Tag Archives: National Research Council of Canada

More memory, less space and a walk down the cryptocurrency road

Libraries, archives, records management, oral history, etc. there are many institutions and names for how we manage collective and personal memory. You might call it a peculiarly human obsession stretching back into antiquity. For example, there’s the Library of Alexandria (Wikipedia entry) founded in the third, or possibly 2nd, century BCE (before the common era) and reputed to store all the knowledge in the world. It was destroyed although accounts differ as to when and how but its loss remains a potent reminder of memory’s fragility.

These days, the technology community is terribly concerned with storing ever more bits of data on materials that are reaching their limits for storage.I have news of a possible solution,  an interview of sorts with the researchers working on this new technology, and some very recent research into policies for cryptocurrency mining and development. That bit about cryptocurrency makes more sense when you read what the response to one of the interview questions.

Memory

It seems University of Alberta researchers may have found a way to increase memory exponentially, from a July 23, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

The most dense solid-state memory ever created could soon exceed the capabilities of current computer storage devices by 1,000 times, thanks to a new technique scientists at the University of Alberta have perfected.

“Essentially, you can take all 45 million songs on iTunes and store them on the surface of one quarter,” said Roshan Achal, PhD student in Department of Physics and lead author on the new research. “Five years ago, this wasn’t even something we thought possible.”

A July 23, 2018 University of Alberta news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jennifer-Anne Pascoe, which originated the news item, provides more information,

Previous discoveries were stable only at cryogenic conditions, meaning this new finding puts society light years closer to meeting the need for more storage for the current and continued deluge of data. One of the most exciting features of this memory is that it’s road-ready for real-world temperatures, as it can withstand normal use and transportation beyond the lab.

“What is often overlooked in the nanofabrication business is actual transportation to an end user, that simply was not possible until now given temperature restrictions,” continued Achal. “Our memory is stable well above room temperature and precise down to the atom.”

Achal explained that immediate applications will be data archival. Next steps will be increasing readout and writing speeds, meaning even more flexible applications.

More memory, less space

Achal works with University of Alberta physics professor Robert Wolkow, a pioneer in the field of atomic-scale physics. Wolkow perfected the art of the science behind nanotip technology, which, thanks to Wolkow and his team’s continued work, has now reached a tipping point, meaning scaling up atomic-scale manufacturing for commercialization.

“With this last piece of the puzzle now in-hand, atom-scale fabrication will become a commercial reality in the very near future,” said Wolkow. Wolkow’s Spin-off [sic] company, Quantum Silicon Inc., is hard at work on commercializing atom-scale fabrication for use in all areas of the technology sector.

To demonstrate the new discovery, Achal, Wolkow, and their fellow scientists not only fabricated the world’s smallest maple leaf, they also encoded the entire alphabet at a density of 138 terabytes, roughly equivalent to writing 350,000 letters across a grain of rice. For a playful twist, Achal also encoded music as an atom-sized song, the first 24 notes of which will make any video-game player of the 80s and 90s nostalgic for yesteryear but excited for the future of technology and society.

As noted in the news release, there is an atom-sized song, which is available in this video,

As for the nano-sized maple leaf, I highlighted that bit of whimsy in a June 30, 2017 posting.

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

Lithography for robust and editable atomic-scale silicon devices and memories by Roshan Achal, Mohammad Rashidi, Jeremiah Croshaw, David Churchill, Marco Taucer, Taleana Huff, Martin Cloutier, Jason Pitters, & Robert A. Wolkow. Nature Communicationsvolume 9, Article number: 2778 (2018) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-05171-y Published 23 July 2018

This paper is open access.

For interested parties, you can find Quantum Silicon (QSI) here. My Edmonton geography is all but nonexistent, still, it seems to me the company address on Saskatchewan Drive is a University of Alberta address. It’s also the address for the National Research Council of Canada. Perhaps this is a university/government spin-off company?

The ‘interview’

I sent some questions to the researchers at the University of Alberta who very kindly provided me with the following answers. Roshan Achal passed on one of the questions to his colleague Taleana Huff for her response. Both Achal and Huff are associated with QSI.

Unfortunately I could not find any pictures of all three researchers (Achal, Huff, and Wolkow) together.

Roshan Achal (left) used nanotechnology perfected by his PhD supervisor, Robert Wolkow (right) to create atomic-scale computer memory that could exceed the capacity of today’s solid-state storage drives by 1,000 times. (Photo: Faculty of Science)

(1) SHRINKING THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS TO THE ATOMIC SCALE HAS
ATTRACTED A LOT OF ATTENTION OVER THE YEARS STARTING WITH SCIENCE
FICTION OR RICHARD FEYNMAN OR K. ERIC DREXLER, ETC. IN ANY EVENT, THE
ORIGINS ARE CONTESTED SO I WON’T PUT YOU ON THE SPOT BY ASKING WHO
STARTED IT ALL INSTEAD ASKING HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?

I got started in this field about 6 years ago, when I undertook a MSc
with Dr. Wolkow here at the University of Alberta. Before that point, I
had only ever heard of a scanning tunneling microscope from what was
taught in my classes. I was aware of the famous IBM logo made up from
just a handful of atoms using this machine, but I didn’t know what
else could be done. Here, Dr. Wolkow introduced me to his line of
research, and I saw the immense potential for growth in this area and
decided to pursue it further. I had the chance to interact with and
learn from nanofabrication experts and gain the skills necessary to
begin playing around with my own techniques and ideas during my PhD.

(2) AS I UNDERSTAND IT, THESE ARE THE PIECES YOU’VE BEEN
WORKING ON: (1) THE TUNGSTEN MICROSCOPE TIP, WHICH MAKE[s] (2) THE SMALLEST
QUANTUM DOTS (SINGLE ATOMS OF SILICON), (3) THE AUTOMATION OF THE
QUANTUM DOT PRODUCTION PROCESS, AND (4) THE “MOST DENSE SOLID-STATE
MEMORY EVER CREATED.” WHAT’S MISSING FROM THE LIST AND IS THAT WHAT
YOU’RE WORKING ON NOW?

One of the things missing from the list, that we are currently working
on, is the ability to easily communicate (electrically) from the
macroscale (our world) to the nanoscale, without the use of a scanning
tunneling microscope. With this, we would be able to then construct
devices using the other pieces we’ve developed up to this point, and
then integrate them with more conventional electronics. This would bring
us yet another step closer to the realization of atomic-scale
electronics.

(3) PERHAPS YOU COULD CLARIFY SOMETHING FOR ME. USUALLY WHEN SOLID STATE
MEMORY IS MENTIONED, THERE’S GREAT CONCERN ABOUT MOORE’S LAW. IS
THIS WORK GOING TO CREATE A NEW LAW? AND, WHAT IF ANYTHING DOES
;YOUR MEMORY DEVICE HAVE TO DO WITH QUANTUM COMPUTING?

That is an interesting question. With the density we’ve achieved,
there are not too many surfaces where atomic sites are more closely
spaced to allow for another factor of two improvement. In that sense, it
would be difficult to improve memory densities further using these
techniques alone. In order to continue Moore’s law, new techniques, or
storage methods would have to be developed to move beyond atomic-scale
storage.

The memory design itself does not have anything to do with quantum
computing, however, the lithographic techniques developed through our
work, may enable the development of certain quantum-dot-based quantum
computing schemes.

(4) THIS MAY BE A LITTLE OUT OF LEFT FIELD (OR FURTHER OUT THAN THE
OTHERS), COULD;YOUR MEMORY DEVICE HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE
DEVELOPMENT OF CRYPTOCURRENCY AND BLOCKCHAIN? IF SO, WHAT MIGHT THAT
IMPACT BE?

I am not very familiar with these topics, however, co-author Taleana
Huff has provided some thoughts:

Taleana Huff (downloaded from https://ca.linkedin.com/in/taleana-huff]

“The memory, as we’ve designed it, might not have too much of an
impact in and of itself. Cryptocurrencies fall into two categories.
Proof of Work and Proof of Stake. Proof of Work relies on raw
computational power to solve a difficult math problem. If you solve it,
you get rewarded with a small amount of that coin. The problem is that
it can take a lot of power and energy for your computer to crunch
through that problem. Faster access to memory alone could perhaps
streamline small parts of this slightly, but it would be very slight.
Proof of Stake is already quite power efficient and wouldn’t really
have a drastic advantage from better faster computers.

Now, atomic-scale circuitry built using these new lithographic
techniques that we’ve developed, which could perform computations at
significantly lower energy costs, would be huge for Proof of Work coins.
One of the things holding bitcoin back, for example, is that mining it
is now consuming power on the order of the annual energy consumption
required by small countries. A more efficient way to mine while still
taking the same amount of time to solve the problem would make bitcoin
much more attractive as a currency.”

