EPFL scientists have found a fast and simple way to make super-elastic, multi-material, high-performance fibers. Their fibers have already been used as sensors on robotic fingers and in clothing. This breakthrough method opens the door to new kinds of smart textiles and medical implants.
It’s a whole new way of thinking about sensors. The tiny fibers developed at EPFL are made of elastomer and can incorporate materials like electrodes and nanocomposite polymers. The fibers can detect even the slightest pressure and strain and can withstand deformation of close to 500% before recovering their initial shape. All that makes them perfect for applications in smart clothing and prostheses, and for creating artificial nerves for robots.
The fibers were developed at EPFL’s Laboratory of Photonic Materials and Fiber Devices (FIMAP), headed by Fabien Sorin at the School of Engineering. The scientists came up with a fast and easy method for embedding different kinds of microstructures in super-elastic fibers. For instance, by adding electrodes at strategic locations, they turned the fibers into ultra-sensitive sensors. What’s more, their method can be used to produce hundreds of meters of fiber in a short amount of time. Their research has just been published in Advanced Materials.
Heat, then stretch
To make their fibers, the scientists used a thermal drawing process, which is the standard process for optical-fiber manufacturing. They started by creating a macroscopic preform with the various fiber components arranged in a carefully designed 3D pattern. They then heated the preform and stretched it out, like melted plastic, to make fibers of a few hundreds microns in diameter. And while this process stretched out the pattern of components lengthwise, it also contracted it crosswise, meaning the components’ relative positions stayed the same. The end result was a set of fibers with an extremely complicated microarchitecture and advanced properties.
Until now, thermal drawing could be used to make only rigid fibers. But Sorin and his team used it to make elastic fibers. With the help of a new criterion for selecting materials, they were able to identify some thermoplastic elastomers that have a high viscosity when heated. After the fibers are drawn, they can be stretched and deformed but they always return to their original shape.
Rigid materials like nanocomposite polymers, metals and thermoplastics can be introduced into the fibers, as well as liquid metals that can be easily deformed. “For instance, we can add three strings of electrodes at the top of the fibers and one at the bottom. Different electrodes will come into contact depending on how the pressure is applied to the fibers. This will cause the electrodes to transmit a signal, which can then be read to determine exactly what type of stress the fiber is exposed to – such as compression or shear stress, for example,” says Sorin.
Artificial nerves for robots
Working in association with Professor Dr. Oliver Brock (Robotics and Biology Laboratory, Technical University of Berlin), the scientists integrated their fibers into robotic fingers as artificial nerves. Whenever the fingers touch something, electrodes in the fibers transmit information about the robot’s tactile interaction with its environment. The research team also tested adding their fibers to large-mesh clothing to detect compression and stretching. “Our technology could be used to develop a touch keyboard that’s integrated directly into clothing, for instance” says Sorin.
The researchers see many other potential applications. Especially since the thermal drawing process can be easily tweaked for large-scale production. This is a real plus for the manufacturing sector. The textile sector has already expressed interest in the new technology, and patents have been filed.
There’s a video of the lead researcher discussing the work as he offers some visual aids,
Compared to five or more years ago, there’s a lollapalooza of art/sci (or sciart) events coming up in September 2018. Of course, it’s helpful if you live in or are visiting Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary at the right time. All of these events occur from mid September (roughly) to the end of September. In no particular date order:
“The Sense of Beauty: Art and Science at CERN” (2017) by Valerio Jalongo
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2018 at 6:30 pm
The CINEMATHEQUE – 1131 Howe Street, Vancouver
Duration of film: 75’. Director in attendance; Q&A with the film director to follow the screening
Director Jalongo will discuss the making of his documentary in a seminar open to the public on September 24 (1:00-2:30 pm) at UBC [University of British Columbia] (Buchanan Penthouse, *1866 Main Maill, Block C, 5th floor*, Vancouver).
The Sense of Beauty is the story of an unprecedented experiment that involves scientists from throughout the world collaborating around the largest machine ever constructed by human beings: the LHC (Large Hadron Collider). As the new experiment at CERN proceeds in its exploration of the mysterious energy that animates the universe, scientists and artists guide us towards the shadow line where science and art, in different ways, pursue truth and beauty.
Some of these men and women believe in God, while others believe only in experiment and doubt. But in their search for truth they are all alert to an elusive sixth – or seventh – sense: the sense of beauty. An unmissable opportunity for lovers of science, of beauty, or of both.
Rome-born Valerio Jalongo is a teacher, screenwriter and director who works in cinema and TV, for which he created works of fiction and award-winning documentaries. Among them: Sulla mia pelle (On My Skin, 2003) and La scuola è finita (2010), starring Valeria Golino, on the difficulties facing public schools in Italy.
This event is presented by the Dante Alighieri Society of BC in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver and in association with ARPICO (www.arpico.ca), the Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada.
I searched for more information both about the film and about the seminar at UBC. I had no luck with the UBC seminar but I did find more about the film. There’s an April (?) 2017 synopsis by Luciano Barisone on the Vision du Réel website,
From one cave to another. In prehistoric times, human beings would leave paintings in caves to show their amazement and admiration for the complexity of the world. These reproductions of natural forms were the results of an act of creation and also of mystical gestures which appropriated the soul of things. In another gigantic and modern den, the immense CERN laboratory, the same thing is happening today, a combination of enthralled exploration of the cosmos and an attempt to control it. Valerio Jalongo’s film tackles the big questions that have fascinated poets, artists and philosophers since the dawn of time. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? The scientists at CERN attempt to answer them through machines that explore matter and search for the origins of life. In their conversations or their words to camera, the meaning of existence thus seems to become a pure question of the laws of physics and mathematical formulae. If only for solving the mystery of the universe a sixth sense is necessary. That of beauty…
There’s also a February 5, 2018 essay by Stefano Caggiano for Interni, which uses a description of the film to launch into a paean to Italian design,
The success of the documentary The Sense of Beauty by Valerio Jalongo, which narrates the ‘aesthetic’ side of the physicists at CERN when faced with the fundamental laws of nature, proves that the yearning for beauty is not just an aspect of art, but something shared by all human efforts to interpret reality.
It is no coincidence that the scientists themselves define the LHC particle accelerator (27 km) as a grand machine for beauty, conceived to investigate the meaning of things, not to perform some practical function. In fact, just as matter can be perceived only through form, and form only if supported by matter (Aristotle already understood this), so the laws of physics can be glimpsed only when they are applied to reality.
This is why in the Large Hadron Collider particles are accelerated to speeds close to that of light, reconstructing the matter-energy conditions just a few instants after the Big Bang. Only in this way is it possible to glimpse the hidden fundamental laws of the universe. It is precisely this evanescence that constitutes ‘beauty.’
The quivering of the form that reveals itself in the matter that conceals it, and which – given the fact that everything originates in the Big Bang – is found everywhere, in the most faraway stars and the closest objects: you just have to know how to prove it, grasp it, how to wait. Because this is the only way to establish relations with beauty: not perceiving it but awaiting it. Respecting its way of offering itself, which consists in denying itself.
Charging the form of an object with this sensation of awaiting, then, means catalyzing the ultimate and primary sense of beauty. And it is what is held in common by the work of the five Italian designers nominated for the Rising Talent Awards of Maison & Object 2018 (with Kensaku Oshiro as the only non-Italian designer, though he does live and work in Milan).
There’s a trailer (published by CERN on November 7, 2017,
It’s in both Italian and English with subtitles throughout, should you need them.
*The address for the Buchanan Penthouse was corrected from: 2329 West Mall to 1866 Main Maill, Block C, 5th floor on Sept. 17, 2018.
Toronto’s ArtSci Salon at Nuit Blanche, Mycology, Wild Bees and Art+Tech!
From a Tuesday, September 11, 2018 Art/Sci Salon announcement (received via email),
Baba Yaga Collective and ArtSci Salon Present: Chaos Fungorum
In 1747, Carl Linnaeus, known as the “father of taxonomy”, observed
that the seeds of fungus moved in water like fish until “..by a law of
nature thus far unheard of and surpassing all human understanding..,”
they changed back to plant in their adult life.
He proceeded to include fungi in the new genus of “Chaos”. But why
delimiting fungi within categories and boundaries when it is exactly
their fluidity that make them so interesting?
Chaos Fungorum draws on the particular position occupied by fungi and
other hybrid organisms: neither plant nor animal, fungi extend across,
and can entertain, communications and collaborations between animal,
human and industrial realms.
Mixing different artistic practices and media, the artists featured in
this exhibition seek to move beyond rigid comprehensions of the living
by working with, rather than merely shaping, sculpting and manipulating
plants, microorganisms and fungi. Letting the non-human speak is to move
away from an anthropocentric approach to the world: it not only opens to
new rewarding artistic practices, but it also fosters new ideas of
sustainable coexistence, new unusual life collaborations and
adaptations, and new forms of communications and languages.
September 26 – October 7, 2018
Baba Yaga Collective 906 Queen Street West @Crawford, Toronto
All the Buzz on Wild Bee Club!
Summer Speaker Series
Wed Sept 19 at 7pm
High Park Nature Centre,
All the Buzz on Wild Bee Club! – Summer Speaker Series
The speaker series will feature the club’s biologist/leader SUSAN FRYE.
A major component of this club will use the SONIC SOLITARIES AUDIO BEE
CABINET – an observable nest site for bees in OURSpace – to encompass a
sensory experience with stem nesting bees and wasps, and to record
weekly activity at the cabinet. Pairing magnified views in tandem with
amplified sound via headphones, the cabinet facilitates an enhanced
perception of its tiny inhabitants: solitary bees and wasps and other
nest biota in action, up close. As citizen scientists, we can gather and
record observations to compile them into a database that will contribute
to our growing understanding of native bees, the native (and non-native)
plants they use for food and nest material sources, their co-evolution,
and how pollination in a park and restored habitat setting is
facilitated by native bees.
Fri, Sept 21, 8pm
Music Gallery, 918 Bathurst (their new location) – Trio Wow & Flutter
with Bea Labikova, fujara, saxophones,
Kayla Milmine-Abbott, soprano saxophone,
Sarah Peebles, shō, cracklebox, amplifiers.
Call for Participants: Art+Tech Jam
ChangeUp’s Art+Tech Jam
This three days event will unite a diverse group of artists and
technologists in an intensive, collaborative three-day creation period
and culminating showcase (public exhibition and interdisciplinary rave).
ChangeUo is currently accepting applicants from tech and arts/culture
spaces of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels.
Limited spots available.
For more information and to apply https://tinyurl.com/changeup-artsorg
I looked up Nanotopia and found it on SoundCloud. Happy listening!
Et Al III (the ultimate science bar night in Vancouver) and more
A September 12, 2018 Curiosity Collider announcement (received via email) reveals details about the latest cooperative event/bar night put on by three sciencish groups,
Curiosity Collider is bringing art + science to Vancouver’s Ultimate Bar Science Night with Nerd Nite & Science Slam
Do you enjoy learning about science in a casual environment? This is the third year that Curiosity Collider is part of Et al, the Ultimate Bar Science Night where we bring together awesome speakers and activities. Come and enjoy Curiosity Collider’s segment on quantum physics with Spoken Word Poet Angelica Poversky, Physicist James Day, and CC’s own Creative Director Char Hoyt.
