Tag Archives: Rosalind Franklin

Movies and science, science, science (Part 1 of 2)

In the last few years, there’s been a veritable plethora of movies (and television shows in Canada and the US) that are about science and technology or have a significant  component or investigate the social impact. The trend does not seem to be slowing.

This first of two parts features the film, *Hidden* Figures, and a play being turned into a film, Photograph 51. The second part features the evolving Theranos story and plans to turn it into a film, The Man Who Knew Infinity, a film about an Indian mathematician, the science of the recent all woman Ghostbusters, and an ezine devoted to science films.

For the following movie tidbits, I have David Bruggeman to thank.

Hidden Figures

From David’s June 21, 2016 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: A link has been removed),

Hidden Figures is a fictionalized treatment of the book of the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly (and underwritten by the Sloan Foundation).  Neither the book nor the film are released yet.  The book is scheduled for a September release, and the film currently has a January release date in the U.S.

Both the film and the book focus on the story of African American women who worked as computers for the government at the Langley National Aeronautic Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia.  The women served as human computers, making the calculations NASA needed during the Space Race.  While the book features four women, the film is focused on three: Katherine Johnson (recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom), Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.  They are played by, respectively, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.  Other actors in the film include Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Aldis Hodge, and Jim Parsons.  The film is directed by Theodore Melfi, and the script is by Allison Schroeder.

*ETA Oct. 6, 2016: The book ‘Hidden Figures’ is nonfiction while the movie is a fictionalized adaptation  based on a true story.*

According to imdb.com, the movie’s release date is Dec. 25, 2016 (this could change again).

The history for ‘human computers’ stretches back to the 17th century, at least. From the Human Computer entry in Wikipedia (Note: Links have been removed),

The term “computer”, in use from the early 17th century (the first known written reference dates from 1613),[1] meant “one who computes”: a person performing mathematical calculations, before electronic computers became commercially available. “The human computer is supposed to be following fixed rules; he has no authority to deviate from them in any detail.” (Turing, 1950) Teams of people were frequently used to undertake long and often tedious calculations; the work was divided so that this could be done in parallel.

Prior to NASA, a team of women in the 19th century in the US were known as Harvard Computers (from the Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),

Edward Charles Pickering (director of the Harvard Observatory from 1877 to 1919) decided to hire women as skilled workers to process astronomical data. Among these women were Williamina Fleming, Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Antonia Maury. This staff came to be known as “Pickering’s Harem” or, more respectfully, as the Harvard Computers.[1] This was an example of what has been identified as the “harem effect” in the history and sociology of science.

It seems that several factors contributed to Pickering’s decision to hire women instead of men. Among them was the fact that men were paid much more than women, so he could employ more staff with the same budget. This was relevant in a time when the amount of astronomical data was surpassing the capacity of the Observatories to process it.[2]

The first woman hired was Williamina Fleming, who was working as a maid for Pickering. It seems that Pickering was increasingly frustrated with his male assistants and declared that even his maid could do a better job. Apparently he was not mistaken, as Fleming undertook her assigned chores efficiently. When the Harvard Observatory received in 1886 a generous donation from the widow of Henry Draper, Pickering decided to hire more female staff and put Fleming in charge of them.[3]

While it’s not thrilling to find out that Pickering was content to exploit the women he was hiring, he deserves kudos for recognizing that women could do excellent work and acting on that recognition. When you consider the times, Pickering’s was an extraordinary act.

Getting back to Hidden Figures, an Aug.15, 2016 posting by Kathleen for Lainey Gossip celebrates the then newly released trailer for the movie,

If you’ve been watching the Olympics [Rio 2016], you know how much the past 10 days have been an epic display of #BlackGirlMagic. Fittingly, the trailer for Hidden Figures was released last night during Sunday’s Olympic coverage. It’s the story of three brilliant African American women, played by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, who made history by serving as the brains behind the NASA launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962.

Three black women helped launch a dude into space in the 60s. AT NASA. Think about how America treated black women in the 60s. As Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P Henson, jokes in the trailer, they were still sitting at the back of the bus. In 1962 Malcolm X said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” These women had to face that truth every day and they still rose to greatness. I’m obsessed with this story.

Overall, the trailer is good. I like the pace and the performances look strong. …

I’m most excited for Hidden Figures (as Lainey pointed out, this title is THE WORST) because black girls are being celebrated for their brains on screen. That is rare. When the trailer aired, my brother Sam texted me, “WHOA, a smart black girl movie!”

*ETA Sept. 5, 2016: Aran Shetterly contacted me to say this:

What you may not know is that the term “Hidden Figures” is a specific reference to flight science. It tested a pilot’s ability to pick out a simple figure from a set of more complex, difficult to see images. http://www.militaryaptitudetests.com/afoqt/

Thank you Mr. Shetterly!

Photograph 51 (the Rosalind Franklin story)

Also in David’s June 21, 2016 post is a mention of Photograph 51, a play and soon-to-be film about Rosalind Franklin, the discovery of the double helix, and a science controversy. I first wrote about Photograph 51 in a Jan. 16, 2012 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way) regarding an international script writing competition being held in Dublin, Ireland. At the time, I noted that Anna Ziegler’s play, Photograph 51 had won a previous competition cycle of the screenwriting competition. I wrote again about the play in a Sept. 2, 2015 posting about its London production (Sept. 5 – Nov. 21, 2015) featuring actress Nicole Kidman.

The versions of the Franklin story with which I’m familiar paint her as the wronged party, ignored and unacknowledged by the scientists (Francis, Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins) who got all the glory and the Nobel Prize. Stephen Curry in a Sept. 16, 2015 posting on the Guardian science blogs suggests the story may not be quite as simple as that (Note: A link has been removed),

Ziegler [Anna Ziegler, playwright] is up front in admitting that she has rearranged facts to suit the drama. This creates some oddities of chronology and motive for those familiar with the history. I know of no suggestion of romantic interest in Franklin from Wilkins, or of a separation of Crick from his wife in the aftermath of his triumph with Watson in solving the DNA structure. There is no mention in the play of the fact that Franklin published her work (and the famous photograph 51) in the journal Nature alongside Watson and Crick’s paper and one by Wilkins. Nor does the audience hear of the international recognition that Franklin enjoyed in her own right between 1953 and her untimely death in 1958, not just for her involvement in DNA, but also for her work on the structure of coal and of viruses.