Thank you to Roshan Achal and Taleana Huff for helping me to further explore the implications of their work with Dr. Wolkow.

Comments

As usual, after receiving the replies I have more questions but these people have other things to do so I’ll content myself with noting that there is something extraordinary in the fact that we can imagine a near future where atomic scale manufacturing is possible and where as Achal says, ” … storage methods would have to be developed to move beyond atomic-scale [emphasis mine] storage”. In decades past it was the stuff of science fiction or of theorists who didn’t have the tools to turn the idea into a reality. With Wolkow’s, Achal’s, Hauff’s, and their colleagues’ work, atomic scale manufacturing is attainable in the foreseeable future.

Hopefully we’ll be wiser than we have been in the past in how we deploy these new manufacturing techniques. Of course, before we need the wisdom, scientists, as  Achal notes,  need to find a new way to communicate between the macroscale and the nanoscale.

As for Huff’s comments about cryptocurrencies and cyptocurrency and blockchain technology, I stumbled across this very recent research, from a July 31, 2018 Elsevier press release (also on EurekAlert),

A study [behind a paywall] published in Energy Research & Social Science warns that failure to lower the energy use by Bitcoin and similar Blockchain designs may prevent nations from reaching their climate change mitigation obligations under the Paris Agreement.

The study, authored by Jon Truby, PhD, Assistant Professor, Director of the Centre for Law & Development, College of Law, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar, evaluates the financial and legal options available to lawmakers to moderate blockchain-related energy consumption and foster a sustainable and innovative technology sector. Based on this rigorous review and analysis of the technologies, ownership models, and jurisdictional case law and practices, the article recommends an approach that imposes new taxes, charges, or restrictions to reduce demand by users, miners, and miner manufacturers who employ polluting technologies, and offers incentives that encourage developers to create less energy-intensive/carbon-neutral Blockchain.

“Digital currency mining is the first major industry developed from Blockchain, because its transactions alone consume more electricity than entire nations,” said Dr. Truby. “It needs to be directed towards sustainability if it is to realize its potential advantages.

“Many developers have taken no account of the environmental impact of their designs, so we must encourage them to adopt consensus protocols that do not result in high emissions. Taking no action means we are subsidizing high energy-consuming technology and causing future Blockchain developers to follow the same harmful path. We need to de-socialize the environmental costs involved while continuing to encourage progress of this important technology to unlock its potential economic, environmental, and social benefits,” explained Dr. Truby.

As a digital ledger that is accessible to, and trusted by all participants, Blockchain technology decentralizes and transforms the exchange of assets through peer-to-peer verification and payments. Blockchain technology has been advocated as being capable of delivering environmental and social benefits under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, Bitcoin’s system has been built in a way that is reminiscent of physical mining of natural resources – costs and efforts rise as the system reaches the ultimate resource limit and the mining of new resources requires increasing hardware resources, which consume huge amounts of electricity.

Putting this into perspective, Dr. Truby said, “the processes involved in a single Bitcoin transaction could provide electricity to a British home for a month – with the environmental costs socialized for private benefit.

“Bitcoin is here to stay, and so, future models must be designed without reliance on energy consumption so disproportionate on their economic or social benefits.”

The study evaluates various Blockchain technologies by their carbon footprints and recommends how to tax or restrict Blockchain types at different phases of production and use to discourage polluting versions and encourage cleaner alternatives. It also analyzes the legal measures that can be introduced to encourage technology innovators to develop low-emissions Blockchain designs. The specific recommendations include imposing levies to prevent path-dependent inertia from constraining innovation:

  • Registration fees collected by brokers from digital coin buyers.
  • “Bitcoin Sin Tax” surcharge on digital currency ownership.
  • Green taxes and restrictions on machinery purchases/imports (e.g. Bitcoin mining machines).
  • Smart contract transaction charges.

According to Dr. Truby, these findings may lead to new taxes, charges or restrictions, but could also lead to financial rewards for innovators developing carbon-neutral Blockchain.

The press release doesn’t fully reflect Dr. Truby’s thoughtfulness or the incentives he has suggested. it’s not all surcharges, taxes, and fees constitute encouragement.  Here’s a sample from the conclusion,

The possibilities of Blockchain are endless and incentivisation can help solve various climate change issues, such as through the development of digital currencies to fund climate finance programmes. This type of public-private finance initiative is envisioned in the Paris Agreement, and fiscal tools can incentivize innovators to design financially rewarding Blockchain technology that also achieves environmental goals. Bitcoin, for example, has various utilitarian intentions in its White Paper, which may or may not turn out to be as envisioned, but it would not have been such a success without investors seeking remarkable returns. Embracing such technology, and promoting a shift in behaviour with such fiscal tools, can turn the industry itself towards achieving innovative solutions for environmental goals.

I realize Wolkow, et. al, are not focused on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology per se but as Huff notes in her reply, “… new lithographic techniques that we’ve developed, which could perform computations at significantly lower energy costs, would be huge for Proof of Work coins.”

Whether or not there are implications for cryptocurrencies, energy needs, climate change, etc., it’s the kind of innovative work being done by scientists at the University of Alberta which may have implications in fields far beyond the researchers’ original intentions such as more efficient computation and data storage.

ETA Aug. 6, 2018: Dexter Johnson weighed in with an August 3, 2018 posting on his Nanoclast blog (on the IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] website),

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada have developed a new approach to rewritable data storage technology by using a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) to remove and replace hydrogen atoms from the surface of a silicon wafer. If this approach realizes its potential, it could lead to a data storage technology capable of storing 1,000 times more data than today’s hard drives, up to 138 terabytes per square inch.

As a bit of background, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer developed the first STM in 1986 for which they later received the Nobel Prize in physics. In the over 30 years since an STM first imaged an atom by exploiting a phenomenon known as tunneling—which causes electrons to jump from the surface atoms of a material to the tip of an ultrasharp electrode suspended a few angstroms above—the technology has become the backbone of so-called nanotechnology.

In addition to imaging the world on the atomic scale for the last thirty years, STMs have been experimented with as a potential data storage device. Last year, we reported on how IBM (where Binnig and Rohrer first developed the STM) used an STM in combination with an iron atom to serve as an electron-spin resonance sensor to read the magnetic pole of holmium atoms. The north and south poles of the holmium atoms served as the 0 and 1 of digital logic.

The Canadian researchers have taken a somewhat different approach to making an STM into a data storage device by automating a known technique that uses the ultrasharp tip of the STM to apply a voltage pulse above an atom to remove individual hydrogen atoms from the surface of a silicon wafer. Once the atom has been removed, there is a vacancy on the surface. These vacancies can be patterned on the surface to create devices and memories.

If you have the time, I recommend reading Dexter’s posting as he provides clear explanations, additional insight into the work, and more historical detail.

The Canadian science scene and the 2017 Canadian federal budget

There’s not much happening in the 2017-18 budget in terms of new spending according to Paul Wells’ March 22, 2017 article for TheStar.com,

This is the 22nd or 23rd federal budget I’ve covered. And I’ve never seen the like of the one Bill Morneau introduced on Wednesday [March 22, 2017].

Not even in the last days of the Harper Conservatives did a budget provide for so little new spending — $1.3 billion in the current budget year, total, in all fields of government. That’s a little less than half of one per cent of all federal program spending for this year.

But times are tight. The future is a place where we can dream. So the dollars flow more freely in later years. In 2021-22, the budget’s fifth planning year, new spending peaks at $8.2 billion. Which will be about 2.4 per cent of all program spending.

He’s not alone in this 2017 federal budget analysis; CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) pundits, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne, and Jennifer Ditchburn said much the same during their ‘At Issue’ segment of the March 22, 2017 broadcast of The National (news).

