Tag Archives: Public Library of Science

How to start art/science collaborations (roundup) and an art/engineering festival in Calgary (Canada)

Generally speaking I’ve viewed art/science collaborations from an ‘arts’ perspective so it’s with some interest that I’ve been reading Johanna Kieniewicz’s postings as she has a scientist’s perspective, from her Nov. 22, 2012 posting on the PLoS (Public Library of Science) At the Interface; where art and science meet blog,

Last week, I attended an environmental science conference with an evening reception that featured a short talk on art/science collaborations in the context of environmental science. The talk was followed by a musical performance – inspired by the fragility of peatbog environments – after which I overheard a scientist mutter “What was that? That better not have had research council funding.” He was not the only one; I heard similar sentiments expressed by several others as I walked to dinner.

On some level, I was disappointed by this response, but I wasn’t really surprised. Despite great progress amongst those who are ensconced in the world of science communication to the idea of collaborations between scientists and artists, this is something that many scientists still don’t “get”. Other researchers are openly hostile, and certainly think that scientific research organisations have no business funding this type of work.

To be fair, these are not necessarily the attitudes of people who are disinterested in art — I’d be willing to bet that a fair few of those who walked away from the performance muttering about scientific research council funding being wasted on the arts also have memberships at cultural institutions. That said, whilst being consumers of culture, few scientists really see themselves as having much of a role in its creation. In an increasingly competitive funding landscape, does it really make sense to spend research money on an art project? Does engaging with the arts mean that they are less serious as scientists?

Kieniewicz goes on to give a number of reasons why she thinks art/science collaborations are important, including this one,

Although art cannot directly communicate science or change minds, it can create a space for dialogue around difficult issues.

In a followup Dec. 6, 2012 posting, Kieniewicz goes on to explain how artists and scientists get together for collaborations and she also provides an extensive roundup art/science collaborations (Note: I have removed links),

Following on from my last post on the ‘why’ of collaborations between artists and scientists, here I’d like to look at the ‘how’. When scientists and artists don’t typically have professional reasons for mixing, what are the mechanisms that enable collaboration?

Artist in Residency Schemes

Some of the more outward-looking scientific research organisations realise that there is something to be gained from a scheme that brings artists through their doors. It could be couched as a box-ticking ‘outreach’ exercise, but it is also an opportunity to bring the science happening behind their doors alive to the wider public. This approach has been particularly embraced by the physics community, where studies of the interactions between subatomic particles — which have serious implications for science and cost a great deal of taxpayer money — nonetheless seem of little relevance to the man on the street. As physicist David Weinberg notes based on his collaboration with Josiah McElheny (below), “far more people saw [our collaboration] in one day in Madrid than have ever read my Astrophysical Journal articles.”

Artist/Scientist Pairing Schemes

I think of artist/scientist pairing schemes as something of a matchmaking exercise, in which a number of artists are invited into a research institute and paired with interested and willing scientists. Like any matchmaking process, it seems to me that this is something that can go either way: sometimes it will work out, but other times it may not.

Individual collaborations between artists and scientists

Unsurprisingly, collaboration between an individual artist and scientist generally starts with an introduction, a conversation, and an interest/openness from both parties to trying something a little different. Collaboration in these circumstances is often initiated by the artist who may have an idea and an interest, but who recognises that they would benefit from the help of a scientist in order to fully realise their vision.

In the UK, there is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funding programme, Science in Culture, designed to stimulate art/science collaborations. There was funding in Canada for this type of collaboration. The Canada Council for the Arts had joint programmes with the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the National Research Council in the early 2000′s.

There is a new initiative, Beakerhead, being organized in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) for 2013 mentioned in my Nov. 13, 2012 posting (this is more of an arts/engineering collaborative event),

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

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

There is more information about the aspirations for this event on the Beakerhead Program page,

When fully realized, Beakerhead will be a five-day citywide highly participatory event that explodes in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities. Through programming partnerships and community initiatives, Beakerhead is fuelled by groups and individuals in art, culture, science, engineering and technology.

Everyone is empowered to build, stage, exhibit and compete in interactive works, so people can experience and explore engineered creations from around the world – all at once! The following three streams are guiding Beakerhead’s programming vision:

1) Productions: local and internationally commissioned and co-produced grand openings, premieres, productions, and concerts.

2) Programs: city-wide illuminated art works and 3-D projections, international professional and student challenges, massive mechanical sculptures, interactive races, local restaurant programs and more.

3) Speakerhead: education and outreach programs such as artist and engineer-in-residence programs, professional speaker series, classroom programs and more.