Published long after her death, The Double Helix is widely thought to treat Franklin unfairly. In the minds of many she remains the wronged woman whose pioneering results were taken by others to solve DNA and win the Nobel prize. But the real story – many elements of which come across strongly in the play – is more complex*.

Franklin is a gifted experimentalist. Her key contributions to the discovery were in improving methods for taking X-ray pictures of and discovering the distinct A and B conformations of DNA. But it becomes clear that her methodical, meticulous approach to data analysis – much to Wilkins’ impotent frustration – eventually allows the Kings ‘team’ to be overtaken by the bolder, intuitive stratagem of Watson and Crick.

Curry’s piece is a good read and provides insight into the ways temperament affects how science is practiced.

Interestingly, there was a 1987 dramatization of the ‘double helix or life story’ (from the Life Story entry on Wikipedia; Note: Links have been removed),

The film tells the story of the rivalries of the two teams of scientists attempting to discover the structure of DNA. Francis Crick and James D. Watson at Cambridge University and Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin at King’s College London.

The film manages to convey the loneliness and competitiveness of scientific research but also educates the viewer as to how the structure of DNA was discovered. In particular, it explores the tension between the patient, dedicated laboratory work of Franklin and the sometimes uninformed intuitive leaps of Watson and Crick, all played against a background of institutional turf wars, personality conflicts and sexism. In the film Watson jokes, plugging the path of intuition: “Blessed are they who believed before there was any evidence.” The film also shows why Watson and Crick made their discovery, overtaking their competitors in part by reasoning from genetic function to predict chemical structure, thus helping to establish the then still-nascent field of molecular biology.

You can find out more about the stars, crew, and cast here on imdb.com

In addition to Life Story, the dramatization is also sometimes titled as ‘The Race for the Double Helix’ or the ‘Double Helix’.

Getting back to Photograph 51 (the film), Michael Grandage who directed the stage play will also direct the film. Grandage just made his debut as a film director with ‘Genius’ starring Colin Firth and Jude Law. According to this June 23, 2016 review by Sarah on Laineygossip.com, he stumbled a bit by casting British and Australian actors as Americans,

The first hurdle to clear with Genius, the feature film debut of English theater director Michael Grandage, is that everyone is played by Brits and Aussies, and by “everyone” I mean some of the most towering figures of American literature. You cast the best actor for the role and a good actor can convince you they’re anyone, so it shouldn’t really matter, but there is something profoundly odd about watching a parade of Lit 101 All Stars appear on screen and struggle with American accents. …

That kind of casting should not be a problem with Photograph 51 where the action takes place with British personalities.

Part 2 is here.

*’Human’ corrected to ‘Hidden’ on Sept. 5, 2016.

Photograph 51 (about Rosalind Franklin and the double helix) in London, UK, Sept. – Nov. 2015

Thanks to David Bruggeman’s August 27, 2015 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog for this news featuring a new theatrical production of Anna Zeigler’s play about Rosalind Franklin titled: Photograph 51,

Photograph 51 will be at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End of London starting on September 5, with Nicole Kidman playing Franklin.  It marks the first London stage performance by Kidman since 1998, and is scheduled to run through November 21 [2015].

There has been at least one attempt to turn this play into a movie as per my Jan. 16, 2012 posting (scroll down about 75% of the way),

… from the news item on Nanowerk,

A film version of third STAGE Competition winner Photograph 51 is being produced by Academy Award-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz, and Ari Handel. [emphases mine] Playwright Anna Ziegler will adapt her play for the screen. Photograph 51 was featured at the 2011 World Science Festival in New York City; the play has also enjoyed prestigious productions in New York City and Washington, D.C.

To my knowledge this play has not yet become a movie and sharp-eyed observers may note that Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz, listed as producers for the proposed film, were married at that time and have subsequently divorced, which may have affected plans for the movie.

Here’s more about the upcoming theatrical production in London (UK), from the Photograph 51 webpage on the londontheatre1.com website,

The Michael Grandage Company has today [July 27, 2015] announced the full company for the UK première of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51. Nicole Kidman who leads the company as Rosalind Franklin is joined by Will Attenborough (James Watson), Edward Bennett (Francis Crick), Stephen Campbell Moore (Maurice Wilkins), Patrick Kennedy (Don Caspar) and Joshua Silver (Ray Gosling). Photograph 51 opens at the Noel Coward Theatre on 14th September, with previews from 5th September, and runs until 21st November, 2015.

Photograph 51 also sees the return of Michael Grandage Company to the West End following their immensely successful season in 2013/14, also at the Noel Coward Theatre. The company is committed to reaching as wide an audience as possible through accessible ticket prices across their theatre work, and are offering over 20,000 tickets at £10 (including booking fee and restoration levy), which is 25% of the tickets for the entire run, across all levels of the auditorium. In addition, the company will stage access performances – with both captioned and audio described performances.

“The instant I saw the photograph my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race”

Does Rosalind Franklin know how precious her photograph is? In the race to unlock the secret of life it could be the one to hold the key. With rival scientists looking everywhere for the answer, who will be first to see it and more importantly, understand it? Anna Ziegler’s extraordinary play looks at the woman who cracked DNA and asks what is sacrificed in the pursuit of science, love and a place in history.

Nicole Kidman makes her hugely anticipated return to the London stage in the role of Rosalind Franklin, the woman who discovered the secret to Life, in the UK première of Anna Ziegler’s award-winning play. The production reunites Kidman and Grandage following their recent collaboration on the forthcoming feature film Genius [this film is about the literary world].

You can see a trailer where Kidman is seen briefly as Rosalind Franklin in the upcoming theatrical production. It is embedded in David Bruggeman’s August 27, 2015 posting. Here’s one of my all time favourite productions of the Rosalind Franklin story, from an Aug. 19, 2013 posting, (scroll down about 65% of the way to the part about Tom McFadden and science raps for school children),

For a description of the controversies surrounding Photograph 51 and Rosalind Franklin’s contributions, there’s this Wikipedia entry.

ETA Sept. 3, 2015: Nick Clark has written a Sept. 3, 2015 article for The Independent.com about how Kidman’s got involved with the play,

It took four years for Michael Grandage to find a play that would tempt Nicole Kidman back to the London stage for the first time in 17 years, and he discovered it in an unlikely place: the slush pile.

After turning down the chance to headline a classic revival of Ibsen or Tennessee Williams, the Australian superstar plumped instead for Photograph 51, a play about a “scientific injustice” that had been sent to the director unsolicited, and had only ever been staged in minor productions in the US.