Before I focus on the science and technology budget, here are some general highlights from the CBC’s March 22, 2017 article on the 2017-18 budget announcement (Note: Links have been removed,

Here are highlights from the 2017 federal budget:

  • Deficit: $28.5 billion, up from $25.4 billion projected in the fall.
  • Trend: Deficits gradually decline over next five years — but still at $18.8 billion in 2021-22.
  • Housing: $11.2 billion over 11 years, already budgeted, will go to a national housing strategy.
  • Child care: $7 billion over 10 years, already budgeted, for new spaces, starting 2018-19.
  • Indigenous: $3.4 billion in new money over five years for infrastructure, health and education.
  • Defence: $8.4 billion in capital spending for equipment pushed forward to 2035.
  • Care givers: New care-giving benefit up to 15 weeks, starting next year.
  • Skills: New agency to research and measure skills development, starting 2018-19.
  • Innovation: $950 million over five years to support business-led “superclusters.”
  • Startups: $400 million over three years for a new venture capital catalyst initiative.
  • AI: $125 million to launch a pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
  • Coding kids: $50 million over two years for initiatives to teach children to code.
  • Families: Option to extend parental leave up to 18 months.
  • Uber tax: GST to be collected on ride-sharing services.
  • Sin taxes: One cent more on a bottle of wine, five cents on 24 case of beer.
  • Bye-bye: No more Canada Savings Bonds.
  • Transit credit killed: 15 per cent non-refundable public transit tax credit phased out this year.

You can find the entire 2017-18 budget here.

Science and the 2017-18 budget

For anyone interested in the science news, you’ll find most of that in the 2017 budget’s Chapter 1 — Skills, Innovation and Middle Class jobs. As well, Wayne Kondro has written up a précis in his March 22, 2017 article for Science (magazine),

Finance officials, who speak on condition of anonymity during the budget lock-up, indicated the budgets of the granting councils, the main source of operational grants for university researchers, will be “static” until the government can assess recommendations that emerge from an expert panel formed in 2015 and headed by former University of Toronto President David Naylor to review basic science in Canada [highlighted in my June 15, 2016 posting ; $2M has been allocated for the advisor and associated secretariat]. Until then, the officials said, funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will remain at roughly $848 million, whereas that for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will remain at $773 million, and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] at $547 million.

NSERC, though, will receive $8.1 million over 5 years to administer a PromoScience Program that introduces youth, particularly unrepresented groups like Aboriginal people and women, to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through measures like “space camps and conservation projects.” CIHR, meanwhile, could receive modest amounts from separate plans to identify climate change health risks and to reduce drug and substance abuse, the officials added.

… Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, would funnel $600 million over 5 years allocated in 2016, and $112.5 million slated for public transit and green infrastructure, to create Silicon Valley–like “super clusters,” which the budget defined as “dense areas of business activity that contain large and small companies, post-secondary institutions and specialized talent and infrastructure.” …

… The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will receive $93.7 million [emphasis mine] to “launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy … (to) position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in artificial intelligence and innovation.”

… Among more specific measures are vows to: Use $87.7 million in previous allocations to the Canada Research Chairs program to create 25 “Canada 150 Research Chairs” honoring the nation’s 150th year of existence, provide $1.5 million per year to support the operations of the office of the as-yet-unappointed national science adviser [see my Dec. 7, 2016 post for information about the job posting, which is now closed]; provide $165.7 million [emphasis mine] over 5 years for the nonprofit organization Mitacs to create roughly 6300 more co-op positions for university students and grads, and provide $60.7 million over five years for new Canadian Space Agency projects, particularly for Canadian participation in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Kondros was either reading an earlier version of the budget or made an error regarding Mitacs (from the budget in the “A New, Ambitious Approach to Work-Integrated Learning” subsection),

Mitacs has set an ambitious goal of providing 10,000 work-integrated learning placements for Canadian post-secondary students and graduates each year—up from the current level of around 3,750 placements. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $221 million [emphasis mine] over five years, starting in 2017–18, to achieve this goal and provide relevant work experience to Canadian students.

As well, the budget item for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is $125M.

Moving from Kondros’ précis, the budget (in the “Positioning National Research Council Canada Within the Innovation and Skills Plan” subsection) announces support for these specific areas of science,

Stem Cell Research

The Stem Cell Network, established in 2001, is a national not-for-profit organization that helps translate stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy. Its research holds great promise, offering the potential for new therapies and medical treatments for respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, auto-immune disorders and Parkinson’s disease. To support this important work, Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Stem Cell Network with renewed funding of $6 million in 2018–19.

Space Exploration

Canada has a long and proud history as a space-faring nation. As our international partners prepare to chart new missions, Budget 2017 proposes investments that will underscore Canada’s commitment to innovation and leadership in space. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million on a cash basis over five years, starting in 2017–18, for new projects through the Canadian Space Agency that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space, including in the field of quantum technology as well as for Mars surface observation. The latter project will enable Canada to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Quantum Information

The development of new quantum technologies has the potential to transform markets, create new industries and produce leading-edge jobs. The Institute for Quantum Computing is a world-leading Canadian research facility that furthers our understanding of these innovative technologies. Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Institute with renewed funding of $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18.

Social Innovation

Through community-college partnerships, the Community and College Social Innovation Fund fosters positive social outcomes, such as the integration of vulnerable populations into Canadian communities. Following the success of this pilot program, Budget 2017 proposes to invest $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to continue this work.

International Research Collaborations

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) connects Canadian researchers with collaborative research networks led by eminent Canadian and international researchers on topics that touch all humanity. Past collaborations facilitated by CIFAR are credited with fostering Canada’s leadership in artificial intelligence and deep learning. Budget 2017 proposes to provide renewed and enhanced funding of $35 million over five years, starting in 2017–18.

Earlier this week, I highlighted Canada’s strength in the field of regenerative medicine, specifically stem cells in a March 21, 2017 posting. The $6M in the current budget doesn’t look like increased funding but rather a one-year extension. I’m sure they’re happy to receive it  but I imagine it’s a little hard to plan major research projects when you’re not sure how long your funding will last.

As for Canadian leadership in artificial intelligence, that was news to me. Here’s more from the budget,

Canada a Pioneer in Deep Learning in Machines and Brains

CIFAR’s Learning in Machines & Brains program has shaken up the field of artificial intelligence by pioneering a technique called “deep learning,” a computer technique inspired by the human brain and neural networks, which is now routinely used by the likes of Google and Facebook. The program brings together computer scientists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists and others, and the result is rich collaborations that have propelled artificial intelligence research forward. The program is co-directed by one of Canada’s foremost experts in artificial intelligence, the Université de Montréal’s Yoshua Bengio, and for his many contributions to the program, the University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, another Canadian leader in this field, was awarded the title of Distinguished Fellow by CIFAR in 2014.

Meanwhile, from chapter 1 of the budget in the subsection titled “Preparing for the Digital Economy,” there is this provision for children,

Providing educational opportunities for digital skills development to Canadian girls and boys—from kindergarten to grade 12—will give them the head start they need to find and keep good, well-paying, in-demand jobs. To help provide coding and digital skills education to more young Canadians, the Government intends to launch a competitive process through which digital skills training organizations can apply for funding. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $50 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to support these teaching initiatives.

I wonder if BC Premier Christy Clark is heaving a sigh of relief. At the 2016 #BCTECH Summit, she announced that students in BC would learn to code at school and in newly enhanced coding camp programmes (see my Jan. 19, 2016 posting). Interestingly, there was no mention of additional funding to support her initiative. I guess this money from the federal government comes at a good time as we will have a provincial election later this spring where she can announce the initiative again and, this time, mention there’s money for it.

Attracting brains from afar

Ivan Semeniuk in his March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) reads between the lines to analyze the budget’s possible impact on Canadian science,

But a between-the-lines reading of the budget document suggests the government also has another audience in mind: uneasy scientists from the United States and Britain.

The federal government showed its hand at the 2017 #BCTECH Summit. From a March 16, 2017 article by Meera Bains for the CBC news online,

At the B.C. tech summit, Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, said the government will act quickly to fast track work permits to attract highly skilled talent from other countries.

“We’re taking the processing time, which takes months, and reducing it to two weeks for immigration processing for individuals [who] need to come here to help companies grow and scale up,” Bains said.

“So this is a big deal. It’s a game changer.”

That change will happen through the Global Talent Stream, a new program under the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.  It’s scheduled to begin on June 12, 2017.

U.S. companies are taking notice and a Canadian firm, True North, is offering to help them set up shop.

“What we suggest is that they think about moving their operations, or at least a chunk of their operations, to Vancouver, set up a Canadian subsidiary,” said the company’s founder, Michael Tippett.

“And that subsidiary would be able to house and accommodate those employees.”

Industry experts says while the future is unclear for the tech sector in the U.S., it’s clear high tech in B.C. is gearing up to take advantage.

US business attempts to take advantage of Canada’s relative stability and openness to immigration would seem to be the motive for at least one cross border initiative, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From my Feb. 28, 2017 posting,

There was some big news about the smallest version of the Cascadia region on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 when the University of British Columbia (UBC) , the University of Washington (state; UW), and Microsoft announced the launch of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From the joint Feb. 23, 2017 news release (read on the UBC website or read on the UW website),

In an expansion of regional cooperation, the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington today announced the establishment of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative to use data to help cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness. The largest industry-funded research partnership between UBC and the UW, the collaborative will bring faculty, students and community stakeholders together to solve problems, and is made possible thanks to a $1-million gift from Microsoft.

