Tag Archives: Queen’s University Kingston

ARPICO November 13, 2018 event in Vancouver (Canada): The Mysterious Dark-Side of the Universe: From Quarks to the Big Bang with Dark Matter

The Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada (ARPICO) is hosting a physics event for those of us who don’t have Phd’s in physics. From an October 24, 2018 ARPICO announcement (received via email),

The second event of ARPICO’s fall 2018 activity will take place on Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 at the Roundhouse Community Centre (Room B). Our speaker will be Dr. Pietro Giampa, a physicist who recently joined the ranks of the TRIUMF laboratories [Canada’s particle accelerator centre and, formerly, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics] here in Vancouver. Dr. Giampa will give us an intriguing and, importantly, layperson-intelligible overview on the state of our knowledge of the universe especially in regards to so-called dark matter, a chapter of physics that the most complete theoretical model to-date cannot explain. We will learn, among other things, about an ambitious experiment (set up in a Canadian mine!) [emphasis mine] to detect neutrinos, fundamental and very elusive particles of our  cosmos. You can read a summary of Pietro Giampa’s lecture as well as his short professional biography below.

We look forward to seeing everyone there.

The evening agenda is as follows:

  • 6:30 pm – Doors Open for Registration
  • 7:00 pm – Start of the evening event with introductions & lecture by Dr. Pietro Giampa
  • ~8:15 pm – Q & A Period
  • to follow – Mingling & Refreshments until about 9:30 pm

If you have not already done so, please register for the event by visiting the EventBrite link or RSVPing to info@arpico.ca.

Further details are also available at arpico.ca and Eventbrite.

More details from the email announcement,

The Mysterious Dark-Side of the Universe: From Quarks to the Big Bang with Dark Matter

Understanding the true nature of our universe is one of the most fundamental quests of our society. The path of knowledge acquisition in that quest has led us to the hypothesis of “dark matter”, that is, a large proportion of the mass of the universe which appears invisible. In this lecture, with minimal technical language we will journey through the structure and evolution of the universe, from subatomic particles to the big bang, which gave rise to our universe, in an ultimate research to describe the dark side of the universe called dark matter. We will review what we have learnt thus far about dark matter, and get an in-depth look at how scientists are searching for something that can not be seen.

Dr. Pietro Giampa originally completed his undergraduate in physics at Royal Holloway University of London in the UK, where he wrote a thesis on SuperSymmetry Searches with the ATLAS Detector (so LHC related). Following his undergraduate, he completed a Master Degree in particle physics at the same institute where he developed a novel technique for directional detection of neutrons. It was after his master that he moved to Canada to complete his Ph.D at Queen’s University in Particle Astrophysics, working on the DEAP-3600 Experiment with Nobel laureate Prof. Arthur McDonald. In the summer of 2017 he moved to TRIUMF, where he is currently the Otto Hausser Fellow. At TRIUMF he continues his research for new forms of physics, by studying Dark Matter and Ultra-Cold Neutrons.

 


WHEN: Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:30pm)

WHERE: Roundhouse Community Centre, Room B – 181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2W3

RSVP: Please RSVP at EventBrite (https://mysteryofdarkmatter.eventbrite.ca/) or email info@arpico.ca


Tickets are Needed

  • Tickets are FREE, but all individuals are requested to obtain “free-admission” tickets on EventBrite site due to limited seating at the venue. Organizers need accurate registration numbers to manage wait lists and prepare name tags.
  • All ARPICO events are 100% staffed by volunteer organizers and helpers, however, room rental, stationery, and guest refreshments are costs incurred and underwritten by members of ARPICO. Therefore to be fair, all audience participants are asked to donate to the best of their ability at the door or via EventBrite to “help” defray costs of the event.

FAQs

  • Where can I contact the organizer with any questions? info@arpico.ca
  • Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event? No, you do not. Your name will be on our Registration List at the Check-in Desk.
  • Is my registration/ticket transferrable? If you are unable to attend, another person may use your ticket. Please send us an email at info@arpico.ca of this substitution to correct our audience Registration List and to prepare guest name tags.
  • Can I update my registration information? Yes. If you have any questions, contact us at info@arpico.ca
  • I am having trouble using EventBrite and cannot reserve my ticket(s). Can someone at ARPICO help me with my ticket reservation? Of course, simply send your ticket request to us at info@arpico.ca so we help you.

What are my transport/parking options?

  • Bus/Train: The Canada Line Yaletown Skytrain station is a 1 minute walk from the Roundhouse Community Centre.
  • Parking: Pay Parking is underground at the community centre.  Access is available via Drake Street.

With regard to the Canadian mine and neutrino experiments, I hunted down a little more information (from an October 6, 2015 article by Kate Allen for thestar.com), Note: A link has been removed,

Canadian physicist Arthur B. McDonald has won the Nobel Prize for discoveries about the behaviour of a mysterious solar particle, teased from an experiment buried two kilometres below Sudbury [Ontario].

The Queen’s University professor emeritus was honoured for co-discovering that elusive particles known as neutrinos can change their identity — or “oscillate” — as they travel from the sun. It proved that neutrinos must have mass, a finding that upset the Standard Model of particle physics and opened new avenues for research into the fundamental properties of the universe.

McDonald, 72, shares the prize with Takaaki Kajita, whose Japanese collaboration made the same discovery with slightly different methods.

To measure solar neutrinos, McDonald and a 130-person international team built a massive detector in an operational copper mine southwest of Sudbury. …

To solve this problem, McDonald and his colleagues dreamt up SNO. Deep in an INCO mine (now owned by Vale), protected from cosmic radiation constantly bombarding the earth’s surface, the scientists installed a 12-metre-wide acrylic vessel filled with 1,000 tonnes of ultra-pure heavy water. The vessel was surrounded by a geodesic sphere equipped with 9,456 light sensors. The whole thing was sunk in a 34-metre-high cavity filled with regular water.

When neutrinos hit the heavy water, an event that occurred about 10 times a day, they emitted a flash of light, which researchers could analyze to measure the particles’ properties.

Allen’s article has more details for anyone who might want to read up on neutrinos. Regardless, I’m sure Dr.Giampa is fully prepared to guide the uninitiated into the mysteries of the universe as they pertain to dark matter, neutrinos, and ultra-cold neutrons.

Science funding, 2018 Canadian federal budget, and a conversation between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US science popularizer, Bill Nye (the Science Guy)

It may be too soon to describe it as a fallback position but Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, seems to return to science when he wants to generate or bask in positive news coverage.  Coming off a not entirely successful state visit to India (February 17 – 23, 2018), he received some of the worst notices of his international diplomatic efforts to date. (This February 23, 2018 article, ‘India to Justin Trudeau: Stop trying so hard‘, by Vidhi Doshi for The Washington Post was one of the kinder pieces while this February 25, 2018 article, ‘Why Justin Trudeau’s India tour turned out to be a diplomatic disaster‘, by Candice Malcolm and published on economictimes.indiatimes.com was one of the more scathing.

Budget 2018: We’re in the money

The announcement of the federal budget (February 27, 2018) might be viewed as offering welcome relief from torrents of criticism.  From a March 7, 2018 Canadian Science Policy Centre announcement (CSPC; received via email) about the publication of a series of opinion pieces (editorials) concerning the 2018 federal budget,

CSPC’s Official Statement on the Federal Budget 2018
Déclaration officielle du CPSC concernant le budget fédéral 2018

Canadian Science Policy Centre commends the Government of Canada for the strong investment in Science projected in the Budget 2018 for the next five years. The Centre congratulates all Canadians, in particular members of the Fundamental Science Review Panel and the entire community who strongly supported the panel recommendations and the investment in Science.

Le Centre sur les politiques scientifiques canadiennes félicite le Gouvernement du Canada pour son investissement substantiel en sciences prévu dans le budget 2018 pour les cinq prochaines années. Le Centre félicite tous les Canadiens, plus particulièrement les membres du Comité de l’examen du soutien aux sciences ainsi que la communauté dans son ensemble, qui a vivement appuyé les recommandations du Comité et l’investissement en sciences.

