Tag Archives: Simon Fraser University

Vancouver (Canada) and a city conversation about science that could have been better

Institutional insularity is a problem one finds everywhere. Interestingly, very few people see it that way due in large part to self-reinforcing loopbacks. Take universities for example and more specifically, Simon Fraser University’s April 17, 2014 City Conversation (in Vancouver, Canada) featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta (as of July 2014, president of the University of British Columbia) in a presentation titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!

Contrary to the hope I expressed in my April 14, 2014 post about the then upcoming event, this was largely an exercise in self-reference. Predictably with the flyer they used to advertise the event (the text was reproduced in its entirety in my April 14, 2014 posting), over 90% in the audiences (Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey campuses) were associated with one university or another.  Adding to the overwhelmingly ‘insider’ feel of this event, the speaker brought with him two students who had benefited from the organization he currently leads, Mitacs (a Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada program; a Canadian federal government program).

Despite the fact that this was billed as a ‘city conversation’ the talk focused largely on universities and their role in efforts to make Canada more productive and the wonderfulness of Mitacs. Unfortunately, what I wanted to hear and talk about was how Gupta, the students, and audience members saw the role of universities in cities, with a special reference to science.

It was less ‘city’ conversation and more ‘let’s focus on ourselves and our issues’ conversation. Mitacs, Canada’s productivity, and discussion about universities and innovation is of little inherent interest to anyone outside a select group of policy wonks (i.e., government and academe).

The conversation was self-referential until the very end. In the last minutes Gupta mentioned cities and science in the context of how cities in other parts of the world are actively supporting science. (For more about this interest elsewhere, you might find this Oct. 21, 2010 posting which features an article by Richard Van Noorden titled, Cities: Building the best cities for science; Which urban regions produce the best research — and can their success be replicated? as illuminating as I did.)

i wish Gupta had started with the last topic he introduced because Vancouverites have a lot of interest in science. In the last two years, TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, has held a number of events at Science World and elsewhere which have been fully booked with waiting lists. The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies has also held numerous science-themed events which routinely have waiting lists despite being held in one of Vancouver’s largest theatre venues.

If universities really want to invite outsiders into their environs and have city conversations, they need to follow through on the promise (e.g. talking about cities and science in a series titled “City Conversations”), as well as, do a better job of publicizing their events, encouraging people to enter their sacred portals, and addressing their ‘outsider’ audiences.

By the way, I have a few hints for the student speakers,

  • don’t scold your audience (you may find Canadians’ use of space shocking but please keep your indignation and sense of superiority to yourself)
  • before you start lecturing (at length) about the importance of interdisciplinary work, you might want to assess your audience’s understanding, otherwise you may find yourself preaching to the choir and/or losing your audience’s attention
  • before you start complaining that there’s no longer a mandatory retirement age and suggesting that this is the reason you can’t get a university job you may want to consider a few things: (1) your audience’s average age, in this case, I’d estimate that it was at least 50 and consequently not likely to be as sympathetic as you might like (2) the people who work past mandatory retirement may need the money or are you suggesting your needs are inherently more important? (3) whether or not a few people stay on past their ‘retirement’ age has less to do with your university job prospects than demographics and that’s a numbers game (not sure why I’d have to point that out to someone who’s associated with a mathematics organization such as Mitacs)

I expect no one has spoken or will speak to the organizers, Gupta, or the students other than to give them compliments. In fact, it’s unlikely there will be any real critique of having this presentation as part of a series titled “City Conversations” and that brings this posting back to institutional insularity. This problem is everywhere not just in universities and I’m increasingly interested in approaches to mitigating the tendency. If there’s anyone out there who knows of any examples where insularity has been tackled, please do leave a comment and, if possible, links.

Creativity—Connection—Innovation—Dr. Arvind Gupta leads a City (Vancouver, Canada) Conversation this Thursday, April 17, 2014

There’s a lot of excitement about Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) upcoming City Conversation’s April 17, 2014 session featuring Dr. Arvind Gupta, computer scientist and newly appointed president of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Being held at 12:30 pm at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, the event will be broadcast (this is a first for the City Conversations program) to both the Burnaby and Surrey campuses as well.  Here’s a description of the event and of the speaker, along with more details about the locations (from the April 13, 2014 announcement; Note: Links have been removed),,

This week’s City Conversation [titled: Creativity! Connection! Innovation!] will feature Dr. Arvind Gupta, who will discuss the world of research collaborations and innovation, and the role universities and student entrepreneurs play while bringing their ideas to market.

The event will take place at SFU’s Vancouver campus (Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings St., Room 7000), from 12:30-1:30pm on April 17, and for the first time City Conversations will be simulcast and open to audiences at SFU’s Burnaby (IRMACS Theatre, ASB 10900) and Surrey (Room 5380) campuses.