Today’s announcement follows last September’s [2016] Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The forum brought together regional leaders for the first time to identify concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, university research, human capital and other areas.

A Boston Consulting Group study unveiled at the conference showed the region between Seattle and Vancouver has “high potential to cultivate an innovation corridor” that competes on an international scale, but only if regional leaders work together. The study says that could be possible through sustained collaboration aided by an educated and skilled workforce, a vibrant network of research universities and a dynamic policy environment.

It gets better, it seems Microsoft has been positioning itself for a while if Matt Day’s analysis is correct (from my Feb. 28, 2017 posting),

Matt Day in a Feb. 23, 2017 article for the The Seattle Times provides additional perspective (Note: Links have been removed),

Microsoft’s effort to nudge Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a bit closer together got an endorsement Thursday [Feb. 23, 2017] from the leading university in each city.

The partnership has its roots in a September [2016] conference in Vancouver organized by Microsoft’s public affairs and lobbying unit [emphasis mine.] That gathering was aimed at tying business, government and educational institutions in Microsoft’s home region in the Seattle area closer to its Canadian neighbor.

Microsoft last year [2016] opened an expanded office in downtown Vancouver with space for 750 employees, an outpost partly designed to draw to the Northwest more engineers than the company can get through the U.S. guest worker system [emphasis mine].

This was all prior to President Trump’s legislative moves in the US, which have at least one Canadian observer a little more gleeful than I’m comfortable with. From a March 21, 2017 article by Susan Lum  for CBC News online,

U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit travel into his country while simultaneously cutting money from science-based programs provides an opportunity for Canada’s science sector, says a leading Canadian researcher.

“This is Canada’s moment. I think it’s a time we should be bold,” said Alan Bernstein, president of CIFAR [which on March 22, 2017 was awarded $125M to launch the Pan Canada Artificial Intelligence Strategy in the Canadian federal budget announcement], a global research network that funds hundreds of scientists in 16 countries.

Bernstein believes there are many reasons why Canada has become increasingly attractive to scientists around the world, including the political climate in the United States and the Trump administration’s travel bans.

Thankfully, Bernstein calms down a bit,

“It used to be if you were a bright young person anywhere in the world, you would want to go to Harvard or Berkeley or Stanford, or what have you. Now I think you should give pause to that,” he said. “We have pretty good universities here [emphasis mine]. We speak English. We’re a welcoming society for immigrants.”​

Bernstein cautions that Canada should not be seen to be poaching scientists from the United States — but there is an opportunity.

“It’s as if we’ve been in a choir of an opera in the back of the stage and all of a sudden the stars all left the stage. And the audience is expecting us to sing an aria. So we should sing,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said the federal government, with this week’s so-called innovation budget, can help Canada hit the right notes.

“Innovation is built on fundamental science, so I’m looking to see if the government is willing to support, in a big way, fundamental science in the country.”

Pretty good universities, eh? Thank you, Dr. Bernstein, for keeping some of the boosterism in check. Let’s leave the chest thumping to President Trump and his cronies.

Ivan Semeniuk’s March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) provides more details about the situation in the US and in Britain,

Last week, Donald Trump’s first budget request made clear the U.S. President would significantly reduce or entirely eliminate research funding in areas such as climate science and renewable energy if permitted by Congress. Even the National Institutes of Health, which spearheads medical research in the United States and is historically supported across party lines, was unexpectedly targeted for a $6-billion (U.S.) cut that the White House said could be achieved through “efficiencies.”

In Britain, a recent survey found that 42 per cent of academics were considering leaving the country over worries about a less welcoming environment and the loss of research money that a split with the European Union is expected to bring.

In contrast, Canada’s upbeat language about science in the budget makes a not-so-subtle pitch for diversity and talent from abroad, including $117.6-million to establish 25 research chairs with the aim of attracting “top-tier international scholars.”

For good measure, the budget also includes funding for science promotion and $2-million annually for Canada’s yet-to-be-hired Chief Science Advisor, whose duties will include ensuring that government researchers can speak freely about their work.

“What we’ve been hearing over the last few months is that Canada is seen as a beacon, for its openness and for its commitment to science,” said Ms. Duncan [Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science], who did not refer directly to either the United States or Britain in her comments.

Providing a less optimistic note, Erica Alini in her March 22, 2017 online article for Global News mentions a perennial problem, the Canadian brain drain,

The budget includes a slew of proposed reforms and boosted funding for existing training programs, as well as new skills-development resources for unemployed and underemployed Canadians not covered under current EI-funded programs.

There are initiatives to help women and indigenous people get degrees or training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects) and even to teach kids as young as kindergarten-age to code.

But there was no mention of how to make sure Canadians with the right skills remain in Canada, TD’s DePratto {Toronto Dominion Bank} Economics; TD is currently experiencing a scandal {March 13, 2017 Huffington Post news item}] told Global News.

Canada ranks in the middle of the pack compared to other advanced economies when it comes to its share of its graduates in STEM fields, but the U.S. doesn’t shine either, said DePratto [Brian DePratto, senior economist at TD .

The key difference between Canada and the U.S. is the ability to retain domestic talent and attract brains from all over the world, he noted.

To be blunt, there may be some opportunities for Canadian science but it does well to remember (a) US businesses have no particular loyalty to Canada and (b) all it takes is an election to change any perceived advantages to disadvantages.

Digital policy and intellectual property issues

Dubbed by some as the ‘innovation’ budget (official title:  Building a Strong Middle Class), there is an attempt to address a longstanding innovation issue (from a March 22, 2017 posting by Michael Geist on his eponymous blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The release of today’s [march 22, 2017] federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:

“This government is the first with a minister for innovation! He’s Navdeep Bains. He frequently posts photos of his meetings on Twitter, with the hashtag “#innovation.” That’s how you know there is innovation going on. A year and a half after he became the minister for #innovation, it’s not clear what Bains’s plans are. It’s pretty clear that within the government he has less than complete control over #innovation. There’s an advisory council on economic growth, chaired by the McKinsey guru Dominic Barton, which periodically reports to the government urging more #innovation.

There’s a science advisory panel, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, that delivered a report to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan more than three months ago. That report has vanished. One presumes that’s because it offered some advice. Whatever Bains proposes, it will have company.”

Wells is right. Bains has been very visible with plenty of meetings and public photo shoots but no obvious innovation policy direction. This represents a missed opportunity since Bains has plenty of policy tools at his disposal that could advance Canada’s innovation framework without focusing on government spending.

For example, Canada’s communications system – wireless and broadband Internet access – falls directly within his portfolio and is crucial for both business and consumers. Yet Bains has been largely missing in action on the file. He gave approval for the Bell – MTS merger that virtually everyone concedes will increase prices in the province and make the communications market less competitive. There are potential policy measures that could bring new competitors into the market (MVNOs [mobile virtual network operators] and municipal broadband) and that could make it easier for consumers to switch providers (ban on unlocking devices). Some of this falls to the CRTC, but government direction and emphasis would make a difference.

Even more troubling has been his near total invisibility on issues relating to new fees or taxes on Internet access and digital services. Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has taken control of the issue with the possibility that Canadians could face increased costs for their Internet access or digital services through mandatory fees to contribute to Canadian content.  Leaving aside the policy objections to such an approach (reducing affordable access and the fact that foreign sources now contribute more toward Canadian English language TV production than Canadian broadcasters and distributors), Internet access and e-commerce are supposed to be Bains’ issue and they have a direct connection to the innovation file. How is it possible for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister to have remained silent for months on the issue?

Bains has been largely missing on trade related innovation issues as well. My Globe and Mail column today focuses on a digital-era NAFTA, pointing to likely U.S. demands on data localization, data transfers, e-commerce rules, and net neutrality.  These are all issues that fall under Bains’ portfolio and will impact investment in Canadian networks and digital services. There are innovation opportunities for Canada here, but Bains has been content to leave the policy issues to others, who will be willing to sacrifice potential gains in those areas.

Intellectual property policy is yet another area that falls directly under Bains’ mandate with an obvious link to innovation, but he has done little on the file. Canada won a huge NAFTA victory late last week involving the Canadian patent system, which was challenged by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Why has Bains not promoted the decision as an affirmation of how Canada’s intellectual property rules?