You can find the editorials here (17 in total including an interview with Science Minister Kirsty Duncan … surprisingly[!!!!], she’s very proud of the government’s budget for science) along with editorials on other issues. Russ Roberts’ piece (Federal Budget 2018 – Missed Another Opportunity to Maximize ROI on Canadians’ Investments in Innovation) stands out as it is rather ‘grumpy’ but only in comparison to pretty much everyone else who is pleased to one degree or another.

The editorials put me in mind of an old song celebrating money in a Busby Berkeley production. Prepare yourself, over the top was where he liked to live,

Budget 2018: a little more nuance

Brooke Struck over on sciencemetrics.org offers some incisive analysis in two separate blog postings. First, he tackles the money in a February 28, 2018 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

The Naylor report [links to my 3-part series on the report also known as, INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research {Review of fundamental research final report} follow at the end of this posting] contained many recommendations, but the one that got the most press—and surely is the focus of attention right now, given the release of the budget yesterday—is the recommendation that funding for the three granting councils be increased. The amounts were quite high, too, calling for an increase from $3.5 billion to $4.8 billion to remediate slides over the decade of the previous government’s term.

The timing of the report’s release was wise, as a release before that year’s budget might have created the expectation that the money would flow immediately, which simply doesn’t fit with the timelines of federal budget development processes. From April 2017 to now, the research community in Canada has rallied around the report and its recommendations, sustaining a campaign to keep research (and its funding) in the national discussion.

One note that the panel emphasized was that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) had been hit particularly hard. The rule of thumb is apparently that SSHRC is supposed to get 20% of the total granting council budget, while 40% goes to the natural sciences & engineering [Natural Sciences and Engineering Council] (NSERC) and 40% goes to health research [Canadian Institutes of Health Research] (CIHR). SSHRC’s portion had consistently clocked in at around 15%.

Furthermore, the report emphasized that the underlying reasoning behind the 40-40-20 split might not hold water anymore, as the social sciences and humanities really don’t have any other major sources of funding beyond government support, whereas other types of research can draw on support from other players as well. The 40-40-20 split from government is not a 40-40-20 split in practice once additional sources are considered in the equation.

Delivery: as promised?

And that brings us to yesterday’s budget. While the report had called for an injection of $1.3 billion, the finance minister apparently couldn’t scrape together more than a measly $925 million—which, of course, is a huge amount of money. Some will lament the gap and rend their shirts in twain about promises broken, while others will cheer the victory of science retaking its rightful place through another #PromiseKept. That increase translated into a 25% bump in fundamental research spending, so I guess how you feel about it depends on your views about how much a 25% increase really means. For those keeping score at home, that apparently closes the gap to about 90% of real spending power levels before the slides under Harper.

But was it a 25% increase for everyone? No, the $925 million was not split evenly between the councils. Identical portions of $354.7 million will go to NSERC and CIHR (roughly 38% each from the new money) while $215.5 million will go to SSHRC (just over 23% of the new money). Comparing their funding levels this morning to those of yesterday morning, NSERC and CIHR saw increases of about 20%–25%, while SSHRC saw an increase of over 40%.

But did the government really heed the advice of their panel about getting back to the 40-40-20 allocation across the councils (while acknowledging that even that split is perhaps not sufficient anymore)? With its increase, SSHRC will be up from 15% of the tri-council total to about 16.5% of the total. That sounds like progress.

On the flip side, though, the government has just announced a massive injection to research spending, with an ongoing annual increase after that (following the same split as the one-time boost). No further increases are likely to happen again in the near future, and it would take three more increases just like this one for SSHRC to reach its 20%. The social sciences and humanities have made some headway, but they aren’t likely to get any closer than this to their 20%. The big investment has been made, and this will be the status quo for a while—consider that the Naylor panel was the first of its kind in 40 years.

I don’t think this excerpt does justice to Struck’s posting and recommend you read it in its entirety if you have the time and there’s this March 8, 2018 posting where he examines ‘evidence’ in relation to the budget (Note: Links have been removed),

The new budget provides a lot of money for science. It also emphasizes the importance of evidence-based decision-making to government, employing the term “evidence-based” about 20 times in the document. A lot of the new science money is earmarked to increase science for policy as well, separate from the fundamental science funding we discussed last week.

For example, Statistics Canada will get millions of extra dollars, in one-time injections as well as increases to ongoing, regular operating budgets. Why? “Better data will… support [the Government’s] commitment to evidence-based policy-making.” (p. 187). There are also hundreds of millions of dollars for science conducted within the federal government: labs and facilities (p.83) as well as highlighted projects (e.g., ocean and freshwater surveillance, p. 98). Again, all this is on top of the $925 million for fundamental research outside of government, administered by the funding councils. All told, that’s a big boost for research.

What about the uptake of that research in decision-making? There’s a whole section in Chapter 2 entitled “Placing Evidence at the Centre of Program Evaluation and Design.” The result? Statistics Canada gets $1 million annually to “improve performance evaluations for innovation-related programs,” and the Treasury Board gets $2 million annually to build an internal team for innovation performance evaluation, drawing on (among other things) the StatsCan innovation data.

Beyond that, the previous budget outlined $2 million annually for the federal Chief Science Advisor and her secretariat. That outlay doesn’t mention improving evidence-based decision-making, though it’s a key part of the CSA’s mandate. Together, what we see here is that there’s a huge disparity between the new money being spent on research and data, and the new money being spent to develop “a strong culture of evidence-based decision-making” (Budget 2018, p. 276).

Reading between the line items

The funding disparity suggests that the government feels that evidence-based policymaking is hampered primarily by supply-side problems. If we just pushed more science in the front end, we’d get a better flow of evidence through the policymaking pipeline. There’s almost no money to patch up whatever holes there may be in that pipeline between the research money inputs and the better policy outputs.

This quality of analysis is what one would hope for from the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC). Perhaps once their initial euphoria and back-patting has passed, the CSPC commentators will offer more nuanced takes on the budget.

Budget 2018: The good includes a new intellectual property strategy

First, there’s a lot to like in the 2018 budget as the CSPC folks noticed. Advancing gender equality, supporting innovation and business, supporting fundamental research through the tri-council agencies, and more are all to the good.

Surprisingly, no one else seems to have mentioned a new (?) intellectual property strategy introduced in the document (from Chapter 2: Progress; scroll down about 80% of the way, Note: The formatting has been changed),

Budget 2018 proposes measures in support of a new Intellectual Property Strategy to help Canadian entrepreneurs better understand and protect intellectual property, and get better access to shared intellectual property.

What Is a Patent Collective?
A Patent Collective is a way for firms to share, generate, and license or purchase intellectual property. The collective approach is intended to help Canadian firms ensure a global “freedom to operate”, mitigate the risk of infringing a patent, and aid in the defence of a patent infringement suit.

Budget 2018 proposes to invest $85.3 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, with $10 million per year ongoing, in support of the strategy. The Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development will bring forward the full details of the strategy in the coming months, including the following initiatives to increase the intellectual property literacy of Canadian entrepreneurs, and to reduce costs and create incentives for Canadian businesses to leverage their intellectual property:

  • To better enable firms to access and share intellectual property, the Government proposes to provide $30 million in 2019–20 to pilot a Patent Collective. This collective will work with Canada’s entrepreneurs to pool patents, so that small and medium-sized firms have better access to the critical intellectual property they need to grow their businesses.
  • To support the development of intellectual property expertise and legal advice for Canada’s innovation community, the Government proposes to provide $21.5 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. This funding will improve access for Canadian entrepreneurs to intellectual property legal clinics at universities. It will also enable the creation of a team in the federal government to work with Canadian entrepreneurs to help them develop tailored strategies for using their intellectual property and expanding into international markets.
  • To support strategic intellectual property tools that enable economic growth, Budget 2018 also proposes to provide $33.8 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, including $4.5 million for the creation of an intellectual property marketplace. This marketplace will be a one-stop, online listing of public sector-owned intellectual property available for licensing or sale to reduce transaction costs for businesses and researchers, and to improve Canadian entrepreneurs’ access to public sector-owned intellectual property.

The Government will also consider further measures, including through legislation, in support of the new intellectual property strategy.

Helping All Canadians Harness Intellectual Property
Intellectual property is one of our most valuable resources, and every Canadian business owner should understand how to protect and use it.