Participants at SFU’s satellite locations will be able to comment and ask questions of the presenters through video conferencing, with SFU associate vice president, External Relations Joanne Curry (Burnaby) and SFU Surrey executive director Steve Dooley (Surrey) serving as moderators.

Dr. Gupta, former SFU professor and current CEO and scientific director of Mitacs [Canadian not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships at Canadian universities and formerly a mathematics NCE (Networks of Centres of Excellence of Canada) program {a Canadian federal government program}]. Launched at SFU in 1999, Mitacs supports national innovation by coordinating collaborative industry-university research projects with human capital development at its core.

I understand from City Conversations organizer, Michael Alexander, audio will be recorded and a file will be available. I’m not sure what the timing is but the City Conversations Past Event and Recordings webpage is where you can check for the audio file.

I noticed the talk seems to be oriented to the interests of students and staff but am hopeful that some reference will be made to the impact that creativity, connection, and innovation have on a city and how we in Vancouver could participate.

One biographical note of my own here, for two years I tried to contact Michael Alexander with an idea of a City Conversation. We had that conversation March 31, 2014. It was largely focused on my desire to have some science-oriented City Conversations and this is the outcome (and fingers crossed not the last one). I am thrilled to bits.  For anyone wondering what Gupta’s talk has to do with science, innovation is, usually and internationally, code for applied science and technology.

Douglas College (Vancouver, Canada) hosts April 2, 2014 talk “How Do We Know? Scientific information and public policy: GMOs, pesticides and the demise of bees?”

I gather the audience for this event is the Douglas College staff, students, and faculty since it’s being held from 1 – 2:30 pm. There’s more from the March 21, 2014 announcement on the Douglas College website (Note: A link has been removed),

A public talk at Douglas College will seek to unravel the complex and contentious debates surrounding genetically modified crops, pesticide use and declining bee populations. Mark Winston, a Simon Fraser University insect [bees] expert and public commentator, will focus on these issues as he examines how to improve the way science is communicated to the public.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Winston to share his insights on the important issue of making scientific communication more effective. He is a great communicator, an expert in his field and an innovator around issues in dialogue,” says Rob McGregor, Executive Director of the Institute of Urban Ecology at Douglas College.

The upcoming talk is titled “How Do We Know? Scientific information and public policy: GMOs, pesticides and the demise of bees.” [emphasis mine] The free, public event takes place on Wednesday, April 2 from 1-2:30pm in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre on the Douglas College New Westminster campus (700 Royal Ave., New Westminster).

For those who are not familiar with local geography, the word Vancouver can refer to the city or to the metro area, which includes the municipality of New Westminster where this particular Douglas College campus is located.

One final note, according to the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Centre for Dialogue (where Winston works) notice, a reception will follow.

Getting to know your piezoelectrics

It took me a couple of tries before I could see the butterfly in the neutron scattering image (on the left), which illustrates work undertaken in an attempt to better understand piezoelectrics (found in hard drives, loud speakers, etc.) by researchers at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver area, Canada) and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology.

These two neutron scattering images represent the nanoscale structures of single crystals of PMN and PZT. Because the atoms in PMN deviate slightly from their ideal positions, diffuse scattering results in a distinctive "butterfly" shape quite different from that of PZT, in which the atoms are more regularly spaced. Credit: NIST

These two neutron scattering images represent the nanoscale structures of single crystals of PMN and PZT. Because the atoms in PMN deviate slightly from their ideal positions, diffuse scattering results in a distinctive “butterfly” shape quite different from that of PZT, in which the atoms are more regularly spaced.
Credit: NIST

A Jan. 30, 2014 news release on EurekAlert (also found on on the NIST website where it’s dated Jan. 29, 2014) describes piezoelectrics,

Piezoelectrics—materials that can change mechanical stress to electricity and back again—are everywhere in modern life. Computer hard drives. Loud speakers. Medical ultrasound. Sonar. Though piezoelectrics are a widely used technology, there are major gaps in our understanding of how they work. Now researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Canada’s Simon Fraser University believe they’ve learned why one of the main classes of these materials, known as relaxors, behaves in distinctly different ways from the rest and exhibit the largest piezoelectric effect. And the discovery comes in the shape of a butterfly. …

The news release goes on to explain piezoelectrics and provide details about how the researchers made their discovery,

The team examined two of the most commonly used piezoelectric compounds—the ferroelectric PZT and the relaxor PMN—which look very similar on a microscopic scale. Both are crystalline materials composed of cube-shaped unit cells (the basic building blocks of all crystals) that contain one lead atom and three oxygen atoms. The essential difference is found at the centers of the cells: in PZT these are randomly occupied by either one zirconium atom or one titanium atom, both of which have the same electric charge, but in PMN one finds either niobium or manganese, which have very different electric charges. The differently charged atoms produce strong electric fields that vary randomly from one unit cell to another in PMN and other relaxors, a situation absent in PZT.