I think there’s a little self-aggrandizement taking place here. More importantly, Grandage and Kidman are turning the spotlight on a story that isn’t as well known as it should be and for that they should be thanked. (h/t Lainey Gossip)

One final comment, James Watson seems to have an interesting relationship with the now dead Franklin. As noted in the Clark article and elsewhere, she’s mentioned (quite briefly) in Watson’s book, The Double Helix, which helped keep her name in the history books as an obscure footnote. More interestingly, David Bruggeman notes in his August 27, 2015 posting that Watson was present at one the play’s productions (2011 World Science Festival in Ireland) and participated in a public discussion (The secret behind the secret of life: facts and fictions) with the playwright Ziegler and other biologists,

In the 1950s, three labs raced to unravel the structure of DNA. Five decades after the Nobel Prize was awarded for the breakthrough, the contribution of one scientist—Rosalind Franklin—remains controversial. The event was a riveting performance of The Ensemble Studio Theatre Production of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, directed by Linsay Firman, a historical drama that explores Rosalind Franklin’s electrifying story, followed (in Friday’s performance) by a discussion among three of the men whose lives the play dramatizes—Nobel laureate James Watson, Raymond Gosling, who worked closely with Franklin at King’s College and co-authored one of Franklin’s 3 papers published in ‘Nature’ in 1953, and emeritus professor of biology Don Caspar—illuminating one of science’s most remarkable, influential, and controversial discoveries. [emphases of names mine)

Fascinating, oui?

International Women’s Day March 8, 2015: Pioneering Women of Physics, Science goes to the Movies, and Transistor

In honour of International Women’s Day 2015, here are four items about women and science. The first features Canada’s Perimeter Institute (PI) and a tribute to pioneering women in physics, from a Feb. 26, 2015 PI news release,

They discovered pulsars, found the first evidence of dark matter, pioneered mathematics, radioactivity, nuclear fission, elasticity, and computer programming, and have even stopped light.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Rosalind Franklin

Hedy Lamarr

Wu Chien ShiungIt’s a fascinating group of women and these four provide a taste only.

The second item about women in science is also from the Perimeter Institute, which is hosting an ‘Inspiring Future Women in Science’ conference on Friday, May 6, 2015. From the PI program page,

Are you interested in turning your love of science into a career?  Perimeter Institute is inviting female high school students to participate in an inspirational half day conference on Friday March 6, 2015.  The goal is to bring together like minded young women with a strong interest in science and expose them to the rewards, challenges and possibilities of a career in science.

kEYNOTE ADDRESSES

Rima Brek – Rima is a Ubisoft veteran of 16 years and a founding team member of the Toronto studio. There, she was responsible for kick-starting the technology team and helping ship the critically-acclaimed Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist. She is a sought-after advisor whose guidance and leadership have directly helped Ubisoft Toronto grow to over 300 game developers in just five years.

Dianna Cowern – Dianna is a science communicator and educator. She received her degree in physics from MIT and completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship in astrophysics at Harvard. She then worked on mobile applications as a software engineer at General Electric before beginning a position at the University of California, San Diego as a physics outreach coordinator. She is the primary content creator for her educational YouTube channel, Physics Girl.

Roslyn Bern – As president of the Leacross Foundation, Roslyn Bern has been creating opportunities for women and girls throughout Canada. She has worked on initiatives for over 20 years, as an educator, a business woman, and as a philanthropist. She has focused on developing scholarships and bursaries for girls in under-represented career fields. She has been instrumental on sending teenage girls to the Arctic and Antarctic with Students on Ice, and created a partnership with colleges and corporations to certify STEM women in Electrical engineering. …

By the time this piece is posted it will be too late to attend this year’s event but interested parties could plan for next year in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

The third item concerns an initiative from the Public Radio Exchange, PRX. Called Transistor; a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] audio project. From the series page,

Transistor is a transformative STEM podcast, taking the electricity of a story and channeling it to listeners. Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist, and a neuroscientist — report on conundrums, curiosities, and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are the winners of the STEM Story Project, a competition we held for unique science radio.

Much as the transistor radio was a new technical leap, this Transistor features new women voices and sounds from new science producers.

PRX presents Transistor, applying our storytelling and podcast experience to science. The Sloan Foundation powers Transistor with funding and support. And listeners complete the circuit.

The Feb. 18, 2015 PRX news release offers more details about the hosts and their first podcasts,

PRX is thrilled to announce the launch of a new weekly podcast series Transistor (official press release). Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist, and a neuroscientist — report on conundrums, curiosities, and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are the winners of the PRX STEM Story Project, a competition we held for unique science radio.

Just as the transistor radio was a new technical leap, this Transistor features new women voices and their science perspectives. We’ve launched with four episodes from our three scientist hosts:

  • Dr. Michelle Thaller, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who studies binary stars and the life cycles of the stars.
    • We Are Stardust: We’re closer than ever before to discovering if we’re not alone in the universe. Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller visits the NASA lab that discovered that comets contain some of the very same chemical elements that we contain. Then, Michelle talks to a Vatican planetary scientist about how science and religion can meet on the topic of life beyond Earth.
  • Dr. Christina Agapakis, a biologist and writer based in Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the intersection of microbiology and design, exploring the symbiosis among microbes and biology, technology, and culture.
    • Food, Meet Fungus: The microbiome — the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on our body — is hot right now. We explore what we do know in the face of so much hope and hype, starting with food.
  • Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, whose research focuses on understanding how our brains form and retain new long-term memories and the effects of aerobic exercise on memory. Her book Healthy Brain, Happy Life will be published by Harper Collins in the Spring of 2015.
    • Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory: Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces us to scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about our brains. She begins by talking with experimental psychologist Brenda Milner [interviewed in her office at McGill University, Montréal, Quebéc], who in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories.
    • Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory: Imagine never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27. Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.

Each scientist is working with a talented independent producer: Lauren Ober, Julie Burstein, and Kerry Donahue.

Subscribe to the show through iTunes or RSS, or you can stream it on PRX.org.

I listened to all four of the introductory programs which ranged in running time from about 16 mins. to 37 mins. All three hosts are obviously excited about sharing their science stories and I look forward to hearing more from them.