When: Drinks and mingling start at 6:30pm. Presentations start at 7:30pm. Where:Rio Theatre, 1660 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC V5N 1W1 Cost:$15-20 via Eventbrite and at the door. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running this event, and to fund future science bar events.
Special Guest talk by Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist with a Twist!
Dr. Carin Bondar is a biologist, author and philosopher. Bondar is author of the books Wild Sex and Wild Moms (Pegasus). She is the writer and host of an online series based on her books which have garnered over 100,000,000 views. Her TED talk on the subject has nearly 3 million views. She is host of several TV series including Worlds Oddest Animal Couples (Animal Planet, Netflix), Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World (Discovery World HD, National Geographic) and Outrageous Acts of Science (The Science Channel). Bondar is an adventurer and explorer, having discovered 11 new species of beetles and snails in the remote jungles of Borneo. Bondar is also a mom of 4 kids, two boys and two girls.
Vancouver Biennale is hosting Patricia Piccinini’s CURIOUS IMAGININGS at the Patricia Hotel. The exhibition will “challenge us to explore the social impacts of emerging biotechnology and our ethical limits in an age where genetic engineering and digital technologies are already pushing the boundaries of humanity.” Purchase tickets online.
Devoted readers 🙂 will note that the Vancouver Biennale’s Curious Imaginings show was featured here in a June 18, 2018 post and mentioned more recently in the context of a September 11, 2018 post on xenotransplantation.
Et Al III: The Ultimate Bar Science Night Curiosity Collider + Nerd Nite Vancouver + Science Slam Canada
POSTER BY: Armin Mortazavi IG:@Armin.Scientoonist
Et Al III: The Ultimate Bar Science Night
Curiosity Collider + Nerd Nite Vancouver + Science Slam Canada
Special Guest talk by Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist with a Twist!
6:30pm – Doors open
6:30-7:30 Drinks, Socializing, Nerding
7:30pm-945pm Stage Show with two intermissions
You like science? You like drinking while sciencing? In Vancouver there are many options to get educated and inspired through science, art, and culture in a casual bar setting outside of universities. There’s Nerd Nite which focuses on nerdy lectures in the Fox Cabaret, Curiosity Collider which creates events that bring together artists and scientists, and Science Slam, a poetry-slam inspired science communication competition!
In this third installment of Et Al, we’re making the show bigger than ever. We want people to know all about the bar science nights in Vancouver, but we also want to connect all you nerds together as we build this community. We encourage you to COME DRESSED AS YOUR FAVOURITE SCIENTIST. We will give away prizes to the best costumes, plus it’s a great ice breaker. We’re also encouraging science based organizations to get involved in the show by promoting your institution. Contact Kaylee or Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org if your science organization would like to contribute to the show with some giveaways, you will get a free ticket, if you don’t have anything to give away, contact us anyway, we want this to be a celebration of science nights in Vancouver!
Dr. Carin Bondar is a biologist, author and philosopher. Bondar is author of the books Wild Sex and Wild Moms (Pegasus). She is writer and host of online series based on her books (Wild Sex and Wild Moms) which have garnered over 100,000,000 views. Her TED talk on the subject has nearly 3 million views. She is host of several TV series including Worlds Oddest Animal Couples (Animal Planet, Netflix), Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World (Discovery World HD, National Geographic) and Outrageous Acts of Science (The Science Channel). Bondar is an adventurer and explorer, having discovered 11 new species of beetles and snails in the remote jungles of Borneo. Bondar is also a mom of 4 kids, two boys and two girls.
Curiosity Collider Art Science Foundation promotes interdisciplinary collaborations that capture natural human curiosity. At the intersection of art, culture, technology, and humanity are innovative ways to communicate the daily relevance of science. Though exhibitions, performance events and our quarterly speaker event, the Collider Cafe we help create new ways to experience science.
In our opinion, there has never been a better time to be a Nerd! Nerd Nite is an event which is currently held in over 60 cities worldwide! The formula for each Nerd Nite is pretty standard – 20 minute presentations from three presenters each night, in a laid-back environment with lots to learn, and lots to drink!
Science Slam YVR is a community outreach organization committed to supporting and promoting science communication in Vancouver. Our Science Slams are informal competitions that bring together researchers, students, educators, and communicators to share interesting science in creative ways. Every event is different, with talks, poems, songs, dances, and unexpected surprises. Our only two rules? Each slammer has 5 minutes, and no slideshows are allowed! Slammers come to share their science, and the judges and audience decide their fate. Who will take away the title of Science Slam champion?
An art, science, and engineering festival in Calgary, Alberta, Beakerhead opens on September 19, 2018 and runs until September 23, 2018. Here’s more from the 2018 online programme announcement made in late July (?) 2018,
Giant Dung Beetle, Zorb Ball Racers, Heart Powered Art and More Set to Explode on Calgary Streets!
Quirky, fun adventures result when art, science and engineering collide at Beakerhead September 19 – 23, 2018.
In just seven weeks, enormous electric bolts will light up the sky in downtown Calgary when a crazy cacophony of exhibits and events takes over the city. The Beakerhead crew is announcing the official program lineup with tickets now available online for all ticketed events. This year’s extravaganza will include remarkable spectacles of art and science, unique activities, and more than 50 distinct events – many of which are free, but still require registration to get tickets.
The Calgary-born smash up of art, science and engineering is in its sixth year. Last year, more than 145,000 people participated in Beakerhead and organizers are planning to top that number in 2018.
“Expect conversations that start with “wow!” says Mary Anne Moser, President and Co-founder of Beakerhead. “This year’s lineup includes a lot of original concepts, special culinary events, dozens of workshops, shows and and tours.”
Beakerhead events take place indoors and out. Beakernight is science’s biggest ticketed street party and tickets are now on sale.
Highlights of Beakerhead 2018:
Light up the Night: Giant electric bolts will light up the night sky thanks to two 10-metre Tesla Coils built by a team of artists and engineers.
Lunch Without Light: This special Dark Table dining experience is led by a famous broadcaster and an esteemed neuroscientist.
Beakereats and Beakerbar: Dining is a whole new experience when chef and bartender become scientist! Creative Calgary chefs and mixologists experiment with a new theme in 2018: canola.
Four to Six on Fourth: Blocks of open-air experimentation including a human-sized hamster wheel, artists, performers, and hands-on or feet-on experiences like walking on liquid.
Beacons: This series of free neighbourhood installations is completely wild! There’s everything from a giant dung beetle to a 3.5 metre lotus that lights up with your heart beat.
Workshops: Learn the art of animation, understand cryptocurrency, meet famous scientists and broadcasters, make organic facial oil or a vegan carrot cake and much more.
Zorbathon: Get inside a zorb and cavort with family and friends in an oversized playground. Participate in rolling races, bump-a-thons, obstacle courses. Make a day of it.
Beakerhead takes place September 19 – 23, 2018 with the ticketed Beakernight on Saturday, September 22 at Fort Calgary.
Here’s a special shout out to Shaskatchewan`s Jean-Sébastien Gauthier and Brian F. Eames (featured here in a February 16, 2018 posting) and their free ‘Within Measure’ Sept. 19 – 23, 2018 event at Beakerhead.
This latest watch from the Richard Mille company by way of the University of Manchester isn’t the lightest watch the company has ever made but it is their lightest, most complex watch yet at less than 1.5 oz. It also has a breathtaking price tag. More about that later.
In January 2017 the world’s lightest mechanical chronograph watch was unveiled in Geneva, Switzerland, showcasing innovative composite development by using graphene. Now the research behind the project has been published. The unique precision-engineered watch was a result of collaboration between The University of Manchester [UK], Richard Mille Watches and McLaren Applied Technologies.
The RM 50-03 watch was made using a unique composite incorporating graphene to manufacture a strong but lightweight new case to house the watch mechanism which weighed just 40 grams in total, including the strap.
The collaboration was an exercise in engineering excellence, exploring the methods of correctly aligning graphene within a composite to make the most of the two-dimensional materials superlative properties of mechanical stiffness and strength whilst negating the need for the addition of other, weightier materials.
Now the research behind this unique watch has been published in the journal, Composites Part A: Applied Science and Manufacturing. The work was primarily carried out by a group of researchers at The University of Manchester’s National Graphene Institute.
Leading the research Professor Robert Young said: “In this work, through the addition of only a small amount of graphene into the matrix, the mechanical properties of a unidirectionally-reinforced carbon fibre composite have been significantly enhanced.
“This could have future impact on precision-engineering industries where strength, stiffness and product weight are key concerns such in as aerospace and automotive.”
The small amount of graphene used was added to a carbon fibre composite with the goal of improving stiffness and reducing weight by requiring the use of less overall material. Since graphene has high levels of stiffness and strength, its use as a reinforcement
in polymer composites shows huge potential of further enhancing the mechanical properties of composites.
The final results were achieved with only a 2% weight fraction of graphene added to the epoxy resin. The resulting composite with graphene and carbon fibre was then analysed by tensile testing and the mechanisms were revealed primarily by using Raman spectroscopy and X-ray CT scans.
The benefits of this research demonstrate a simple method which can be incorporated into existing industrial processes, allowing for engineering industries to benefit from graphene mechanical properties, such as the manufacture of airplane wings or the body work of high-performance cars.
The research group discovered that when comparing with a carbon fibre equivalent specimen, the addition of graphene significantly improved the tensile stiffness and strength. This occurred when the graphene was dispersed through the material and aligned in in the fibre direction.
Dr Zheling Li, a University of Manchester Research Associate said: “This study presents a way of increasing the axial stiffness and strength of composites by simple conventional processing methods, and clarifying the mechanisms that lead to this reinforcement.”
Aurèle Vuilleumier R&D Manager at Richard Mille said: “This project is a perfect example of technology transfer from the university to the product. The partnership with McLaren Applied Technologies allows a broad diffusion of graphene-enhanced composites in the industry. As a tangible result, a world record light and strong watch was available for our customers: the RM 50-03.”
Dr Broderick Coburn, Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at McLaren Applied Technologies said: “The potential of graphene to enhance composites’ structural properties has been known and demonstrated at a lab-scale for some time now. This application, although niche, is a great example of those structural benefits making it through to a prepreg material, and then into an actual product.”
The University of Manchester will soon be celebrating the opening of its second world-class graphene facility, the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), set-to open later this year. The GEIC will allow industry to work alongside academic expertise to translate research into prototypes and pilot production and accelerate the commercialisation of graphene.
