no, nothing. Why follow everyone else? Why didn’t I get my butt in gear and organize a march? [I’m not good at organizing these kinds of things] A colleague even suggested I arrange something . I had an impulse to do it and then it left. Still, I want to express my solidarity with the March for Science without attempting to talk for or represent anyone other than myself. So, here’s a simple gif,

I have to say I often feel myself to be alone here. The biology courses taught in many of the schools here are creationist biology even at the KICS (Kigali International Community School), an international American school (I have friends whose children attend the school). On the school’s site there’s a sign that does nothing to hide its mission: “KICS is a fully accredited member of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) (…)” and, further, it is recognized as such by the Rwandan Ministry of Education : “(KICS) is endorsed by the Rwandan Ministry of Education as a sound educational institution”. Finally, there’s this on their welcome page : « Join the KICS family and impact the world for christ ».

I regularly give science education prgorammes for local primary and secondary teachers. With regard to my teaching on the theory of evolution some have confided that this is the first time they’ve truly been exposed to a theory of evolution.  (I avoid the debates about atheism and the creation story. Science is not about faith it’s about understanding …). One theme that must be skirted with some delicacy in Rwanda is the notion of constructing a murderous/violent identity to borrow from Amin Maalouf’s book title, ‘Les Identités meurtrières’; in English: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong) as it has elements of a pseudoscience, subjectivity, political and religious connotations and has been used to justify racism and genocide. [Not sure here if he’s saying that the theory of evolution has been appropriated and juxtaposed with notions of violence and identify leading to racism and genocide. For anyone not familiar with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, see this Wikipedia entry.] Ihave been formally forbidden to discuss this period and my director said “Don’t meddle in this. It’s not our history.” But this theme/history has become essential/unavoidable even at the l’Ecole Belge de Kigali (Belgian School of Kigali).

A programme on sex education was well received and that subject too was forbidden to me (by a different director). I included topics such as  family planning, contraception, homosexuality, hormones and inspired a spirited debate. Many times my students have confided that they received good factual information on these taboo topics.

Each year with help from the Belgian School at Kigali, I raise money for these programmes (even if my directors don’t approve of the topics). I’m totally independent and other than the Belgian School at Kigali no other institution that I’ve appraoched has responded. But I continue as I hope that it can help lower milittancy.

My blog is one of the few French language science blogs in Africa (I rarely find any other such blogs when I search). In a country where the internet connection is catastrophically poor, I ask myself why I go on. I lose a lot of time waiting for pages to load or to re-establish a connection, especially in the rainy season. Happily I can depend on the communities of bloggers such as: café des sciences , les Mondoblogueurs de RFI , l’Agence Science-Presse. Without them I would have stopped long ago. It has been six years of blogging science …

It is virtual, you know. Each day when I deliver my courses in biology and chemistry, when I organize my programmes, when I post on my blog, ‘I march for science’.

Comments are gladly accepted. [http://www.sciencepresse.qc.ca/blogue/2017/04/24/march-science-rwanda]

All mistakes are mine.


My last bit is from an April 24, 2017 article by Jeremy Samuel Faust for Slate.com, (Note: Links have been removed),

Hundreds of thousands of self-professed science supporters turned out to over 600 iterations of the March for Science around the world this weekend. Thanks to the app Periscope, I attended half a dozen of them from the comfort of my apartment, thereby assiduously minimizing my carbon footprint.

Mainly, these marches appeared to be a pleasant excuse for liberals to write some really bad (and, OK, some truly superb) puns, and put them on cardboard signs. There were also some nicely stated slogans that roused support for important concepts such as reason and data and many that decried the defunding of scientific research and ignorance-driven policy.

But here’s the problem: Little of what I observed dissuades me from my baseline belief that, even among the sanctimonious elite who want to own science (and pwn [sic] anyone who questions it), most people have no idea how science actually works. The scientific method itself is already under constant attack from within the scientific community itself and is ceaselessly undermined by its so-called supporters, including during marches like those on Saturday. [April 22, 2017] In the long run, such demonstrations will do little to resolve the myriad problems science faces and instead could continue to undermine our efforts to use science accurately and productively.

Indeed much of the sentiment of the March for Science seemed to fall firmly in the camp of people espousing a gee-whiz attitude in which science is just great and beyond reproach. They feel that way because, so often, the science they’re exposed to feels that way—it’s cherry-picked. Cherry-picking scientific findings that support an already cherished and firmly held belief (while often ignoring equally if not more compelling data that contradicts it) is epidemic—in scientific journals and in the media.

Let’s face it: People like science when it supports their views. I see this every day. When patients ask me for antibiotics to treat their common colds, I tell them that decades of science and research, let alone a basic understanding of microbiology, shows that antibiotics don’t work for cold viruses. Trust me, people don’t care. They have gotten antibiotics for their colds in the past, and, lo, they got better. (The human immune system, while a bit slower and clunkier than we’d like it to be, never seems to get the credit it deserves in these little anecdotal stories.) Who needs science when you have something mightier—personal experience?

Another example is the vocal wing of environmentalists who got up one day and decided that genetically modified organisms were bad for you. They had not one shred of evidence for this, but it just kind of felt true. As a result, responsible scientists will be fighting against these zealots for years to come. While the leaders of March for Science events are on the right side of this issue, many of its supporters are not. I’m looking at you, Bernie Sanders; the intellectual rigor behind your stance requiring GMO labelling reflects a level of scientific understanding that would likely lead for calls for self-defenestration from your own supporters if it were applied to, say, something like climate change.

But it does not stop there. Perhaps as irritating as people who know nothing about science are those who know just a little bit—just enough to think they have any idea as to what is going on. Take for example the clever cheer (and unparalleled public declaration of nerdiness):

What do we want?


When do we want it?

After peer review!