The last item comes from David Bruggeman’s Feb. 20, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: A link has been removed),

Science Goes to the Movies is a new program produced by the City University of New York and sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. … The hosts are Faith Salie, a journalist and host you might have heard before as a panelist on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, and Dr. Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on brain-body relationships and psychological disorders.  (In what makes for a small world, Berlin is married to Canadian rap troubadour Baba Brinkman.) …

Science Goes to the Movies can be found here where you’ll also find a video of the first episode,

Hallucinations and black holes vie for the 2015 Oscar. Co-hosts Faith Salie and Dr. Heather Berlin are joined by AMNH astrophysicist Dr. Emily Rice for a look at the science in three of the top films of the year, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, and Interstellar.

Episode 102 featuring Into the Woods and the Imitation Game will première on March 20, 2015,

Science Goes to the Movies looks at The Imitation Game and Into the Woods. With special guest cryptologist Rosario Gennaro, we discuss pattern recognition in the work of both Alan Turing and Stephen Sondheim.

Science Goes to the Movies is made possible by generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Kudos to the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for funding two exciting ventures: Transistors and Science Goes to the Movies.

Getting back to where I started: Happy International Women’s Day 2015!

Science for your imagination

David Bruggeman over on his Pasco Phronesis has two postings which highlight different approaches to communicating about science. His Aug. 31, 2014 posting features audio plays (Note: Links have been removed),

L.A. Theatre Works makes a large number of their works available via audio. Its Relativity series (H/T Scirens) is a collection of (at this writing) 25 plays with science and technology either as themes and/or as forces driving the action of the play. You’re certainly familiar with War of the Worlds, and you may have heard of the plays Arcadia and Copenhagen. The science covered in these plays is from a number of different fields, and some works will try to engage the audience on the social implications of how science is conducted. The casts have many familiar faces as well. …

You can find the Relativity Series website here where the home page features these (amongst others),

COMPLETENESS

Jason Ritter and Mandy Siegfried star in a new play about love between gun-shy young scientists.

BREAKING THE CODE

The story of Alan Turing, an early pioneer in computer science, and his struggle to live authentically while serving his country.

THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA

A respected physician must choose between the lives of two terminally ill men in George Bernard Shaw’s sharp-tongued satire of the medical profession.

THE EXPLORERS CLUB

It’s London, 1879, and the members of the Explorers Club must confront their most lethal threat yet: the admission of a woman into their scientific ranks.

THE GREAT TENNESSEE MONKEY TRIAL

The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 comes to life as William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow square off over human evolution and the divide between faith and science.

PHOTOGRAPH 51

Miriam Margolyes stars as Rosalind Franklin, whose work led directly to the discovery of the DNA “double helix.”

DOCTOR CERBERUS

A teenage misfit is coming of age in the comforting glow of late-night horror movies. But when reality begins to intrude on his fantasy world, he realizes that hiding in the closet is no longer an option.

David’s Aug. 26, 2014 posting features Hieroglyph, a project from Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Science and the Imagination (Note: A link has been removed),

Next month [Sept. 2014] William Morrow will release Hieroglyph, a collection of science fiction short stories edited by the Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University.  The name of the collection is taken from a theory advanced by science fiction writer Neil [Neal] Stephenson, and a larger writing project of which this book is a part.  The Hieroglyph Theory describes the kind of science fiction that can motivate scientists and engineers to create a future.  A Hieroglyph story provides a complete picture of the future, with a compelling innovation as part of that future.  An example would be the Asimov model of robotics.

Heiroglyph was first mentioned here in a May 7, 2013 posting,

The item which moved me to publish today (May 7, 2013), Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?, by Ariel Schwartz concerns the Hieroglyph project at Arizona State University,

Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.

If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.

As it turns out, William Morrow Books is a a HarperCollins imprint. You can read a bit more about the book and preview some of the contents from the Scribd.com Hieroglyph webpage which includes this table of contents (much better looking in the Scribd version),

CONTENTS
FOREWORD—
LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS vii
PREFACE: INNOVATION STARVATION—NEAL STEPHENSON xiii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS xxi
INTRODUCTION: A BLUEPRINT FOR BETTER DREAMS—ED FINN AND KATHRYN CRAMER xxiii
ATMOSPHÆRA INCOGNITA—NEAL STEPHENSON 1
GIRL IN WAVE : WAVE IN GIRL—KATHLEEN ANN GOONAN 38
BY THE TIME WE GET TO ARIZONA—MADELINE ASHBY 74
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON—CORY DOCTOROW 98
JOHNNY APPLEDRONE VS. THE FAA—LEE KONSTANTINOU 182
DEGREES OF FREEDOM—KARL SCHROEDER 206
TWO SCENARIOS FOR THE FUTURE OF SOLAR ENERGY—ANNALEE NEWITZ 243
A HOTEL IN ANTARCTICA—GEOFFREY A. LANDIS 254
PERIAPSIS—JAMES L. CAMBIAS 283
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE STARS—GREGORY BENFORD 307
ENTANGLEMENT—VANDANA SINGH 352
ELEPHANT ANGELS—BRENDA COOPER 398
COVENANT—ELIZABETH BEAR 421
QUANTUM TELEPATHY—RUDY RUCKER 436
TRANSITION GENERATION—DAVID BRIN 466
THE DAY IT ALL ENDED—CHARLIE JANE ANDERS 477
TALL TOWER—BRUCE STERLING 489
SCIENCE AND SCIENCE FICTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL DAVIES 515
ABOUT THE EDITORS 526
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS 527

Good on the organizers for being able to follow through on their promise to have something published by HarperCollins in 2014.

This book is not ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination’s only activity. In November 2014, Margaret Atwood, an internationally known Canadian novelist, will visit the center (from the center’s home page),

Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November to discuss the relationship between art and science, and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.

Atwood’s visit will mark the launch of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative, a new collaborative venture at ASU among the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, the Center for Science and the Imagination and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Atwood, author of the MaddAddam trilogy of novels that have become central to the emerging literary genre of climate fiction, or “CliFi,” will offer the inaugural lecture for the initiative on Nov. 5.

“We are proud to welcome Margaret Atwood, one of the world’s most celebrated living writers, to ASU and engage her in these discussions around climate, science and creative writing,” said Jewell Parker Rhodes, founding artistic director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Piper Endowed Chair at Arizona State University. “A poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, Ms. Atwood epitomizes the creative and professional excellence our students aspire to achieve.”