There’s an old saying, ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’. It sprang to mind as I checked out the luxury Swiss watch company’s, Richard MIlle, products. You won’t find a price tag on the company’s RM 50-03’s product page but you will get lots of pictures of the watch mixed in with sports car images alongside chunks of text exhorting the watch and invoking sports car racing, a very expensive sport. And, the sports car images make even more sense when you know that the one of other partners in this academic/commercial venture is a UK leader in the field of motorsport. More from the About page on the McLaren website,
Whatever we apply ourselves to at McLaren, whether in the fields of racing, supercars or technology; we are committed to a journey of relentless improvement that challenges convention, disrupts markets and delivers powerful competitive advantage.
I was not able to find a price list on the Mille or McLaren sites. In fact, the watch does not seem to be mentioned at all on the McLaren website.
Happily, there’s a January 17, 2017 posting by Zach Pina for A Blog To Watch, which kind of reveals the price (Note: Links have been removed),
Forty grams [less than 1.5 oz.]. That’s the total weight, including the strap, of the new Richard Mille RM 50-03 McLaren F1 watch, making it the lightest split-second chronograph with a tourbillon the world has ever seen. Ok, yes – this isn’t exactly an ultra-competitive category – hell, the RM 50-03 is a veritable boat-anchor when compared to the groundbreaking 19-gram [less that .75 oz.] RM 027 Tourbillon Richard Mille built for Rafael Nadal, but that was, by comparison, a much less complicated watch. A mere 40 grams is still an impressive technical feat when you look at just how much is packed into the latest marvel from Richard Mille. The cost for the 40-gram horological wonder? It’ll be seven figures. [The blog post’s title has the price as $1Million.]
Sports cars are expensive and, I guess, so is the technology when it’s adapted to watches. If you’re at all interested, watches, luxury products, and/or the latest high technology, I recommend reading Pina’s entire posting for a lively read,
Richard Mille is no slouch when it comes to passionately creative design and materials (possible understatement of the year, though the year  is still young). However, in breaking new ground for this particular watch, it took a partnership between the Swiss watchmaker, famed British Formula 1 automaker McLaren, and Nobel Prize-winning scientists from the University of Manchester. The product of their collaboration is a case that marries titanium, carbon TPT (thin-ply technology), and a Richard Mille exclusive and apparent watchmaking first: Graph TPT, better known as graphene, that is six times lighter than steel and 200 times as strong. It’s on the cutting edge of materials research and sets the bar for lightweight strength in timepieces.
Should you be hoping for a bargain, I don’t expect they’ve dropped the price in an effort to move product as it reaches its second anniversary since part of the appeal of a luxury product is the cost. In fact, luxury brands destroy product rather than lower the price,
I have two bits about prosthetics, one which focuses on how most of us think of them and another about science fiction fantasies.
Better motor control
This new technology comes via a collaboration between the University of Alberta, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, from a March 18, 2018 article by Nicole Ireland for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) news online,
Rob Anderson was fighting wildfires in Alberta when the helicopter he was in crashed into the side of a mountain. He survived, but lost his left arm and left leg.
More than 10 years after that accident, Anderson, now 39, says prosthetic limb technology has come a long way, and he feels fortunate to be using “top of the line stuff” to help him function as normally as possible. In fact, he continues to work for the Alberta government’s wildfire fighting service.
His powered prosthetic hand can do basic functions like opening and closing, but he doesn’t feel connected to it — and has limited ability to perform more intricate movements with it, such as shaking hands or holding a glass.
Anderson, who lives in Grande Prairie, Alta., compares its function to “doing things with a long pair of pliers.”
“There’s a disconnect between what you’re physically touching and what your body is doing,” he told CBC News.
Anderson is one of four Canadian participants in a study that suggests there’s a way to change that. …
Six people, all of whom had arm amputations from below the elbow or higher, took part in the research. It found that strategically placed vibrating “robots” made them “feel” the movements of their prosthetic hands, allowing them to grasp and grip objects with much more control and accuracy.
All of the participants had all previously undergone a specialized surgical procedure called “targeted re-innervation.” The nerves that had connected to their hands before they were amputated were rewired to link instead to muscles (including the biceps and triceps) in their remaining upper arms and in their chests.
For the study, researchers placed the robotic devices on the skin over those re-innervated muscles and vibrated them as the participants opened, closed, grasped or pinched with their prosthetic hands.
While the vibration was turned on, the participants “felt” their artificial hands moving and could adjust their grip based on the sensation. …
I have an April 24, 2017 posting about a tetraplegic patient who had a number of electrodes implanted in his arms and hands linked to a brain-machine interface and which allowed him to move his hands and arms; the implants were later removed. It is a different problem with a correspondingly different technological solution but there does seem to be increased interest in implanting sensors and electrodes into the human body to increase mobility and/or sensation.
Anderson describes how it ‘feels,
“It was kind of surreal,” Anderson said. “I could visually see the hand go out, I would touch something, I would squeeze it and my phantom hand felt like it was being closed and squeezing on something and it was sending the message back to my brain.
“It was a very strange sensation to actually be able to feel that feedback because I hadn’t in 10 years.”
The feeling of movement in the prosthetic hand is an illusion, the researchers say, since the vibration is actually happening to a muscle elsewhere in the body. But the sensation appeared to have a real effect on the participants.
“They were able to control their grasp function and how much they were opening the hand, to the same degree that someone with an intact hand would,” said study co-author Dr. Jacqueline Hebert, an associate professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta.
Although the researchers are encouraged by the study findings, they acknowledge that there was a small number of participants, who all had access to the specialized re-innervation surgery to redirect the nerves from their amputated hands to other parts of their body.
The next step, they say, is to see if they can also simulate the feeling of movement in a broader range of people who have had other types of amputations, including legs, and have not had the re-innervation surgery.
This is a bit longer than most of the embedded audio pieces that I have here but it’s worth it. Sadly, I can’t identify the interviewer who did a very good job with Jon Sensinger, associate director of UNB’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering. One more thing, I noticed that the interviewer made no mention of the University of Alberta in her introduction or in the subsequent interview. I gather regionalism reigns supreme everywhere in Canada. Or, maybe she and Sensinger just forgot. It happens when you’re excited. Also, there were US institutions in Ohio and Virginia that participated in this work.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the team’s paper,
Illusory movement perception improves motor control for prosthetic hands by Paul D. Marasco, Jacqueline S. Hebert, Jon W. Sensinger, Courtney E. Shell, Jonathon S. Schofield, Zachary C. Thumser, Raviraj Nataraj, Dylan T. Beckler, Michael R. Dawson, Dan H. Blustein, Satinder Gill, Brett D. Mensh, Rafael Granja-Vazquez, Madeline D. Newcomb, Jason P. Carey, and Beth M. Orzell. Science Translational Medicine 14 Mar 2018: Vol. 10, Issue 432, eaao6990 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao6990
Assistive devices may soon allow people to perform virtually superhuman feats. According to Robert Riener, however, there are more pressing goals than developing superhumans.
What had until recently been described as a futuristic vision has become a reality: the first self-declared “cyborgs” have had chips implanted in their bodies so that they can open doors and make cashless payments. The latest robotic hand prostheses succeed in performing all kinds of grips and tasks requiring dexterity. Parathletes fitted with running and spring prostheses compete – and win – against the best, non-impaired athletes. Then there are robotic pets and talking humanoid robots adding a bit of excitement to nursing homes.
Some media are even predicting that these high-tech creations will bring about forms of physiological augmentation overshadowing humans’ physical capabilities in ways never seen before. For instance, hearing aids are eventually expected to offer the ultimate in hearing; retinal implants will enable vision with a sharpness rivalling that of any eagle; motorised exoskeletons will transform soldiers into tireless fighting machines.
Visions of the future: the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution highlights the emergence of physiological augmentation. (Visualisations: Square Enix) Courtesy: ETH Zurich
Professor Robert Riener uses the image above to illustrate the notion of superprosthese in his March 20, 2018 essay on the ETH Zurich website,
All of these prophecies notwithstanding, our robotic transformation into superheroes will not be happening in the immediate future and can still be filed under Hollywood hero myths. Compared to the technology available today, our bodies are a true marvel whose complexity and performance allows us to perform an extremely wide spectrum of tasks. Hundreds of efficient muscles, thousands of independently operating motor units along with millions of sensory receptors and billions of nerve cells allow us to perform delicate and detailed tasks with tweezers or lift heavy loads. Added to this, our musculoskeletal system is highly adaptable, can partly repair itself and requires only minimal amounts of energy in the form of relatively small amounts of food consumed.
Machines will not be able to match this any time soon. Today’s assistive devices are still laboratory experiments or niche products designed for very specific tasks. Markus Rehm, an athlete with a disability, does not use his innovative spring prosthesis to go for walks or drive a car. Nor can today’s conventional arm prostheses help a person tie their shoes or button up their shirt. Lifting devices used for nursing care are not suitable for helping with personal hygiene tasks or in psychotherapy. And robotic pets quickly lose their charm the moment their batteries die.
Solving real problems
There is no denying that advances continue to be made. Since the scientific and industrial revolutions, we have become dependent on relentless progress and growth, and we can no longer separate today’s world from this development. There are, however, more pressing issues to be solved than creating superhumans.
On the one hand, engineers need to dedicate their efforts to solving the real problems of patients, the elderly and people with disabilities. Better technical solutions are needed to help them lead normal lives and assist them in their work. We need motorised prostheses that also work in the rain and wheelchairs that can manoeuvre even with snow on the ground. Talking robotic nurses also need to be understood by hard-of-hearing pensioners as well as offer simple and dependable interactivity. Their batteries need to last at least one full day to be recharged overnight.
In addition, financial resources need to be available so that all people have access to the latest technologies, such as a high-quality household prosthesis for the family man, an extra prosthesis for the avid athlete or a prosthesis for the pensioner. [emphasis mine]
Breaking down barriers
What is just as important as the ongoing development of prostheses and assistive devices is the ability to minimise or eliminate physical barriers. Where there are no stairs, there is no need for elaborate special solutions like stair lifts or stairclimbing wheelchairs – or, presumably, fully motorised exoskeletons.
Efforts also need to be made to transform the way society thinks about people with disabilities. More acknowledgement of the day-to-day challenges facing patients with disabilities is needed, which requires that people be confronted with the topic of disability when they are still children. Such projects must be promoted at home and in schools so that living with impairments can also attain a state of normality and all people can partake in society. It is therefore also necessary to break down mental barriers.
The road to a virtually superhuman existence is still far and long. Anyone reading this text will not live to see it. In the meantime, the task at hand is to tackle the mundane challenges in order to simplify people’s daily lives in ways that do not require technology, that allow people to be active participants and improve their quality of life – instead of wasting our time getting caught up in cyborg euphoria and digital mania.
I’m struck by Riener’s reference to financial resources and access. Sensinger mentions financial resources in his CBC radio interview although his concern is with convincing funders that prostheses that mimic ‘feeling’ are needed.
I’m also struck by Riener’s discussion about nontechnological solutions for including people with all kinds of abilities and disabilities.
There was no grand plan for combining these two news bits; I just thought they were interesting together.
With all the talk about artificial intelligence (AI), a lot more attention seems to be paid to apocalyptic scenarios: loss of jobs, financial hardship, loss of personal agency and privacy, and more with all of these impacts being described as global. Still, there are some folks who are considering and working on ‘AI for good’.