Of course, the quality of most peer-review research is somewhere between bad and unfair to the pixels that gave their lives to display it. Just this past week, a study published by the world’s most prestigious stroke research journal (Stroke), made headlines and achieved media virality by claiming a correlation between increased diet soda consumption and strokes and dementia. Oh, by the way, the authors didn’t control for body mass index [*], even though, unsurprisingly, people who have the highest BMIs had the most strokes. An earlier study that no one seems to remember showed a correlation of around the same magnitude between obesity and strokes alone. But, who cares, right? Ban diet sodas now! Science says they’re linked to strokes and dementia! By the way, Science used to say that diet sodas cause cancer. But Science was, perish the thought, wrong.

If you can get past the writer’s great disdain for just about everyone, he makes very good points.

To add some clarity with regard to “controlling for body mass index,” there’s a concept in research known as a confounding variable. In this case, people who have a higher body mass index (or are more obese) will tend to have more strokes according to previous research which qualifies as a confounding variable when studying the effect of diet soda on strokes. To control for obesity means you set up the research project in such a way you can compare (oranges to oranges) the stroke rates of obese people who drink x amount of diet soda with obese people who do not drink x amount of diet soda and compare stroke rates of standard weight people who drink x amount of diet soda with other standard weight people who do not drink x amount of diet soda. There are other aspects of the research that would also have be considered but to control for body mass index that’s the way I’d set it up.

One point that Faust makes that isn’t made often enough and certainly not within the context of the ‘evidence-based policy movement’ and ‘marches for science’ is the great upheaval taking place within the scientific endeavour (Note: Links have been removed),

… . There are a dozen other statistical games that researchers can play to get statistical significance. Such ruses do not rise to anything approaching clinical relevance. Nevertheless, fun truthy ones like the diet soda study grab headlines and often end up changing human behaviors.

The reason this problem, what one of my friends delightfully calls statistical chicanery, is so rampant is twofold. First, academics need to “publish or perish.” If researchers don’t publish in peer-reviewed journals, their careers will be short and undistinguished. Second, large pharmaceutical companies have learned how to game the science system so that their patented designer molecules can earn them billions of dollars, often treating made-up diseases (I won’t risk public opprobrium naming those) as well as other that we, the medical establishment, literally helped create (opioid-induced constipation being a recent flagrancy).

Of course, the journals themselves have suffered because their contributors know the game. There are now dozens of stories of phony research passing muster in peer-review journals, despite being intentionally badly written. These somewhat cynical, though hilarious, exposés have largely focused on outing predatory journals that charge authors money in exchange for publication (assuming the article is “accepted” by the rigorous peer-review process; the word rigorous, by the way, now means “the credit card payment went through and your email address didn’t bounce”). But even prestigious journals have been bamboozled. The Lancet famously published fabrications linking vaccines and autism in 1998. and it took it 12 years to retract the studies. Meanwhile, the United States Congress took only three years for its own inquiry to debunk any link. You know it’s bad when the U.S. Congress is running circles around the editorial board of one of the world’s most illustrious medical journals. Over the last couple of decades, multiple attempts to improve the quality of peer-review adjudication have disappointingly and largely failed to improve the situation.

While the scientific research community is in desperate need of an overhaul, the mainstream media (and social media influencers) could in the meantime play a tremendously helpful role in alleviating the situation. Rather than indiscriminately repeating the results of the latest headline-grabbing scientific journal article and quoting the authors who wrote the paper, journalists should also reach out to skeptics and use their comments not just to provide (false) balance in their articles but to assess whether the finding really warrants an entire article of coverage in the first place. Headlines should be vetted not for impact and virality but for honesty. As a reader, be wary of any headline that includes the phrase “Science says,” as well as anything that states that a particular study “proves” that a particular exposure “causes” a particular disease. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and emphysema, and that’s about as close to a causal statement as actual scientists will make, when it comes to health. Most of what you read and hear about turns out to be mere associations, and mostly fairly weak ones, at that.

Faust refers mostly to medical research but many of his comments are applicable to other science research as well. By the way, Faust has written an excellent description of p-values for which, if for no other reason, you should read his piece in its entirety.

One last comment about Faust’s piece, he exhorts journalists to take more care in their writing but fails to recognize the pressures on journalists and those who participate in social media. Briefly, journalists are under pressure to produce. Many of the journalists who write about science don’t know much about it and even the ones who have a science background may be quite ignorant about the particular piece of science they are covering, i.e., a physicist might have some problems covering medical research and vice versa. Also, mainstream media are in trouble as they struggle to find revenue models.

As for those of us who blog and others in the social media environment; we are a mixed bag in much the same way that mainstream media is. If you get your science from gossip rags such as the National Enquirer, it’s not likely to be as reliable as what you’d expect from The Guardian or the The New York Times. Still, those prestigious publications have gotten quite wrong on occasion.

In the end, readers (scientists, journalists, bloggers, etc.) need to be skeptical. It’s also helpful to be humble or at least willing to admit you’ve made a mistake (confession: I have my share on this blog, which are noted when I’ve found or when they’ve been pointed out to me).

Final comments

Hopefully, this has given you a taste for the wide ranges of experiences and perspectives on the April 22, 2017 March for Science.

Hexanal and preventing (or diminishing) fruit spoilage

More mangoes thanks to an Indian-Sri Lankan-Canadian nanotechnologyresearch project is a Feb. 9, 2015 posting where I highlighted (not for the first time) a three country research project utilizing hexanal in boxes for fruit (mango) storage,

I’ve been wondering what happened since I posted about this ‘mango’ project some years ago (my June 21, 2012 posting and my Nov. 1, 2012 posting) so, it’s nice to get an update from this Fresh Fruit Portal Feb. 4, 2015 posting,

Developed by Canadian, Indian and Sri Lankan researchers in a collaborative project funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the nanotech mango boxes are said to improve the fruit’s resilience and therefore boost quality over long shipping distances.