To better understand what groups of Canadians are benefiting the most from intellectual property, Budget 2018 proposes to provide Statistics Canada with $2 million over three years to conduct an intellectual property awareness and use survey. This survey will help identify how Canadians understand and use intellectual property, including groups that have traditionally been less likely to use intellectual property, such as women and Indigenous entrepreneurs. The results of the survey should help the Government better meet the needs of these groups through education and awareness initiatives.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office will also increase the number of education and awareness initiatives that are delivered in partnership with business, intermediaries and academia to ensure Canadians better understand, integrate and take advantage of intellectual property when building their business strategies. This will include targeted initiatives to support underrepresented groups.

Finally, Budget 2018 also proposes to invest $1 million over five years to enable representatives of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples to participate in discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organization related to traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, an important form of intellectual property.

It’s not wholly clear what they mean by ‘intellectual property’. The focus seems to be on  patents as they are the only intellectual property (as opposed to copyright and trademarks) singled out in the budget. As for how the ‘patent collective’ is going to meet all its objectives, this budget supplies no clarity on the matter. On the plus side, I’m glad to see that indigenous peoples’ knowledge is being acknowledged as “an important form of intellectual property” and I hope the discussions at the World Intellectual Property Organization are fruitful.

That said, it’s good to see the government adopting a fresh approach to the matter.

Budget 2018: Who’s watching over us?

Russ Roberts (CSPC editorial) makes an excellent point in his piece about getting some sort of return on investment (ROI) made by the Canadian government on behalf of its taxpayers. One note, the issue is not new and unique to this Liberal government. As far as I’m aware, there never has been any mechanism for determining whether taxpayers’ money has been well spent and other than knowing that insulin was a huge boon to the world and could be described as a great ROI. So, I’m not suggesting that everything has to be measured in dollars and cents but just that we occasionally give it some thought.

Another aspect I’d like to see considered is oversight. In my March 5, 2018 posting I posed a question, What is happening with Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab? In sum, Dr. Carlo Montemagno came to Alberta to head up the lab which is funded to the tune of $100M over 10 years. He was making over $500,000/year when he left some five years into the project to become Chancellor at Southern Illinois University (SIU). I had some questions about Montemagno’s tenure in Alberta. For example, was hiring his daughter and son-in-law (as he did again at SIU where he has received severe criticism) to work at the Ingenuity Lab a good idea? It may have been but it seems as if the question was never asked. Other questions also present themselves such as, what is happening to an industrial pilot project on carbon transformation that Montemagno touted?

Increasingly, I’m wondering what sort of oversight these heavily funded science projects are receiving, especially in light of the government’s massive foul up over the Phoenix pay system for federal government employees. (I’m aware that I’m conflating science and technology.) We’re entering the third year of a botched (a very polite term) and increasingly expensive payroll technology implementation. Take for example this recommendation from the Canada Treasury Board’s Lessons Learned from the Transformation of Pay Administration Initiative webpage which has me shaking my head,

Fully test the IT Solution before launch
Lesson 14: Launch any required new IT solution only after it has been fully tested with end-to-end real-life simulations using a broad spectrum of real users and when all doubts regarding success have been addressed and verified independently.

The federal government has over 300,000 employees whose payroll was migrated to this system and they didn’t test it (!) or so I infer from this recommendation. (According to a CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] news online August 24, 2017 news item, a little over 1/2 of Canada’s federal public servants have been affected,

Nearly one in every two federal public servants paid through the problem-plagued Phoenix system has opened a file seeking redress for a pay issue, CBC News has learned.

As of Aug. 8 [2017], there were 156,035 employees who had been waiting at least 30 days to have their pay complaint dealt with, according to data released to Radio-Canada by a government source.

That number represents nearly one-half of the 313,734 public servants paid through Phoenix. It’s also the first instance in which the scope of the Phoenix payroll issues has been laid clear in terms of people affected, rather than in terms of “transactions” or “cases.”

The documents show the government has been tracking the numbers of individuals affected by Phoenix since at least June 26 [2017].

“It’s shocking that we’ve just learned that they were hiding those numbers, because they didn’t want to show how big that catastrophe is for our public servants,” said Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP’s [New Democratic Party] finance critic.

Interestingly,  the government is hoping to introduce more technology into their governance. Michael Karlin’s (@supergovernance) Twitter feed and his latest essay provide some insight into the government’s preparations for the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), Note: Links have been removed,

Towards Rules for Automation in Government

Caveat: This is a personal view of work underway that I’m leading. What I describe is subject to incredible change as this policy work winds its way through government and consultations. Our approach may change for reasons that I’m simply not privy to, and that’s fine. This is meant to solicit ideas, but also show the complexity about what it takes to make policy. I hope that people find it useful, particularly students of public admin. It also represents my view of the world only, and neither my organization’s or the Government of Canada writ large.

AI is a rapidly evolving space, and trying to create rules in a time of disruption is risky. Too severe and innovation can be hindered; this is unacceptable during a time when the Government of Canada is embracing digital culture. On the other hand, if the rules don’t have meaning and teeth, and Canadians will not be sufficiently protected from the negative outcomes of this technology, like this or this. Trying to strike the right balance between facilitating innovation while being protective of right is a challenge, and one that benefits from ongoing discussions with different sectors across the country. It also means that I might work hard to build a consensus around a set of rules that we try out and have to scrap and redesign after a year in deployment because they don’t work.

Let’s not forget the 2017 Canadian federal budget introduced funding ($125M) for a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy to be administered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). So, federal funding for science is often intimately linked to technology., hence the conflation.

Sunny ways: a discussion between Justin Trudeau and Bill Nye

Billed as a discussion about the Canadian federal 2018 budget and science, Justin Trudeau sat down with Bill Nye, a US science popularizer and television personality on March 6, 2018 for about an hour. Kate Young, parliamentary secretary to the minister of science (Kirsty Duncan) was moderator.

As to be expected Bill Nye did not know much about the budget and the funding it provided for science, technology, research, and innovation but he was favourably impressed overall. In short, if you were looking for an incisive policy discussion, this was not the venue for it.

The conversation was quite genial throughout. Paul Wells in his March 6, 2018 article for Maclean’s offers a good summary of the main points and answers a few questions I had (for example, why a US television science personality?),

News of this bit of show-business [televised discussion] drew a fair bit of advance comment, most of it on Twitter on Monday night, some of it critical or worried. Some who don’t like Nye’s climate-change activism said he’s not a scientist. This is, by many definitions, true: He’s a mechanical engineer. I’m here to tell you that it’s hard to get a degree in mechanical engineering without learning some science, but for those inclined to draw distinctions, fill your boots. Others wished a Canadian scientist had been Trudeau’s chosen interlocutor, instead of some TV Yankee.

Part of the answer to that came from the U of O students, who were pleased to see the Prime Minister but plainly way more pleased to see Bill Nye the Science Guy. There simply isn’t a Canadian scientist (or science-friendly mechanical engineer) who would have provoked as much excitement. [emphasis mine; sadly true]

My own concern was that Nye, who has been critical of the Trump administration, might attempt to draw distinctions between the blackened anti-science hell-pit of his own country and the bright shiny city on a hill called Canada. Such distinctions would have been misinformed, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit, but in fact Nye mostly managed to avoid making them.

Mostly he and Trudeau just shot the breeze, in ways that were low on detail but not unpleasant.

One comment that Trudeau made raised a lot of interest on Paul Wells’ fTwitfer feed (#inklessPW), ‘all babies are scientists’. Wells’ notes where this idea likely originated (Note: A link has been removed),

The babies-are-scientists bit, I heard from a former New Brunswick education minister named Kelly Lamrock, could come from a book that was in vogue at about the time Trudeau was working as a schoolteacher, The Scientist in the Crib. To anyone who’s watched a toddler who was fascinated about dinosaurs grow into a teenager who couldn’t care less, Trudeau’s reverie makes sense as folk wisdom if not as a precise description of the scientific method.

There are also people who claim all babies are artists or musicians or mathematicians or … . Take your pick.