“PMN-based relaxors and ferroelectric PZT have been known for decades, but it has been difficult to identify conclusively the origin of the behavioral differences between them because it has been impossible to grow sufficiently large single crystals of PZT,” says the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR)’s Peter Gehring. “We’ve wanted a fundamental explanation of why relaxors exhibit the greatest piezoelectric effect for a long time because this would help guide efforts to optimize this technologically valuable property.”

A few years ago, scientists from Simon Fraser University found a way to make crystals of PZT large enough that PZT and PMN crystals could be examined with a single tool for the first time, permitting the first apples-to-apples comparison of relaxors and ferroelectrics. That tool was the NCNR’s neutron beams, which revealed new details about where the atoms in the unit cells were located. In PZT, the atoms sat more or less right where they were expected, but in the PMN, their locations deviated from their expected positions—a finding Gehring says could explain the essentials of relaxor behavior.

“The neutron beams scatter off the PMN crystals in a shape that resembles a butterfly,” Gehring says. “It gives a characteristic blurriness that reveals the nanoscale structure that exists in PMN—and in all other relaxors studied with this method as well—but does not exist in PZT. It’s our belief that this butterfly-shaped scattering might be a characteristic signature of relaxors.”

Additional tests the team performed showed that PMN-based relaxors are over 100 percent more sensitive to mechanical stimulation compared to PZT, another first-time measurement. Gehring says he hopes the findings will help materials scientists do more to optimize the behavior of piezoelectrics generally.

Here’s a citation for the researchers’ paper,

Role of random electric fields in relaxors by Daniel Phelan, Christopher Stock, Jose A. Rodriguez-Rivera, Songxue Chia, Juscelino Leão, Xifa Long, Yujuan Xie, Alexei A. Bokov, Zuo-Guang Ye, Panchapakesan Ganesh, and Peter M. Gehring. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan. 21, 2014. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1314780111

This paper is behind a paywall.

Cindy Patton talks about evidence and the invention of a Crystal Meth-HIV connection via press release

Canada’s Situating Science research cluster is launching a national lecture series (from a Jan. 30, 2014 announcement)

The Lives of Evidence
A multi-part national lecture series examining the cultural, ethical, political, and scientific role of evidence in our world.

They are kicking the series off with what appears to be a two city tour of Vancouver and Saskatoon (from the announcement),

The Press and the Press Release: Inventing the Crystal Meth-HIV Connection
Cindy Patton, Canada Research Chair in Community, Culture, and Health
Sociology and Anthropology, Simon Fraser University

What does the rise and fall of a scientific fact look like? In her analysis of the Crystal Meth-AIDS superbug connection in US media coverage, Dr. Patton explores scientific evidence as it circulates through the lab, the media, and society. Scientific studies, expertise, and anecdotal human-interest stories are used to “prove” a causal relationship between the (probably temporary) rise in crystal use and a (less than clear) rise in HIV rates. But far from helping to avoid hasty and ill-conceived policy in a moment of panic, the media coverage justifies something more problematic: discrimination and medical policing that appear to rest on scientific proof.

Monday February 3, 2014, 4 PM
Buchanan A-201, University of British Columbia, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC

Wednesday, February 5, 2014, 4 PM CST / 5 PM ET
Room 18, Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan, 25 Campus Drive, Sakatoon, Saksatchewan
Watch the U. Sask reprise live online here:
www.livestream.com/situsci

Maybe I’ll see you at the Vancouver event.

Lomiko Mines, graphene, 3D printing, and the World Outlook Financial Conference and the launch of an international sustainable mining institute in Vancouver, Canada

I have two items one of which concerns Lomiko Metals and the other, a new institute focused on extraction launched jointly by the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU) and l’École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPM).

First, there’s a puzzling Jan. 28, 2014 news item on Nanowerk about Lomiko Metals (a company that extracts graphite flakes from the Quatre Milles property in Québec, and its appearance at the 2014 World Outlook Financial Conference being held in Vancouver,

Lomiko Metals Inc. invite [sic] investors to learn about 3d printing at the World Outlook Conference. Lomiko partner Graphene 3D Lab has reached a significant milestone by filing a provisional patent application for the use of graphene-enhanced material, along with other materials, in 3D Printing. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating a three-dimensional, solid object from a digital file, of virtually any shape. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, whereas successive layers of material are laid down and create different shapes.

Unsure as to whether or not Lomiko Metals would be offering demonstrations of 3D printed items containing graphene at the conference, I sent a query to the company’s Chief Executive Officer, A. Paul Gill who kindly replied with this,

The demonstration being done is by the Conference not by Lomiko.  We were going to do something at our booth but we didn’t want to steal any thunder from the WOC or Tinkinerine which is a 3D Printing manufacturer and is going public through a merger with White Bear Resources. (TSX-V: WBR).