On the copyright front, the government is scheduled to conduct a review of the Copyright Act later this year, but it is not clear whether Bains will take the lead or again cede responsibility to Joly. The Copyright Act is statutorily under the Industry Minister and reform offers the chance to kickstart innovation. …

For anyone who’s not familiar with this area, innovation is often code for commercialization of science and technology research efforts. These days, digital service and access policies and intellectual property policies are all key to research and innovation efforts.

The country that’s most often (except in mainstream Canadian news media) held up as an example of leadership in innovation is Estonia. The Economist profiled the country in a July 31, 2013 article and a July 7, 2016 article on apolitical.co provides and update.

Conclusions

Science monies for the tri-council science funding agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR) are more or less flat but there were a number of line items in the federal budget which qualify as science funding. The $221M over five years for Mitacs, the $125M for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, additional funding for the Canada research chairs, and some of the digital funding could also be included as part of the overall haul. This is in line with the former government’s (Stephen Harper’s Conservatives) penchant for keeping the tri-council’s budgets under control while spreading largesse elsewhere (notably the Perimeter Institute, TRIUMF [Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics], and, in the 2015 budget, $243.5-million towards the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) — a massive astronomical observatory to be constructed on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a $1.5-billion project). This has lead to some hard feelings in the past with regard to ‘big science’ projects getting what some have felt is an undeserved boost in finances while the ‘small fish’ are left scrabbling for the ever-diminishing (due to budget cuts in years past and inflation) pittances available from the tri-council agencies.

Mitacs, which started life as a federally funded Network Centre for Excellence focused on mathematics, has since shifted focus to become an innovation ‘champion’. You can find Mitacs here and you can find the organization’s March 2016 budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance here. At the time, they did not request a specific amount of money; they just asked for more.

The amount Mitacs expects to receive this year is over $40M which represents more than double what they received from the federal government and almost of 1/2 of their total income in the 2015-16 fiscal year according to their 2015-16 annual report (see p. 327 for the Mitacs Statement of Operations to March 31, 2016). In fact, the federal government forked over $39,900,189. in the 2015-16 fiscal year to be their largest supporter while Mitacs’ total income (receipts) was $81,993,390.

It’s a strange thing but too much money, etc. can be as bad as too little. I wish the folks Mitacs nothing but good luck with their windfall.

I don’t see anything in the budget that encourages innovation and investment from the industrial sector in Canada.

Finallyl, innovation is a cultural issue as much as it is a financial issue and having worked with a number of developers and start-up companies, the most popular business model is to develop a successful business that will be acquired by a large enterprise thereby allowing the entrepreneurs to retire before the age of 30 (or 40 at the latest). I don’t see anything from the government acknowledging the problem let alone any attempts to tackle it.

All in all, it was a decent budget with nothing in it to seriously offend anyone.

The Canadian nano scene as seen by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development)

I’ve grumbled more than once or twice about the seemingly secret society that is Canada’s nanotechnology effort (especially health, safety, and environment issues) and the fact that I get most my information from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) documents. That said, thank you to Lynne Bergeson’s April 8, 2016 post on Nanotechnology Now for directions to the latest OECD nano document,

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently posted a March 29, 2016, report entitled Developments in Delegations on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials — Tour de Table. … The report compiles information, provided by Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) participating delegations, before and after the November 2015 WPMN meeting, on current developments on the safety of manufactured nanomaterials.

It’s an international roundup that includes: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, U.S., and the European Commission (EC), as well as the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC) and International Council on Animal Protection in OECD Programs (ICAPO).

As usual, I’m focusing on Canada. From the DEVELOPMENTS IN DELEGATIONS ON THE SAFETY OF MANUFACTURED NANOMATERIALS – TOUR DE TABLE Series on the Safety of Manufactured Nanomaterials No. 67,

CANADA
National  developments  on  human  health  and  environmental  safety  including  recommendations, definitions, or discussions related to adapting or applying existing regulatory systems or the drafting of new laws/ regulations/amendments/guidance materials A consultation document on a Proposed Approach to Address Nanoscale Forms of Substances on the Domestic  Substances  List was  published  with  a  public  comment  period  ending on  May  17,  2015. The proposed approach outlines the Government’s plan to address nanomaterials considered in commerce in Canada (on  Canada’s  public inventory).  The  proposal is a stepwise  approach to  acquire  and  evaluate information,  followed  by  any  necessary  action. A  follow-up  stakeholder  workshop  is  being  planned  to discuss  next  steps  and  possible  approaches  to prioritize  future  activities. The  consultation document  is available at: http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/default.asp?lang=En&n=1D804F45-1

A mandatory information gathering survey was published on July 25, 2015. The purpose of the survey is to collect information to determine the commercialstatus of certain nanomaterials in Canada. The survey targets  206  substances  considered  to  be  potentially  in commerce  at  the  nanoscale. The  list  of  206 substances was developed using outcomes from the Canada-United States Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC)  Nanotechnology  Initiative  to  identify nanomaterial  types. These  nanomaterial  types  were  cross-referenced  with  the Domestic  Substances  List to  develop  a  preliminary  list  of  substances  which are potentially intentionally manufactured at the nanoscale. The focus of the survey aligns with the Proposed Approach to  Address  Nanoscale  Forms  of  Substances  on  the Domestic  Substances  List (see  above)  and certain  types  of  nanomaterials  were  excluded  during the  development  of  the  list  of  substances. The information  being  requested  by  the  survey  includes substance  identification,  volumes,  and  uses.  This information will feed into the Government’s proposed approach to address nanomaterials on the Domestic Substances List. Available at: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2015/2015-07-25/html/notice-avis-eng.php

Information on:

a.risk  assessment  decisions, including  the  type  of:  (a)  nanomaterials  assessed; (b) testing recommended; and (c) outcomes of the assessment;

Four substances were notified to the program since the WPMN14 – three surface modified substances and  one  inorganic  substance.  No  actions,  including  additional  data requests,  were  taken  due  to  low expected  exposures  in  accordance  with  the New  Substances  Notifications  Regulations  (Chemicals and Polymers) (NSNR) for two of the substances.  Two of the substances notified were subject to a Significant New Activity Notice. A Significant New Activity notice is an information gathering tool used to require submission  of  additional  information  if  it  is suspected  that  a  significant  new  activity  may  result in  the substance becoming toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

b.Proposals, or modifications to previous regulatory decisions

As  part  of  the  Government’s  Chemicals  Management Plan,  a  review  is  being  undertaken  for  all substances  which  have  been  controlled through  Significant  New  Activity  (SNAc)  notices (see  above).  As part  of  this  activity,  the  Government  is  reviewing past  nanomaterials  SNAc  notices  to  see  if  new information  is  available  to  refine  the  scope  and information  requirements.    As  a  result  of  this  review, 9 SNAc  notices  previously  in  place  for  nanomaterials have  been  rescinded.    This  work  is  ongoing,  and  a complete review of all nanomaterial SNAcs is currently planned to be completed in 2016.

Information related to good practice documents

The Canada-led,  ISO  standards project, ISO/DTR  19716 Nanotechnologies — Characterization  of cellulose  nanocrystals, [emphasis mine] initiated  in  April 2014, is  now at Committee  Draft  (CD)  3-month  ISO ballot, closing    Aug 31, 2015. Ballot comments will be addressed during JWG2 Measurement and Characterization working  group meetings  at  the 18th Plenary  of  ISO/TC229, Nanotechnologies,  being held in Edmonton, Alberta, Sep. 28 – Oct. 2, 2015.

Research   programmes   or   strategies   designed   to  address   human   health   and/   or environmental safety aspects of nanomaterials

Scientific research

Environment Canada continues to support various academic and departmental research projects. This research has to date included studying fate and effects of nanomaterials in the aquatic, sediment, soil, and air  compartments. Funding  in  fiscal  2015-16  continues  to  support  such  projects,  including  sub-surface transportation, determining key physical-chemical parameters to predict ecotoxicity, and impacts of nano-silver [silver nanoparticles]  addition  to  a  whole  lake  ecosystem [Experimental Lakes Area?]. Environment  Canada  has  also  partnered  with  the National Research  Council  of  Canada  recently  to  initiate  a project  on  the  development  of  test  methods  to identify surfaces of nanomaterials for the purposes of regulatory identification and to support risk assessments. In addition,  Environment  Canada  is  working  with  academic laboratories in  Canada  and  Germany  to  prepare guidance to support testing of nanoparticles using the OECD Test Guideline for soil column leaching.