Wells goes on to highlight two female researchers (Trudeau being famously feminist and whose government just presented a budget boosting women) invited onstage to participate in the conversation (Note: Links have been removed),

… two young women researchers were invited onstage. Plainly their role was to be admired as pathbreaking young women researchers, pulverizing glass ceilings, embodying budget initiatives. To my relief, neither seemed interested in acting the part, or at least not in behaving as if sent straight from Central Casting.

Caitlin Miron from Queen’s University has already received some coverage for discovering a… thing… that could “switch off” cancer cells. This is how Miron was introduced. She could switch off cancer cells. It’s how Nye addressed her. You could switch off cancer cells! Miron answered, reasonably enough, that that’s how it might turn out someday, but that on the other hand it might not, and in the meantime she’s learning interesting new things about cancer cells. She was plainly flattered by the attention, but not interested in boiling her work down to slogans just yet.

Then the PM and the science guy turned to Ayda Elhage, who’s a PhD student in Chemistry at the University of Ottawa. Elhage, who was born in Lebanon, launched into a description of her work, which concentrates on (among other things) the tunable photocatalytic activity of palladium-decorated titanium dioxide [likely titanium dioxide nanoparticles]. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important this work is! At least I hope I don’t, because I understood almost none of it! I think it’s about complex new materials whose properties can be triggered by light. Or not. Anyway, the way she resisted any attempt to reduce her work to a gimmick or gadget was heartening to hear.

Wells winds up with this,

…  the truth is that even now, today, in the second of the dark Trump years, the United States is far more of a performer in science research than Canada is. The U.S. National Institutes of Health have about 6 or 7 times the per-capita budget of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; NASA and the National Science Foundation together spend about twice as much per capita as Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council.

The new investments in last week’s budget, while welcome, won’t change the orders of magnitude here. The U.S. commitment to science research is cultural and durable. The Trump White House’s call for cuts to granting agencies was met with budget increases to those agencies from Congress. Trudeau’s conversion to the cause comes after almost a year’s steady pressure from the Canadian research community. But I bet those researchers were heartened to hear Trudeau talking like one of them so soon after the budget came down.

Wells also covers their comments on support for fundamental research and a foray into the Kinder Morgan pipeline controversy.

From Wells’ Twitter feed (on the day of),

2 hours ago

Nye asks Trudeau about “this pipeline, Morgan Kinder.” Uh oh.

2 hours ago

Trudeau talks about “tremendous potential” for renewables. “However, we’re not going to get there tomorrow.” The has to be a “transition phase.”

2 hours ago

This answer is longer than the Oscars.

Nye did not correctly identify the pipeline but he did comment on his visit to Fort McMurray. In any event, the Kinder Morgan portion of the discussion seemed scripted (to me), i.e, Trudeau knew the question was coming and was prepared for it. I’m guessing he also knew Nye was going to give him and his government a pass after hearing the reasons for their decision.

One question that I found interesting but not mentioned in Wells’ article was about language and the arts. It was neither Trudeau’s not Nye’s finest moment. They were clearly unable to shift gears, part of their problem being that much of what they discussed in terms of ‘baby scientists’ could also be said about the arts. Yes, all babies make art!

Final thoughts

As noted earlier, here’s a lot to applaud in the new budget, more support for fundamental research, catch up funding for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and greater support for women in the sciences and technology.

At the same time, I wish this government put more thought into how it’s spending taxpayers’ money.

Extras

For anyone who’s curious, you can find the full 2018 federal budget here and you’ll find the science funding in Chapter 2: Progress.

For the curious, you can watch the entire (!) Trudeau/Nye conversation, 1 hour, 9 minutes and 30 seconds here.

For anyone interested in the Naylor report (or my comments on it), there’s this three-part series:

  • INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 1 of 3
  • INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 2 of 3
  • INVESTING IN CANADA’S FUTURE; Strengthening the Foundations of Canadian Research (Review of fundamental research final report): 3 of 3

For anyone who hasn’t been following the Canadian political scene, “sunny ways” is a term that Justin Trudeau uses to describe, in part, his political philosophy. Here’s an explanation of the term from the Liberal Party of Canada’s website,

Canadians have often heard Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s [Canadian Prime Minister from 1896-1911] sunny ways – a guiding philosophy that both men share. Like Laurier, the Prime Minister knows that politics can be a positive and powerful force for change. …

Wilfrid Laurier’s appeal for the “sunny way” in political discourse has its roots in the Manitoba Schools Question. When Manitoba became a province in 1870, a dual school system was established to reflect the province’s Protestant and largely English-speaking population, and its Catholic and predominantly French-speaking, residents.

“The sun’s warm rays prove more effective than the wind’s bluster.”

By 1890, the Anglophone population widely outnumbered the Francophones. Seeking to appeal to this growing population, the provincial government of Thomas Greenway attempted to abolish the dual school system. With the support of the federal Conservative government, Manitoba’s Catholic community launched a court challenge of the school law. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ruled that while the law was valid, the federal government could restore public funding to denominational schools. In 1895, despite it being deeply divisive, Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell introduced legislation to force Manitoba to restore Catholic schools – a measure that was then postponed due to severe opposition within his own cabinet, ultimately leading to his resignation.

In contrast to Bowell’s heavy-handed approach, Liberal Leader Wilfrid Laurier proposed that a diplomatic “sunny way” would work better, using as an illustration Aesop’s fable in which the sun and the wind hold a contest to see who can remove a traveler’s coat. The sun’s warm rays prove more effective than the wind’s bluster.

While more than 120 years have passed, Prime Minister Trudeau shares Laurier’s belief that the “sunny way” remains essential to solving the complex problems facing our country.

Trudeau seems to have had remarkable luck with his ‘sunny ways’ which sometimes seem more like a form of teflon coating than an approach to diplomacy as per Sir Wilfred Laurier. At other times, Trudeau appears to have a magic touch where diplomacy is concerned. He is famously able to deal with the volatile US President, Donald Trump.

Oil- and water-repellent surfaces without fluorine

Two researchers from Ontario’s Queen’s University (Canada) have published a paper about research which could lead to self-cleaning windows although other applications seem more likely in the short-term. From a Sept. 3, 2015 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),

Self-cleaning windows, stain-resistant automobile interiors, graffiti-proof walls—there is a long list of things that we wish could have a surface to which dirt wouldn’t stick. In the journal Angewandte Chemie (“Fluorine-Free Anti-Smudge Polyurethane Coatings”), Canadian scientists have now introduced a new method for producing transparent, smudge-resistant coatings resistant to both water- and oil-soluble contaminants. In contrast to previous approaches, this method does not use fluorinated substances, which makes the coatings both significantly less expensive and more environmentally friendly.

A Sept. 3, 2015 Wiley press release, which originated the news item, describes the advantages of this new technique,

Previous methods for making smudge-resistant coatings have not been widely applicable because they lacked the necessary transparency and wear resistance. Fluorine-containing substances that do have the right properties are too expensive for widespread use. In addition, fluorine-containing products cause environmental problems because they do not degrade and bioaccumulate.

The new approach developed by a team from Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario, Canada) headed by Guojun Liu is fluorine-free and based on polyurethane, an inexpensive type of plastic that adheres well to a wide variety of surfaces. The novel coatings remain clear at layer thicknesses of tens of micrometers. They repel both aqueous and oily contaminants.

The success of this new coating stems from grafted side chains made of poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS), a biocompatible silicone oil used in medicine. The individual components and the conditions for the synthesis were chosen to produce a highly cross-linked polyurethane matrix in which nanodomains of PDMS are embedded. At the surface, the silicone side chains form a thin lubricating liquid film. When another liquid such as cooking oil is dispensed on the surface, the liquid readily slips off because the lubricating thin liquid film, unlike a solid surface, cannot grab the liquid.

The new coatings repel ink, artificial fingerprints, and paint. They maintain their anti-smudge properties after being scratched with sandpaper. The researchers attribute this resiliency to the fact that after damage occurs, fresh PDMS side chains rise out of the nanodomains to the new surface, regenerating the damaged PDMS layer.

Possible applications include coatings for touchscreens of mobile telephones and other portable electronic devices, as well as anti-graffiti coatings.

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

Fluorine-Free Anti-Smudge Polyurethane Coatings by Muhammad Rabnawaz, Guojun Liu, and Heng Hu. Angewandte Chemie DOI: 10.1002/anie.201504892 Article first published online: 28 AUG 2015

© 2015 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This paper is behind a paywall.