The Jan. 27, 2013 [sic] Lomiko Metals news release, which originated the news item, did have this to say about graphene and 3D printing (Note: I live in dread of accidentally writing 2013 when I mean 2014),

Adding graphene to polymers which are conventionally u sed in 3D printing improves the properties of the polymer in many different ways; it improves the polymers mechanical strength as well as its electrical and thermal conductivity. The method described in the provisional patent application allows consumers to use the polymer, infused with graphene, together with conventional polymers in the same printing process, thereby fabricating functional electronic devices using 3D printing.

New developments in 3D printing will allow for the creation of products with different components, such as printed electronic circuits, sensors, or batteries to be manufactured. 3D Printing is a new and promising manufacturing technology that has garnered much interest, growing from uses in prototyping to everyday products. Today, it is a billion dollar industry growing at a brisk pace.

For those eager to find out about investment opportunities in 2014, here’s the World Financial Outlook Conference website. I was surprised they don’t list the conference dates on the homepage (Jan. 31 – Feb. 1,2014) or any details other than the prices for various categories of registration. There is a Speakers page, which lists John Biehler as their 3D printing expert,

John Biehler is a Vancouver based photographer, blogger, gadget geek, mobile phone nerd, teacher, traveler, 3D printer builder/operator, maker & all around curious person.

He co-founded 3D604.org, a club of 3d printing enthusiasts who meet monthly and help share their knowledge of 3d printing at many events. He has spoken at numerous conferences including SXSW Interactive, Northern Voice, BarCamp and many others.

John is a regular contributor to Miss604.com, the DottoTech radio show, the Province newspaper and London Drugs blogs as well as doing a weekly Tech Tuesday segment on News 1130 radio and many other online, print, radio and television outlets. He is currently writing his first book (about 3D printing) that will be published in 2014 by Que.

You can find the conference agenda here. Biehler’s talk “3D Printing: The Future is Now” is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 at 10:45 am PDT.

Sustainable extraction

A January 29, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release announced this (Note: Links have been removed),

International sustainable mining institute launched

A new Canadian institute that will help developing countries benefit from their mining resources in environmentally and socially responsible ways was officially launched in Vancouver today.

The Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development (CIIEID) is a coalition between the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and École Polytechnique de Montréal (EPM). Institute Interim Executive Director Bern Klein was joined for the launch in Vancouver by UBC’s Vice President Research & International John Hepburn, SFU President Andrew Petter, and EPM CEO Christophe Guy.

“Nations want to develop their mineral, oil and gas resources,” says Klein, also a professor of mining engineering at UBC. “But many lack the regulatory and policy frameworks to make the most of their natural resources, while also considering the needs of affected communities. We want them to have the capacity to use their resources to enhance livelihoods, improve dialogue and mitigate environmental harm.”

In November 2012 the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (then CIDA) announced the award of $25 million to a coalition of the three academic institutions to form the Institute. Since then, the Institute has set up operations and is connecting with partner nongovernmental organizations, governments, professional associations, and industry. It is now beginning program development.

Programming will put the Institute and its partners’ knowledge and resources at the service of foreign governments and local communities. Its work will focus on four main areas: applied research, community engagement, education, and governance of natural resources.

For more information about the Institute, visit the website at: http://ciieid.org.

I have searched the CIIEID website to find out how the government or anyone else for that matter determined that Canadians have any advice about or examples of sustainable extraction to offer any other country.  I remain mystified. Perhaps someone reading this blog would care to enlighten me.

Canadian Society for Chemistry honours Québec nanoscientist Federico Rosei

Dr. Federico Rosei’s name has graced this blog before, most recently in a June 15, 2010 posting about an organic nanoelectronics project. Late last week, Québec’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) announced that Rosei will be honoured by the Canadian Society for Chemistry at  the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference (from the January 24, 2014 news release on EurekAlert),,

The Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) has bestowed its 2014 Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry on Professor Federico Rosei, director of the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre, in recognition of his exceptional contributions to the field. Professor Rosei will be honoured at the society’s annual conference, which will take place June 1 to 5, 2014, in Vancouver.

In conjunction with this honour, Federico Rosei has been invited to speak at this important scientific conference and to take part in a lecture tour of Canadian universities located outside major cities.

Professor Rosei has been widely honoured for his research on nanomaterial properties and their applications. He has received numerous awards and distinctions, including the 2013 Herzberg Medal from the Canadian Association of Physicists, the Brian Ives Lectureship Award from ASM Canada, the 2011 Rutherford Memorial Medal in Chemistry from the Royal Society of Canada, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s 2010 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award. He is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Institute of Physics; the Royal Society of Chemistry; the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining; the Institute of Engineering and Technology; and the Institute of Nanotechnology in the U.K.; the Engineering Institute of Canada; and the Australian Institute of Physics. In addition, Professor Rosei is a Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Society for Photo-Image Engineers (SPIE), and a member of Sigma Xi (scientific research society) and the Global Young Academy.