Health  Canada  continues  its  research  efforts  to  investigate  the  effects  of  surface-modified  silica nanoparticles. The   aims   of   these   projects   are  to:   (1) study the importance of size and surface functionalization;  and  (2)  provide a genotoxic profile and  to  identify  mechanistic  relationships  of  particle properties  to  elicited  toxic  responses.  A manuscript reporting  the in  vitro genotoxic,  cytotoxic and transcriptomic  responses  following  exposure  to  silica  nanoparticles  has  recently  been  submitted to  a  peer reviewed journal and is currently undergoing review. Additional manuscripts reporting the toxicity results obtained to date are in preparation.

Information on public/stakeholder consultations;

A consultation document on a Proposed Approach to Address Nanoscale Forms of Substances on the Domestic  Substances  List was  published  with a  public  comment  period ending  on May  17,  2015  (see Question  1).  Comments  were  received  from approximately  20  stakeholders  representing  industry and industry  associations,  as  well  as  non-governmental  organizations. These  comments  will  inform  decision making to address nanomaterials in commerce in Canada.

Information on research or strategies on life cycle aspects of nanomaterials

Canada, along with Government agencies in the United States, Non-Governmental Organizations and Industry,  is  engaged  in  a  project  to  look  at releases  of  nanomaterials  from  industrial  consumer  matrices (e.g., coatings). The objectives of the NanoRelease Consumer Products project are to develop protocols or
methods (validated  through  interlaboratory  testing) to  measure  releases  of  nanomaterials  from  solid matrices as a result of expected uses along the material life cycle for consumer products that contain the nanomaterials. The  project  is  currently  in  the  advanced  stages  of Phase  3  (Interlaboratory  Studies).  The objectives of Phase 3 of the project are to develop robust methods for producing and collecting samples of CNT-epoxy  and  CNT-rubber  materials  under  abrasion  and  weathering scenarios,  and  to  detect  and quantify, to the extent possible, CNT release fractions. Selected laboratories in the US, Canada, Korea and the European Community are finalising the generation and analysis of sanding and weathering samples and the    results    are    being    collected    in    a   data    hub    for    further    interpretation    and    analysis.

Additional details about the project can be found at the project website: http://www.ilsi.org/ResearchFoundation/RSIA/Pages/NanoRelease1.aspx

Under the OECD Working Party on Resource Productivity and Waste (WPRPW), the expert group on waste containing nanomaterials has developed four reflection papers on the fate of nanomaterials in waste treatment  operations.  Canada  prepared the  paper  on  the  fate  of  nanomaterials in  landfills;  Switzerland on the  recycling  of  waste  containing  nanomaterials;  Germany  on  the  incineration  of  waste  containing nanomaterials;  and  France  on  nanomaterials  in wastewater  treatment.  The  purpose  of  these  papers is to provide  an  overview  of  the  existing  knowledge  on the  behaviour  of  nanomaterials  during  disposal operations and identify the information gaps. At the fourth meeting of the WPRPW that took place on 12-14 November 2013, three of the four reflection papers were considered by members. Canada’s paper was presented and discussed at the fifth meeting of the WPRPRW that took place on 8-10 December 2014. The four  papers  were  declassified  by  EPOC  in  June  2015, and  an  introductory  chapter  was  prepared  to  draw these  papers  together. The introductory  chapter  and accompanying  papers  will  be  published in  Fall  2015. At  the sixth  meeting  of  the  WPRPW  in  June – July  2015,  the  Secretariat  presented  a  proposal  for an information-sharing  platform  that  would  allow  delegates  to  share research  and  documents  related  to nanomaterials. During a trial phase, delegates will be asked to use the platform and provide feedback on its use at the next meeting of the WPRPW in December 2015. This information-sharing platform will also be accessible to delegates of the WPMN.

Information related to exposure measurement and exposure mitigation.

Canada and the Netherlands are co-leading a project on metal impurities in carbon nanotubes. A final version  of  the  report  is  expected  to  be ready for WPMN16. All  research has  been completed (e.g. all components are published or in press and there was a presentation by Pat Rasmussen to SG-08 at the Face-to-Face Meeting in Seoul June 2015). The first draft will be submitted to the SG-08 secretariat in autumn 2015. Revisions  will  be  based  on  early  feedback  from  SG-08  participants.  The  next  steps  depend  on  this feedback and amount of revision required.

Information on past, current or future activities on nanotechnologies that are being done in co-operation with non-OECD countries.

A webinar between ECHA [European Chemicals Agency], the US EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and Canada was hosted by Canada on April 16, 2015. These are  regularly  scheduled  trilateral  discussions  to keep  each  other  informed  of  activities  in  respective jurisdictions.

In  March 2015, Health  Canada  hosted  3  nanotechnology knowledge  transfer sessions  targeting Canadian  government  research  and  regulatory  communities  working  in  nanotechnology.  These  sessions were  an  opportunity  to  share  information  and perspectives  on  the  current  state  of  science supporting  the regulatory  oversight  of  nanomaterials with  Government.  Presenters  provided  detailed  outputs  from  the OECD WPMN including: updates on OECD test methods and guidance documents; overviews of physical-chemical properties, as well as their relevance to toxicological testing and risk assessment; ecotoxicity and fate   test   methods;   human   health   risk   assessment   and   alternative   testing   strategies;   and exposure measurement  and  mitigation.  Guest  speakers  included  Dr  Richard  C.  Pleus  Managing  Director  and  Director of Intertox, Inc and Dr. Vladimir Murashov Special Assistant on Nanotechnology to the Director of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

On   March   4-5, 2015, Industry   Canada   and   NanoCanada co-sponsored  “Commercializing Nanotechnology  in  Canada”,  a  national  workshop  that brought  together  representatives  from  industry, academia and government to better align Canada’s efforts in nanotechnology.  This workshop was the first of  its  kind  in  Canada. It  also  marked  the  official  launch  of  NanoCanada (http://nanocanada.com/),  a national  initiative  that  is  bringing  together stakeholders  from  across  Canada  to  bridge  the  innovation  gap and stimulates emerging technology solutions.

It’s nice to get an update about what’s going on. Despite the fact this report was published in 2016 the future tense is used in many of the verbs depicting actions long since accomplished. Maybe this was a cut-and-paste job?

Moving on, I note the mention of the Canada-led,  ISO  standards project, ISO/DTR  19716 Nanotechnologies — Characterization  of cellulose  nanocrystals (CNC). For those not familiar with CNC, the Canadian government has invested hugely in this material derived mainly from trees, in Canada. Other countries and jurisdictions have researched nanocellulose derived from carrots, bananas, pineapples, etc.

Finally, it was interesting to find out about the existence of  NanoCanada. In looking up the Contact Us page, I noticed Marie D’Iorio’s name. D’Iorio, as far as I’m aware, is still the Executive Director for Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) or here (one of the National Research Council of Canada’s institutes). I have tried many times to interview someone from the NINT (Nils Petersen, the first NINT ED and Martha Piper, a member of the advisory board) and more recently D’Iorio herself only to be be met with a resounding silence. However, there’s a new government in place, so I will try again to find out more about the NINT, and, this time, NanoCanada.

Reactions to Canada’s 2015 election Liberal majority and speculations about science and the new cabinet

The euphoria is dying down and, on balance, there was surprisingly little, the tone being more one of optimism laced with caution on the occasion of the Conservative’s defeat at the hands of the Liberal party in the Oct. 19, 2015 Canadian federal election.

Of course the big question for me and other Canadian science bloggers is:

What about science in the wake of the 2015 Liberal majority government in Canada?

I’ve gathered bits and pieces from various published opinions on the topic. First, there’s Brian Owen, a freelance writer in St. Stephen, New Brunswick (there’s more about him in my Aug. 18, 2015 posting about the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference to be held Nov. 25 -27, 2015 in Ottawa [Canada’s capital]) in an Oct. 20, 2015 opinion piece for ScienceInsider,

Many Canadian scientists are celebrating the result of yesterday’s federal election, which saw Stephen Harper’s Conservative government defeated after nearly 10 years in power.

The center-left Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau won an unexpected majority government, taking 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons. The Conservatives will form the opposition with 99 seats, while the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) fell to third place with just 44 seats.

“Many scientists will be pleased with the outcome,” says Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The Liberal party has a strong record in supporting science.” [emphasis mine]

I don’t think the Liberal record is that great. If I understand it rightly, the first muzzle placed on government scientists was applied by a then Liberal government to Health Canada. That’s right the Conservatives got the idea from the Liberals and it’s not the only one they got from that source. Omnibus bills were also pioneered by the Liberal government.