Focusing in particular on CliFi, the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will explore how imaginative skills can be harnessed to create solutions to climate challenges, and question whether and how creative writing can affect political decisions and behavior by influencing our social, political and scientific imagination.

“ASU is a leader in exploring how creativity and the imagination drive the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities,” said Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination. “The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will use the thriving CliFi genre to ask the hard questions about our cultural relationship to climate change and offer compelling visions for sustainable futures.”

The multidisciplinary Initiative will bring together researchers, artists, writers, decision-makers and the public to engage in research projects, teaching activities and events at ASU and beyond. The three ASU programs behind the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative have a track record for academic and public engagement around innovative programs, including the Sustainability Solutions Festival; Emerge; and the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.

“Imagining how the future could unfold in a climatically changing world is key to making good policy and governance decisions today,” said Manjana Milkoreit, a postdoctoral fellow with the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “We need to know more about the nature of imagination, its relationship to scientific knowledge and the effect of cultural phenomena such as CliFi on our imaginative capabilities and, ultimately, our collective ability to create a safe and prosperous future.”

Kind of odd they don’t mention Atwood’s Canadian, eh?

There’s lots more on the page which features news bits and articles, as well as, event information. Coincidentally, another Canuck (assuming he retains his citizenship after several years in the US) visited the center on June 7, 2014 to participate in an event billed as ‘An evening with Nathan Fillion and friends;; serenity [Joss Whedon’s tv series and movie], softwire, and science of science fiction’. A June 21, 2014 piece (on the center home page) by Joey Eschrich describes the night in some detail,

Nathan Fillion may very well be the friendliest, most unpretentious spaceship captain, mystery-solving author and science fiction heartthrob in the known universe. The “ruggedly handsome” star of TV’s “Castle” was the delight of fans as he headlined a fundraiser on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, June 7 [2014].

The “Serenity, Softwire, and the Science of Science Fiction” event, benefiting the ASU Department of English and advertised as an “intimate evening for a small group of 50 people,” included considerable face-time with Fillion, who in-person proved surprisingly similar to the witty, charming and compassionate characters he plays on television and in film.

Starring with Fillion in the ASU evening’s festivities were science fiction author PJ Haarsma (a close friend of Fillion’s) along with ASU professors Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination; Peter Goggin, a literacy expert in the Department of English and senior scholar with the Global Institute of Sustainability; and School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty Jim Bell, an astronomer, and Sara Imari Walker, an astrobiologist. In addition to the Department of English, sponsors included ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Center for Science and the Imagination.

The event began with each panelist explaining how he or she arrived at his or her respective careers, and whether science or science fiction played a role in that journey. All panelists pointed to reading and imagining as formational to their senses of themselves and their places in life.

A number of big questions were posed to the panelists: “What is the likelihood of life on other planets?” and “What is the physical practicality of traveling to other planets?” ASU scientists Bell and Walker deftly fielded these complex planetary inquiries, while Goggin and Finn explained how the intersection of science and humanities – embodied in science fiction books and film – encouraged children and scholars alike to think creatively about the future. Attendees reported that they found the conversation “intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking as well as fun and entertaining.”

During the ensuing discussion, Haarsma and Fillion bantered back and forth comically, as we are told they often do in real life, at one point raising the group’s awareness of the mission they have shared for many years: promoting reading in the lives of young people. The two founded the Kids Need to Read Foundation, which provides books to underserved schools and libraries. Fillion, the son of retired English teachers, attended Concordia University of Alberta [no], where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Society, an organization that emphasizes literature and debate. His brother, Jeff, is a highly respected school principal. Fillion’s story about the importance of books and reading in his childhood home was a rare moment of seriousness for the actor.

The most delightful aspect of the evening, according to guests, was the good nature of Fillion himself, who arrived with Haarsma earlier than expected and stayed later than scheduled. Fillion spent several minutes with each individual or group of friends, laughing with them, using their phone cameras to snap group “selfies” and showing a genuine interest in getting to know them.

Audience members each received copies of science fiction books: Haarsma’s teen novel, “Softwire: Virus on Orbis I,” and the Tomorrow Project science fiction anthology “Cautions, Dreams & Curiosities,” which was co-produced by the Center for Science and the Imagination with Intel and the Society for Science & the Public. Guests presented their new books and assorted other items to Fillion and Haarsma for autographing and a bit more conversation before the evening came to a close. It was then time for Fillion to head back downtown to his hotel, but not before one cadre of friends “asked him to take one last group shot of us at the end of the night, to which he replied with a smile, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’”

Oops! Concordia University is in the province of Québec not Alberta which is home to the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

The evening with Nathan Fillion and friends was a fundraiser, participants were charged $250 each for one of 50 seats at the event, which means they raised $12,500 minus any expenses incurred. Good for them!

For anyone unfamiliar with P.J. Haarsma’s oeuvre, there’s this Wikipedia entry for The Softwire.

Older, Tom McFadden, and a chance to crowdsource a science rap video

My source for almost all things science and music (and, often, pop culture), David Bruggeman announced this in a May 29, 2014 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: A link has been removed),

Tom [McFadden] would like your help, because he wants to remake the video with contributions from the ‘crowd.’  Between now and June 30 [2014], you can submit a visual for a minimum of one line of the song.

I’ll describe more about McFadden’s work in a moment but first, here’s the video of his ‘Older’ science rap,

Here’s a little more information about this latest McFadden project, from a May 27, 2014 post on his Science with Tom [McFadden] blog,

Introducing “Older”, a parody of Drake’s “Over”, about science as a process rather than as a body of facts.

If you are a science student of any age, a teacher, a scientist, or a science lover, I want you to submit your visuals for some part of this video. (And if you’re a science teacher, this is a fun end of the year activity for your students).

Please share the song/competition with anyone who may be interested, and tweet about it using #ScienceFolder.

The contest deadline is June 30, 2014. The Grand Prize is a performance of a full science rap show by Tom McFadden. I’m unclear as to whether or not he will travel outside the US, regardless, it looks like a fun project. From McFadden’s May 27, 2014 post,

VISUALS: You have lots of creative freedom here. Your visuals can be drawings, animations, stop-motion, shots of you rapping with props, or anything you can dream up. If you’re short on time, you can even just submit a photo of you with your science folder or lab notebook.

LENGTH OF SUBMISSION: If you want to be considered for the grand prize, you need to submit at least one line of the song (for example, you could choose “Teacher talking. Tympanic membrane swayin’” and come up with a visual for that line). You are welcome to submit visuals for multiple lines, for a full verse, a chorus, or for the whole song. If you are working as a class, you can have different students in charge of different lines.