If you’d asked me, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) would not have been my first guess (my choice would have been United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO]) as an agency likely to host the 2018 AI for Good Global Summit. But, it turns out the ITU is a UN (United Nations agency) and, according to its Wikipedia entry, it’s an intergovernmental public-private partnership, which may explain the nature of the participants in the upcoming summit.
First, there’s a May 4, 2018 ITU media advisory (received via email or you can find the full media advisory here) about the upcoming summit,
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now widely identified as being able to address the greatest challenges facing humanity – supporting innovation in fields ranging from crisis management and healthcare to smart cities and communications networking.
The second annual ‘AI for Good Global Summit’ will take place 15-17 May  in Geneva, and seeks to leverage AI to accelerate progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and ultimately benefit humanity.
WHAT: Global event to advance ‘AI for Good’ with the participation of internationally recognized AI experts. The programme will include interactive high-level panels, while ‘AI Breakthrough Teams’ will propose AI strategies able to create impact in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society – through interactive sessions. The summit will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.
A special demo & exhibit track will feature innovative applications of AI designed to: protect women from sexual violence, avoid infant crib deaths, end child abuse, predict oral cancer, and improve mental health treatments for depression – as well as interactive robots including: Alice, a Dutch invention designed to support the aged; iCub, an open-source robot; and Sophia, the humanoid AI robot.
WHEN: 15-17 May 2018, beginning daily at 9 AM
WHERE: ITU Headquarters, 2 Rue de Varembé, Geneva, Switzerland (Please note: entrance to ITU is now limited for all visitors to the Montbrillant building entrance only on rue Varembé).
WHO: Confirmed participants to date include expert representatives from: Association for Computing Machinery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Cambridge University, Carnegie Mellon, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Consumer Trade Association, Facebook, Fraunhofer, Google, Harvard University, IBM Watson, IEEE, Intellectual Ventures, ITU, Microsoft, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Partnership on AI, Planet Labs, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, University of California at Berkeley, University of Tokyo, XPRIZE Foundation, Yale University – and the participation of “Sophia” the humanoid robot and “iCub” the EU open source robotcub.
Frederic Werner, Senior Communications Officer at the International Telecommunication Union and** one of the organizers of the AI for Good Global Summit 2018 kindly took the time to speak to me and provide a few more details about the upcoming event.
Werner noted that the 2018 event grew out of a much smaller 2017 ‘workshop’ and first of its kind, about beneficial AI which this year has ballooned in size to 91 countries (about 15 participants are expected from Canada), 32 UN agencies, and substantive representation from the private sector. The 2017 event featured Dr. Yoshua Bengio of the University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) was a featured speaker.
“This year, we’re focused on action-oriented projects that will help us reach our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. We’re looking at near-term practical AI applications,” says Werner. “We’re matchmaking problem-owners and solution-owners.”
Academics, industry professionals, government officials, and representatives from UN agencies are gathering to work on four tracks/themes:
ITU has just launched an AI Repository where anyone working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) can contribute key information about how to leverage AI to help solve humanity’s greatest challenges.
This is the only global repository that identifies AI-related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks and organizations that aim to accelerate progress on the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To submit a project, just press ‘Submit’ on the AI Repository site and fill in the online questionnaire, providing all relevant details of your project. You will also be asked to map your project to the relevant World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) action lines and the SDGs. Approved projects will be officially registered in the repository database.
Benefits of participation on the AI Repository include:
Your project details will become visible to the world on the website.
You will be connected with AI stakeholders, world-wide.
WSIS Prizes recognize individuals, governments, civil society, local, regional and international agencies, research institutions and private-sector companies for outstanding success in implementing development oriented strategies that leverage the power of AI and ICTs.
If you have any questions, please send an email to: email@example.com
“Your project won’t be visible immediately as we have to vet the submissions to weed out spam-type material and projects that are not in line with our goals,” says Werner. That said, there are already 29 projects in the repository. As you might expect, the UK, China, and US are in the repository but also represented are Egypt, Uganda, Belarus, Serbia, Peru, Italy, and other countries not commonly cited when discussing AI research.
Werner also pointed out in response to my surprise over the ITU’s role with regard to this AI initiative that the ITU is the only UN agency which has 192* member states (countries), 150 universities, and over 700 industry members as well as other member entities, which gives them tremendous breadth of reach. As well, the organization, founded originally in 1865 as the International Telegraph Convention, has extensive experience with global standardization in the information technology and telecommunications industries. (See more in their Wikipedia entry.)
The AI for Good series is the leading United Nations platform for dialogue on AI. The action-oriented 2018 summit will identify practical applications of AI and supporting strategies to improve the quality and sustainability of life on our planet. The summit will continue to formulate strategies to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits.
While the 2017 summit sparked the first ever inclusive global dialogue on beneficial AI, the action-oriented 2018 summit will focus on impactful AI solutions able to yield long-term benefits and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. ‘Breakthrough teams’ will demonstrate the potential of AI to map poverty and aid with natural disasters using satellite imagery, how AI could assist the delivery of citizen-centric services in smart cities, and new opportunities for AI to help achieve Universal Health Coverage, and finally to help achieve transparency and explainability in AI algorithms.
Teams will propose impactful AI strategies able to be enacted in the near term, guided by an expert audience of mentors representing government, industry, academia and civil society. Strategies will be evaluated by the mentors according to their feasibility and scalability, potential to address truly global challenges, degree of supporting advocacy, and applicability to market failures beyond the scope of government and industry. The exercise will connect AI innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers, building collaboration to take promising strategies forward.
“As the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies, ITU is well placed to guide AI innovation towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We are providing a neutral close quotation markplatform for international dialogue aimed at building a common understanding of the capabilities of emerging AI technologies.” Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of ITU
Should you be close to Geneva, it seems that registration is still open. Just go to the ITU’s AI for Good Global Summit 2018 webpage, scroll the page down to ‘Documentation’ and you will find a link to the invitation and a link to online registration. Participation is free but I expect that you are responsible for your travel and accommodation costs.
For anyone unable to attend in person, the summit will be livestreamed (webcast in real time) and you can watch the sessions by following the link below,
For those of us on the West Coast of Canada and other parts distant to Geneva, you will want to take the nine hour difference between Geneva (Switzerland) and here into account when viewing the proceedings. If you can’t manage the time difference, the sessions are being recorded and will be posted at a later date.
*’132 member states’ corrected to ‘192 member states’ on May 11, 2018 at 1500 hours PDT.
In no particular order, here are some Frankenstein bits and bobs in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s book.
The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project
This project at Arizona State University has been featured here a few times and most recently in a October 26, 2016 posting about an artist using a Roomba (robotic vacuum cleaner) in an artistic query and about the Frankenstein at 200 online exhibition.
A free, interactive, multiplatform experience for kids designed to inspire deeper engagement with STEM topics and promote the development of 21st century skills related to creative collaboration and critical thinking.
A collaborative, multimedia reading experiment with Mary Shelley’s timeless tale examining the the scientific, technological, political, and ethical dimensions of the novel, its historical context, and its enduring legacy.
A set of hands-on STEM making activities that use the Frankenstein story to inspire deeper conversations about scientific and technological creativity and social responsibility.
How to Make a Monster
Kathryn Harkup in a February 22, 2018 article about her recent book for the Guardian delves into the science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Note: Links have been removed),
The bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus has meant a lot of people are re-examining this brilliant work of science fiction. My particular interest is the science fact behind the science fiction. How much real science influenced Mary Shelley? Could a real-life Victor Frankenstein have constructed a creature?
In terms of the technical aspects of building a creature from scraps, many people focus on the collecting of the raw materials and reanimation stages. It’s understandable as there are many great stories about grave-robbers and dissection rooms as well as electrical experiments that were performed on recently executed murderers. But there quite a few stages between digging up dead bodies and reanimating a creature.
The months of tedious and fiddly surgery to bring everything together are often glossed over, but what virtually no one mentions is how difficult it would have been to keep the bits and pieces in a suitable state of preservation while Victor worked on his creation. Making a monster takes time, and bodies rot very quickly.
Preservation of anatomical material was of huge interest when Frankenstein was written, as it is now, though for very different reasons. Today the interest is in preserving organs and tissues suitable for transplant. Some individuals even want to cryogenically freeze their entire body in case future scientists are able to revive them and cure whatever disease caused their original death. In that respect the aims are not so different from what the fictional Victor Frankenstein was attempting two hundred years ago.
At the time Frankenstein is set, the late 18th century, few people were really thinking about organ transplant. Instead, tissue preservation was of concern for anatomy professors who wanted to maintain collections of interesting, unusual or instructive specimens to use as teaching aids for future students.
She provides fascinating insight into preservation techniques of the 18th century and their dangers,
To preserve soft tissues, various substances were injected into or used to coat or soak the dissected specimen. The substance in question had to be toxic enough to destroy mould and bacteria that could decompose the sample, but not corrosive or damaging to the tissues of the specimen itself.
Substances such as turpentine, mercury metal and mercury salts (which are even more toxic than the pure element) were all employed stop the decay process in its tracks. Killing off bacteria and mould means that some vital process within them has been stopped; however, many processes that are critical to mould and bacteria are also necessary for humans, making these substances toxic to us.
Working in cramped, poorly ventilated conditions with minimal regard for health and safety, the substances anatomical curators were using day in and day out took a serious toll on their health. Anatomical curators were described as emaciated, prematurely aged and with a hacking cough. …
One of the most successful techniques for tissue preservation was bottling in alcohol. …
In the 18th century the University of Edinburgh handed over twelve gallons of whisky annually to the anatomy museum for the preservation of specimens. Possible not all of those twelve gallons made it into the specimen jars. The nature of the curator’s work – the smell, the problems with vermin and toxic fumes – must have made the odd sip of whisky very tempting. Indeed, more than one curator was dismissed for being drunk on the job.
Shelley described Frankenstein working in a small attic room using candlelight to illuminate his work. Small rooms, toxic vapours, alcohol fumes and naked flames are not a healthy combination. No wonder Shelley wrote the work took such a toll on Frankenstein’s health.
The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science-fiction genres, and her creation has become part of our everyday culture, from cartoons to Hallowe’en costumes. Even the name ‘Frankenstein’ has become a by-word for evil scientists and dangerous experiments. How did a teenager with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein?
Clues are dotted throughout Georgian science and popular culture. The years before the book’s publication saw huge advances in our understanding of the natural sciences, in areas such as electricity and physiology, for example. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, while the newspapers were full of lurid tales of murderers and resurrectionists.
Making the Monster explores the scientific background behind Mary Shelley’s book. Is there any science fact behind the science fiction? And how might a real-life Victor Frankenstein have gone about creating his monster? From tales of volcanic eruptions, artificial life and chemical revolutions, to experimental surgery, ‘monsters’ and electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Shelley, and inspired her most famous creation.