However, hope still springs in mine and others’ bosoms as can be seen in an Oct. 21, 2015 essay in the Guardian (UK newspaper) by Michael Halpern of the Center for Science and Democracy at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists  (Note: Links have been removed),

There was a palpable outpouring of relief from Canadian scientists as the Liberal Party won a majority on Monday night [Oct. 19, 2015], bringing to an end nine years of escalating hostility by the Harper government towards its own research base. Drastic cuts to funding and constraints on scientific freedom have significantly damaged Canadian research and its capacity to develop science-based public health and environmental policies.

Eight hundred scientists from thirty-two countries wrote an open letter urging the prime minster to ease restrictions on scientists and data. In October 2014, a Ryerson University professor wrote in Science magazine that the election presented an “opportunity to reboot the federal government’s controversial approach to science policy and research.”

All of this advocacy worked. Science became a major campaign issue during the election. There were all-party debates on science policy and extensive media coverage. The Green, Liberal and NDP platforms included significant commitments to restore science to its rightful place in society and public policy.

“We’ll reverse the $40 million cut that Harper made to our federal ocean science and monitoring programs,” said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau at a September campaign stop. “The war on science ends with the liberal government.” In tweet after tweet after tweet, opposition candidates argued that they were best positioned to defend scientific integrity.

Now that it’s been elected with a healthy majority, the Liberal Party says it will make data openly available, unmuzzle scientists, bring back the long form census, appoint a chief science officer, and make the agency Statistics Canada fully independent.

In the United States, many celebrated the end of the Bush administration in 2008, thinking that its restrictions on science would evaporate the moment that the Obama administration took office. It wasn’t true. There has been significant progress in protecting scientists from political influence. But the public has still lacked access to scientific information on multiple environmental and public health issues.

So who will keep watch over the new government, as it’s forced to choose among its many priorities? Canadian unions, scientists, policy experts and activists need to continue to push for real change. It’s up to those who care most about science and democracy to keep Trudeau on his toes.

Returning to Owen’s article, there are more pledges from the new Liberal government,

… Trudeau has also said his party will embrace “evidence based policy” and “data-driven decision-making,”  do more to address climate change, protect endangered species, and review the environmental impact of major energy and development projects.

Woodgett welcomes those pledges, but warns that they would not address the larger issue of what he sees as the government’s neglect of basic research funding. “I hope we will see less short-term thinking and much greater support for discovery research going forward,” he says. “We are at serious risk of a lost generation of scientists and it’s critical that younger researchers are given a clear indication that Canada is open to their ideas and needs.”

Science advocates plan to watch the new government closely to ensure it lives up to its promises. “Great to see Harper gone, but another majority is an awfully big blank cheque,” wrote Michael Rennie, a freshwater ecologist at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, on Twitter.

David Bruggeman in a cautionary Oct. 22, 2015 posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog) sums things up in this title: Will New Canadian Government Be The Change Its Scientists Can Believe In? (Note: Links have been removed),

… Only one of the four party representatives at the recent science and technology debate managed to win a seat in the upcoming Parliament.  MP Marc Garneau will remain in Parliament, and his experience in the Canadian Space Agency means he may be able to better manage the changes sought in official government (as opposed to Parliamentary) policy.

The Conservatives will now shift to being the Official Opposition (the largest party not in power).  However, the current cabinet minister responsible for science and technology, and at least two of his predecessors, lost their seats.  The party that was the Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party (NDP), lost several seats, returning to the third largest party in Parliament.  (However, they appear to be a more natural ally for the Liberals than the Conservatives) MP Kennedy Stewart, who has championed the establishment of a Parliamentary Science Officer, barely retained his seat.  He will likely remain as the NDP science critic.

… While the policies on media access to government scientists are part of this trend, they may not be the first priority for Trudeau and his cabinet.  It may turn out to be something similar to the transition from the Bush to the Obama Administrations.  Changes to policies concerning so-called political interference with science were promised, but have not gotten the thorough commitment from the Obama Administration that some would have liked and/or expected.

As David notes. we lost significant critical voices when those Conservative MPs failed to get re-elected.

In a post-election Oct. 24, 2015 posting, Sarah Boon offers a call to action on her Watershed Moments blog (Note: Links have been removed),

I think it’s important to realize, however, that the work doesn’t end here.

Canadian scientists found their voice in the run up to the election, but they’d better not lose it now.

In a pre-election editorial on the Science Borealis Blog, Pascal Lapointe suggested that – after the election – the organizations that worked so hard to make science an election issue should join forces and keep pushing the government to keep science as a top priority. These groups include Evidence for Democracy, the Science Integrity Project, Get Science Right, Our Right to Know, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and more.

Finally, there’s an Oct. 20, 2015 posting by Canadians Julia Whidden and Rachel Skubel on the Southern Fried Science blog explaining the Canadian election to American colleagues in what begins in a facey style which, thankfully and quickly, switches to informative and opinionated (Note: They have nothing good to say about the Conservatives and science),

Up until this past year, the thought of Canadian politics had probably never crossed your mind. For some of you, your introduction to the topic may have been via the astute criticisms of John Oliver published this past weekend. His YouTube video currently skyrocketing at just under 3 million views in less than 48 hours, may have even been the introduction to Canadian politics for some Canadians. Let’s face it: in comparison to the flashy and sometimes trashy race of our neighbors to the south (ahem, you Americans), Canadian politics are usually tame, boring, and dry. …

We present a few major issues related to marine science and conservation that Harper either dragged down or destroyed, and the complementary response by our new PM Trudeau from his platform. …

Based on the Liberals party’s platform, and their statements throughout the last year, here’s a taste of the contrasts between old and new:

Harper/Conservatives Trudeau/Liberals
Marine Protected AreasCommitted in 2011 to protect 10% of Canada’s coastal marine and coastal areas by 2020 under the International Convention on Biodiversity, but is lagging at a meager 1.3% – and only 0.11% is fully closed to “extractive activities.” 

 

MPApercent

 

Proposed MPAs have been stalled by inaction, failure to cooperate by the federal government or stakeholders, and overall a system which needs an infusion of resources – not cuts – to meet ambitious goals.

“We will increase the amount of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected from 1.3 percent to 5 percent by 2017, and 10 percent by 2020.” Liberal Party’s Protecting our Oceans mandate

There is a bit of misinformation in the Southern Fried Science posting,

The National Research Council (NRC) is Canada’s equivalent of America’s National Science Foundation (NSF).

The closest analogue to the US National Science Foundation is Canada’s Tri-Council Agencies comprised of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Next step: appointing a cabinet

Oddly, I haven’t found anyone speculating as to what will happen to science when Justin Trudeau announces his cabinet. He has already stated that his cabinet will be significantly smaller than Stephen Harper’s cabinet of 39 ministers. Numbers for the new cabinet range from 25 to 28 to 30. The largest proposed Trudeau cabinet (30) is almost 25% less than the previous one. Clearly, some ministries will have to go or be combined with other ones.

I’m guessing that Science, which is considered a junior ministry, will be rolled into another ministry, possibly Industry, to be renamed, Industry and Science. Or, by appointing a Chief Science Advisor, Trudeau trumpets the new importance of science with this special status and disburses the Science Ministry responsibilities amongst a variety of ministries.

In any event, I look forward to finding out later this week (Nov. 2 – 6, 2015) whether either or neither of my predictions comes true.

*Canadian cabinet update: To see how I got it both wrong and right see my Nov.4, 2015 posting.

ETA Nov. 5, 2015: I found one more piece for this roundup, an Oct. 22, 2015 article by Helen Carmichael for Chemistry World published by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry (Note: Links have been removed),

There will likely be a shift in the Canadian government’s target research areas towards areas such as green energy and away from fossil fuels, observers say. In addition, they expect that the Trudeau government will be more hands off when it comes to the science that it funds – giving money to the granting councils and trusting them to disburse those funds via peer review. …

The way that science is funded – the politicisation of science – will be less of an issue for the next while,’ says John Brennan, a chemistry and chemical biology professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, who directs the school’s Biointerfaces Institute.

Trudeau and his Liberal party have promised to appoint a chief science officer similar to the national science adviser position that the Harper government eliminated in 2008. Canada’s new chief science officer would report to the prime minister and ensure that government science is available to the public, that all the country’s scientists are able to speak freely about their work and that scientific analyses are considered when the Canadian government develops policy. The Trudeau government has also said that it will create a central online portal for government-funded scientific research to enable greater public access.

The Liberals offer quite a different vision for the Canadian economy than the Conservatives, planning to run short-term budget deficits to increase government spending on public infrastructure, and to return the country to a balanced budget in 2019–20. The party has committed to C$25 million (£12 million) in funding for National Parks and reversing budget cuts to government ocean science and monitoring programmes.