There’ are additional details in the post.

I have more information about McFadden in a March 28, 2013 posting in the context of his Brahe’s Battles Kickstarter project,

I can’t resist the science rap stories David Bruggeman has been highlighting on his Pascro Phronesis blog. In his Mar. 26, 2013 posting, David provides some scoop about Tom McFadden’s Kickstarter project, Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles),

After Fulbright work in New Zealand and similar efforts in other countries, McFadden is back in the San Francisco area helping middle school students develop raps for science debates.  The project is called “Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science” (BRAHE’S Battles) and if fully funded, it would support video production for battle raps on various scientific debates in five schools.

This was a successful Kickstarter project as noted in my Aug. 19, 2013 post,

Now on to Tom McFadden and his successful crowdfunding campaign Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles); which was featured  in my Mar. 28, 2013 posting. Now, David Bruggeman provides an update in his Aug. 16, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog,

Tom McFadden’s Brahe’s B.A.T.T.L.E.S. project has dropped two nuggets of video goodness of late, one of which is racing through the interwebs.  A conceptual cousin of the New York City-based Science Genius project, McFadden’s project centers around scientific matters of debate, if not controversy. First one out of the chute involves the matter of Rosalind Franklin and her under-credited role in developing the model of DNA.

I really meant it when I said David Bruggeman is my source.

Good luck to all the contest entrants!

 

Getting the logos they deserve: 50 physicists and mathematicians

There are some 50 logos created by Dr. Prateek Lala of the University of Toronto (Canada) on behalf of various physicists and mathematicians. Before showing any of these clever logos, here’s a bit more about Dr. Lala’s logos in John Brownlee’s Feb. 5, 2014 article for Fast Company (Note: Links have been removed),

The scientific typographics were created by Dr. Prateek Lala, a physician and amateur calligrapher from Toronto. Inspired by the type biographies of Indian graphic designer Kapil Bhagat, Lala designed his logos to make the lives and discoveries of various scientists more engaging and immediately relatable to students.

Kelly Oakes in a Feb. 3, 2014 post for BuzzFeed features 20 of the logos and I’ve downloaded two of them for here,

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) formulated the equations that describe electricity, magnetism, and optics as manifestations of the same phenomenon – the electromagnetic field. He’s also the namesake of Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment in which a hypothetical demon violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Credit: Dr. Prateek Lala / Perimeter Institute

James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) formulated the equations that describe electricity, magnetism, and optics as manifestations of the same phenomenon – the electromagnetic field. He’s also the namesake of Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment in which a hypothetical demon violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Credit: Dr. Prateek Lala / Perimeter Institute

I particularly enjoy how Dr. Lala has introduced the ‘demon’ into the logo. And then, there’s this one,

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a biophysicist who used X-ray diffraction data to determine the structures of complex minerals and living tissues, including – famously – DNA. Credit: Dr. Prateek Lala / Perimeter Institute

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) was a biophysicist who used X-ray diffraction data to determine the structures of complex minerals and living tissues, including – famously – DNA. Credit: Dr. Prateek Lala / Perimeter Institute

There is a bit of a controversy regarding Franklin as many believe she should have received more acknowledgement for her role in Crick and Watson’s ‘discovery of DNA’. I last mentioned Franklin in an August 19, 2013 posting (scroll down half-way) featuring a rap, Rosalind Franklin vs Watson & Crick, which was written and performed by children as part  of Tom McFadden’s Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles) school science project. The rap does a very good job of summarizing the discovery and the controversy and the performance is of a professional grade.

Getting back to Dr. Lala’s logos, there’s a slide show of 50 logos on this Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics webpage. I selected this one from the slideshow for inclusion here,

Aryabhatta (476-550) was a pioneer of mathematics and astronomy in India. He is believed to have devised the concept of zero and worked on the approximation of pi. Credit Dr. Prateek Lala / Perimeter Institute

Aryabhatta (476-550) was a pioneer of mathematics and astronomy in India. He is believed to have devised the concept of zero and worked on the approximation of pi. Credit Dr. Prateek Lala / Perimeter Institute

Dr. Lala has created some infographics of his logos which are can be seen here at visual.ly or you can see one featuring 60 of his logos in a July 26, 2013 posting by Carolina Brandão Zanelli on her Art for Scientists blog. As well, the Perimeter Institute is offering a poster of Dr. Lala’s logos in the Fall 2013 issue of their Inside the Perimeter magazine available here.

I was a little curious about Dr. Lala and was able to find this on academia.edu,

Prateek Lala
University of Toronto, Medicine, Post-Doc

Research Interests:
Medicine, Pharmacology, Drug metabolism, Pharmacoinformatics and Education

Enjoy!

You say pants, I say underpants when it’s all about the scientific lingerie

I’d forgotten the Brits say pants where we Canucks say underpants, a type of linguistic confusion which can lead to crosscultural snafus, as it did for me this morning (Aug. 23, 2013) on reading Stuart Clark’s Guardian Science blog posting, Pants named after astronomer Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (Note: Links have been removed),

You know that science communication has reached a whole new level when someone names a pair of women’s pants after an astronomer.

Today [August 23, 2013], internet-based retailer Who Made Your Pants? launches a line of women’s pants called Cecilia, named after Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the pioneering 20th century astronomer who explained the composition of the stars.

I’ve been an admirer of Payne’s achievements for a long time and couldn’t resist using her as a character in my novel The Day Without Yesterday.

She changed the face of astrophysics with her 1925 PhD thesis, in which she demonstrated that the sun was made almost exclusively from hydrogen and helium. Only 2% of its mass came from the other chemical elements, such as iron, oxygen and silicon.

Her name was chosen for the undergarment in a popular vote on the Who Made Your Pants? Facebook page. Customers were offered a choice between Cecilia, cell donor Henrietta Lacks and astronaut Sally Ride.

Becky John, who runs the company, and is also an organiser of the Winchester Science Festival says, “We will always name our pants after women who have been forgotten.”

Clark’s piece is amusing (he’s got a good punch line at the end) and informative and I recommend reading it.

As for Becky Johnson’s company,  Who Made Your Pants?, here’s a bit about the company from the About Us page,

Who Made Your Pants? is a campaigning lingerie brand based in Southampton, UK. We’re about two things – amazing pants, and amazing women.