Please join us in extending our congratulations to Professor Rosei!

###

The Canadian Society for Chemistry

The Canadian Society for Chemistry (CSC) is a not-for-profit professional association that unites chemistry students and professionals who work in industry, academia, and government. Recognized by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the CSC awards annual prizes and scholarships in recognition of outstanding achievements in the chemical sciences.

About INRS

Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) is a graduate research and training university. As Canada’s leading university for research intensity in its class, INRS brings together some 150 professors and close to 700 students and postdoctoral fellows in its centres in Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, and Varennes. As active providers of fundamental research essential to the advancement of science in Quebec as well as internationally, INRS research teams also play a critical role in developing concrete solutions to problems that our society faces.

The French language version of the news release: de l’actualité le 23 janvier 2014, par Stéphanie Thibault (Note: Links have been removed from the excerpt),

Le professeur Federico Rosei du Centre Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications de l’INRS est récipiendaire du Prix d’excellence en chimie des matériaux 2014. La Société canadienne de chimie reconnaît ainsi sa contribution exceptionnelle dans ce domaine. Le professeur Rosei sera honoré lors du congrès annuel de la Société qui aura lieu du 1er au 5 juin 2014 à Vancouver.

À titre de lauréat, le professeur Rosei sera conférencier invité à cette importante rencontre scientifique et participera à une tournée de conférences qui l’amènera dans des universités canadiennes situées hors des grandes villes.

I have not found any specific details about Dr. Rosei’s upcoming chemistry lecture tour of universities.

The conference where Dr. Rosei will be honoured is the 97th annual Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition. It is being hosted by Simon Fraser University (SFU), located in the Vancouver region. While the conference programme is not yet in place there’s a hint as to what will be offered in the conference chair’s Welcome message,

On behalf of the Organizing Committee, I am delighted to welcome all the delegates and their guests to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the 97th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition that will take place from June 1 to 5, 2014. This is Canada’s largest annual event devoted to the science and practice of chemistry, and it will give participants a platform to exchange ideas, discover novel opportunities, reacquaint with colleagues, meet new friends, and broaden their knowledge. The conference will held at the new Vancouver Convention Centre, which is a spectacular, green-designed facility on the beautiful waterfront in downtown Vancouver.

The theme of the CSC 2014 Conference is “Chemistry from Sea to Sky”; it will broadly cover all disciplines of chemistry from fundamental research to “blue sky” applications, highlight global chemical scientific interactions and collaborations, and feature the unique location, culture and beautiful geography (the Coastal Mountains along the ocean’s edge of Howe Sound) of British Columbia and Vancouver.

We are pleased to have Professor Shankar Balasubramanian (University of Cambridge, UK) and Professor Klaus Müllen (Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, Germany) as the plenary speakers. In addition to divisional symposia, the scientific program also includes several jointly organized international symposia, featuring Canada and each of China, Germany, Japan, Korea, Switzerland and the USA. This new type of symposium at the CSC aims to highlight research interests of Canadians in an international context. Interactions between chemists and TRIUMF (the world’s largest cyclotron, based in Vancouver) will also be highlighted via a special “Nuclear and Radiochemistry” Divisional Program.

All of the members of the local Organizing Committee from Simon Fraser University wish you a superb conference experience and a memorable stay in Vancouver. Welcome to Vancouver! Bienvenue à Vancouver!

Zuo-Guang Ye, Conference Chair
Department of Chemistry
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, British Columbia

Conference abstracts are being accepted until February 17, 2014 (according to the conference home page). Dr. Shankar Balasubramanian was last mentioned (one of several authors of a paper) here in a July 22, 2013 posting titled: Combining bacteriorhodopsin with semiconducting nanoparticles to generate hydrogen.

Simon Fraser University’s (Canada) gecko-type robots and the European Space Agency

The European Space Agency’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands has tested Simon Fraser University researchers’ (MENRVA group) robots for potential use in space according to a Jan. 2, 2014 news item on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News online website,

Canadian engineers, along with researchers from the European Space Agency, have developed lizard-inspired robots that could one day be crawling across the hulls of spacecrafts, doing research and repair work.

The science-fiction scenario is a step closer to reality after engineers from B.C.’s Simon Fraser University created a dry adhesive material that mimics the sticky footpads of gecko lizards.

“This approach is an example of ‘biomimicry,’ taking engineering solutions from the natural world,” said Michael Henrey of Simon Fraser

I have written about an earlier version (so I assume) of this called a Tailless Timing Belt Climbing Platform (TBCP-11) robot in a Nov. 2, 2011 posting, which features a video. As for Abigaille as the robot is currently named, here’s more from the CBC news item,

“Experimental success means deployment in space might one day be possible,” said Laurent Pambaguian of the ESA.