The project – which also includes the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India and the Industrial Technical Institute, Sri Lanka – has tested the use of the bio-compound hexanal, an artificially synthesized version of a natural substance produced by injured plants to reduce post-harvest losses.

In the Feb. 9, 2015 posting I was featuring the project again as it had received new funding,

  • Researchers from the University of Guelph, Canada, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, India, and the Industrial Technical Institute, Sri Lanka, have shown that a natural compound known as hexanal delays the ripening of mangos. Using nanotechnology, the team will continue to develop hexanal-impregnated packaging and biowax coatings to improve the fruit’s resilience during handling and shipping for use in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. It will also expand its research to include other fruit and look at ways to commercialize the technologies.

New funding will allow the research teams to further develop the new technologies and involve partners who can bring them to market to reach greater numbers of small-holder farmers.

A Dec. 29, 2015 article (Life of temperate fruits in orchards extended, thanks to nanotech) in The Hindu newspaper provides an update on the collaboration,

Talking to mediapersons after taking part in a workshop on ‘Enhanced Preservation of Fruits using Nanotechnology Project’ held at the Horticultural College and Research Institute, Periyakulam near here on Monday [Dec. 28, 2015], he [K.S. Subramanian, Professor, Department of Nano Science and Technology, TNAU, Coimbatore] said countries like Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Kenya and West Indies will benefit. Post-harvest loss in African countries was approximately 80 per cent, whereas it was 25 to 30 per cent in India, he said.

With the funds sanctioned by Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and International Development Research Centre, Canada, the TN Agricultural University, Coimbatore, involving scientists in University of Guelph, Canada, Industrial Technology Institute, Colombo, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania, University of Nairobi [Kenya], University of West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, have jointly developed Hexanal formulation, a nano-emulsion, to minimise post harvest loss and extend shelf life of mango.

Field trials have been carried out successfully in Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri on five varieties – Neelam, Bangalura, Banganapalle, Alphonso and Imam Pasand. Pre-harvest spray of Hexanal formulation retained fruits in the trees for three weeks and three more weeks in storage.

Extending life to six to eight weeks will benefit exporters immensely as they required at least six weeks to take fruits to European and the US market. Existing technologies were sufficient to retain fruits up to four weeks only. Domestic growers too can delay harvest and tap market when in demand.

In a companion Dec. 29, 2015 article (New technologies will enhance income of farmers) for The Hindu, benefits for the Indian agricultural economy were extolled,

Nano technology is an ideal tool to extend the shelf life and delay in ripening mango in trees, but proper bio-safety tests should be done before introducing it to farmers, according to Deputy Director General of ICAR N.K. Krishnakumar.

Inaugurating a workshop on Enhanced Preservation of Fruits using Nanotechnology Project held at the Horticultural College and Research Institute at Periyakulam near here on Monday [Dec. 28, 2015], he said that bio safety test was very important before implementing any nano-technology. Proper adoption of new technologies would certainly enhance the income of farmers, he added.

Demand for organic fruits was very high in foreign countries, he said, adding that Japan and Germany were prepared to buy large quantum of organic pomegranate. Covering fruits in bags would ensure uniform colour and quality, he said.

He appealed to scale down use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to improve quality and taste. He said dipping mango in water mixed with salt will suffice to control fungus.

Postgraduate and research students should take up a problem faced by farmers and find a solution to it by working in his farm. His thesis could be accepted for offering degree only after getting feedback from that farmer. Such measure would benefit college, students and farmers, Mr. Krishnakumar added.

It’s good to get an update on the project’s progress and, while it’s not clear from the excerpts I have here, they are testing hexanal with on fruit other than mangoes.

Kenya and a draft nanotechnology policy

I don’t often stumble across information about Kenya’s nanotechnology efforts (my last was in a Sept. 1, 2011 posting) but I’m going include my latest find here even though I can’t track down the original source for the information. From an April 29, 2015 news item on SpyGhana (original source: Xinhua News Agency,  official press agency of the People’s Republic of China),

The Kenyan government will soon adopt a comprehensive policy to promote use of nanotechnology in diverse fields like medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and environment.

“Nanotechnology as a science promises more for less. The competitive edge for Kenya as a developing nation lies in robust investments in this technology,” Njeri Wamae, chairman of National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), said in Nairobi.

Nanotechnology is relatively new in Kenya though the government has prioritized its development through research, training and setting up of supportive infrastructure.

Wamae noted that enactment of a nanotechnology policy will position Kenya as a hub for emerging technologies that would revolutionalize key sectors of the economy.

Policy briefs from Kenya’s scientific research body indicates that globally, nanotechnology was incorporated into manufacturing goods worth over 30 billion U.S. dollars in 2005.

The briefs added that nanotechnology related business was worth 2.6 trillion dollars by 2015. Kenya has borrowed best practices from industrialized countries and emerging economies to develop nanotechnology.

Professor Erastus Gatebe, an official at Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), noted that China and India offers vital lessons on harnessing nanotechnology to propel industrial growth.

This draft policy seems to be the outcome of a number of initiatives including Nanotechnologies for Development in India, Kenya and the Netherlands: Towards a Framework for Democratic Governance of Risks in Developing Countries, WOTRO (2010 – 2014) from the African Technology Policy Studies (ATPS) Network,

The ATPS has secured funding for a new Integrated Program (IP) on “Nanotechnologies for Development in India, Kenya and the Netherlands: Towards a Framework for Democratic Governance of Risks in Developing Countries, January 2010 – 2014, in liaison with partners in Europe and India. This IP which is led by Prof. Wiebe Bijker of the University of Maastricht, the Netherlands addresses the inevitable risks and benefits associated with emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology through a triangulation of PhD and Post-Doctoral positions drawn from Africa (2), India (1) and the Netherlands (2) based at the University of Maastricht but address core areas of the nanotechnology governance in Africa, India and the Netherlands. The program will be coordinated by Prof. Wiebe Bijker, the University of Maastricht, in the Netherlands; with the University of Hyderabad, India; the ATPS and the University of Nairobi, Kenya as partners.