We think that every day should be a good pants day, and that there should be a little bit of gorgeous under everyone’s clothes, something just for them. So we buy fabrics that have been sold on by big underwear companies at the end of season, stop them ending up as waste and turn them into gorgeous new pants that have a great start in life. They’re designed to sit flat under clothes, have no VPL [visible panty line], and be comfortable and all day fabulous.

We also think that it’s not really on for anyone to be made to work in bad conditions just for a cheap pair of pants. Who could feel lovely in something made in a bad place? So we make our pants in a great place. We’ve a little factory in Southampton where we create jobs for women who’ve had a hard time. The first job everyone learns is making the pants. We hope that all jobs within the business can be filled by the women as they gain skills though – if someone is interested in marketing, or finance, we’ll arrange training

When I first clicked through to the company website I was expecting to see what the Brits call trousers and found this instead,

Named for astronomer Cecilia Payne, our first side seamed shortie is made from smooth comfortable strecth fabrics and topped with reclaimed lace. A pretty lettuce edge hem finishes them off - and we can't wait to show you the next colours we have planned... [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

Named for astronomer Cecilia Payne, our first side seamed shortie is made from smooth comfortable strecth fabrics and topped with reclaimed lace. A pretty lettuce edge hem finishes them off – and we can’t wait to show you the next colours we have planned… [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

The company also has a ‘Rosalind’ as in a Rosalind Franklin pant,

Named for Rosalind Franklin, the higher cut shortie is based on a shape our designer saw and loved in Brazil. Smooth lycra or jersey is edged with reclaimed stretch lace for a stay put, no VPL, all day every day style. A great shape to show off gorgeous print fabrics [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

Named for Rosalind Franklin, the higher cut shortie is based on a shape our designer saw and loved in Brazil. Smooth lycra or jersey is edged with reclaimed stretch lace for a stay put, no VPL, all day every day style. A great shape to show off gorgeous print fabrics [downloaded from http://www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk/pages/shop]

It seems to be a ‘Rosalind Franklin’ week here as I embedded a rap created by a grade seven class for Tom McFadden’s Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles) about her in an Aug. 19, 2013 posting (scroll down to the end of the post for the video). For anyone not familiar with Rosalind Franklin and the controversy, here’s an essay about it and her on the San Diego Supercomputer Center website.

Baba Brinkman’s Don’t Sleep With Mean People’ crowdfunding campaign and first two videos from Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science available

I have two music and science-related items, the first concerning Baba Brinkiman, a Canadian rapper who’s been mentioned here many times, and the second concerns Tom McFadden who raps science and creates rapping programs where children rap science.

Brinkman is coming to the end of a crowdfunding campaign, which hasn’t been mentioned here before, Don’t Sleep With Mean People on the RocketHub platform. Baba is trying to raise $15,000 to do this,

The goal of this crowdfunding campaign is to make “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” a globally recognizable meme, a scientifically-informed peace movement driven by one of the most powerful forces nature has ever invented: sexual selection. The slogan already has a theme song, which is part of the off-Broadway theatre production The Rap Guide to Evolution. With the money from this campaign we will produce both a short documentary film and a professional-quality music video (complete with goofy, easily-imitated dance routine) and hire a publicity company to promote the work across multiple media platforms. In the end, we hope “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” will be bigger than Gangnam Style, and a hell of a lot more useful.

The beauty of “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” is that it works on multiple levels. At the deepest level, it has the potential to transform our species by reducing the frequency of “mean genes” in the human gene pool. But even in the short term, once people learn that bad behaviour is a one way ticket to celibacy, the world will very rapidly become a more peaceful and cooperative place.

Currently the slogan “Mean People Suck” bears the weight of the world’s anti-mean sentiments, but unfortunately it isn’t an actionable statement. We aim to replace it with something people can put into daily practice. At present, “Mean People Suck” is mentioned on 196,000 unique websites, while “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” is only mentioned on 5,670. By spreading the slogan on T-Shirts, billboards, bumper stickers, and viral YouTube videos (…), we aim to reverse this trend.

Previously successful applications of “Don’t Sleep With Mean People” include the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes (c. 411 BC), and the Liberian “sex strike activism” of Leymah Gbowee. In both cases the courageous actions of women were the key to punishing bad behaviour in men, and our campaign takes the same approach. Darwin’s theory of evolution predicts the lower-investing sex (usually males) will tend towards fiercer competition for mates, while the higher-investing sex (usually females) will be relatively choosier and will thus wield more “selective” power.

By encouraging everyone – and especially women – to choose less-mean sex partners, we hope to evolve the world into a better place.

As of today, Aug. 19, 2013, there are 11 more days left to the campaign. From the campaign FAQs,

What will you spend the money on?
Film production costs for the music video and short documentary, promotion, and fulfillment of our obligations to deliver the Goods you’ve earned.

What happens if you don’t hit your $15,000 target?
We’ll make a lower-budget short film and music video and promote them without professional help.

Now on to Tom McFadden and his successful crowdfunding campaign Battle Rap Histories of Epic Science (Brahe’s Battles); which was featured  in my Mar. 28, 2013 posting. Now, David Bruggeman provides an update in his Aug. 16, 2013 posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog,

Tom McFadden’s Brahe’s B.A.T.T.L.E.S. project has dropped two nuggets of video goodness of late, one of which is racing through the interwebs.  A conceptual cousin of the New York City-based Science Genius project, McFadden’s project centers around scientific matters of debate, if not controversy. First one out of the chute involves the matter of Rosalind Franklin and her under-credited role in developing the model of DNA.

Here’s the Rosalind Franklin rap (David has included both this rap and the project’s more recently released rap [Pluto] in his posting),

I love it. I’ve written about Franklin before, both in a Jan. 16, 2012 posting which mentions a proposed movie about her and in a Jan. 28, 2010 posting which features a ‘Rosalind’ scarf’ in the context of science knitting.

You can comment and participate in McFadden’s project on this YouTube channel or on McFadden’s Science with Tom blog.

International art/science script competition ceremony will be hosted by Trinity College Dublin’s nano centre and STAGE

CRANN (Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices) at Trinity College Dublin has announced that it will be co-hosting the winner’s ceremony (and a reading of the winning script) for an international scriptwriting contest featuring science- and technology-inspired plays. From the Jan. 11, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,

CRANN, the SFI [Science Foundation of Ireland] funded nanoscience centre based at Trinity College Dublin, today announced that it is bringing the STAGE International Script Competition to Ireland during Dublin City of Science 2012. The competition judges will include a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Nobel Laureate.