The Frankenstein 2018 project is based at Volda University College in Norway, but aims to engage and include people from elsewhere in Norway and around the world.
The project is led by Timothy Saunders, an Associate Professor of English Literature and Culture at Volda University College.
If you would like to get in touch, either to offer comments on the website, to provide information about related projects or activities taking place around the world, or even to offer relevant material of your own, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a great idea and I wish the folks at Volda University College all the best.
The Monster Challenge
Washington University in St. Louis (WUSL; Missouri, US) is hosting a competition to create a ‘new Frankenstein’, from WUSL’s The Monster Challenge webpage,
On June 16, 1816, a 19-year-old woman sat quietly listening as her lover (the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) and a small group of friends — including celebrated poet Lord Byron — discussed conducting a ghost-story contest. The couple was spending their holiday in a beautiful mansion on the banks of scenic Lake Geneva in Switzerland. As the conversation about ghost stories heated up, a discussion arose about the principle of life. Not surprisingly, the ensuing talk of graves and corpses led to a sleepless night filled with horrific nightmares for Mary Shelley. Later, she recalled her own contest entry began with eight words; “It was on a dreary night in November…” Just two years later, in 1818, that young woman, Mary Shelley, published her expanded submission as the novel Frankenstein, not only a classic of 19th-century fiction, but a work that has enjoyed immense influence on popular culture, science, medicine, philosophy and the arts all the way up to the present day.
THE MONSTER CHALLENGE
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication in 1818, Washington University is hosting a competition open to WU students (full time and registered in fall 2018), both undergraduate and graduate. The submission deadline is October 15, 2018.
The prompt for our own WU “Monster Challenge” is “The New Frankenstein”:
If you learned of a contest today, similar to the one that inspired the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818, what new Frankenstein would you create? Winning entries will be those best exemplifying the spirit, tone and feeling of Frankenstein for our age.
Submissions are eligible in two categories: written (including poetry, fiction, nonfiction and theater; 5000 word limit) and visual (including new media, experimental media, sound art, performance art, and design). Only one submission is allowed per student or student collaboration group. The winners will be determined by a jury of faculty members and announced in the fall 2018 semester. Winning entries will also be featured on the Frankenstein Bicentennial website (frankenstein200.wustl.edu).
Through the generosity of Provost Holden Thorpe’s office, winners will receive a cash prize as well as the opportunity to have their submission read, exhibited, and/or performed during the fall 2018 semester. Prizes are as follows:
WRITTEN CATEGORY VISUAL CATEGORY
Grand Prize: $1000 Grand Prize: $1000
2nd Prize: $500 2nd Prize: $500
3rd Prize: $250 3rd Prize: $250
HOW TO SUBMIT
Please review the guidelines below and download the appropriate submission form … for your project.
All submissions are due by 3 pm on October 15, 2018.
Only one submission is allowed per student or student collaboration group.
Electronic submissions should be emailed to email@example.com along with the appropriate submission form (right).
Non-electronic submissions should be dropped off at the Performing Arts Department in Mallinckrodt Center, Room 312 (specific dates and times to be determined). All applicants submitting work here must also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a digital image of the work and the appropriate submission form (right). Entries should fit into a case 74″ w x 87″ h x 23″ d. For exceptions, please contact Professor Patricia Olynyk (email@example.com).
For additional information about the contest, please contact the Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the most famous literary works of the last two centuries, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) permeates our cultural imagination. A man of science makes dead matter live yet abandons his own creation. A creature is composed of human body parts yet denied a place in human society. The epic struggle that ensues between creator and creature poses enduring questions to all of us. What do we owe our non-human creations? How might the pursuit of scientific knowledge endanger or empower humanity? How do we combine social responsibility with our technological power to alter living matter? These moral quandaries drive the novel as well as our own hopes and fears about modernity.
Over the last 200 years, Frankenstein has also become one of our most culturally productive myths. The Black Frankenstein became a potent metaphor for racial otherness in the 19th century and remains so to this day. From Boris Karloff as the iconic Monster of 1931 to the transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show of 1975, the novel has inspired dozens of films and dramatizations. Female poets from Margaret Atwood to Liz Lochhead and Laurie Sheck continue to wrestle with the novel’s imaginative possibilities. And Frankenstein, of course, permeates our material culture. Think no further than Franken Berry cereal, Frankenstein action figures, and Frankenstein bed pillows.
Please join us at Washington University in St. Louis as we celebrate Mary Shelley’s iconic novel and its afterlives with a series of events organized by faculty, students and staff from across the arts, humanities and life sciences. Highlights include the conference Frankenstein at 200, sponsored by the Center for the Humanities; a special Frankenstein issue of The Common Reader; a staging of Nick Dear’s play Frankenstein; the symposium The Curren(t)cy of Frankenstein, sponsored by the Medical School; a film series; several lectures; and exhibits designed to showcase the university’s museum and library collections.
This site aggregates all events related to the celebration. Please visit again for updates!
They do have a page for Global Celebrations and while the listing isn’t really global at this point (I’m sure they’re hoping that will change) it does open up a number of possibilities for Frankenstein aficionados, experts, and enthusiasts,
Technologies of Frankenstein
Stevens Institute of Technology, College of Arts and Letters and IEEE History Center
The 200th anniversary year of the first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus has drawn worldwide interest in revisiting the novel’s themes. What were those themes and what is their value to us in the early twenty-first century? In what ways might our tools of science and communication serve as an “elixir of life” since the age of Frankenstein?
Frankenstein@200 is a year-long series of academic courses and programs including a film festival, a play, a lecture series and an international Health Humanities Conference that will examine the numerous moral, scientific, sociological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the work, and why Dr. Frankenstein and his monster still capture the moral imagination today..
San Jose State University, Santa Clara University, and University of San Francisco
During 2018, the San Francisco Bay area partners will host The Frankenstein Bicentennial. The novel brings together STEM fields with humanities & the arts in such a way to engage almost every discipline and major. The project’s events will address timely issues of our world in Silicon Valley and the advent of technology – a critical topic with questions important to our academic, regional and world communities. The novel, because it has been so popular for 200 years, lives on in discussions about what it means to be human in a digital world.
Next performance: Monday Feb. 26, 2018; 7 PM
Extended through 2018!
“..it is a success of a show that should be considered
something great in the realm of musical theater.”
“A musical love letter”
– Local Theatre NY
“…infused with enough emotion to send chills down the spine…”
– Local Theatre NY
““ an ambitious theater piece that is refreshingly buoyed up by its music””
– Theater Scene
a new Off-Broadway musical by Eric B. Sirota
based on Mary Shelley’s classic novel
Presented by John Lant, Tamra Pica & Write Act Repertory
at St. Luke’s Theater in the heart of the theatre district
. . . a sweeping romantic musical, about the human need for love and companionship,
which honors its source material.
Performances Monday nights at 7 PM
tickets to performances into March currently on sale
(scroll down for performance schedule)
Contact us for Special Group Sales and Buyouts at: info@TheFrankensteinMusical.com
St. Luke’s Theatre
an Off-Broadway venue in the heart of the theatre district on “Restaurant Row”
308 West 46th Street (btwn. 8th and 9th Ave.)
– Book, Music & Lyrics: Eric B. Sirota
-Additional lyrics: Julia Sirota
– Director: Clint Hromsco
– Music Director: Austin Nuckols
(original music direction by Anessa Marie)
– Producer: John Lant, Tamra Pica and Write Act Repertory
– CAST: Jon Rose, Erick Sanchez-Canahuate, Gabriella Marzetta, Stephan Amenta, Cait Kiley, Adam Kee, Samantha Collette, Amy Londyn, Stephanie Lourenco Viegas, Bryan S. Walton
Eric Sirota developed Frankenstein under the working title of “Day of Wrath”, an Official Selection of the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival’s Reading Series
Feb 26, Mon; 7 PM
Mar 5, Mon; 7 PM
Tickets to later dates on sale soon. . .
March 12, 19, 24
April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30
May . . .
Jun . . .
running though 2018
2018 – Frankenstein bicentennial year!
The Purgatory Press*
The Purgatory Press blog’s* John Culbert (author and lecturer at the University of British Columbia) wrote a January 1, 2018 essay celebrating and examining Mary Shelley’s classic,
She was born in 1797, toward the end of the Little Ice Age. Wolves had been extirpated from the country, but not so long ago that one could forget. Man’s only predator in the British Isles was now a mental throwback. Does the shadow of extinction fall on the children of perpetrators? What strange gap is left in the mind of men suddenly raised from the humble status of prey?
In the winter of her sixteenth year, the river Thames froze in London for the last time. The final “Frost Fair,” a tradition dating back centuries, was held February 1814 on the river’s hard surface.
The following year, a volcano in present-day Indonesia erupted. It was the most powerful and destructive event of its kind in recorded history. Fallout caused a “volcanic winter” across the Northern Hemisphere. In 1816 – “the year without a summer” – she was in Switzerland, where she began writing her first novel, Frankenstein, published 200 years ago today — on January 1st, 1818.
Fascinating, yes? I encourage you to read the whole piece.
3–8 April (with special events on 28 March and 27–28 April)
The Science Museum is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus with a free festival exploring the science behind this cultural phenomenon.
Through immersive theatre, experimental storytelling and hands-on activities visitors can examine the ethical and scientific questions surrounding the artificial creation of life. Families can step in Doctor Frankenstein’s shoes, creating a creature and bringing it to life using stop motion animation at our drop-in workshops.
In the Mystery at Frankenstein’s Lab visitors can solve puzzles and conduct experiments in an escape room-like interactive experience. Visitors are also invited to explore the Science Museum as you’ve never heard it before in It’s Alive, an immersive Frankenstein-themed audio tour. Both these activities have limited availability so pre-booking is advised.
In Pandemic, you decide how far Dr Victor should go to tackle a virus sweeping the world. Is it right to create new life to save others? You decide where to draw the line in this choose-your-own-adventure experience. Visitors can also see Humanity 2.0, a play created and performed by actor Emily Carding. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the play examines what could happen if a benevolent AI recreated humanity.
As part of the festival, visitors will meet researchers at the cutting-edge of science—from bio chemists who manipulate DNA to engineers creating artificial intelligence—and discover fascinating scientific objects with our curators which could have influenced Shelley.
The Frankenstein Festival will run daily from 3–8 April at the Science Museum and is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Tickets for activities with limited availability are available from sciencemuseum.org.uk/Frankenstein.
Our free adult-only Frankenstein Lates on 28 March will focus on the darker themes of Shelley’s iconic novel, with the Promethean Tales Weekend on 27–28 April, featuring panel discussions and special screenings of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and The Curse of Frankenstein in our IMAX cinema.
Frankenstein Festival activities include:
An immersive audio tour created by Cmd+Shift in collaboration with the Science Museum. The tour takes 45 minutes and is limited to 15 people per session. Recommended for ages 8+. Tickets cost £3 and are available here.
Mystery at Frankenstein’s Lab
This interactive, theatrical puzzle experience has been created by Atomic Force Productions, in collaboration with the Science Museum. Each session lasts 45 minutes and is limited to 10 people per session. Recommended for ages 12+, under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets cost £10 and are available here.