Nanotechnology events and discussions played in important role in Kenya’s 2013 National Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Week by Daphne Molewa (on the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement [SAASTA] website),

The National Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) Week, organised by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, is a major event on the annual calendar of the Kenyan Government.

The theme for 2013, “Science, Technology and Innovation for the realisation of Kenya’s Vision 2030 and beyond” is aligned with the national vision to transform Kenya into a newly industrialised, middle-income country providing a high-quality life to all its citizens in a safe and secure environment by the year 2030. pemphasis mine]

Nanotechnology, the science of the future

SAASTA representatives Mthuthuzeli Zamxaka and Sizwe Khoza were invited to participate in this year’s festival in Nairobi [Kenya] on behalf of the Nanotechnology Public Engagement Programme (NPEP).

Zamxaka delivered a stirring presentation titled Nanotechnology Public Engagement: The Case of South Africa. He introduced the topic of nanotechnology, focusing on engagement, outreach and awareness. …

Zamxaka touched on a number of nanotechnologies that are currently being applied, such as the research conducted by the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland on biodegradable nano-sized particles that can easily slip through the body’s sticky and viscous mucus secretions to deliver a sustained-release medication cargo. It is believed that these nanoparticles, which degrade over time into harmless components, could one day carry life-saving drugs to patients suffering from dozens of health conditions, including diseases of the eye, lung, gut or female reproductive tract.

For anyone interested , look here for Kenya’s Vision 2030. Harkening back to the first news item and the mention of NACOSTI, Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, it can be found here.

Canada Grand Challenges May 2014 grants

Grand Challenges Canada (mentioned here many times including this Nov. 21, 2013 posting which featured their ‘Stars in Global Health’ programme grants announcement for Fall 2013) has announced a new round of awards. From a May 22, 2014 Grand Challenges Canada news release (can be found on EurekAlert),

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, today announces investments of $12 million in projects worldwide, aimed squarely at improving the health and saving the lives of mothers, newborns and children in developing countries.

The news release goes on to describe two different grants,

Four Canadian-based projects (from Guelph, Toronto, Waterloo and Winnipeg) with proven impact and sustainability will share $2.6 million in scale-up grants and loans from Grand Challenges Canada, matched by $2.6 million from private and public partners, bringing total “transition-to-scale” investments to $5.2 million.

In addition, Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” [awarded] seed grants of $112,000 each ($6.8 million in total) …

[emphases mine]

I checked here to find Spring 2014 ‘Transition to scale’ grants and ‘Seed’ grants for the Canada Grand Challenges (GCC) programme.

I’m highlighting two of the funded projects. First, there’s ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ which won a ‘transition-scale-grant’ for the University of Guelph, from the news release on EurekAlert,

The little “Lucky Iron Fish,” now in growing use by cooks in Cambodia, has proven effective in reducing rampant iron deficiency among women – the cause of premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and poor brain development among babies. Initial local reluctance to use a loose piece of iron in cooking pots was overcome by a clever design tapping into Cambodian folklore about a fish species that brings good fortune. In partnership with small businesses across Cambodia, plans for this year and next call for production and distribution of 60,000 lucky iron fish, made from recycled material at a cost of about $5 each, which provide health benefits for roughly three years.

(Lucky Iron Fish, Guelph, a transition-to-scale investment, grant #0355, video, images. More information: http://bit.ly/1mIZeWr)

Here’s more detail about the project from the GCC’s list of May 2014 successful GCC grants,

A lucky little fish to fight iron deficiency among women in Cambodia
Lucky Iron Fish, Guelph
Project number: 0355-05-30
Total new transition to scale investment: $860,000

In Cambodia, six in 10 women are anemic due to iron deficiency in their diets, causing premature labour, hemorrhaging during childbirth and the impaired brain development of their babies.

Usually obtained through red meat or other iron-rich foods, a small chunk of iron added to water in the cooking pot can release a life-saving iron supplement.  But attempts to persuaders to do so were unsuccessful.

On a 2008 study mission in Cambodia, University of Guelph researcher Chris Charles thought of creating a piece of iron shaped like a local river fish believed to bring good luck and fortune.

His simple idea succeeded beyond all expectations.  Women happily placed the Lucky Iron Fish in their cooking pots and, in the months that followed, anemia in the village fell dramatically.

A Lucky Iron Fish is small enough to be stirred easily but large enough to provide about 75 per cent of daily iron requirements.

“The results are stunning,” says Dr. Alastair Summerlee, President of the University of Guelph and Chair of the Board of Directors of Lucky Iron Fish. “Initial results show a huge decrease in anemia and the village women say they feel good, experience no dizziness and have fewer headaches. The iron fish is incredibly powerful.”

Small businesses across Cambodia will produce and distribute the fish with quality control measures in place.  About 7.5 cm (3 inches) long, and made from recycled material at a cost of about $5 each, the iron fish provides health benefits for roughly three years.

“Our goal is to produce 10,000 Lucky Iron Fish this year and another 150,000 next year,” says Gavin Armstrong, President and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish.

Taking the project to scale offers profound potential health benefits to many women in Cambodia with potential markets throughout the world.
Grand Challenges Canada’s $500,000 loan to Lucky Iron Fish is part of a total scale-up financing package of $860,000, and augments earlier commitments of equity investors, Innovation Guelph, and the University of Guelph.

The second one is a ‘Rising Star’ project at the University of Alberta. From a May 22, 2014 University of Alberta news release (also on EurekAlert but dated May 23, 2014),

A University of Alberta researcher’s star is rising thanks to her idea to detect deadly pathogens such as E. coli using a paper device only slightly larger than a postage stamp.

Frédérique Deiss, a post-doctoral fellow in the Faculty of Science, is working on ways to help detect food- and water-borne pathogens using a paper-based diagnostic tool that could be used anywhere, including developing countries. The idea earned the electrochemist $112,000 in research funding from Grand Challenges Canada after being selected as one of their Stars in Global Health.