In addition to proposing initiatives to increase business investment in research and development, the Liberals want a tax credit, and will invest C$200 million annually to support innovation in the forestry, fisheries, mining, energy and agriculture sectors. Public science is particularly important in Canada, where the private sector funds a much lower proportion of research than most industrialised nations.

Provincial governments own Canada’s natural resources, with fossil fuel production largely in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Energy production is a major part of the Canadian economy. Trudeau has committed to set up a C$2 billion fund to help the country transition to a low carbon economy, but meanwhile he is not expected to withdraw support for the proposed Alberta to Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Incoming president and chief executive of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), Bob Masterson, recently told Chemistry World that rapid policy decisions by Canadian governments and retailers, without sufficient consultation with industry, are not advantageous or based on sound science. He described missed opportunities for the Canadian chemical industry to engage with regulators, coupled with a lack of coordination between various tiers of Canada’s national and regional regulations. On key issues, such as Canada’s Chemical Management Plan, global trade and maintaining competitive corporate tax rates, Masterson says the CIAC believes the liberal positions represent continuity rather than change from the previous government.

Carmichael’s offers a good overview and is the only one of *three* (the others* being from David Bruggeman *and Michael Halpern*) analyses  I’ve found, that are being written by people who are not navel gazing.

*’two’ changed to ‘three’, ‘other’ changed to ‘others’, and ‘and Michael Halpern’ added 1250 PST on Nov. 5, 2015.

Squeezing blood from rice

They are squeezing the equivalent of human blood protein (blood-derived human serum albumin [HSA]) from transgenic rice according to the research paper (open access) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). From the abstract in PNAS,

Human serum albumin (HSA) is widely used in clinical and cell culture applications. Conventional production of HSA from human blood is limited by the availability of blood donation and the high risk of viral transmission from donors. Here, we report the production of Oryza sativa recombinant HSA (OsrHSA) from transgenic rice seeds. … Physical and biochemical characterization of OsrHSA revealed it to be equivalent to plasma-derived HSA (pHSA). The efficiency of OsrHSA in promoting cell growth and treating liver cirrhosis in rats was similar to that of pHSA. Furthermore, OsrHSA displays similar in vitro and in vivo immunogenicity as pHSA. Our results suggest that a rice seed bioreactor produces cost-effective recombinant HSA that is safe and can help to satisfy an increasing worldwide demand for human serum albumin.

The Oct. 31, 2011 news item about this research on physorg.com notes this about the demand for HSA,

“Our results suggest that a rice seed bioreactor produces cost-effective recombinant HSA that is safe and can help to satisfy an increasing worldwide demand for human serum albumin,” said the study.

The protein is often used in the manufacture of vaccines and drugs and is given to patients with serious burn injuries, hemorrhagic shock and liver disease, the researchers said.

In 2007, a shortage in China led to price spikes and a brief rise in the number of fraudulent albumin medicines on the market.

Concerns have also been raised about the potential for the transmission of hepatitis and HIV, since the protein comes from human blood.

The lead author, Yang He is from Wuhan University, China. Other listed authors are:  Tingting Ning, Tingting Xie, Qingchuan Qiu, Liping Zhang, Yunfang Sun, Daiming Jiang, Kai Fu, Fei Yin, Wenjing Zhang, Lang Shen, Hui Wang, Jianjun Li, Qishan Lin, Yunxia Sun, Hongzhen Li, Yingguo Zhu, and Daichang Yang. This list gets more interesting if you have time to check out their affiliations (at the PNAS website) which include the National Research Council of Canada’s Institutes for Biological Sciences, University of Albany, New York State and Joinn Laboratory, Beijing and you get a sense of how much cooperation it takes to do this research. Finally, the paper is titled, Large-scale production of functional human serum albumin from transgenic rice seeds.

Memristors and nuances in a classification tug-of-war; NRC of Canada insights; rapping scientists

Interestingly, there’s an item posted with today’s (April 8, 2010) date on the Nanowerk website from HP Labs reiterating the ‘memristor as a fourth circuit element’ concept that Forrest H Bennett has convincingly argued against first in his comments to my original posting (April 5, 2010) and, at greater length, in yesterday’s (April 7, 2010) interview.

Oddly, the item on Nanowerk, which I’m assuming is a news release from HP Labs as no author is listed, mostly regurgitates the HP Labs work on the memristor.

HP Labs researchers have discovered that the “memristor“ – a resistor with memory that represents the fourth basic circuit element in electrical engineering – has more capabilities than was previously thought. In addition to being useful in storage devices, the memristor can perform logic, enabling computation to one day be performed in chips where data is stored, rather than on a specialized central processing unit.

In fact, much of what’s mentioned in the news release and in the accompanying video was discussed in 2008 when they first published their work. The new excitement has been generated by a team at the University of Michigan (see April 5, 2010 posting), led by Dr. Wei Lu, who’ve proved that synapses in biological organisms behave like memristors. This means that the speculations that the HP Lab folks made in 2008 about hardware that learns are more likely.

As for the ‘fourth circuit element’ mentioned in the item, this brings me to classification schemes. These sorts of discussions can seem picayune to people who are not directly involved but classification schemes have a huge impact on how we think about the world around us and the ways in which we interact with it. For example, we think of the tomato and treat it as if it’s a vegetable when in fact, it’s a fruit. When was the last time you had some tomatoes and ice cream?

Whether the memristor is thought of as a ‘fourth circuit element’ (as per HP Labs and Dr. Leon Chua [as of 2003]) or a member of an ‘infinite periodic table of circuit elements’ (as per Forrest H Bennett) will have an impact on how memristors and other as yet unknown elements are investigated and understood.

As someone who doesn’t understand the particulars especially well, I find Forrest’s approach the more flexible one and therefore preferable. Classification schemes or models that are rigid both buckle as new information is added and tend to constrain it. For example, the Dewey decimal classification scheme used in most public libraries has been buckling under the pressure of adding new categories since the 1950s, at least. It’s the reason most academic libraries use the more flexible Library of Congress classification scheme, although that scheme has its problems too.

One final note, it seems that HP Labs is supporting the notion of a ‘fourth circuit element’ being added to the previous three (capacitors, inductors, and resistors) and they have the resources to distribute their preferred notion far and wide and repeatedly. Or as Forrest put it in one of his comments, “This “4th circuit element” business is marketing spin from HP …”

National Research Council of Canada Insights

In the wake of John McDougall’s appointment as the new president of the Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), Rob Annan over at the Don’t Leave Canada Behind blog has written a very important (if Canadian science policy interests you) piece about NRC.  Rob traces the organization from its beginnings.  From the posting,

The NRC was founded more than 90 years ago to advise the government on matters related to science and technology. It evolved into a federal research laboratory with the construction of the Sussex Dr. labs in the 1930s, and was the focus of Canada’s research efforts during WWII. Post-war, the NRC expanded and was a major source of Canadian research success, with notable achievements like the invention of the pacemaker, development of Canola and the crash position indicator.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, NRC’s success, growth, and increasing complexity led to the creation of spin-off organizations. Atomic research went to the Atomic Energy of Canada, defense research went to the Defense Research Board. Medical research funding went to the Medical Research Council, later the CIHR. Lastly, support for academic research was passed to NSERC.

All of these organizations have grown and prospered. The NRC? Not so much.

He goes on to trace developments to the present day,

The NRC has research institutes in every province in the country, from the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in BC to the Institute for Ocean Technology in Newfoundland. A total of 26 institutes across the country, covering all aspects of science and technology, and employing more than 4,000 people. It’s a broad effort and employs a lot of great scientists.

But since the 1980s, the NRC has been without a strong sense of self. Is it a basic research organization or an applied research organization? Does it exist to perform independent, government-sponsored research, or does it provide research services in support of the private sector? Does it perform early-stage research and then partner with industry, or is it a fee-for-service research organization? The answer is yes.

I encourage you to read his posting as there’s more to his history and analysis and he goes on to make some suggestions. Please don’t forget to read the comments which offer additional insights.

Dave Bruggeman (at Pasco Phronesis) also mentions Rob’s NRC posting in the context of explaining that the current US National Research Council differs greatly from the Canadian one and warns against assuming that organizations with similar names are the same. You can go read Dave’s description of the US NRC here. This is a timely reminder as the ‘reinventing technology assessment’ webcast that the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies is hosting later this month features a speaker from the US National Research Council.

Rapping biologists and physicists

While browsing on Dave’s (Pasco Phronesis) blog, I found an item that features two videos of scientists rapping. The first comes from some physicists and the second comes from biologists. I agree with Dave that the biologists have the edge since they rap in front of a live audience although both videos are quite entertaining.