The STAGE International Script Competition is a unique collaboration between art and science that awards a prize of $10,000 for the best new play about science and technology. STAGE – Scientists, Technologists and Artists Generating Exploration – began as an alliance between the Professional Artists Lab, a dynamic artistic laboratory, and the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Through CRANN’s relationship with CNSI, Dublin has beaten off stiff international competition to bring STAGE to Ireland.

As the 2012 City of Science, Dublin will host a programme of science-related events and activities throughout the year. The city will host Europe’s largest science conference, the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) 2012 from July 11-15, 2012, at which the winner of the 5th STAGE International Script Competition will first be announced to the public.

Later in the year, STAGE and CRANN will collaboratively host the award ceremony, at which the winning playwright will receive their STAGE Award from a science Nobel Laureate. In tandem with the ceremony, there will be a staged reading of the winning play, performed by professional Irish actors. Nancy Kawalek, Founder/Director of STAGE, will direct the reading.

Unfortunately, it’s too late for interested parties to submit their plays for this cycle (the 5th); submissions were closed as of Dec. 1, 2011.

The competition certainly seems to have attracted some high profile interest in past years (from the news item on Nanowerk),

Each cycle, the winner of the STAGE International Script Competition is chosen by a stellar panel of judges. Judges for the last cycle were Pulitzer Prize and Tony-Award winning playwright David Auburn; Tony, Olivier, and Obie Award-winning playwright John Guare; Nobel Laureate Alan Heeger; Nobel Laureate and KBE Sir Anthony Leggett; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. In addition to Mr. Lindsay-Abaire, who has shown his support for STAGE by signing on as a judge ‘in perpetuity’, the judges for this 5th cycle of the competition will include two science Nobel Laureates and two additional distinguished writer-artists from the theatre world. The names of these jurors will be announced in early 2012.

The 3rd cycle winner was a play about Rosalind Franklin; I’ve long been interested in her story and  I mentioned it in a July 28, 2010 post about science-inspired knitting (there’s a ‘Rosalind’ scarf),

For anyone not familiar with Franklin (from the San Diego Super Computer Center at the University of Southern California web page),

There is probably no other woman scientist with as much controversy surrounding her life and work as Rosalind Franklin. Franklin was responsible for much of the research and discovery work that led to the understanding of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. The story of DNA is a tale of competition and intrigue, told one way in James Watson’s book The Double Helix, and quite another in Anne Sayre’s study, Rosalind Franklin and DNA. James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA in 1962, four years after Franklin’s death at age 37 from ovarian cancer.

Here’s a bit more about the 3rd cycle STAGE winner, Photograph 51, from the news item on Nanowerk,

A film version of third STAGE Competition winner Photograph 51 is being produced by Academy Award-nominated director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz, and Ari Handel. Playwright Anna Ziegler will adapt her play for the screen. Photograph 51 was featured at the 2011 World Science Festival in New York City; the play has also enjoyed prestigious productions in New York City and Washington, D.C.

 

About the Play: What does a woman have to do to succeed in the world of science? It is 1953 and Dr. Rosalind Franklin, brilliant, passionate and ambitious, pours herself into her work at King’s College Lab in London. When fellow scientists Watson and Crick find out about her discoveries in the field of DNA, her work is suddenly not her own – and shortly thereafter they claim credit for a major breakthrough. A compelling drama about a woman’s sacrifice for professional success, Photograph 51 asks how we become who we become, and whether we have any power to change.

I checked the playwright’s, Anna Ziegler, website for more information about the upcoming movie and found this,

Anna has been awarded [April 2011] a Tribeca Film Festival / Sloan Grant to adapt her play PHOTOGRAPH 51 into a film. Rachel Weisz, Ari Handel, Audrey Rosenberg and Darren Aronofsky are producers.

You can find out more about STAGE and other winners of the competition here.

Two subcultures: science knitters and graffiti knitters, could they come together?

I had no idea that there’s a whole subculture of scientists devoted to knitting. Not just any knitting, science knitting. Thanks to Andrew Maynard at 2020 Science blog (July 25, 2010 posting), I have discovered Woolly Thoughts a website devoted to knitting, crocheting, and mathematics.

In fact, there’s a plethora of websites, blogs, and a subset on Ravelry (social networking for knitters) devoted to science/math knitters, much of which you can find in Andrew’s posting.

One item that particularly my fancy was a piece of ‘illusion knitting’ designed by Alice Bell, a science communication lecturer at the Imperial College of London. Illusion knitting is where the same piece of knitting reveals of one of two different images depending on the angle of sight. Bell’s creation, the Rosalind scarf, can look like stripes from one angle and like a piece of DNA from another angle.

For anyone not familiar with Franklin (from the San Diego Super Computer Center at the University of Southern California web page),

There is probably no other woman scientist with as much controversy surrounding her life and work as Rosalind Franklin. Franklin was responsible for much of the research and discovery work that led to the understanding of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA. The story of DNA is a tale of competition and intrigue, told one way in James Watson’s book The Double Helix, and quite another in Anne Sayre’s study, Rosalind Franklin and DNA. James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for the double-helix model of DNA in 1962, four years after Franklin’s death at age 37 from ovarian cancer.

Here’s Bell in her Rosalind scarf,

Alice Bell in her Rosalind scarf

This is the angle for the stripes, to see the DNA go to the Feb. 7, 2010 posting on her Slipped Stitch blog or to Andrew’s posting where you can find more goodies like this,

Knitting and crocheting as a means of creating complex geometrical forms has a long and illustrious history. Alan Turing was often seen knitting Möbius strips and other shapes in his lunchtime apparently, according to this 2008 MSNBC [article]. The work of Taimina and others on exploring hyperbolic planes – and their relevance to biology – has been groundbreaking (I know it’s crochet, but Margaret Wertheim’s TED talk on crochet coral and complex math is excellent, [go here]).

Vancouver (Canada) is home to at least two members of another knitting subculture as I found out earlier this year with the publication of a book by two locals, Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain, Yarn Bombing; The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti. Their Yarn Bombing blog features projects from around the world. I took a particular liking to Bee Bombs,

Annie's bee bombs in Amsterdam

I wonder if we could get some science yarn bombs going for the 2012 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting to take place here in Vancouver?