For the next 18 months, Deiss will be working at the U of A and with farmers near Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute, to develop and test a prototype that provides an affordable method for detecting pathogens such as salmonella or E. coli, which can be present in raw milk, on equipment, or in water or waste water.

“Some areas do not have the infrastructure to do this kind of monitoring all the time. These devices are simple and sensible enough to use that farmers could almost do the tests themselves, and test every day rather than once a week or even more sporadically,” said Deiss, who is working in the lab of Ratmir Derda.

Her idea for a diagnostic tool made of paper is just that at the moment—an idea. Funding from Grand Challenges Canada will allow her to develop an electrochemical diagnostic device made of paper and tape. Conductive ink applied to the paper would create an electrode that would allow researchers to detect the presence of targeted bacteria.

Slightly larger than a postage stamp and even cheaper to make at less than 10 cents, the device would be extremely portable, self-contained and sealed—meaning anyone performing the tests would not risk exposure to potentially harmful bacteria, Deiss said. It would also allow testing of non-purified samples—a time- and cost-saving step not possible in some parts of the world, including farms around Nairobi, she added.

Within six months, Deiss hopes to develop a working prototype capable of detecting non-pathogenic bacteria, and by one year a device able to safely detect deadly pathogens such as E. coli. She also plans to work with ILRI and farmers in Nairobi to test the device in the field, comparing results with conventional methods.

Here’s a video of Deiss describing her idea,

You can find more videos featuring researchers and their GCC projects on GCC’s YouTube channel.

I wish all the best of luck to all the researchers and I’m pretending to myself that the two projects featured here can be described as nanotechnology.

Traffic robots in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) developed by an all women team of engineers

Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), now hosts two traffic cop robots with hopes for more of these solar-powered traffic regulators on the way. Before plunging into the story, here’s a video of these ‘gendarmes automates’ (or robot roulage intelligent [RRR] as the inventors prefer) in action,

This story has been making the English language news rounds since late last year when Voxafrica carried a news item, dated Dec. 27, 2013, about the robot traffic cops,

Kinshasa has adopted an innovative way of managing traffic along its city streets, by installing robot cops to direct and monitor traffic along roads instead of using normal policemen to reduce congestion. … They may not have real eyes, but new traffic policemen still spot Kinshasa’s usual signature cop sunglasses. The prototypes are equipped with four cameras that allow them to record traffic flow … . The team behind the new robots are a group of Congolese engineers based at the Kinshasa Higher Institute of Applied Technique, known by its French acronym, ISTA.

A Jan. 30, 2014 article by Matt McFarland for the Washington Post provides additional detail (Note: A link has been removed),

The solar-powered robot is equipped with multiple cameras, opening the potential for monitoring traffic and issuing tickets. “If a driver says that it is not going to respect the robot because it’s just a machine the robot is going to take that and there will be a ticket for him,” said Isaie Therese, the engineer behind the project said in an interview with CCTV Africa. “We are a poor country and our government is looking for money. And I will tell you that with the roads the government has built, it needs to recover its money.”

A Feb. 24, 2014 CNN article by Teo Kermeliotis describes the casings for the robots,

Standing eight feet tall, the robot traffic wardens are on duty 24 hours a day, their towering — even scarecrow-like — mass visible from afar. …

The humanoids, which are installed on Kinshasa’s busy Triomphal and Lumumba intersections, are built of aluminum and stainless steel to endure the city’s year-round hot climate.

The French language press, as might be expected since DRC is a francophone country, were the first to tell the story.  From a June 28, 2013 news item on Radio Okapi’s website,

Les ingénieurs formés à l’Institut supérieur des techniques appliquées (Ista) ont mis au point un robot intelligent servant à réguler la circulation routière. …

Ce robot qui fonctionne grâce à l’énergie solaire, assurera aussi la sécurité routière grâce à la vidéo surveillance. Il est doté de la capacité de stocker les données pendant 6 mois.

Le “robot roulage intelligent” est une invention totalement congolaise. Il a été mis au point par les inventeurs congolais avec l’appui financier de l’association Women technologies, une association des femmes ingénieurs de la RDC.

Ce spécimen coûte près de 20 000 $ US. L’association Women technologies attend le financement du gouvernement pour reproduire ce robot afin de le mettre à la disposition des usagers et même, de l’exporter.

Here’s my very rough translation of the French: an engineering team from the Kinshasa Higher Institute of Applied Technique (ISTA) developed an intelligent automated traffic cop. This intelligent traffic cop is a Congolese invention from design to development fo funding. The prototype, which cost $20,000 US, was funded by the ‘Association Women Technologies’, a DRC (RDC is the abbreviation in French) association of women engineers, who were in June 2013 hoping for additional government funds to implement their traffic solution. Clearly, they received the money.

A January 30, 2014 news item on AfricaNouvelles focussed on the lead engineer and the team’s hopes for future exports of their technology,

Maman Thérèse Inza est ingénieure et responsable des robots régulateurs de la circulation routière à Kinshasa.

L’association Women technologies attend l’accompagnement du gouvernement pour pouvoir exporter des robots à l’international.

