Tag Archives: Montréal

Tim Blais and A Capella Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materials world in Montréal, Québec, Oct. 27 – 31, 2013

Materials Science & Technology (M S & T ’13) 2013 is being held in Montréal, Quebec from Oct. 27 – 31, 2013. From the home page,

The MS&T partnership of ACerS [American Ceramic Society], AIST [Association for Iron and Steel Technology], ASM [formerly American Society of Metals now ASM International/Materials Information Society], MetSoc [Metallurgical Society {Canada}] and TMS [The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society {US}]brings together scientists, engineers, students, suppliers and more to discuss current research and technical applications, and to shape the future of materials science and technology. NACE International [The Corrosion Society] will co-sponsor MS&T’13.

MS&T’13 Technical Program

Biomaterials
Ceramic and Glass Materials
Electronic and Magnetic Materials
Energy Issues
Fundamentals and Characterization
Iron and Steel
Materials-Environment Interactions
Materials Performance
Nanomaterials
Processing and Product Manufacturing
Special Topics

Apparently, you can save money if you sign up by Sept. 27, 2013.

This year’s summit is made special by a gala for the 100th anniversary of ASM International (from the Aug. 26, 2013 news release),

ASM International to Commemorate Centennial Anniversary with Celebratory Gala

MATERIALS PARK, OHIO – AUG. 26, 2013 – ASM International (ASM), the Materials Information Society, will commemorate its 100th anniversary with a celebratory gala from 5:30-9 p.m. on Oct. 27 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The anniversary gala will be held during the Society’s annual Materials Science & Technology Summit (MS&T), also in Montreal.

The Society, recognized for its ASM Handbook series, technical journals, conferences as well as other educational offerings, has a legacy of publishing high-quality materials content by and for the member community. Founded in 1913, the organization began as the Steel Treaters Club in Detroit, Michigan, with fewer than 20 members. Today, ASM International is a thriving society with more than 30,000 members and nearly 100 worldwide chapters.

ASM International’s headquarters, complete with its acclaimed geodesic dome, is located in Materials Park, Ohio.

The anniversary gala will feature a nostalgic review of ASM’s impressive past and a look toward the future during the cocktail reception, dinner, historical tributes and live entertainment. The gala will also feature a keynote speech by Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation and the New York Times Bestselling author of Abundance – The Future is Better Than You Think.

“ASM International has been serving the materials community for over 100 years now….because of and through our members, countless contributions have been made to industry, government, academia and the general public,” said Thom Passek, Managing Director of ASM International. “We can’t wait to reminisce about the organization and celebrate its future with our lifelong society friends this October.”

Visit the ASM International anniversary milestones webpage for more about the organization’s history.

Register to attend the gala by clicking here.

About ASM International

Celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, ASM International is proud to continue to serve the materials engineering community and over 30,000 members from all around the globe. The society provides high-quality, solution-focused materials information through publications, events, databases, training, and an international network of local chapters.

Sex in Ottawa (Canada), energy and corporate patronage, and war anniversaries

They’ve been going hot and heavy at Canada’s national museums in Ottawa this last few months. First, there was a brouhaha over corporate patronage and energy in January 2012 and, again, in April 2012 and now, it’s all about sex. While I’m dying to get started on the sex, this piece is going to follow the chronology.

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) website has a Jan. 23, 2012 posting which notes the active role Imperial Oil played in a November 2011  energy exhibit (part of a multi-year, interactive national initiative, Let’s Talk Energy)  at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (from the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting),

Imperial Oil, a sponsor of the Museum of Science and Technology’s exhibition “Energy: Power to Choose,” was actively involved in the message presented to the public, according to emails obtained by CBC News.

The Ottawa museum unveiled the exhibition last year despite criticism from environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which questioned why it was partly funded by the Imperial Oil Foundation, which contributed $600,000 over six years.

Apparently, CBC reporters got their hands on some emails where the Imperial Oil Foundation president, Susan Swan, made a number of suggestions,

In an Oct. 3 [2011] interview on CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day, host Alan Neal asked exhibit curator Anna Adamek whose idea it was to include in the exhibit a reference that says oilsands account for one-tenth of one percent of global emissions.

“This fact comes from research reports that are available at the museum, that were commissioned by the museum,” Adamek told Neal.

But earlier emails from Imperial Oil Foundation president Susan Swan obtained by Radio-Canada through an Access to Information request show she had recommended that information be included back in May [2011?].

Swan, who also served as chair of the advisory committee to the project, also asked that information be included that the oilsands are expected to add $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years.