Format and Goals:

Events will take place indoors and out, including ticketed and free events, and involving venues and public spaces throughout the city – and it’s all starting now! Partnerships are continuously forming and a calendar of events and programs is being developed to be announced in late 2012.

Together, Beakerhead will:

  • Engage people and communities – in hands-on public spectacles and contests.
  • Experiment – culturally – with science, art and engineering. Let’s test limits!
  • Commission new works – in new media, music, theatre, visual arts, dance.
  • Invite collaborations – between artists, scientists and engineers.
  • Invite collaborations – between local, Canadian and international experts.
  • Curate new exhibitions and performances.

Modestly viral science communication inspires

Students in the science communication masters programme at the Imperial College of London have created a video (Science Nation Army) that has gone modestly viral. From the Feb. 23, 2012 posting by Anna Perman on the Guardian Science blogs,

This week, a video made by myself and three friends from the science communications masters course at Imperial College went viral. Not “Fenton the dog” viral, but trending on YouTube (316,000 hits and counting), a spot on CBS News blog, in the Sun newspaper and a teeny-tiny snippet in the Guardian’s own G2 (too tiny even for a link). The video shows us recreating Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes, using as our instruments the tools lying around in a lab at Imperial, and some “creative” editing techniques.

We did this to communicate science. And it seems to have worked.

Here’s the video,

It is part of a larger project, a multimedia blog developed by these students, Inside Knowledge: The Student Blog for the Public Library of Science (PLoS) blog network. More from Perman about the project,

A year ago, the four of us [Anna Perman, Ben Good, Lizzie Crouch, and David Robertson] started working with the research group at Imperial’s Blast lab (now part of the Royal British Legion Centre for Blast Injury Studies) to make a multimedia blog for the PLoS blog network about their work. It wasn’t an easy journey. The lab includes military personnel, has links to the ministry of defence and works with human tissue, so getting permission to film and write about their research was no mean feat.

In our film we tried to convey the entire experience of science, from the tedium of sitting with a lab book, to the excitement of their explosive experiments.

We also wanted to get people to think about the lab environment not as somewhere scary and alien, but somewhere accessible, and most importantly, somewhere fun to work.

This particular video was to show the variety of people who must work harmoniously to conduct a piece of scientific research. Just like a band in which a group with different talents create something more than the sum of its parts, a research group like Blast contains a diversity of doctors, mechanical engineers and biophysicists.

There are two groups working on The Student Blog, the group from the UK’s Imperial College of London (Inside Knowledge) and a second group from Stanford University in the US called Science, Upstream (Jamie Hansen and Julia James). I find the project a little confusing as I don’t see any postings after Sept. 2011 for Inside Knowledge and Science, Upstream, which seems to have a separate space on the PLoS website, doesn’t feature any postings after April 2011.

Still, I like the idea of the video and of communicating science in as many ways and in as many venues as possible. Oh, and I really enjoyed the Science Nation Army.

Cell phone microscopy

You can make a microscope or a spectrometer out of your cell phone for about $20, say researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of California at Davis. Here’s an image contrasting standard microscopy with cell phone microscopy,

Images of several commercially prepared microscope slides featuring stained samples. Top row, commercial microscope. Bottom row, cell phone microscope. Left column, pollen grains. Right two columns, plant stems. (copied from PLoS article: DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017150

There’s a serious note to this activity (from the March 11, 2011 news item on Nanowerk),

With health care costs increasing throughout the world, there is a pressing need for reducing the cost and complexity of biomedical devices. Additionally, with growing demand for high-quality health care in regions of the world where medical infrastructure is below levels found in developed countries, portable devices that can transmit relevant data to remote experts are likely to have a large impact on quantity and quality of care. To this end, several groups have focused on the development of low-cost and rapidly deployable technologies that address common diseases afflicting the third world and common tests performed in both hospital and field environments.

Researchers at UCLA have constructed a modified lensless cell phone that enables holography-based digital microscopy, while researchers at UC Berkeley have constructed a complex objective attachment that also transforms a cell phone into a microscope. Additionally, a patent was recently awarded for the use of a cell phone as a spectrometer. However, there is still a need for more research directed towards utilizing cell-phone cameras to record images or spectra of biological samples.

Dave Mosher’s March 11, 2011 article for Wired magazine offers instructions on how to create the cell phone microscope,

Using tape, rubber and a tiny glass ball, researchers transformed an iPhone into a cheap, yet powerful microscope able to image tiny blood cells. They’ve also added a clinical-grade cellphone spectroscope that might be able to measure some vital signs.

And with a few dollars and some patience, you can do the same to your own phone. (See instructions below.)