The adhesive was placed on the footpads of six-legged crawling robots, nicknamed Abigaille. Each leg has four degrees of motion, Henrey said, meaning these crawling robots should be able to handle environments that a wheeled robot can’t.

“For example, it can transition from the vertical to horizontal, which might be useful for going around a satellite or overcoming obstacles on the way,” he said.

The Jan. 2, 2014 European Space Agency news release, which originated the news item, describes the gecko’s special abilities and why those abilities could be useful in space,

A gecko’s feet are sticky due to a bunch of little hairs with ends just 100–200 nanometres across – around the scale of individual bacteria. This is sufficiently tiny that atomic interactions between the ends of the hairs and the surface come into play.

“We’ve borrowed techniques from the microelectronics industry to make our own footpad terminators,” he [Michael Henrey of Simon Fraser University] said. “Technical limitations mean these are around 100 times larger than a gecko’s hairs, but they are sufficient to support our robot’s weight.”

Interested in assessing the adhesive’s suitability for space, Michael tested it in ESA’s Electrical Materials and Process Labs, based in the Agency’s ESTEC technical centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, with additional support from ESA’s Automation and Robotics Lab.

“The reason we’re interested in dry adhesives is that other adhesive methods wouldn’t suit the space environment,” Michael notes.

“Scotch, duct or pressure-sensitive tape would collect dust, reducing their stickiness over time. They would also give off fumes in vacuum conditions, which is a big no-no because it might affect delicate spacecraft systems.

“Velcro requires a mating surface, and broken hooks could contaminate the robot’s working environment. Magnets can’t stick to composites, for example, and magnetic fields might affect sensitive instruments.”

Here’s what one of these robots looks like,

‘Abigaille’ wall-crawler robot Courtesy: European Space Agency

‘Abigaille’ wall-crawler robot Courtesy: European Space Agency

You can find out more about Simon Fraser University’s (located in Vancouver, Canada) climbing robots here on the Menrva Group webpage. which features both the gecko-type (also called Tank-style robots) and spider-inspired robots.

Big bucks for soft materials research at Simon Fraser University (Canada)

4D Labs at Simon Fraser University (SFU; Vancouver), one of Canada’s nanoscienceish labs, will be hosting a new centre, according to a Dec. 18, 2013 SFU news release,

A new Centre for Soft Materials for Simon Fraser University’s 4D LABS facility will be established with a federal government investment of more than $4.3 million. The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, made the announcement today [Dec. 18, 2013] at SFU.

The Western Economic Diversification Canada support will enhance SFU’s research infrastructure by creating an applications-driven research institute for the design, development, demonstration and delivery of advanced functional materials and nanoscale devices aimed at soft materials.

Here’s what they expect to be receiving and what they will be doing with it (from the news release),

The suite of sophisticated equipment includes two electron microscopes. These will allow local companies and innovators from a variety of sectors to more accurately visualize and analyze their advanced soft materials, while preserving nano-scale features within these materials. [emphasis mine]

These capabilities are critical to understanding and improving the performance of soft materials in real-world conditions, while also enabling a detailed understanding of new materials and products that will greatly reduce their time to market.

The Centre will also provide students with hands-on training and use of advanced microscopy and complementary tooling that was previously unavailable in Canada. [emphasis mine]

It would seem the first order of importance is industry (local companies and innovators) with students falling into second place. Some years ago I commented on a possible conflict of interest when universities attempt to cater to industry/business needs and student needs. It’s a situation where business can afford to pay more or offer incentives that students (and professors) cannot hope to match in a potential competition for access to equipment and resources.

This project has attracted matching funds (from the news release),

The Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation (AFCC) is contributing an additional $1.9 million to the project and funding is being further matched by $2.4 million from SFU.

AFCC Chief Financial Officer Tim Bovich says the partnership “sets an example of how cooperation among government, industry and academia can promote Canada, and British Columbia in particular, as the premier location for fuel cell stack producers and their many suppliers.” These technologies will also be accessible to many other sectors, including lighting, information technology, medicine, measurement and controls, electronics, clean energy, and security.

“Through this investment from the Government of Canada, and SFU’s ongoing partnership with the Automotive Fuel Cell Cooperation, 4D LABS is now able to expand its capabilities. We can enable a more accurate nano-scale visualization and chemical analysis of a diverse range of soft materials, that include biological tissues, composites and membranes, whose function depends on the distribution of water, polymers, and other matrices within the material,” says SFU Chemistry Associate Professor Byron Gates, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Surface Chemistry.