Not all of Swan’s requests made it into the final exhibit: in one point, she asked that an illustration for Polar Oil and Gas Reserves be changed from red to blue, arguing red “has a negative connotation” bringing to mind “blood oil.” The change was not made.

Personally, I love Swan’s semiotic analysis of the colour ‘red’. I wonder how many graphic designers have been driven mad by someone who sat through a lecture or part of a television programme on colour and/or semiotics and is now an expert.

If you’re curious, you can see the emails from the Imperial Oil Foundation in the CBC Jan. 23, 2012 posting.

A few months later, Barrick Gold (a mining corporation) donated $1M to have a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature renamed, from the April 24, 2012 posting on the CBC website,

Environmental groups are upset over a decision to rename a room at the Canadian Museum of Nature after corporate mining giant Barrick Gold.

Barrick Gold Corp., based out of Toronto, purchased the room’s naming rights for about $1 million. The new “Barrick Salon” is the museum’s premier rental space featuring a circular room with glass windows from floor to ceiling.

The decision had activists protest at the museum Tuesday, a few hours before the official naming reception that includes Barrick Gold executives.

“It’s definitely not a partnership, it’s a sponsorship,” said Elizabeth McCrea, the museum’s director of communications. “We’re always looking at increasing self-generated revenue and this is one way that we’re doing it.” [emphasis mine]

Monarchs and wealthy people have been funding and attempting to influence cultural institutions for millenia. These days, we get to include corporations on that list but it’s nothing new. People or institutions with power and money always want history or facts in presented in ways that further or flatter their interests (“history is written by the victors”). They aren’t always successful but they will keep trying.

It’s time now to add sex to the mix. Canada’s Science and Technology Museum is currently hosting SEX: A Tell-all Exhibition, which has caused some consternation in our country’s capital (Ottawa), from the May 16, 2012 article by Althia Raj for the *Huffington Post (Canada),

Canada’s Science and Technology Museum has abruptly raised the age limit for a controversial sex exhibit after Heritage Minister James Moore’s office raised concerns and more than 50 individuals complained.

Moore’s office called museum president Denise Amyot to complain that Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition [sic] is completely inappropriate.

“The purpose of the Museum of Science and Technology is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout Canada,” said Moore’s spokesperson James Maunder.

“It is clear this exhibit does not fit within that mandate. This content cannot be defended, and is insulting to taxpayers,” he said.

This show had already been run in Montréal (where it was developed by the Montréal Science Centre for children 12 years and older) and in Regina (Saskatachewan), without significant distress or insult.

Since the show opened in Ottawa, the National Post has run a couple of opinion pieces (against [Barbara Kay] and for [Sarah Elton]). Here’s Barbara Kay in her June 12, 2012 piece decrying the ‘porn exhibit’,

In On Liberty, the Ur-text for many free speech libertarians, John Stuart Mill argues that the demands of liberty and authority will always struggle, because the one cannot exist without the other. And so “some rules of conduct, therefore, must be imposed — by law in the first place, and by opinion on many things which are not fit subjects for the operation of law.”

Many of Mill’s devotees would be surprised to learn how much weight he gave to social opprobrium in matters that cause “offence” to the public. By “good manners,” Mill was clearly thinking, at least in part, about community standards of decency. Which brings us to the recent controversy over “Sex: a Tell-All Exhibition” at Ottawa’s Museum of Science and Technology.

But in truth my deeper concern is the exhibition’s indecency, and the harm it will likely do by titillating children’s imaginations in a way that runs counter to a natural sense of personal modesty.

I gather Kay is accustomed to being thought a ‘libertarian’. The problem with labels of these kinds is that you will find yourself in a corner because, at some point, the philosophy goes too far in a direction you’re not willing to follow. I’ve never met anyone who isn’t inconsistent on occasion and this is where Kay is inconsistent in her libertarian philosophy. She references a 19th century philosopher to justify her discomfort and her desire to censor information about sex.

Elton in her June 12, 2012 piece frames the discussion quite differently, almost as if she were the libertarian,

When a publicly funded museum censors an exhibit after the minister who funds museums in Canada questions its content, it is an attack on our democracy. What we talk about in our museums — the stories we tell each other in these public forums — helps to determine who we are as a country.

The Canada Museum of Science and Technology receives most of its funding from the government, as do most other museums in Canada. It is not a stretch to believe that this could be the dawn of a content chill here, as curators in the months ahead question their decisions about which exhibits to mount and what to put in them.

Given the issues with corporate and other patronage that museums and other cultural institutions routinely encounter, Elton’s comments seem a little naïve to me. However, both she and Kay raise points that bear examination and I think the National Post should be recognized for the decision to present these viewpoints.  Thank you.