“It still amazes me how you can build near-research-grade instruments with cheap consumer electronics,” said physicist Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu of the University of California at Davis, leader of a study March 2 in PLoS ONE. “And with cellphones, you can record and transmit data anywhere. In rural or remote areas, you could get a diagnosis from a professional pathologist halfway around the world.”

Cellphone Microscope – Step 1

Grab any cellphone with a camera, but note models that use touchscreen focusing and/or have manual focus options are best.

Find some thin, dark, rubbery material and poke a small hole in it (less than 1 millimeter in diameter). This can be done using a pin or needle.

Cellphone Microscope – Step 2

Order a 1-millimeter-diameter ball or half-ball lens. One from Edmund Optics costs between $15 and $25.

Note that lenses with larger diameters can be used, but they will provide a smaller magnification.

Cellphone Microscope – Step 3

Carefully mount it to the iris, covering as little of the lens as possible.

Cellphone Microscope – Step 4

Center the iris with the ball lens tucked in the middle over the camera of the cellphone (above).

From black electrical tape, cut out a hole larger than the diameter of the ball lens, but smaller than the diameter of the iris (below [image omitted, see Wired article]).

Cellphone Microscope – Step 5

Attach the iris to the camera body using the electrical tape mask. You may need to adjust the position of the iris to ensure the microscope images are centered in the camera’s field of view.

As with a standard microscope, use plenty of light to illuminate your sample. Liquid samples should be placed between a glass slide and coverslip.

Mosher’s article also provides instructions on how create a cell phone spectrometer. Or you can read the research article on the Public Library of Science website (open access):

Cell-Phone-Based Platform for Biomedical Device Development and Education Applications

Zachary J. Smith, Kaiqin Chu, Alyssa R. Espenson, Mehdi Rahimzadeh, Amy Gryshuk, Marco Molinaro, Denis M. Dwyre, Stephen Lane, Dennis Matthews,  and Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu

PLoS ONE, Vol. 6, Issue 3. March 2, 2011. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017150

Sometimes I find it all kind of amazing. I mean, whodathunk you could create a microscope with a phone?

Award-winning science outreach: Ask a Biologist

Before the ‘Ask a Biologist‘ website won its Science Prize for Online Resources in Education, or SPORE, award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), there was a scholarly October article in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) written by the project’s developer, Charles Kazilek.

Since 1997, Ask A Biologist has grown from a single page on Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences website to more than 2,500 pages of content. More than 150 scientists and experts support the “Ask a” section, which has now offered insight to more than 25,000 perplexed or curious children and adults. The School of Life Sciences is the home for a large group of biology experts who can provide insights on a wide range of topics. Questions are routed to appropriate faculty and graduate student experts through a common email address which protects any single person from being inundated with questions. It also provides a level of review, and an opportunity to revise answers to ensure they are grade appropriate.

In addition to the core question and answer (Q & A) feature, a strong conduit between the public and the working scientist, Ask A Biologist has grown to involve scientists in content creation. The site has also evolved to include multiple media formats. Audio interviews with scientists, video, teachers’ tools, photo galleries, and games have been developed to accommodate different types of learners and meet the expectations of nearly one million visitors, yearly. [ref. to figure removed]

The Oct. 14, 2010 news item on physorg. com offers a more lively perspective than is possible with a scholarly article,

“A key-stroke can bring the world to one’s laptop, but nothing substitutes for a living, breathing expert,” says Kazilek, director for technology integration and outreach in ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

The experts backing up Dr. Biology are more than 150 volunteer scholars at ASU, which include professors, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the School of Life Sciences and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The popularity of the site has also attracted an army of off-campus volunteers from around the world.

“Scientists, educators and science Web developers often don’t realize that great graphics and in-depth content are only part of why ‘Ask A Biologist’ is popular,” Kazilek says. “People still need people.”

(I have a feeling I’ve featured this quote before but my website searches don’t yield it.)

A Nov. 25, 2010 news item on physorg.com celebrates the AAAS award,

What set Arizona’s Ask A Biologist apart? Reading interventionist Joan Howell with the Phoenix Elementary School District, a teacher for 20 years, says that it is Kazilek. “Charles simply knows how to connect with children,” she says. “He has combined science and art and created a wonderful vehicle for learning. It keeps you aware of the Web, it’s something local, it shows that ASU is a leading institution and it’s infectious. We are very thankful at our school and in our district. He has opened up a world of possibility.”