“Academic, industrial and government researchers across Western Canada will benefit from the addition of this Centre, which will facilitate further product innovation and economic development in the region.” {emphasis mine]

Congratulations to the folks at 4D Labs!

Big bucks for visual analytics at Simon Fraser University (Canada) and at the University of British Columbia (Canada) + a job posting

Apparently, visual analytics are a step beyond visual data. And, Vancouver is an important centre for this activity or so the Dec. 2, 2013 Simon Fraser University (SFU) news release claims,

A new lab being established at Simon Fraser University will advance research and become a hub for training and education in visual analytics, further developing the emerging field.

SFU’s Visual Analytics Research and Instructional Labs (VARI Labs) will be housed in SFU’s IRMACS facility and managed by the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA), a joint SFU-UBC [University of British Columbia] institute. A similar lab will be housed at UBC at the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Centre (MAGIC) in the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS).

Western Economic Diversification Canada is providing $513,141 in funding for the labs. Another $1.5 million in-kind contribution is coming from IBM, $616,000 from funding The Boeing Company had previously pledged to VIVA and a further $303,000 in future operating revenue and working capital, to round out the total project cost at nearly $3 million.

The lab will also host the secure cloud infrastructure necessary to transfer visual analytics science from academia to industries and organizations in Western Canada.

VIVA is the Canadian leader in research and education at the cutting edge of scientific and technological innovation in visual analytics. [emphasis mine]

Visual analytics, or VA, is the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by the use of interactive interfaces.

VIVA’s focus is on effectively applying VA solutions to the actual problems faced by industry and government, a process that draws on interdisciplinary research within the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, the School of Computing Science and within a range of other departments across SFU.

“In addition to delivering industry-specific workshops to groups in healthcare, aerospace, energy, security and others, the VARI lab will enable us to develop additional courses for live and internet delivery,” says VIVA Director Fred Popowich, a professor in SFU’s School of Computing Science.

“We will continue to grow our support for academic programs at both institutions and provide support involving access for students to data and tools at each of the VARI labs, as well as opportunities for paid projects and internships, in collaboration with VIVA’s industry partners and institutional partners, like MITACS.”

Popowich says the many partners supporting the creation of the VARI lab have provided VIVA, students and the community with an advanced, flexible infrastructure for VA research, training and education.

“This forward looking private cloud delivery platform allows VIVA to engage with students and researchers at SFU and UBC,” he adds, noting the virtual nature of the platform extends it to other partners and members of VIVA throughout Western Canada, including Oceans Network Canada in Victoria and universities that are part of the growing CANVAC Network, such as the University of Calgary.

“Thanks to advanced tools for data management and security, this private cloud platform can serve as the basis for secure research data management that will improve access for researchers, and allow for data-driven research and innovation.”

Adds SFU V-P Research Mario Pinto: “We are grateful to the Government of Canada, IBM, and Boeing Canada for this investment. Having these tools available at SFU and UBC builds upon each institution’s considerable strengths in collaborative research and innovation and increases experiential learning opportunities for students in this in-demand field.

“Organizations from diverse sectors across Western Canada stand to benefit from the resulting growth in capacity of visual analytics expertise right here in British Columbia.”

• Researchers set out VIVA’s agenda nearly a decade ago and have been advancing research and education ever since. Created in 2010 through a gift of $1.25 million (US) over five years from The Boeing Company, VIVA is the national leader in scientific and technological innovation in VA, addressing the issues surrounding big data and Canadian industry and government.

• SFU is internationally known as a leader in VA and has established a Canada Research Chair in Visual Analytics.

It’s nice the Canadian leader in this field is in Vancouver but according to the CANVAC (Canadian Network for Visual Analytics) homepage,, there are 12 centres in Canada and that doesn’t seem like a lot of competition. As for SFU being a world leader ((no word about UBC’s ranking)) in this field, strangely (to me), no claim is made about Canada’s world leadership.

I was hoping to find more information about SFU’s leadership position.in this job description posted for SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology,

Canada Research Chair Tier I in Visual Analytics

November 18, 2013

School of Interactive Arts and Technology

Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

We invite applications from leading scholars for a Canada Research Chair Tier I position in Visual Analytics. Visual Analytics is the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces. It is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon a range of disciplines including Information Design, Visualisation, Cognitive and Perceptual Sciences, Data Analysis, and others.

SFU is internationally known as a leader in visual analytics. [emphasis mine] SIAT researchers are at the core of the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics (VIVA), a multi-university consortium hosted by SFU to support collaboration in VA across universities in BC. VIVA affiliates bridge fundamental cognitive and vision science research with advanced software development in applications that include scientific research, advanced manufacturing, aircraft safety, public health, financial risk, and emergency management.  With support from the Boeing Company, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and federal sources, VIVA has been a leader in promoting visual analytics across Canada and is working with industrial sponsors to establish a national aerospace research consortium.