Bruno Bonnell’s Feb. 11, 2014 (?) article for Les Echos delves more deeply into the project and the team’s hopes of exporting their technology,

Depuis octobre 2013, le « roulage » au carrefour du Parlement, sur le boulevard Lumumba à Kinshsa, n’est plus assuré par un policier. Un robot en aluminium de 2,50 mètre de haut régule la circulation d’une des artères principales de la capitale congolaise. …

« Un robot qui fait la sécurité et la régulation routières, c’est vraiment made in Congo », assure Thérèse Inza, la présidente de l’association Women Technology, qui a construit ces machines conçues pour résister aux rigueurs du climat équatorial et dont l’autonomie est assurée par des panneaux solaires, dans des quartiers qui ne sont pas reliés au réseau électrique. La fondatrice de l’association voulait à l’origine proposer des débouchés aux femmes congolaises titulaires d’un diplôme d’ingénieur. Grâce aux robots, elle projette désormais de créer des emplois dans tout le pays. … Ces RRI prouvent que la robotique se développe aussi en Afrique. Audacieuse, Thérèse Inza affirme : « Nous devons vendre notre intelligence dans d’autres pays, de l’Afrique centrale comme d’ailleurs. Pourquoi pas aux Etats-Unis, en Europe ou en Asie ? » Entre 2008 et 2012, la demande de bande passante a été multipliée par 20 en Afrique, continent où sont nés le système de services bancaires mobiles M-Pesa et la plate-forme de gestion de catastrophe naturelle Ushahidi, utilisés aujourd’hui dans le monde entier. Et si la robotique, dont aucun pays n’a le monopole, était pour l’Afrique l’opportunité industrielle à ne pas rater ?

Here’s my rough translation, the first implementation was a single robot in October 2013 (the other details have already been mentioned here). The second paragraph describes how and why Thérèse Inza developed the project in the first place. The robot was designed specifically for the equatorial climate and for areas where access to electricity is either nonexistent or difficult. She recruited women engineers from ISTA for her team. I think she was initially trying to create jobs for women engineers. Now the robots have been successful, she’s hoping to create more jobs for everyone throughout the DRC and to export the technology to the US, Europe, and Asia.

The last sentence notes that Africa (Kenya) was the birthplace of mobile banking service, M-Pesa, “the most developed mobile payment system in the world” according to Wikipedia and Ushahidi, a platform which enables crowdsourced reporting and information about natural and other disasters.

Ushahidi, like M-Pesa, was also developed in Kenya. I found this Feb. 27, 2014 article  by Herman Manson on MarkLives.com about Ushahidi and one of its co-founders, Juliana Rotich (Note: A link has been removed),

Rotich [Juliana Rotich] is the co-founder of Ushahidi, the open-source software developed in Kenya which came to the fore and caught global attention for collecting, visualising and mapping information in the aftermath of the disputed 2008 elections.

Rotich challenges the legacies that have stymied the development of Africa’s material and cultural resources — be that broadband cables connecting coastal territories and ignoring the continent’s interior — or the political classes continuing to exploit its citizens.

Ushahidi means “witness” or “testimony”, and allows ordinary people to crowd source and map information, turning them into everything from election monitors reporting electoral misconduct to helpers assisting with the direction of emergency response resources during natural disasters.

The open source software is now available in 30 languages and across the globe.

The Rotich article is a preview of sorts for Design Indaba 2014 being held in Cape Town, South Africa, from Feb. 24, 2014 = March 2, 2014.

Getting back to the robot traffic cops, perhaps one day the inventors will come up with a design that runs on rain and an implementation that can function in either Vancouver.

Textiles to offer protection from malaria and more about nanotechnology-enabled textiles

Textiles that harvest our energy to recharge the batteries for phones and other portable devices (for example, US Army research in my May 9, 2012 posting and British soldiers prepare to conduct field tests in my April 5, 2012 posting), that protect us from poison gases (my page on nanotechnology and textiles on the Nanotech Mysteries wiki), that clean pollution from the air (my Feb. 24, 2012 posting about Catalytic Clothing), and more  are currently being developed. It seems textiles used for passive protection and decoration and other forms of personal enhancement (body shapers, ‘lifts and separates’)  are becoming more active. One of the latest developments is a textile that protects from malaria. From the May 8, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

A Cornell University scientist and designer from Africa have together created a fashionable hooded bodysuit embedded at the molecular level with insecticides for warding off mosquitoes infected with malaria, a disease estimated to kill 655,000 people annually on the continent.

Though insecticide-treated nets are commonly used to drive away mosquitoes from African homes, the Cornell prototype garment can be worn throughout the day to provide extra protection and does not dissipate easily like skin-based repellants. By binding repellant and fabric at the nanolevel using metal organic framework molecules – which are clustered crystalline compounds – the mesh fabric can be loaded with up to three times more insecticide than normal fibrous nets, which usually wear off after about six months.

“The bond on our fabric is very difficult to break,” said Frederick Ochanda, postdoctoral associate in fiber science and apparel design (FSAD) in the College of Human Ecology and a native of Kenya. “The nets in use now are dipped in a solution and not bonded in this way, so their effectiveness doesn’t last very long.”

I’m assuming that this design will be reworked to accommodate more average bodies (from Cornell University’s  ChronicleOnline April 30, 2012 article by Ted Boscia,

Sandy Mattei models a design by Matilda Ceesay '13, an FSAD apparel design major from Gambia, at the Cornell Fashion Collective spring fashion show April 28 on campus. Credit: Mark David Vorreuter

Boscia gives details,

The colorful garment, fashioned by Matilda Ceesay ’13, an FSAD apparel design major from Gambia, debuted at the Cornell Fashion Collective spring fashion show April 28 [2012] on campus. It consists of an underlying one-piece bodysuit, hand-dyed in purple, gold and blue, and a mesh hood and cape containing the repellant. The outfit is one of six in Ceesay’s collection, which she said “explores and modernizes traditional African silhouettes and textiles by embracing the strength and sexuality of the modern woman.”

Ceesay and Ochanda, who works with FSAD Associate Professor Juan Hinestroza, partnered with Laurie Lange, graduate student in Professor Kay Obendorf’s lab, to refine the process for capturing insecticides on the MOF-coated cloth. Hinestroza called the resulting garment “fashionable and functional, with the potential to create a new generation of durable and effective insecticide mosquito protection nets.”