Create Your Own Creature
Get hands on at our drop-in workshops and create your very own creature. Then bring your creature to life with stop motion animation. This activity takes approximately 20 minutes and is suitable for all ages.
Humanity 2.0 (3–5 April)
Step into a dystopian future and help shape the future of humanity in this unique interactive play created and performed by Emily Carding. Her full body make-up was created by award winning body painter Victoria Gugenheim in collaboration with the Science Museum. The play has a run time of 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 12+.
Pandemic (5–8 April)
This choose-your-own-adventure film puts you in control of a psychological thriller. Your decisions will guide Dr Victor on their quest to create artificial life.
Pandemic was created by John Bradburn in collaboration with the Science Museum. The film contains moderate psychological threat and horror sequences that some people may find disturbing. The experiences lasts 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 14+. Tickets are free and are available here.
Frankenstein Festival events include:
Wednesday 28 March, 18.45–22.00
Join us for a fun free evening of events, workshops and screenings as we ask the question ‘should we create life’.
Lates is a free themed-event for adults at the Science Museum on the last Wednesday of each month. Find out more about Lates at sciencemuseum.org.uk/Lates.
Artificial Life: Should We, Could We, Will We?
Wednesday 28 March as part of the Frankenstein Lates
A panel of expert scientists and researchers will discuss artificial life. Just how close are we to creating fully synthetic life and will this be achieved by biological or digital means?
Discussing those questions will be Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College and scientific advisor for the hit movie Ex Machina Murray Shanahan, Vice President of the International Society for Artificial Life Susan Stepney and Lead Curator of the Science Museum’s acclaimed 2017 exhibition Robots Ben Russell. Further speakers to be announced.
Promethean Tales Weekend
Terminator 2: Judgement Day + Panel Discussion
Friday 27 April, 19.30–22.35 (Doors open 19.00)
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions
Age 15 and above
In part one of our Promethean Tales Weekend celebrating the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we will be joined by a panel of experts in science, film and literature to discuss the topic of ‘Promethean Tales through the ages’ ahead of a screening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The Curse of Frankenstein and Q&A with Sir Christopher Frayling
Saturday 28 April, 18.00–20.30 (Doors open 17.30)
Tickets: £8, £6 Concessions
In part two of our Promethean Tales Weekend, we are joined by Sir Christopher Frayling, author of Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years, to discuss the life and work of Shelley, the origins of her seminal story and its cultural impact.
The screening of The Curse of Frankenstein will be followed by a book signing with copies of Sir Christopher’s book available to purchase on the night.
You can find out more about the festival and get tickets to events, here.
This initiative seems like a lot of fun, from the Frankenreads homepage,
Frankenreads is an NEH [US National Endowment for the Humanitities]-funded initiative of the Keats-Shelley Association of America and partners to hold a series of events and initiatives in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring especially an international series of readings of the full text of the novel on Halloween 2018.
They have a very open approach as their FAQs webpage attests to,
Why host a Frankenreads event?
Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus appeals to both novice and expert readers alike and is a work that remains highly relevant to contemporary issues. Thus it is perhaps no surprise that (according to the Open Syllabus project) Frankenstein is the most frequently taught work of literature in college English courses and the fifth most frequently taught book in college courses in all disciplines. It is certainly one of the most read British novels in the world. Hosting a Frankenreads event is an easy way both to celebrate the 200th anniversary of this important work and to foster discussion about issues such as ethics in science and the human tendency to demonize the unfamiliar. By participating in Frankenreads, you can make sure that your thoughts about Frankenstein are part of a global conversation.
What kind of event can I host?
You can host any kind of event you like! Below are some suggestions. Click on the event type for further guidance.
Complete Reading — A live, all-day reading (about 9 hours) of the full text of Frankenstein
Viewing — A community viewing on Halloween 2018 of the livestream of the NEH reading or other online events
Other — Whatever other kind of in-person or online event you can think of!
Should I hold in-person events or online events?
Either or both! We encourage you to record in-person events and upload video to our YouTube channel. We will also be providing advice on holding events via Google Hangouts.
When should I hold the event?
You can hold a Frankenreads event any time you like, but we encourage you to schedule an event during Frankenweek: October 24-31, 2018.
Why post my event on the Frankenreads website?
Posting your event on the Frankenreads website enables the Frankenreads team to publicize your event widely, to give you help with your event, and to connect you with others who are holding nearby or similar events.
How do I post my event on the Frankenreads website?
It seems a Swiss team from the École Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL) have collaborated with American companies Twist Bioscience and Microsoft, as well as, the University of Washington (state) to preserve two iconic jazz pieces on DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) according to a Sept. 29, 2017 news item on phys.org,,
Thanks to an innovative technology for encoding data in DNA strands, two items of world heritage – songs recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival [held in Switzerland] and digitized by EPFL – have been safeguarded for eternity. This marks the first time that cultural artifacts granted UNESCO heritage status have been saved in such a manner, ensuring they are preserved for thousands of years. The method was developed by US company Twist Bioscience and is being unveiled today in a demonstrator created at the EPFL+ECAL Lab.
“Tutu” by Miles Davis and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple have already made their mark on music history. Now they have entered the annals of science, for eternity. Recordings of these two legendary songs were digitized by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) as part of the Montreux Jazz Digital Project, and they are the first to be stored in the form of a DNA sequence that can be subsequently decoded and listened to without any reduction in quality.
This feat was achieved by US company Twist Bioscience working in association with Microsoft Research and the University of Washington. The pioneering technology is actually based on a mechanism that has been at work on Earth for billions of years: storing information in the form of DNA strands. This fundamental process is what has allowed all living species, plants and animals alike, to live on from generation to generation.
The entire world wide web in a shoe box
All electronic data storage involves encoding data in binary format – a series of zeros and ones – and then recording it on a physical medium. DNA works in a similar way, but is composed of long strands of series of four nucleotides (A, T, C and G) that make up a “code.” While the basic principle may be the same, the two methods differ greatly in terms of efficiency: if all the information currently on the internet was stored in the form of DNA, it would fit in a shoe box!
Recent advances in biotechnology now make it possible for humans to do what Mother Nature has always done. Today’s scientists can create artificial DNA strands, “record” any kind of genetic code on them and then analyze them using a sequencer to reconstruct the original data. What’s more, DNA is extraordinarily stable, as evidenced by prehistoric fragments that have been preserved in amber. Artificial strands created by scientists and carefully encapsulated should likewise last for millennia.
To help demonstrate the feasibility of this new method, EPFL’s Metamedia Center provided recordings of two famous songs played at the Montreux Jazz Festival: “Tutu” by Miles Davis, and “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. Twist Bioscience and its research partners encoded the recordings, transformed them into DNA strands and then sequenced and decoded them and played them again – without any reduction in quality.
The amount of artificial DNA strands needed to record the two songs is invisible to the naked eye, and the amount needed to record all 50 years of the Festival’s archives, which have been included in UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Memory of the World Register, would be equal in size to a grain of sand. “Our partnership with EPFL in digitizing our archives aims not only at their positive exploration, but also at their preservation for the next generations,” says Thierry Amsallem, president of the Claude Nobs Foundation. “By taking part in this pioneering experiment which writes the songs into DNA strands, we can be certain that they will be saved on a medium that will never become obsolete!”
A new concept of time
At EPFL’s first-ever ArtTech forum, attendees got to hear the two songs played after being stored in DNA, using a demonstrator developed at the EPFL+ECAL Lab. The system shows that being able to store data for thousands of years is a revolutionary breakthrough that can completely change our relationship with data, memory and time. “For us, it means looking into radically new ways of interacting with cultural heritage that can potentially cut across civilizations,” says Nicolas Henchoz, head of the EPFL+ECAL Lab.
Quincy Jones, a longstanding Festival supporter, is particularly enthusiastic about this technological breakthrough: “With advancements in nanotechnology, I believe we can expect to see people living prolonged lives, and with that, we can also expect to see more developments in the enhancement of how we live. For me, life is all about learning where you came from in order to get where you want to go, but in order to do so, you need access to history! And with the unreliability of how archives are often stored, I sometimes worry that our future generations will be left without such access… So, it absolutely makes my soul smile to know that EPFL, Twist Bioscience and their partners are coming together to preserve the beauty and history of the Montreux Jazz Festival for our future generations, on DNA! I’ve been a part of this festival for decades and it truly is a magnificent representation of what happens when different cultures unite for the sake of music. Absolute magic. And I’m proud to know that the memory of this special place will never be lost.
Twist Bioscience, a company accelerating science and innovation through rapid, high-quality DNA synthesis, today announced that, working with Microsoft and University of Washington researchers, they have successfully stored archival-quality audio recordings of two important music performances from the archives of the world-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival.
These selections are encoded and stored in nature’s preferred storage medium, DNA, for the first time. These tiny specks of DNA will preserve a part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Archive, where valuable cultural heritage collections are recorded. This is the first time DNA has been used as a long-term archival-quality storage medium.
Quincy Jones, world-renowned Entertainment Executive, Music Composer and Arranger, Musician and Music Producer said, “With advancements in nanotechnology, I believe we can expect to see people living prolonged lives, and with that, we can also expect to see more developments in the enhancement of how we live. For me, life is all about learning where you came from in order to get where you want to go, but in order to do so, you need access to history! And with the unreliability of how archives are often stored, I sometimes worry that our future generations will be left without such access…So, it absolutely makes my soul smile to know that EPFL, Twist Bioscience and others are coming together to preserve the beauty and history of the Montreux Jazz Festival for our future generations, on DNA!…I’ve been a part of this festival for decades and it truly is a magnificent representation of what happens when different cultures unite for the sake of music. Absolute magic. And I’m proud to know that the memory of this special place will never be lost.”
“Our partnership with EPFL in digitizing our archives aims not only at their positive exploration, but also at their preservation for the next generations,” says Thierry Amsallem, president of the Claude Nobs Foundation. “By taking part in this pioneering experiment which writes the songs into DNA strands, we can be certain that they will be saved on a medium that will never become obsolete!”
The Montreux Jazz Digital Project is a collaboration between the Claude Nobs Foundation, curator of the Montreux Jazz Festival audio-visual collection and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to digitize, enrich, store, show, and preserve this notable legacy created by Claude Nobs, the Festival’s founder.
In this proof-of-principle project, two quintessential music performances from the Montreux Jazz Festival – Smoke on the Water, performed by Deep Purple and Tutu, performed by Miles Davis – have been encoded onto DNA and read back with 100 percent accuracy. After being decoded, the songs were played on September 29th  at the ArtTech Forum (see below) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Smoke on the Water was selected as a tribute to Claude Nobs, the Montreux Jazz Festival’s founder. The song memorializes a fire and Funky Claude’srescue efforts at the Casino Barrière de Montreux during a Frank Zappa concert promoted by Claude Nobs. Miles Davis’ Tutu was selected for the role he played in music history and the Montreux Jazz Festival’s success. Miles Davis died in 1991.