Queen’s University (Canada) opens Kingston Nano-Fabrication Lab (KNFL)

First, there’s the opening (from an April 24, 2015 Queen’s University news release; Note: A link has been removed),

Queen’s University has secured its place at the forefront of transforming innovative research with the opening of the Kingston Nano-Fabrication Laboratory (KNFL).

The laboratory, located at Innovation Park, represents a milestone in the 30-year collaboration between Queen’s and CMC Microsystems for advancing Canadian strength in micro-nano innovation.

Some interesting details about the deal and the proposed uses for KNFL can be found in an April 24, 2015 story by Colleen Seto for Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI),

… a brand-new, 3,000-square-foot, $5 million research facility [KNFL] located at the Queen’s University Innovation Park. The lab includes $2.5 million in new CFI-funded custom equipment for fabricating and prototyping new nano-scale inventions to get them to market quicker.

“We’re making devices, films, coatings, and materials, and examining their properties at the nanoscale,” says Ian McWalter, President and CEO of CMC Microsystems, which manages the operations of KNFL. “This fundamental materials research spills over into experiments of great use to industry, which then looks at how to commercialize he research results.”

The Queen’s University news release describes the longstanding relationship between the company managing the KNFL and the university,

“This facility is the latest manifestation of a long and productive relationship between Queen’s and CMC Microsystems,” says Ian McWalter, president and CEO of CMC. “For more than three decades, this partnership has enabled research and advanced training activities nationwide that would not have otherwise occurred. The KNFL is a significant enhancement, and we look forward to exploring the expanded opportunities that it offers us for building Canadian strength in micro-nano research and innovation.”

The CFI story provides more specifics about the potential workings of the facility,

Take, for example, the possibilities presented by KNFL’s laser micromachining system. “This new tool could be used to engrave channels into a piece of glass or polymer to produce a microfluidic device,” says Andrew Fung, Client Technology Advisor for Microsystems and Nanotechnology at CMC. Microfluidic devices take advantage of the behaviour of fluids at a very small scale to create things like “lab-on-a-chip” technologies that can be used to cheaply and quickly diagnose diseases in developing countries, among many other things. “Microfluidics grew out of silicon-based fabrication, which costs a lot of money,” explains Fung. “These other materials are lower cost, and can be single use, consumable, and disposable for a medical device.”

Much of KNFL’s new equipment was selected to enable rapid prototyping of new nanotechnologies. “Prototypes can be ready within hours or a day, instead of days or weeks. It shortens the whole innovation process so researchers can design, make, test, and get the information they need much faster,” says Fung.

The CFI story also contextualizes this project by noting that it’s part of a larger initiative,

The KNFL is also part of Embedded Systems Canada (emSYSCAN), a $50-million, five-year project aimed at shortening the microsystems development cycle. It involves more than 350 university researchers at 37 institutions across Canada’s National Design Network (NDN), which enables multidisciplinary research and collaboration through shared technologies and expertise.

The KNFL’s open-access model is aimed specifically at supporting the NDN. “The idea is to make [expertise and tools] more available to non-experts and to overcome barriers such as lab training to access this equipment,” says McWalter. “Through the service aspect of our lab, you wouldn’t necessarily twiddle the knobs yourself, but you would contract the lab to do things for you.” This provides vital learning opportunities for students while giving researchers a more efficient means to an end — accessing the equipment they need without having to invest the time and effort to learn how to use it.

Congratulations to the folks at Queen’s University!

rePOOPulate, silver nanoparticles, your gut, and Queen’s University (Canada)

A Nov. 19, 2014 Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) news release by Anne Craig (also on EurekAlert), describes some research into nanosilver’s effects on the human (more or less) gut,

Queen’s University biologist Virginia Walker and Queen’s SARC Awarded Postdoctoral Fellow Pranab Das have shown nanosilver, which is often added to water purification units, can upset your gut. The discovery is important as people are being exposed to nanoparticles every day.

“We were surprised to see significant upset of the human gut community at the lowest concentration of nanosilver in this study,” says Dr. Das. “To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has looked at this. It is important as we are more and more exposed to nanoparticles in our everyday lives through different routes such as inhalation, direct contact or ingestion.”

To conduct the research, Drs. Walker and Das utilized another Queen’s discovery, rePOOPulate, created by Elaine Petrof (Medicine). rePOOPulate is a synthetic stool substitute, which Dr. Petrof designed to treat C. difficile infections. In this instance, rather than being used as therapy, the synthetic stool was used to examine the impact of nanoparticles on the human gut.

The research showed that the addition of nanosilver reduced metabolic activity in the synthetic stool sample, perturbed fatty acids and significantly changed the population of bacteria. This information can help lead to an understanding of how nanoparticles could impact our “gut ecosystem.” [emphasis mine]

“There is no doubt that the nanosilver shifted the bacterial community, but the impact of nanosilver ingestion on our long-term health is currently unknown,” Dr. Walker says. “This is another area of research we need to explore.”

The findings by Drs. Das and Walker, Julie AK McDonald (Kingston General Hospital), Dr. Petrof (KGH)  and Emma Allen-Vercoe (University of Guelph) were published in the Journal of Nanomedicine and Nanotechnology.

It’s perturbing news. And, I notice the news release is carefully worded, “This information can help lead to an understanding of how nanoparticles could impact our ‘gut ecosystem.'”

The news release notes this about the ubiquity of nanosilver use,

Nanosilver is also used in biomedical applications, toys, sunscreen, cosmetics, clothing and other items.

I’m a little surprised by the reference to sunscreens; most of the material I’ve seen cites titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide at the nanoscale.

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

Nanosilver-Mediated Change in Human Intestinal Microbiota by Pranab Das, Julie AK McDonald, Elaine O Petrof, Emma Allen-Vercoe, and Virginia K Walker. Nanomed Nanotechnol 5: 235. doi: 10.4172/2157-7439.1000235

The link takes you to a PDF version of the research paper,

Note: Queen’s University is located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Canada’s Situating Science in Fall 2014

Canada’s Situating Science cluster (network of humanities and social science researchers focused on the study of science) has a number of projects mentioned and in its Fall 2014 newsletter,

1. Breaking News
It’s been yet another exciting spring and summer with new developments for the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster team and HPS/STS [History of Philosophy of Science/Science and Technology Studies] research. And we’ve got even more good news coming down the pipeline soon…. For now, here’s the latest.

1.1. New 3 yr. Cosmopolitanism Partnership with India and Southeast Asia
We are excited to announce that the Situating Science project has helped to launch a new 3 yr. 200,000$ SSHRC Partnership Development Grant on ‘Cosmopolitanism and the Local in Science and Nature’ with institutions and scholars in Canada, India and Singapore. Built upon relations that the Cluster has helped establish over the past few years, the project will closely examine the actual types of negotiations that go into the making of science and its culture within an increasingly globalized landscape. A recent workshop on Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore helped to mark the soft launch of the project (see more in this newsletter).

ARI along with Manipal University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of King’s College, Dalhousie University, York University, University of Toronto, and University of Alberta, form the partnership from which the team will seek new connections and longer term collaborations. The project’s website will feature a research database, bibliography, syllabi, and event information for the project’s workshops, lecture series, summer schools, and artifact work. When possible, photos, blogs, podcasts and videos from events will be posted online as well. The project will have its own mailing list so be sure to subscribe to that too. Check it all out: www.CosmoLocal.org

2.1. Globalizing History and Philosophy of Science workshop in Singapore August 21-22 2014
On August 21 and 22, scholars from across the globe gathered at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore to explore key issues in global histories and philosophies of the sciences. The setting next to the iconic Singapore Botanical Gardens provided a welcome atmosphere to examine how and why globalizing the humanities and social studies of science generates intellectual and conceptual tensions that require us to revisit, and possibly rethink, the leading notions that have hitherto informed the history, philosophy and sociology of science.