The researchers are not pinning all of their hopes on the body suit (from Boscia’s April 30, 2012 article),

Ultimately, Ceesay and Ochanda hope the outfit they developed will serve as a prototype to drive new technologies for fighting the spread of malaria. On the horizon, Ochanda said, is an MOF fabric that releases repellant in response to changes in temperature or light — offering wearers more protection at night when mosquitoes are on the hunt. At minimum, they hope the technology can be applied to create longer lasting insecticide-laden bed nets.

Despite the use of mosquito nets, “people are still getting sick and dying,” Ceesay said. “We can’t get complacent. I hope my design can show what is possible when you bring together fashion and science and will inspire others to keep improving the technology. If a student at Cornell can do this, imagine how far it could go.”

Both the designer and scientist have a very personal stake in creating textiles that will repel malaria-borne mosquitoes (from Boscia’s article),

Ochanda and Ceesay, from opposite sides of the continent, both have seen family members suffer from the disease. Its prevalence in Africa — the source of 90 percent of the world’s malaria infections annually — can also lead to harmful misdiagnoses. Ceesay recalls a family member who died after doctors treated her for malaria when she had a different sickness. “It’s so common back home; you can’t escape it,” Ceesay said.

“Seeing malaria’s effect on people in Kenya, it’s very important for me to apply fiber science to help this problem,” Ochanda added. “A long-term goal of science is to be able to come up with solutions to help protect human health and life, so this project is very fulfilling for me.”

There’s no mention of how close this textile is to becoming a product and being offered in the marketplace. So, for anyone who’s generally interested in nanotechnology-enable textiles and possible economic impacts and business outlooks, Cientifica released its report, Nanotechnologies for Textile Markets in April 2012 (available for purchase). From the April 16, 2 012 news release and report description webpage,

While the traditional markets of apparel and home textiles continue to be impacted by nanotechnologies, especially in adding value through finishing and coating, the major opportunities for both textile manufacturers and nanomaterial suppliers lie elsewhere.

“Nanotechnologies for the Textile Market” takes an in depth look at the major textile markets – apparel, home, military, medical, sports, technical and smart textiles – detailing the key applications of nanotechnologies and the major players. The 255 page report contains  full market analyses and predictions for each sector to 2022, outlines the key opportunities and is illustrated with 98 figures and 30 tables.

Cientifica predicts that the highest growth over the next decade will be seen in the areas of smart and technical textiles.  In both of these areas a significant part of the added value is due to the innovative use of nanotechnologies, whether in fiber production or as a coating or additive.

With over a billion Bluetooth enabled devices on the market, ranging from smartphones to set top boxes, and new technologies such as energy scavenging or piezoelectric energy generation being made possible by the use of nanotechnologies , there are opportunities for the textile industry in new markets ranging from consumer electronics to medical diagnostics.

‘It’s a perfect storm” added Tim Harper [Cientifica’s Chief Executive Office], “the availability of new materials such as graphene, the huge leaps being made in organic electronics, and the move towards the Internet of Things is blurring the divide between textiles and electronic devices. When two trillion dollar markets collide there will be lots of disruption and plenty of opportunities.”

Cientifica does offer a free download of the report’s Table of Contents (ToC). Here’s a sample from the ToC which gives you a preview  of the report’s contents,

Objectives of the Report  21

World Textiles and Clothing  22
Overview of Nanotechnology Applications in the EU Textile Industry  24
Overview of Nanotechnology Applications in the US Textile Industry 25
Overview of Nanotechnology Applications in the Chinese Textile Industry  26
Overview of Nanotechnology Applications in the Indian Textile Industry  27
Overview of Nanotechnology Applications in the Japanese Textile Industry  27
Overview of Nanotechnology Applications in the Korean Textile Industry  29
Textiles in the Rest of the World 31
Macro and Micro Value Chain of Textiles Industry  32
Common Textiles Industry Classification  32
End Markets and Value Chain Actors 32
Why Textiles Go Nano 34
Nanotechnology in Textiles 34
Nanotechnology in Some Textile-related Categories 37
Technical & Smart Textiles 37
Multifunctional Textiles 39
High Performance Textiles 39
Smart/Intelligent Textiles 39
Nanotechnology Hype 41
Nanotechnology in Fibers and Yarns 43

Nanotechnology in Fabrics 47

Nanotechnology in Textile Finishing, Dyeing and Coating 55

Nanotechnology In Textile Printing 66
Green Technology — Nanotechnology In Textile Production Energy Saving 67

Electronic Textiles 67

Concept  67
Markets and Impacts 68
Current E-Textile Solutions and Problems 69
Nanotechnology in Electronic Textiles 78
Future and Challenges of Electronic Textiles  87
Summary of Nanotechnology Applications in Clothing/Apparel Textiles 90
Current Applications of Nanotechnology in Clothing/Apparel Textiles 91
Hassle-free Clothing: Stain/Oil/Water Repellence, Anti-Static, Anti-Wrinkle 91

The Guardian newspaper in an October 4,  2011 article by Colin Stuart offers a brief , comprehensive but cautionary overview of nanotechnology-enabled textiles (thanks for the tip, Tim Harper),

The manipulation of textiles is an age-old practice, starting with the furs of the animals we hunted. As agriculture and farming grew, we began to weave natural fibres, providing us with fabrics such as cotton and wool – sartorial staples we’ve relied on for centuries.

Unsurprisingly, the most mainstream use of nanotextiles is in clothing. The chances are you have some nanotextiles hanging in your wardrobe; wrinkle-free or non-iron garments have been engineered against creasing by coating the fibres with nanoparticles. Nanotechnology is also responsible for the stain-resistant fabrics found in both clothing and carpets. Tiny, nano-sized hairs are added to the surface of the material which stop liquids from being absorbed. …

The nano clothing of the future, however, could add even more functionality to the latest fashions. Tomorrow’s must-wear materials could hide piezoelectrics – nanotechnology that harvests the energy created as you rub against the fabric. Imagine walking along as your every move helps charge an iPod strapped to your belt.