“We archived two magical musical pieces on DNA of this historic collection, equating to 140MB of stored data in DNA,” said Karin Strauss, Ph.D., a Senior Researcher at Microsoft, and one of the project’s leaders. “The amount of DNA used to store these songs is much smaller than one grain of sand. Amazingly, storing the entire six petabyte Montreux Jazz Festival’s collection would result in DNA smaller than one grain of rice.”
Luis Ceze, Ph.D., a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, said, “DNA, nature’s preferred information storage medium, is an ideal fit for digital archives because of its durability, density and eternal relevance. Storing items from the Montreux Jazz Festival is a perfect way to show how fast DNA digital data storage is becoming real.”
Nature’s Preferred Storage Medium
Nature selected DNA as its hard drive billions of years ago to encode all the genetic instructions necessary for life. These instructions include all the information necessary for survival. DNA molecules encode information with sequences of discrete units. In computers, these discrete units are the 0s and 1s of “binary code,” whereas in DNA molecules, the units are the four distinct nucleotide bases: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T).
“DNA is a remarkably efficient molecule that can remain stable for millennia,” said Bill Peck, Ph.D., chief technology officer of Twist Bioscience. “This is a very exciting project: we are now in an age where we can use the remarkable efficiencies of nature to archive master copies of our cultural heritage in DNA. As we develop the economies of this process new performances can be added any time. Unlike current storage technologies, nature’s media will not change and will remain readable through time. There will be no new technology to replace DNA, nature has already optimized the format.”
DNA: Far More Efficient Than a Computer
Each cell within the human body contains approximately three billion base pairs of DNA. With 75 trillion cells in the human body, this equates to the storage of 150 zettabytes (1021) of information within each body. By comparison, the largest data centers can be hundreds of thousands to even millions of square feet to hold a comparable amount of stored data.
The Elegance of DNA as a Storage Medium
Like music, which can be widely varied with a finite number of notes, DNA encodes individuality with only four different letters in varied combinations. When using DNA as a storage medium, there are several advantages in addition to the universality of the format and incredible storage density. DNA can be stable for thousands of years when stored in a cool dry place and is easy to copy using polymerase chain reaction to create back-up copies of archived material. In addition, because of PCR, small data sets can be targeted and recovered quickly from a large dataset without needing to read the entire file.
How to Store Digital Data in DNA
To encode the music performances into archival storage copies in DNA, Twist Bioscience worked with Microsoft and University of Washington researchers to complete four steps: Coding, synthesis/storage, retrieval and decoding. First, the digital files were converted from the binary code using 0s and 1s into sequences of A, C, T and G. For purposes of the example, 00 represents A, 10 represents C, 01 represents G and 11 represents T. Twist Bioscience then synthesizes the DNA in short segments in the sequence order provided. The short DNA segments each contain about 12 bytes of data as well as a sequence number to indicate their place within the overall sequence. This is the process of storage. And finally, to ensure that the file is stored accurately, the sequence is read back to ensure 100 percent accuracy, and then decoded from A, C, T or G into a two-digit binary representation.
Importantly, to encapsulate and preserve encoded DNA, the collaborators are working with Professor Dr. Robert Grass of ETH Zurich. Grass has developed an innovative technology inspired by preservation of DNA within prehistoric fossils. With this technology, digital data encoded in DNA remains preserved for millennia.
About UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register
UNESCO established the Memory of the World Register in 1992 in response to a growing awareness of the perilous state of preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage in various parts of the world. Through its National Commissions, UNESCO prepared a list of endangered library and archive holdings and a world list of national cinematic heritage.
A range of pilot projects employing contemporary technology to reproduce original documentary heritage on other media began. These included, for example, a CD-ROM of the 13th Century Radzivill Chronicle, tracing the origins of the peoples of Europe, and Memoria de Iberoamerica, a joint newspaper microfilming project involving seven Latin American countries. These projects enhanced access to this documentary heritage and contributed to its preservation.
“We are incredibly proud to be a part of this momentous event, with the first archived songs placed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register,” said Emily Leproust, Ph.D., CEO of Twist Bioscience.
The ArtTech Foundation, created by renowned scientists and dignitaries from Crans-Montana, Switzerland, wishes to stimulate reflection and support pioneering and innovative projects beyond the known boundaries of culture and science.
Benefitting from the establishment of a favorable environment for the creation of technology companies, the Foundation aims to position itself as key promoter of ideas and innovative endeavors within a landscape of “Culture and Science” that is still being shaped.
Several initiatives, including our annual global platform launched in the spring of 2017, are helping to create a community that brings together researchers, celebrities in the world of culture and the arts, as well as investors and entrepreneurs from Switzerland and across the globe.
EPFL, one of the two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, based in Lausanne, is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.
About Twist Bioscience
At Twist Bioscience, our expertise is accelerating science and innovation by leveraging the power of scale. We have developed a proprietary semiconductor-based synthetic DNA manufacturing process featuring a high throughput silicon platform capable of producing synthetic biology tools, including genes, oligonucleotide pools and variant libraries. By synthesizing DNA on silicon instead of on traditional 96-well plastic plates, our platform overcomes the current inefficiencies of synthetic DNA production, and enables cost-effective, rapid, high-quality and high throughput synthetic gene production, which in turn, expedites the design, build and test cycle to enable personalized medicines, pharmaceuticals, sustainable chemical production, improved agriculture production, diagnostics and biodetection. We are also developing new technologies to address large scale data storage. For more information, please visit www.twistbioscience.com. Twist Bioscience is on Twitter. Sign up to follow our Twitter feed @TwistBioscience at https://twitter.com/TwistBioscience.
If you hadn’t read the EPFL press release first, it might have taken a minute to figure out why EPFL is being mentioned in the Twist Bioscience news release. Presumably someone was rushing to make a deadline. Ah well, I’ve seen and written worse.
I haven’t been able to find any video or audio recordings of the DNA-preserved performances but there is an informational video (originally published July 7, 2016) from Microsoft and the University of Washington describing the DNA-based technology,
I also found this description of listening to the DNA-preserved music in an Oct. 6, 2017 blog posting for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Day 6 radio programme,
To listen to them, one must first suspend the DNA holding the songs in a solution. Next, one can use a DNA sequencer to read the letters of the bases forming the molecules. Then, algorithms can determine the digital code those letters form. From that code, comes the music.
It’s complicated but Ceze says his team performed this process without error.
Psychedelic drugs seems to be enjoying a ‘moment’. After decades of being vilified and declared illegal (in many jurisdictions), psychedelic (or hallucinogenic) drugs are once again being tested for use in therapy. A Sept. 1, 2017 article by Diana Kwon for The Scientist describes some of the latest research (I’ve excerpted the section on molecules; Note: Links have been removed),
All the classic psychedelic drugs—psilocybin, LSD, and N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), the active component in ayahuasca—activate serotonin 2A (5-HT2A) receptors, which are distributed throughout the brain. In all likelihood, this receptor plays a key role in the drugs’ effects. Krähenmann [Rainer Krähenmann, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Zurich]] and his colleagues in Zurich have discovered that ketanserin, a 5-HT2A receptor antagonist, blocks LSD’s hallucinogenic properties and prevents individuals from entering a dreamlike state or attributing personal relevance to the experience.12,13
Other research groups have found that, in rodent brains, 2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine (DOI), a highly potent and selective 5-HT2A receptor agonist, can modify the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)—a protein that, among other things, regulates neuronal survival, differentiation, and synaptic plasticity. This has led some scientists to hypothesize that, through this pathway, psychedelics may enhance neuroplasticity, the ability to form new neuronal connections in the brain.14 “We’re still working on that and trying to figure out what is so special about the receptor and where it is involved,” says Katrin Preller, a postdoc studying psychedelics at the University of Zurich. “But it seems like this combination of serotonin 2A receptors and BDNF leads to a kind of different organizational state in the brain that leads to what people experience under the influence of psychedelics.”
This serotonin receptor isn’t limited to the central nervous system. Work by Charles Nichols, a pharmacology professor at Louisiana State University, has revealed that 5-HT2A receptor agonists can reduce inflammation throughout the body. Nichols and his former postdoc Bangning Yu stumbled upon this discovery by accident, while testing the effects of DOI on smooth muscle cells from rat aortas. When they added this drug to the rodent cells in culture, it blocked the effects of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), a key inflammatory cytokine.
“It was completely unexpected,” Nichols recalls. The effects were so bewildering, he says, that they repeated the experiment twice to convince themselves that the results were correct. Before publishing the findings in 2008,15 they tested a few other 5-HT2A receptor agonists, including LSD, and found consistent anti-inflammatory effects, though none of the drugs’ effects were as strong as DOI’s. “Most of the psychedelics I have tested are about as potent as a corticosteroid at their target, but there’s something very unique about DOI that makes it much more potent,” Nichols says. “That’s one of the mysteries I’m trying to solve.”
After seeing the effect these drugs could have in cells, Nichols and his team moved on to whole animals. When they treated mouse models of system-wide inflammation with DOI, they found potent anti-inflammatory effects throughout the rodents’ bodies, with the strongest effects in the small intestine and a section of the main cardiac artery known as the aortic arch.16 “I think that’s really when it felt that we were onto something big, when we saw it in the whole animal,” Nichols says.
The group is now focused on testing DOI as a potential therapeutic for inflammatory diseases. In a 2015 study, they reported that DOI could block the development of asthma in a mouse model of the condition,17 and last December, the team received a patent to use DOI for four indications: asthma, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and irritable bowel syndrome. They are now working to move the treatment into clinical trials. The benefit of using DOI for these conditions, Nichols says, is that because of its potency, only small amounts will be required—far below the amounts required to produce hallucinogenic effects.
In addition to opening the door to a new class of diseases that could benefit from psychedelics-inspired therapy, Nichols’s work suggests “that there may be some enduring changes that are mediated through anti-inflammatory effects,” Griffiths [Roland Griffiths, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University] says. Recent studies suggest that inflammation may play a role in a number of psychological disorders, including depression18 and addiction.19
“If somebody has neuroinflammation and that’s causing depression, and something like psilocybin makes it better through the subjective experience but the brain is still inflamed, it’s going to fall back into the depressed rut,” Nichols says. But if psilocybin is also treating the inflammation, he adds, “it won’t have that rut to fall back into.”
If it turns out that psychedelics do have anti-inflammatory effects in the brain, the drugs’ therapeutic uses could be even broader than scientists now envision. “In terms of neurodegenerative disease, every one of these disorders is mediated by inflammatory cytokines,” says Juan Sanchez-Ramos, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida who in 2013 reported that small doses of psilocybin could promote neurogenesis in the mouse hippocampus.20 “That’s why I think, with Alzheimer’s, for example, if you attenuate the inflammation, it could help slow the progression of the disease.”