The keynote by Sanjay Subrahmanyam (UCLA) helped to situate discussions within a larger issue of paradigms of civilization. Workshop papers explored commensurability, translation, models of knowledge exchange, indigenous epistemologies, commercial geography, translation of math and astronomy, transmission and exchange, race, and data. Organizer Arun Bala and participants will seek out possibilities for publishing the proceedings. The event partnered with La Trobe University and Situating Science, and it helped to launch a new 3 yr. Cosmopolitanism project. For more information visit: www.CosmoLocal.org

2.2. Happy Campers: The Summer School Experience

We couldn’t help but feel like we were little kids going to summer camp while our big yellow school bus kicked up dust driving down a dirt road on a hot summer’s day. In this case it would have been a geeky science camp. We were about to dive right into day-long discussions of key pieces from Science and Technology Studies and History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

Over four and a half days at one of the Queen’s University Biology Stations at the picturesque Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, 18 students from across Canada explored the four themes of the Cluster. Each day targeted a Cluster theme, which was introduced by organizer Sergio Sismondo (Sociology and Philosophy, Queen’s). Daryn Lehoux (Classics, Queen’s) explained key concepts in Historical Epistemology and Ontology. Using references of the anti-magnetic properties of garlic (or garlic’s antipathy with the loadstone) from the ancient period, Lehoux discussed the importance and significance of situating the meaning of a thing within specific epistemological contexts. Kelly Bronson (STS, St. Thomas University) explored modes of science communication and the development of the Public Engagement with Science and Technology model from the deficit model of Public Understanding of Science and Technology during sessions on Science Communication and its Publics. Nicole Nelson (University of Wisconsin-Madison) explained Material Culture and Scientific/Technological Practices by dissecting the meaning of animal bodies and other objects as scientific artifacts. Gordon McOuat wrapped up the last day by examining the nuances of the circulation and translation of knowledge and ‘trading zones’ during discussions of Geographies and Sites of Knowledge.

2.3. Doing Science in and on the Oceans
From June 14 to June 17, U. King’s College hosted an international workshop on the place and practice of oceanography in celebration of the work of Dr. Eric Mills, Dalhousie Professor Emeritus in Oceanography and co-creator of the History of Science and Technology program. Leading ocean scientists, historians and museum professionals came from the States, Europe and across Canada for “Place and Practice: Doing Science in and on the Ocean 1800-2012”. The event successfully connected different generations of scholars, explored methodologies of material culture analysis and incorporated them into mainstream historical work. There were presentations and discussions of 12 papers, an interdisciplinary panel discussion with keynote lecture by Dr. Mills, and a presentation at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic by Canada Science and Technology Museum curator, David Pantalony. Paper topics ranged from exploring the evolving methodology of oceanographic practice to discussing ways that the boundaries of traditional scientific writing have been transcended. The event was partially organized and supported by the Atlantic Node and primary support was awarded by the SSHRC Connection Grant.

2.4. Evidence Dead or Alive: The Lives of Evidence National Lecture Series

The 2014 national lecture series on The Lives of Evidence wrapped up on a high note with an interdisciplinary panel discussion of Dr. Stathis Psillos’ exploration of the “Death of Evidence” controversy and the underlying philosophy of scientific evidence. The Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science spoke at the University of Toronto with panelists from law, philosophy and HPS. “Evidence: Wanted Dead of Alive” followed on the heels of his talk at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy “From the ‘Bankruptcy of Science’ to the ‘Death of Evidence’: Science and its Value”.

In 6 parts, The Lives of Evidence series examined the cultural, ethical, political, and scientific role of evidence in our world. The series formed as response to the recent warnings about the “Death of Evidence” and “War on Science” to explore what was meant by “evidence”, how it is interpreted, represented and communicated, how trust is created in research, what the relationship is between research, funding and policy and between evidence, explanations and expertise. It attracted collaborations from such groups as Evidence for Democracy, the University of Toronto Evidence Working Group, Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs, Dalhousie University Health Law Institute, Rotman Institute of Philosophy and many more.

A December [2013] symposium, “Hype in Science”, marked the soft launch of the series. In the all-day public event in Halifax, leading scientists, publishers and historians and philosophers of science discussed several case studies of how science is misrepresented and over-hyped in top science journals. Organized by the recent winner of the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Ford Doolittle, the interdisciplinary talks in “Hype” explored issues of trustworthiness in science publications, scientific authority, science communication, and the place of research in the broader public.

The series then continued to explore issues from the creation of the HIV-Crystal Meth connection (Cindy Patton, SFU), Psychiatric Research Abuse (Carl Elliott, U. Minnesota), Evidence, Accountability and the Future of Canadian Science (Scott Findlay, Evidence for Democracy), Patents and Commercialized Medicine (Jim Brown, UofT), and Clinical Trials (Joel Lexchin, York).

All 6 parts are available to view on the Situating Science YouTube channel.You can read a few blogs from the events on our website too. Some of those involved are currently discussing possibilities of following up on some of the series’ issues.

2.5. Other Past Activities and Events
The Frankfurt School: The Critique of Capitalist Culture (July, UBC)

De l’exclusion à l’innovation théorique: le cas de l’éconophysique ; Prosocial attitudes and patterns of academic entrepreneurship (April, UQAM)

Critical Itineraries Technoscience Salon – Ontologies (April, UofT)

Technologies of Trauma: Assessing Wounds and Joining Bones in Late Imperial China (April, UBC)

For more, check out: www.SituSci.ca

You can find some of the upcoming talks and the complete Fall 2014 Situating Science newsletter here.

About one week after receiving the newsletter, I got this notice (Sept. 11, 2014),

We are ecstatic to announce that the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster is shortlisted for a highly competitive SSHRC Partnership Impact Award!

And what an impact we’ve had over the past seven years: Organizing and supporting over 20 conferences and workshops, 4 national lecture series, 6 summer schools, and dozens of other events. Facilitating the development of 4 new programs of study at partner institutions. Leveraging more than one million dollars from Nodal partner universities plus more than one million dollars from over 200 supporting and partnering organizations. Hiring over 30 students and 9 postdoctoral fellows. Over 60 videos and podcasts as well as dozens of student blogs and over 50 publications. Launching a new Partnership Development Grant between Canada, India and Southeast Asia. Developing a national consortium…And more!

The winners will be presented with their awards at a ceremony in Ottawa on Monday, November 3, 2014.

From the Sept. 11, 2014 Situating Science press release:

University of King’s College [Nova Scotia, Canada] professor Dr. Gordon McOuat has been named one of three finalists for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s (SSHRC) Partnership Award, one of five Impact Awards annually awarded by SSHRC.

Congratulations on the nomination and I wish Gordon McQuat and Situating Science good luck in the competition.

Shapeshifting on demand but no stretching yet: morphees

This research (Morphees) is from Bristol University where researchers have created prototypes for shapeshifting mobile devices,

A high-fidelity prototype using projection and tracking on wood tiles that are actuated with thin shape-memory alloy wires [downloaded from http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2013/9332.html/]

A high-fidelity prototype using projection and tracking on wood tiles that are actuated with thin shape-memory alloy wires [downloaded from http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2013/9332.html/]

The Apr. 28, 2013 news release on EurekAlert provides more detail,

The research, led by Dr Anne Roudaut and Professor Sriram Subramanian, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Computer Science, have used ‘shape resolution’ to compare the resolution of six prototypes the team have built using the latest technologies in shape changing material, such as shape memory alloy and electro active polymer.

One example of a device is the team’s concept of Morphees, self-actuated flexible mobile devices that can change shape on-demand to better fit the many services they are likely to support.

The team believe Morphees will be the next generation of mobile devices, where users can download applications that embed a dedicated form factor, for instance the “stress ball app” that collapses the device in on itself or the “game app” that makes it adopt a console-like shape.

Dr Anne Roudaut, Research Assistant in the Department of Computer Science’s Bristol Interaction and Graphics group, said: “The interesting thing about our work is that we are a step towards enabling our mobile devices to change shape on-demand. Imagine downloading a game application on the app-store and that the mobile phone would shape-shift into a console-like shape in order to help the device to be grasped properly. The device could also transform into a sphere to serve as a stress ball, or bend itself to hide the screen when a password is being typed so passers-by can’t see private information.”

By comparing the shape resolution of their prototypes, the researchers have created insights to help designers towards creating high shape resolution Morphees.