As for James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, he’s from my neck of the woods, (Conservative Member of Parliament representing Port Moody – Westwood – Port Coquitlam, British Columbia). While I’m not in his constituency, I would like to note publicly that neither he nor his spokesperson, James Maunder, represent my view. I’m neither insulted nor  do I believe that the SEX: A Tell-all Exhibition is outside the museum’s mandate.

After writing that last sentence, I checked and found this description of the museum’s mandate on their About the Canada Science and Technology page,

The Museum’s mandate, to study the “Transformation of Canada,” can be broken into sub-themes:

  • Canadian Context:
    Context shapes the evolution of science and technology. Canadian achievements reflect the challenges overcome and the choices made in developing the nation in light of vast geographical distances, a harsh physical environment and limited resources in terms of skilled workers and available capital.
  • Finding New Ways:
    The search for new knowledge and new ways of doing things is basic to human nature. Science and technology have played key roles in efforts to find new ways of living, learning and working.
  • How “Things” Work:
    Developing an understanding of how “things” work can make people more aware of factors that have contributed to the transformation of Canada, such as scientific principles and physical properties. At the most basic level, taking apart an object, process or system (both physically and conceptually) provides important insight into the world we live in.
  • People, Science and Technology:
    People have a dynamic relationship with science and technology. Domestic and work lives are shaped and influenced by scientific and technological change. At the same time, people shape the evolution of science and technology individually and collectively through their decisions and actions. However, our ability to direct and control scientific and technological advancements is not absolute; choices and trade-offs often have to be made with the consequences in mind.

That seems like a very broad mandate to me and one where sex would fit into at least three of the categories, Canadian Context, Finding New Ways, and People, Science, and Technology with technology that has affected sex greatly, birth control. Actually, I can make an argument for the How “Things” work category too.

Interestingly, Moore has no problem celebrating war.  In a Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 article by Randy Boswell for the Vancouver Sun,

This decade will see the Canadian government spearhead an unprecedented anniversarypalooza, with recent announcements about a $28-million fund for War of 1812 commemorations, just the first of a host of planned federal investments to mark a range of milestones.

Those include Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee next year, the centennial of the important but ill-fated Canadian Arctic Expedition in 2013, the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War in 2014 and – above all – Canada’s 150th birthday bash in 2017. [emphases mine]

I have overstated it somewhat. There are other celebrations planned although why the beginning of World War I would be included in this “anniversarypalooza” is a mystery to me. It does seem curious though that war can be celebrated without insult. As more than one commentator has noted, society in general seems to have less trouble with depictions of violence than it has with depictions of sex.

In any event, I’m thrilled to see so much interest in Canada’s ‘science’ museums.  May the conversation continue.

* Correction: Huggington changed to Huffington, July 17, 2013.

Bacteria and biobatteries

It’s more a possibility at the moment than anything else but researchers at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada have found a way to make an enzyme behave more like a battery. From the April 19, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

Concordia Associate Professor László Kálmán — along with his colleagues in the Department of Physics, graduate students Sasmit Deshmukh and Kai Tang — has been working with an enzyme found in bacteria that is crucial for capturing solar energy. Light induces a charge separation in the enzyme, causing one end to become negatively charged and the other positively charged, much like in a battery.

In nature, the energy created is used immediately, but Kálmán says that to store that electrical potential, he and his colleagues had to find a way to keep the enzyme in a charge-separated state for a longer period of time.

“We had to create a situation where the charges don’t want to or are not allowed to go back, and that’s what we did in this study,” he says.

Kálmán and his colleagues showed that by adding different molecules, they were able to alter the shape of the enzyme and, thus, extend the lifespan of its electrical potential.

In the April 17, 2012 news item written by Luciana Gravotta for Concordia University, Kálmán provides an explanation of why the researchers were changing the enzyme’s shape,

In its natural configuration, the enzyme is perfectly embedded in the cell’s outer layer, known as the lipid membrane. The enzyme’s structure allows it to quickly recombine the charges and recover from a charge-separated state.

However, when different lipid molecules make up the membrane, as in Kálmán’s experiments, there is a mismatch between the shape of the membrane and the enzyme embedded within it. Both the enzyme and the membrane end up changing their shapes to find a good fit. The changes make it more difficult for the enzyme to recombine the charges, thereby allowing the electrical potential to last much longer.

“What we’re doing is similar to placing a race car on snow-covered streets,” says Kálmán. The surrounding conditions prevent the race car from performing as it would on a racetrack, just like the different lipids prevent the enzyme from recombining the charges as efficiently as it does under normal circumstances.

Apparently the researchers are hoping to eventually create biocompatible batteries with enzymes and other biological molecules replacing traditional batteries that contain toxic metals.