Kazilek’s virtual world is kaleidoscopic, encompassing coloring pages, image and zoom galleries, games, stories, science career pages, teacher’s resources, experiments, and language translations into Spanish and French. Entrancing more than a million visitors a year from across the globe, favorite offerings from amongst the 2,500 pages of content are the Ugly Bug contest and the Ask A Biologist’s podcast, which injects children’s voices, as co-hosts, in the website’s audioprogramming (http://askabiologist.asu.edu/explore/watch_listen).

“The Ugly Bug contest teaches kindergarteners to sixth graders how to look at things closely,” says Howell. “The details of the bugs inspire all sorts of questions. It’s a wonderful skill for children to develop. They don’t even realize that they are learning.”

The numbers are telling: more than 10,735 votes have been cast to determine 2010′s ugliest bug since it debuted on Oct. 31. Locked in battle are top contenders, the assassin bug and yellow dragonfly (http://askabiologist.asu.edu/activities/ubc).

Congratulations to Charles Kazilek and ‘Ask a Biologist’.

Open Science Summit nears

The July 29 -31, 2010 Open Science Summit is almost upon us (first mentioned here in a June 29, 3010 posting). The summit organizers pose this notion to set the themes for their conference (from the summit’s home page),

Renowned physicist Freeman Dyson identifies two kinds of scientific revolutions, those driven by new concepts (theoretical), and those driven by new tools (technological).

In the last 500 years we’ve witnessed paradigm shattering conceptual shifts associated with names such as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, and, Einstein. Simultaneously, the evolution of technology drives progress in unpredictable ways—Galileo borrowed principles from the technology of eye-glasses to pioneer the use of the telescope in astronomy, while Watson and Crick relied on Rosalind Franklin’s skill with X-ray diffraction (a tool from physics) to probe the structure of life. (Undoubtedly, Franklin’s contribution would have been more fully recognized under a true Open Science Paradigm.)

To this classification of scientific revolutions, we can now add a third kind, an Organizational Revolution, the advent of a truly “Open Science,” which will profoundly affect the pace and character of subsequent theory and tool-driven paradigm shifts.

Looking at the speakers scheduled, the summit offers an interesting range including Christine Peterson of the Foresight Institute, Special Agent Edward You of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)*, Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), David Koepsell, author of Who Owns You?, and more. It does seem to be largely oriented to genomics, bioinformatics, and other biological sciences.

If you can’t attend in person, there will be live streaming by fora.tv, go here.

* The FBI is quite interested in reaching out to scientists as per my posting of  May 25, 2010 about an article in The Scientist titled, SYNTHETIC BIO MEET “Fbio”; You may soon be visited by an FBI agent, or a scientist acting on behalf of one. Here’s why and written by Jill Frommer. The article is now behind a paywall.

Measuring professional and national scientific achievements; Canadian science policy conferences

I’m going to start with an excellent study about publication bias in science papers and careerism that I stumbled across this morning on physorg.com (from the news item),

Dr [Daniele] Fanelli [University of Edinburgh] analysed over 1300 papers that declared to have tested a hypothesis in all disciplines, from physics to sociology, the principal author of which was based in a U.S. state. Using data from the National Science Foundation, he then verified whether the papers’ conclusions were linked to the states’ productivity, measured by the number of papers published on average by each academic.

Findings show that papers whose authors were based in more “productive” states were more likely to support the tested hypothesis, independent of discipline and funding availability. This suggests that scientists working in more competitive and productive environments are more likely to make their results look “positive”. It remains to be established whether they do this by simply writing the papers differently or by tweaking and selecting their data.

I was happy to find out that Fanelli’s paper has been published by the PLoS [Public Library of Science] ONE , an open access journal. From the paper [numbers in square brackets are citations found at the end of the published paper],

Quantitative studies have repeatedly shown that financial interests can influence the outcome of biomedical research [27], [28] but they appear to have neglected the much more widespread conflict of interest created by scientists’ need to publish. Yet, fears that the professionalization of research might compromise its objectivity and integrity had been expressed already in the 19th century [29]. Since then, the competitiveness and precariousness of scientific careers have increased [30], and evidence that this might encourage misconduct has accumulated. Scientists in focus groups suggested that the need to compete in academia is a threat to scientific integrity [1], and those guilty of scientific misconduct often invoke excessive pressures to produce as a partial justification for their actions [31]. Surveys suggest that competitive research environments decrease the likelihood to follow scientific ideals [32] and increase the likelihood to witness scientific misconduct [33] (but see [34]). However, no direct, quantitative study has verified the connection between pressures to publish and bias in the scientific literature, so the existence and gravity of the problem are still a matter of speculation and debate [35].

Fanelli goes on to describe his research methods and how he came to his conclusion that the pressure to publish may have a significant impact on ‘scientific objectivity’.