In the future the team hope to build higher shape resolution Morphees by investigating the flexibility of materials. They are also interested in exploring other kinds of deformations that the prototypes did not explore, such as porosity and stretchability.

Here’s the video where the researchers demonstrate their morphees,


The work will be presented at ACM CHI 2013, sometime between Saturday 27 April to Thursday 2 May 2013, in Paris, France. For those who’d like to see the paper which will be presented, here’s a link to it,

Morphees: Toward High “Shape Resolution” in Self-Actuated Flexible Mobile Devices by
Anne Roudaut, Abhijit Karnik, Markus Löchtefeld, and Sriram Subramanian

After reading the news release and watching the video, I am reminded of the ‘morph’ concept, a shapeshifting, wearable device proposed by Cambridge University and Nokia. Last I wrote about that project, they had announced a stretchable skin, as per my Nov. 7, 2011 posting.

For those who are interested in what ACM CHI 2013 is all about, from the home page,

The ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems is the premier international conference on human-computer interaction. CHI 2013 is about changing perspectives: we draw from the constantly changing perspectives of the diverse CHI community and beyond, but we also change perspectives, offering new visions of people interacting with technology. The conference is multidisciplinary, drawing from science, engineering and design, with contributions from research and industry in 15 different venues. CHI brings together students and experts from over 60 countries, representing different cultures and different application areas, whose diverse perspectives influence each other.

CHI 2013 is located in vibrant Paris, France, the most visited city in the world. The conference will be held at the Palais de Congrès de Paris. First in Europe in research and development, with the highest concentration of higher education students in Europe, Paris is a world-class center for business and culture, with over 3800 historical monuments.The Louvre’s pyramid captures the spirit of CHI’13, offering diverse perspectives on design and technology, contrasting the old and new. The simple glass sides reveal inner complexity, sometimes transparent, sometimes reflecting the people and buildings that surround it, in the constantly
changing Paris light.

CHI 2013 welcomes works addressing research on all aspects of human-computer interaction (HCI), as well as case studies of interactive system designs, innovative proof-of-concept, and presentations by experts on the latest challenges and innovations in the field. In addition to a long-standing focus on professionals in design, engineering, management, and user experience; this year’s conference has made special efforts to serve communities in the areas of: design, management, engineering, user experience, arts, sustainability, children, games and health. We look forward to seeing you at CHI 2013 in Paris!

As I recall, ACM stands for Association of Computing Machinery, CHI stands for computer-human interface, and SIG stands for Special Interest Group.

ETA May 13, 2013: I meant to do this two weeks ago (Apr. 30,2013), ah well. Roel Vertegaal and his team at Canada’s Queen’s University introduced something called a MorePhone, which can curl up and change shape, at the CHI 2013. From the Apr. 30, 2013 news release on EurekAlert*,

Researchers at Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab have developed a new smartphone – called MorePhone – which can morph its shape to give users a silent yet visual cue of an incoming phone call, text message or email.

“This is another step in the direction of radically new interaction techniques afforded by smartphones based on thin film, flexible display technologies” says Roel Vertegaal (School of Computing), director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University who developed the flexible PaperPhone and PaperTab.

“Users are familiar with hearing their phone ring or feeling it vibrates in silent mode. One of the problems with current silent forms of notification is that users often miss notifications when not holding their phone. With MorePhone, they can leave their smartphone on the table and observe visual shape changes when someone is trying to contact them.”

MorePhone is not a traditional smartphone. It is made of a thin, flexible electrophoretic display manufactured by Plastic Logic – a British company and a world leader in plastic electronics. Sandwiched beneath the display are a number of shape memory alloy wires that contract when the phone notifies the user. This allows the phone to either curl either its entire body, or up to three individual corners. Each corner can be tailored to convey a particular message. For example, users can set the top right corner of the MorePhone to bend when receiving a text message, and the bottom right corner when receiving an email. Corners can also repeatedly bend up and down to convey messages of greater urgency.

I have written about Vertegaal and his team’s ‘paper’ devices previously. The most recent piece is this Jan. 9, 2013 posting, Canada’s Queen’s University strikes again with its ‘paper’ devices. You can find out more about Plastic Logic here.

*’Eurkealert’ changed to ‘EurekAlert’ on Feb. 17, 2016.

Making a graphene micro-supercapacitor with a home DVD burner

Not all science research and breakthroughs require massive investments of money, sometimes all you need is a home DVD burner as this Feb. 19, 2013 news release on EurekAlert notes,

While the demand for ever-smaller electronic devices has spurred the miniaturization of a variety of technologies, one area has lagged behind in this downsizing revolution: energy-storage units, such as batteries and capacitors.

Now, Richard Kaner, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Maher El-Kady, a graduate student in Kaner’s laboratory, may have changed the game.

The UCLA researchers have developed a groundbreaking technique that uses a DVD burner to fabricate micro-scale graphene-based supercapacitors — devices that can charge and discharge a hundred to a thousand times faster than standard batteries. These micro-supercapacitors, made from a one-atom–thick layer of graphitic carbon, can be easily manufactured and readily integrated into small devices such as next-generation pacemakers.

The new cost-effective fabrication method, described in a study published this week in the journal Nature Communications, holds promise for the mass production of these supercapacitors, which have the potential to transform electronics and other fields.

“Traditional methods for the fabrication of micro-supercapacitors involve labor-intensive lithographic techniques that have proven difficult for building cost-effective devices, thus limiting their commercial application,” El-Kady said. “Instead, we used a consumer-grade LightScribe DVD burner to produce graphene micro-supercapacitors over large areas at a fraction of the cost of traditional devices. [emphasis mine] Using this technique, we have been able to produce more than 100 micro-supercapacitors on a single disc in less than 30 minutes, using inexpensive materials.”

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Feb. 19, 2013 news release written by David Malasarn, the origin of the EurekAlert news release, features more information about the process,

The process of miniaturization often relies on flattening technology, making devices thinner and more like a geometric plane that has only two dimensions. In developing their new micro-supercapacitor, Kaner and El-Kady used a two-dimensional sheet of carbon, known as graphene, which only has the thickness of a single atom in the third dimension.
Kaner and El-Kady took advantage of a new structural design during the fabrication. For any supercapacitor to be effective, two separated electrodes have to be positioned so that the available surface area between them is maximized. This allows the supercapacitor to store a greater charge. A previous design stacked the layers of graphene serving as electrodes, like the slices of bread on a sandwich. While this design was functional, however, it was not compatible with integrated circuits.
In their new design, the researchers placed the electrodes side by side using an interdigitated pattern, akin to interwoven fingers. This helped to maximize the accessible surface area available for each of the two electrodes while also reducing the path over which ions in the electrolyte would need to diffuse. As a result, the new supercapacitors have more charge capacity and rate capability than their stacked counterparts.
Interestingly, the researchers found that by placing more electrodes per unit area, they boosted the micro-supercapacitor’s ability to store even more charge.
Kaner and El-Kady were able to fabricate these intricate supercapacitors using an affordable and scalable technique that they had developed earlier. They glued a layer of plastic onto the surface of a DVD and then coated the plastic with a layer of graphite oxide. Then, they simply inserted the coated disc into a commercially available LightScribe optical drive — traditionally used to label DVDs — and took advantage of the drive’s own laser to create the interdigitated pattern. The laser scribing is so precise that none of the “interwoven fingers” touch each other, which would short-circuit the supercapacitor.
“To label discs using LightScribe, the surface of the disc is coated with a reactive dye that changes color on exposure to the laser light. Instead of printing on this specialized coating, our approach is to coat the disc with a film of graphite oxide, which then can be directly printed on,” Kaner said. “We previously found an unusual photo-thermal effect in which graphite oxide absorbs the laser light and is converted into graphene in a similar fashion to the commercial LightScribe process. With the precision of the laser, the drive renders the computer-designed pattern onto the graphite oxide film to produce the desired graphene circuits.”
“The process is straightforward, cost-effective and can be done at home,” El-Kady said. “One only needs a DVD burner and graphite oxide dispersion in water, which is commercially available at a moderate cost.”
The new micro-supercapacitors are also highly bendable and twistable, making them potentially useful as energy-storage devices in flexible electronics like roll-up displays and TVs, e-paper, and even wearable electronics.