The CRC Tier I Chair is a highly prestigious position for distinguished scholars. Only senior investigators with outstanding publications will be considered and the applicant is expected to make an application for a Tier 1 CRC within the first year of appointment.  Candidates should demonstrate a strong record of academic accomplishments and the capability to provide leadership to SFUs Visual Analytics community and its collaborators in BC and across Canada. Applicants should be eligible for appointment at the rank of Full Professor and have the terminal degree in their discipline (normally a Ph.D.) in a field relevant to Visual Analytics. The applicant will have an opportunity to establish collaboration with and complement other research areas of strength within our School, including interaction design, human computer interaction, computer aided design, sustainable design, health informatics, cognitive and perceptual science, and learning analytics.

SIAT is a vibrant, multidisciplinary program connecting computing, media and design. SIAT’s teaching and research draw upon fields ranging from cognitive science, media arts, electronic games, design and interactive technology. SIAT offers degrees at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, and is the home of the SFU Visual Analytics graduate certificate program. The School currently enrolls about 800 undergraduates and approximately 110 graduate students, over 65 of whom are at the doctoral level. SIAT’s infrastructure includes purpose-built, state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories at SFU’s Surrey campus.

Simon Fraser University at Surrey is the University’s newest campus located in the greater Vancouver region of British Columbia. The area is home to Canada’s cultural and entertainment industry and much of its digital media production. The region’s rich cultural, natural and intellectual resources make it one of the world’s most desirable places to live and work. SIAT works as a unit of the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT), which additionally includes the School of Communication, The School of Contemporary Arts, The Master of Publishing Program and the Master’s in Digital Media Program (MDM). In Visual Analytics area, SIAT faculty collaborate closely with colleagues from School of Computing Science in the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority. Simon Fraser University is committed to employment equity and encourages applications from all qualified men and women, including visible minorities, aboriginal peoples, and persons with disabilities. The successful candidate will begin work on 1 September 2014. Screening of applicants will commence on January 1, 2014 and will continue until position is filled. The successful applicant will develop with the Simon Fraser University the Canada Research Chair application for the October 2014 deadline. All appointments are subject to the availability of funding.

Applicants should seek additional information, about the School at http://www.siat.sfu.ca/ to understand better the character of SIAT and their possible contributions within it.

To apply, candidates should send a recent curriculum vitae, a concise description of their research area and program, a statement of their teaching philosophy to:

Dr. Marek Hatala, Director
School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Simon Fraser University
250-13450 102nd Avenue
Surrey, BC CANADA V3T 0A3

Email: [email protected]

CC: [email protected]

Contact information for three academic referees will be requested of candidates moving to the second stage.

Under authority of the University Act personal information that is required by the university for academic appointment competitions will be collected. For further details see:

http://www.sfu.ca/vpacademic/Faculty_Openings/Collection_Notice.html

Unfortunately, only a simple declaration (the same as in the news release) “SFU is internationally known as a leader in visual analytics”, is made with no supporting information. Maybe one day we will find out what makes SFU a world leader in visual analytics (VA).

I did manage to find some more information about VA from the About Visual Analytics page on the VIVA (Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics) website (Note: Bibliographic references have been removed),

Visual analytics (VA) was initially proposed as a means to help United States intelligence analysts meet the challenge of dealing with the masses of security-related information made available to them following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They literally were lost in a data deluge.

Visual analytics is defined as “the science of analytical reasoning facilitated by interactive visual interfaces.

It is a multidisciplinary field intended to help people understand how to synthesize information in order to derive insights from massive, dynamic, ambiguous, and often conflicting data. In practice, it helps skilled analysts rapidly explore large, complex data sets to gain new insights using interactive visualizations. It draws upon research in a number of relevant areas, including information visualization, human computer interaction, machine learning, statistics, and cognitive science.

….

  • Raw data has little intrinsic value.
  • Data mining can help find expected patterns, e.g., prospect for gold and find gold in the data.
  • Visual analytics will help analysts see and explore their data to not only find the expected, but also discover the unexpected, e.g., look for gold and find gold, but also possibly find silver or copper in the same data.

Humans have very impressive visual and cognitive capabilities, but humans change very slowly, e.g., brain volume has only doubled in approximately 2.5 x 106 years.

Computing technology, however, has been changing very quickly, e.g., Moore’s Law demonstrates that integrated circuit capacity has consistently doubled in approximately 2 years periods.

One goal of visual analytics is to build better tools and develop better methods to take advantage of human visual and cognitive problem solving capabilities.

Getting back to this new facility, VARI (Visual Analytics Research and Instructional Labs), it will be located at SFU’s  Interdisciplinary Research in the Mathematical and Computational Sciences (IRMACS) Centre on the university’s Burnaby Mountain campus. As for the new facility mentioned for UBC, I’ve not not been able to find any information about it.