This paper provides an interesting counterpoint to a discussion about science metrics or bibliometrics taking place on (the journal) Nature’s website here. It was stimulated by Judith Lane’s recent article titled, Let’s Make Science Metrics More Scientific. The article is open access and comments are invited. From the article [numbers in square brackets refer to citations found at the end of the article],

Measuring and assessing academic performance is now a fact of scientific life. Decisions ranging from tenure to the ranking and funding of universities depend on metrics. Yet current systems of measurement are inadequate. Widely used metrics, from the newly-fashionable Hirsch index to the 50-year-old citation index, are of limited use [1]. Their well-known flaws include favouring older researchers, capturing few aspects of scientists’ jobs and lumping together verified and discredited science. Many funding agencies use these metrics to evaluate institutional performance, compounding the problems [2]. Existing metrics do not capture the full range of activities that support and transmit scientific ideas, which can be as varied as mentoring, blogging or creating industrial prototypes.

The range of comments is quite interesting, I was particularly taken by something Martin Fenner said,

Science metrics are not only important for evaluating scientific output, they are also great discovery tools, and this may indeed be their more important use. Traditional ways of discovering science (e.g. keyword searches in bibliographic databases) are increasingly superseded by non-traditional approaches that use social networking tools for awareness, evaluations and popularity measurements of research findings.

(Fenner’s blog along with more of his comments about science metrics can be found here. If this link doesn’t work, you can get to Fenner’s blog by going to Lane’s Nature article and finding him in the comments section.)

There are a number of issues here: how do we measure science work (citations in other papers?) as well as how do we define the impact of science work (do we use social networks?) which brings the question to: how do we measure the impact when we’re talking about a social network?

Now, I’m going to add timeline as an issue. Over what period of time are we measuring the impact? I ask the question because of the memristor story.  Dr. Leon Chua wrote a paper in 1971 that, apparently, didn’t receive all that much attention at the time but was cited in a 2008 paper which received widespread attention. Meanwhile, Chua had continued to theorize about memristors in a 2003 paper that received so little attention that Chua abandoned plans to write part 2. Since the recent burst of renewed interest in the memristor and his 2003 paper, Chua has decided to follow up with part 2, hopefully some time in 2011. (as per this April 13, 2010 posting) There’s one more piece to the puzzle: an earlier paper by F. Argall. From Blaise Mouttet’s April 5, 2010 comment here on this blog,

In addition HP’s papers have ignored some basic research in TiO2 multi-state resistance switching from the 1960’s which disclose identical results. See F. Argall, “Switching Phenomena in Titanium Oxide thin Films,” Solid State Electronics, 1968.

[ETA: April 22, 2010 Blaise Mouttet has provided a link to an article  which provides more historical insight into the memristor story. http://knol.google.com/k/memistors-memristors-and-the-rise-of-strong-artificial-intelligence#

How do you measure or even track  all of that? Shy of some science writer taking the time to pursue the story and write a nonfiction book about it.

I'm not counselling that the process be abandoned but since it seems that the people are revisiting the issues, it's an opportune time to get all the questions on the table.

As for its importance, this process of trying to establish better and new science metrics may seem irrelevant to most people but it has a much larger impact than even the participants appear to realize. Governments measure their scientific progress by touting the number of papers their scientists have produced amongst other measures such as  patents. Measuring the number of published papers has an impact on how governments want to be perceived internationally and within their own borders. Take for example something which has both international and national impact, the recent US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) report to the President's Council of Science and Technology Advisors (PCAST). The NNI used the number of papers published as a way of measuring the US's possibly eroding leadership in the field. (China published about 5000 while the US published about 3000.)

I don't have much more to say other than I hope to see some new metrics.

Canadian science policy conferences

We have two such conferences and both are two years old in 2010. The first one is being held in Gatineau, Québec, May 12 - 14, 2010. Called Public Science  in Canada: Strengthening Science and Policy to Protect Canadians [ed. note: protecting us from what?], the target audience for the conference seems to be government employees. David Suzuki (tv host, scientist, evironmentalist, author, etc.) and Preston Manning (ex-politico) will be co-presenting a keynote address titled: Speaking Science to Power.

The second conference takes place in Montréal, Québec, Oct. 20-22, 2010. It’s being produced by the Canadian Science Policy Centre. Other than a notice on the home page, there’s not much information about their upcoming conference yet.

I did note that Adam Holbrook (aka J. Adam Holbrook) is both speaking at the May conference and is an advisory committee member for the folks who are organizing the October conference. At the May conference, he will be participating in a session titled: Fostering innovation: the role of public S&T. Holbrook is a local (to me) professor as he works at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.

That’s all of for today.