The reference to e-paper and roll-up displays calls to mind work being done at Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada) and Roel Vertegaal’s work on bendable, flexible phones and computers (my Jan. 9, 2013 posting). Could this work on micro-supercapacitors have an impact on that work?

Here’s an image (supplied by UCLA) of the micro-supercapacitors ,

Kaner and El-Kady's micro-supercapacitors

Kaner and El-Kady’s micro-supercapacitors

UCLA has  also supplied a video of Kaner and El-Kady discussing their work,

Interestingly this video has been supported by GE (General Electric), a company which seems to be doing a great deal to be seen on the internet these days as per my Feb. 11, 2013 posting titled, Visualizing nanotechnology data with Seed Media Group and GE (General Electric).

Getting back to the researchers, they are looking for industry partners as per Malasarn’s news release.

Canada’s Queen’s University strikes again with its ‘paper’ devices

Roel Vertegaal at Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) has released a ‘paper’ tablet. Like the bendable, flexible ‘paper’ phone he presented at the CHI 2011 meeting in Vancouver, Canada (my May 12, 2011 posting), this tablet offers some intriguing possibilities but is tethered. The Jan. 9, 2013 news item on phys.org provides more information about the new ‘paper’ device (Note: Links have been removed),

Watch out tablet lovers – a flexible paper computer developed at Queen’s University in collaboration with Plastic Logic and Intel Labs will revolutionize the way people work with tablets and computers.

The PaperTab tablet looks and feels just like a sheet of paper. However, it is fully interactive with a flexible, high-resolution 10.7-inch plastic display developed by Plastic Logic and a flexible touchscreen. It is powered by the second generation I5 Core processor developed by Intel.

Vertegaal and his team have produced a video demonstrating their ‘paper’ tablet/computer:

The Jan. 8, 2013 Queen’s University news release, which originated the news item, provides descriptions (for those who don’t have time to watch the video),

“Using several PaperTabs makes it much easier to work with multiple documents,” says Roel Vertegaal, Director of Queen’s University’s Human Media Lab. “Within five to ten years, most computers, from ultra-notebooks to tablets, will look and feel just like these sheets of printed color paper.”

“We are actively exploring disruptive user experiences. The ‘PaperTab’ project, developed by the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University and Plastic Logic, demonstrates novel interactions powered by Intel processors that could potentially delight tablet users in the future,” says Intel’s Experience Design Lead Research Scientist, Ryan Brotman.

PaperTab’s intuitive interface allows users to create a larger drawing or display surface by placing two or more PaperTabs side by side. PaperTab emulates the natural handling of multiple sheets of paper. It can file and display thousands of paper documents, replacing the need for a computer monitor and stacks of papers or printouts.

Unlike traditional tablets, PaperTabs keep track of their location relative to each other, and to the user, providing a seamless experience across all apps, as if they were physical computer windows.

“Plastic Logic’s flexible plastic displays allow a natural human interaction with electronic paper, being lighter, thinner and more robust compared with today’s standard glass-based displays. This is just one example of the innovative revolutionary design approaches enabled by flexible displays,” explains Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Plastic Logic.

The partners are saying that ‘paper’ tablets may be on the market in foreseeable future  according to Emma Wollacott’s Jan. 8, 2013 article for TG Daily,

The bendy tablet has been coming for quite a while now, but a version to be shown off today at CES [Consumer Electronics Show] could be ready for the market within three years, say its creators.

You can find out more about the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University here, Plastic Logic here, and Intel Core I5 Processors here.

From the bleeding edge to the cutting edge to ubiquitous? The PaperPhone, an innovation case study in progress

This story has it all: military, patents, international competition and cooperation, sex (well, not according to the academics but I think it’s possible), and a bizarre device – the PaperPhone (last mentioned in my May 6, 2011 posting on Human-Computer Interfaces).

“If you want to know what technologies people will be using 10 years in the future, talk to the people who’ve been working on a lab project for 10 years,” said Dr. Roel Vertegaal, Director of the Human Media Lab at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. By the way, 10 years is roughly the length of time Vertegaal and his team have been working on a flexible/bendable phone/computer and he believes that it will be another five to 10 years before the device is available commercially.

Image from Human Media Lab press kit

As you can see in the image, the prototype device looks like a thin piece of plastic that displays a menu. In real life that black bit to the left of the image is the head of a cable with many wires connecting it to a computer. Here’s a physical description of the device copied from the paper (PaperPhone: Understanding the Use of Bend Gestures in Mobile Devices with Flexible Electronic Paper Displays) written by Byron Lahey, Audrey Girouard, Winslow Burleson and Vertegaal,

PaperPhone consists of an Arizona State University Flexible Display Center 3.7” Bloodhound flexible electrophoretic display, augmented with a layer of 5 Flexpoint 2” bidirectional bend sensors. The prototype is driven by an E Ink Broadsheet AM 300 Kit featuring a Gumstix processor. The prototype has a refresh rate of 780 ms for a typical full screen gray scale image.

An Arduino microcontroller obtains data from the Flexpoint bend sensors at a frequency of 20 Hz. Figure 2 shows the back of the display, with the bend sensor configuration mounted on a flexible printed circuit (FPC) of our own design. We built the FPC by printing its design on DuPont Pyralux flexible circuit material with a solid ink printer, then etching the result to obtain a fully functional flexible circuit substrate. PaperPhone is not fully wireless. This is because of the supporting rigid electronics that are required to drive the display. A single, thin cable bundle connects the AM300 and Arduino hardware to the display and sensors. This design maximizes the flexibility and mobility of the display, while keeping its weight to a minimum. The AM300 and Arduino are connected to a laptop running a Max 5 patch that processes sensor data, performs bend gesture recognition and sends images to the display. p. 3

It may look ungainly but it represents a significant step forward for the technology as this team (composed of researchers from Queen’s University, Arizona State University, and E Ink Corporation) appears to have produced the only working prototype in the world for a personal portable flexible device that will let you make phone calls, play music, read a book, and more by bending it. As they continue to develop the product, the device will become wireless.

The PaperPhone and the research about ‘bending’, i.e., the kinds of bending gestures people would find easiest and most intuitive to use when activating the device, were presented in Vancouver in an early session at the CHI 2011 Conference where I got a chance to speak to Dr. Vertegaal and his team.

Amongst other nuggets, I found out the US Department of Defense (not DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] oddly enough) has provided funding for the project. Military interest is focused on the device’s low energy requirements, lowlight screen, and light weight in addition to its potential ability to be folded up and carried like a piece of paper (i. e., it could mould itself to fit a number of tight spaces) as opposed to the rigid, ungiving borders of a standard mobile device. Of course, all of these factors are quite attractive to consumers too.

As is imperative these days, the ‘bends’ that activate the device have been patented and Vertegaal is in the process of developing a startup company that will bring this device and others to market. Queen’s University has an ‘industrial transfer’ office (they probably call it something else) which is assisting him with the startup.

There is international interest in the PaperPhone that is collaborative and competitive. Vertegaal’s team at Queen’s is partnered with a team at Arizona State University led by Dr. Winslow Burleson, professor in the Computer Systems Engineering and the Arts, Media, and Engineering graduate program and with Michael McCreary, Vice President Research & Development of E Ink Corporation representing an industry partner.

On the competitive side of things, the UK’s University of Cambridge and the Finnish Nokia Research Centre have been working on the Morph which as I noted in my May 6, 2011 posting still seems to be more concept than project.

Vertegaal noted that the idea of a flexible screen is not new and that North American companies have gone bankrupt trying to bring the screens to market. These days, you have to go to Taiwan for industrial production of flexible screens such as the PaperPhone’s.

One of my last questions to the team was about pornography. (In the early days of the Internet [which had its origins in military research], there were only two industries that made money online, pornography and gambling. The gambling opportunities seem pretty similar to what we already enjoy.) After an amused response, the consensus was that like gambling it’s highly unlikely a flexible phone could lend itself to anything new in the field of pornography. Personally, I’m not convinced about that one.

So there you have a case study for innovation. Work considered bleeding edge 10 years ago is now cutting edge and, in the next five to 10 years, that work will be become a consumer product. Along the way you have military investment, international collaboration and competition, failure and success, and, possibly, sex.