But nanotextiles are not just confined to clothing; they are also being used in Asia in the battle against malaria. In 2010 a group of Thai researchers announced they had created mosquito nets laced with nanoparticles of pyrethroid, an insecticide. Pyrethroid had been combined with nets before, but doing so on the nanoscale means the particles are small enough to cling to the fibres even when washed. These nano-nets can last up to five years – a five-fold improvement on conventional netting.

The article goes on to establish concerns over environmental, health, and safety regulations but I thought it best to end with the mosquito nets and malaria, which is where this posting started, more or less.

Nanotechnology in the developing world/global south

Sometimes it’s called the ‘developing world’, sometimes it’s called the ‘global south’ and there have been other names before these. In any event, the organization, Nanotechnology for Development (Nano-dev) has released a policy brief about nanotechnology and emerging economies (?). Before discussing the brief, I have found a little information on the organization. From the Nano-dev home page,

Nanotechnology for development is a research project that aims at understanding how nanotechnology can contribute to development. By investigating way people deal with nanotechnology in Kenya, India and the Netherlands, the project will flesh out appropriate ways for governing nanotechnology for development.

Nanotechnology is a label for technologies at the nano-scale, roughly between 1 and 100 nanometers. This is extremely small. By comparison, the diameter of one human hair is about 60,000 nanometers. At this scale materials acquire all sorts of new characteristics that can be used in a wide range of novel applications. This potentially includes cheaper and more efficient technologies that can benefit the world’s poor, such as cheap water filters, efficient solar powered electricity, and portable diagnostic tests.

The four team members on the Nano-dev project are (from the Project Team page):

Pankaj Sekhsaria’s project seeks to understand the cultures of innovation in nanotechnology research in India, particularly in laboratories. He has a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Pune University in India and a MA in Mass Communication from the Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi, India.

Trust Saidi’s research is on travelling nanotechnologies. He studied BSc in Geography and Environmental Studies at Zimbabwe Open University, BSc Honours in Geography at University of Zimbabwe, MSc in Public Policy and Human Development at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University.

Charity Urama’s project investigates the role of knowledge brokerage in nanotechnology for development. She obtained her BSc Botany from the faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka and MSc from the school of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Life sciences, University of Aberdeen (UK).

Koen Beumer focuses on the democratic risk governance of nanotechnologies for development. Koen Beumer studied Arts and Culture (BA) and Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology (MPhil, cum laude) at Maastricht University.

According to the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk about the brief,

The key message of the policy brief is that nanotechnology can have both positive and negative consequences for countries in the global South. These should be pro-actively dealt with.

The positive consequences of nanotechnology include direct benefits in the form of solutions to the problems of the poor and indirect benefits in the form of economic growth. The negative consequences of nanotechnology include direct risks to human health and the environment and indirect risks such as a deepening of the global divide. Core challenges to harnessing nanotechnology for development include risk governance, cultures of innovation, knowledge brokerage and travelling technology.

What I found particularly interesting in the policy brief is the analysis of nanotechnology efforts in countries that are not usually mentioned  (from the policy brief),

There are large differences amongst countries in the global South. Some countries, like India, Egypt, Brazil and South Africa, have invested substantial sums of money through dedicated programs. Often these are large countries with emerging economies. Dedicated programs and strategies have been generated with strong political support.

In other countries in the global South things look different. Several African countries, like Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe have expressed their interest in nanotechnologies and some activities can indeed be observed. But generally this activity does not exceed the level of individual researchers and incidental funding. [p. 3]

In addition to the usual concerns expressed over human health, they mention this risk,

Furthermore, properties at the nano-scale may be used to imitate the properties of rare minerals, thus affecting the export rates of their main producers, usually countries in the global South. Nanotechnologies may thus have reverse effects on material demands and consequently on the export of raw materials by countries in the global South (Schummer 2007). [p. 3]

Interesting thought that nanotechnology research could pose a risk to the economic welfare of countries that rely on the export of raw materials. Canada, anyone? If you think about it, all the excitement over nanocellulose doesn’t have to be an economic boon for ‘forestry-based’ countries. If cellulose is the most abundant polymer on earth what’s stop other countries from using their own nanocellulose. After all, Brazilian researchers are working on nanocellulose fibres derived from pineapples and bananas (my Mar. 28, 2011 and June 16, 2011 postings).

One final thing from the April 4, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

The NANO-DEV project is partnership of three research institutes led by Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Besides Maastricht University, it includes the University of Hyderabad (India) and the African Technology Policy Studies Network (Kenya).

Kenya and nanotechnology

I found this item about a nanomedicine development in Kenya via Thailand’s National Nanotechnology center (NANOTEC). Excerpted from the NANOTEC news item, Kenya: Blood to Be Used As Medicine,

Kenyan research institutes, in conjunction with the United States-based Strathmore University, recently started a nanotechnology drug development initiative in East and Central Africa, with an aim to reengineer current malaria and HIV drugs to make them more effective and revolutionary. Kenya has also joined a corroborative initiative with South Africa in the development of nanomedicine.

There is also an August 29,2011 article about this development written by Gatonye Gathura and Gitonga Marete for the allAfrica.com website,

Last month, Kenyan research institutions led by Strathmore University [private university in Kenya] started what could be the most interesting nano drug development initiative in East and Central Africa.

Led by Dr Barnards Ogutu, a researcher at Strathmore University, the effort in collaboration with Kenyan Medical Research Institute and the African Centre for Clinical Trials could see Kenya start reengineering current malaria and HIV drugs to make them more effective and revolutionary.

“We now know how to deliver drugs that are less toxic, more effective and which last in the body for a longer time meaning one may be required to take medication less regularly,” say Dr Ogutu.

Since it is required that a country which develops a drug must start human clinical trials on its own population, the group has identified a six bed unit at the Kenya Medical Research Institute for the purpose.

Unfortunately, there aren’t more details about how the scientists are reengineering the malaria and HIV drugs.