For anyone who was never exposed to the anti-hallucinogenic drug campaigns, this turn of events is mindboggling. There was a great deal of concern especially with LSD in the 1960s and it was not entirely unfounded. In my own family, a distant cousin, while under the influence of the drug, jumped off a building believing he could fly. So, Kwon’s story opening with a story about someone being treated successfully for depression with a psychedelic drug was surprising to me . Why these drugs are being used successfully for psychiatric conditions when so much damage was apparently done under the influence in decades past may have something to do with taking the drugs in a controlled environment and, possibly, smaller dosages.
As malicious hackers find ever more sophisticated ways to launch attacks, China is about to launch the Jinan Project, the world’s first unhackable computer network, and a major milestone in the development of quantum technology.
Named after the eastern Chinese city where the technology was developed, the network is planned to be fully operational by the end of August 2017. Jinan is the hub of the Beijing-Shanghai quantum network due to its strategic location between the two principal Chinese metropolises.
“We plan to use the network for national defence, finance and other fields, and hope to spread it out as a pilot that if successful can be used across China and the whole world,” commented Zhou Fei, assistant director of the Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology, who was speaking to Britain’s Financial Times.
By launching the network, China will become the first country worldwide to implement quantum technology for a real life, commercial end. It also highlights that China is a key global player in the rush to develop technologies based on quantum principles, with the EU and the United States also vying for world leadership in the field.
The network, known as a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network, is more secure than widely used electronic communication equivalents. Unlike a conventional telephone or internet cable, which can be tapped without the sender or recipient being aware, a QKD network alerts both users to any tampering with the system as soon as it occurs. This is because tampering immediately alters the information being relayed, with the disturbance being instantly recognisable. Once fully implemented, it will make it almost impossible for other governments to listen in on Chinese communications.
In the Jinan network, some 200 users from China’s military, government, finance and electricity sectors will be able to send messages safe in the knowledge that only they are reading them. It will be the world’s longest land-based quantum communications network, stretching over 2 000 km.
Also speaking to the ‘Financial Times’, quantum physicist Tim Byrnes, based at New York University’s (NYU) Shanghai campus commented: ‘China has achieved staggering things with quantum research… It’s amazing how quickly China has gotten on with quantum research projects that would be too expensive to do elsewhere… quantum communication has been taken up by the commercial sector much more in China compared to other countries, which means it is likely to pull ahead of Europe and US in the field of quantum communication.’
However, Europe is also determined to also be at the forefront of the ‘quantum revolution’ which promises to be one of the major defining technological phenomena of the twenty-first century. The EU has invested EUR 550 million into quantum technologies and has provided policy support to researchers through the 2016 Quantum Manifesto.
Moreover, with China’s latest achievement (and a previous one already notched up from July 2017 when its quantum satellite – the world’s first – sent a message to Earth on a quantum communication channel), it looks like the race to be crowned the world’s foremost quantum power is well and truly underway…
Quantum entanglement—physics at its strangest—has moved out of this world and into space. In a study that shows China’s growing mastery of both the quantum world and space science, a team of physicists reports that it sent eerily intertwined quantum particles from a satellite to ground stations separated by 1200 kilometers, smashing the previous world record. The result is a stepping stone to ultrasecure communication networks and, eventually, a space-based quantum internet.
“It’s a huge, major achievement,” says Thomas Jennewein, a physicist at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “They started with this bold idea and managed to do it.”
Entanglement involves putting objects in the peculiar limbo of quantum superposition, in which an object’s quantum properties occupy multiple states at once: like Schrödinger’s cat, dead and alive at the same time. Then those quantum states are shared among multiple objects. Physicists have entangled particles such as electrons and photons, as well as larger objects such as superconducting electric circuits.
Theoretically, even if entangled objects are separated, their precarious quantum states should remain linked until one of them is measured or disturbed. That measurement instantly determines the state of the other object, no matter how far away. The idea is so counterintuitive that Albert Einstein mocked it as “spooky action at a distance.”
Starting in the 1970s, however, physicists began testing the effect over increasing distances. In 2015, the most sophisticated of these tests, which involved measuring entangled electrons 1.3 kilometers apart, showed once again that spooky action is real.
Beyond the fundamental result, such experiments also point to the possibility of hack-proof communications. Long strings of entangled photons, shared between distant locations, can be “quantum keys” that secure communications. Anyone trying to eavesdrop on a quantum-encrypted message would disrupt the shared key, alerting everyone to a compromised channel.
But entangled photons degrade rapidly as they pass through the air or optical fibers. So far, the farthest anyone has sent a quantum key is a few hundred kilometers. “Quantum repeaters” that rebroadcast quantum information could extend a network’s reach, but they aren’t yet mature. Many physicists have dreamed instead of using satellites to send quantum information through the near-vacuum of space. “Once you have satellites distributing your quantum signals throughout the globe, you’ve done it,” says Verónica Fernández Mármol, a physicist at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid. …
Popkin goes on to detail the process for making the discovery in easily accessible (for the most part) writing and in a video and a graphic.
Russell Brandom writing for The Verge in a June 15, 2017 article about the Chinese quantum satellite adds detail about previous work and teams in other countries also working on the challenge (Note: Links have been removed),
Quantum networking has already shown promise in terrestrial fiber networks, where specialized routing equipment can perform the same trick over conventional fiber-optic cable. The first such network was a DARPA-funded connection established in 2003 between Harvard, Boston University, and a private lab. In the years since, a number of companies have tried to build more ambitious connections. The Swiss company ID Quantique has mapped out a quantum network that would connect many of North America’s largest data centers; in China, a separate team is working on a 2,000-kilometer quantum link between Beijing and Shanghai, which would rely on fiber to span an even greater distance than the satellite link. Still, the nature of fiber places strict limits on how far a single photon can travel.
According to ID Quantique, a reliable satellite link could connect the existing fiber networks into a single globe-spanning quantum network. “This proves the feasibility of quantum communications from space,” ID Quantique CEO Gregoire Ribordy tells The Verge. “The vision is that you have regional quantum key distribution networks over fiber, which can connect to each other through the satellite link.”
China isn’t the only country working on bringing quantum networks to space. A collaboration between the UK’s University of Strathclyde and the National University of Singapore is hoping to produce the same entanglement in cheap, readymade satellites called Cubesats. A Canadian team is also developing a method of producing entangled photons on the ground before sending them into space.
I wonder if there’s going to be an invitational event for scientists around the world to celebrate the launch.
A novel bandage alerts the nursing staff as soon as a wound starts healing badly. Sensors incorporated into the base material glow with a different intensity if the wound’s pH level changes. This way even chronic wounds could be monitored at home.
Using a UV lamp, the pH level in the wound can be verified without removing the bandage and the healing process can continue unimpeded. Image: Empa / CSEM
All too often, changing bandages is extremely unpleasant, even for smaller, everyday injuries. It stings and pulls, and sometimes a scab will even start bleeding again. And so we prefer to wait until the bandage drops off by itself.
It’s a different story with chronic wounds, though: normally, the nursing staff has to change the dressing regularly – not just for reasons of hygiene, but also to examine the wound, take swabs and clean it. Not only does this irritate the skin unnecessarily; bacteria can also get in, the risk of infection soars. It would be much better to leave the bandage on for longer and have the nursing staff “read” the condition of the wound from outside.
The idea of being able to see through a wound dressing gave rise to the project Flusitex (Fluorescence sensing integrated into medical textiles), which is being funded by the Swiss initiative Nano-Tera. Researchers from Empa teamed up with ETH Zurich, Centre Suisse d’Electronique et de Microtechnique (CSEM) and University Hospital Zurich to develop a high-tech system that is supposed to supply the nursing staff with relevant data about the condition of a wound. As Luciano Boesel from Empa’s Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles, who is coordinating the project at Empa, explains: “The idea of a smart wound dressing with integrated sensors is to provide continuous information on the state of the healing process without the bandages having to be changed any more frequently than necessary.” This would mean a gentler treatment for patients, less work for the nursing staff and, therefore, lower costs: globally, around 17 billion $ were spent on treating wounds last year.
When wounds heal, the body produces specific substances in a complex sequence of biochemical processes, which leads to a significant variation in a number of metabolic parameters. For instance, the amount of glucose and oxygen rises and falls depending on the phase of the healing process; likewise does the pH level change. All these variations can be detected with specialized sensors. With this in mind, Empa teamed up with project partner CSEM to develop a portable, cheap and easy-to-use device for measuring fluorescence that is capable of monitoring several parameters at once. It should enable nursing staff to keep tabs on the pH as well as on glucose and oxygen levels while the wound heals. If these change, conclusions about other key biochemical processes involved in wound healing can be drawn.
The bandage reveals ist measurings in UV light.
A high pH signals chronic wounds
The pH level is particularly useful for chronic wounds. If the wound heals normally, the pH rises to 8 before falling to 5 or 6. If a wound fails to close and becomes chronic, however, the pH level fluctuates between 7 and 8. Therefore, it would be helpful if a signal on the bandage could inform the nursing staff that the wound pH is permanently high. If the bandage does not need changing for reasons of hygiene and pH levels are low, on the other hand, they could afford to wait.
But how do the sensors work? The idea: if certain substances appear in the wound fluid, “customized” fluorescent sensor molecules respond with a physical signal. They start glowing and some even change color in the visible or ultra-violet (UV) range. Thanks to a color scale, weaker and stronger changes in color can be detected and the quantity of the emitted substance be deduced.
Empa chemist Guido Panzarasa from the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles vividly demonstrates how a sample containing sensor molecules begins to fluoresce in the lab. He carefully drips a solution with a pH level of 7.5 into a dish. Under a UV light, the change is plain to see. He adds another solution and the luminescence fades. A glance at the little bottle confirms it: the pH level of the second solution is lower.
Luminous molecules under UV
The Empa team designed a molecule composed of benzalkonium chloride and pyranine. While benzalkonium chloride is a substance also used for conventional medical soap to combat bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, pyranine is a dye found in highlighters that glows under UV light. “This biomarker works really well,” says Panzarasa; “especially at pH levels between 5.5 and 7.5. The colors can be visualized with simple UV lamps available in electronics stores.” The Empa team recently published their results in the journal “Sensors and Actuators”.
The designer molecule has another advantage: thanks to the benzalkonium chloride, it has an antimicrobial effect, as researchers from Empa’s Laboratory for Biointerfaces confirmed for the bacteria strain Staphylococcus aureus. Unwelcome bacteria might potentially also be combatted by selecting the right bandage material in future. As further investigations, such as on the chemical’s compatibility with cells and tissues, are currently lacking, however, the researchers do not yet know how their sensor works in a complex wound.
Keen interest from industry
In order to illustrate what a smart wound dressing might actually look like in future, Boesel places a prototype on the lab bench. “You don’t have to cover the entire surface of wound dressings with sensors,” he explains. “It’s enough for a few small areas to be impregnated with the pyranine benzalkonium molecules and integrated into the base material. This means the industrial wound dressings won’t be much pricier than they are now – only up to 20% more expensive.” Empa scientists are currently working on this in the follow-up project FlusiTex-Gateway in cooperation with industrial partners Flawa, Schöller, Kenzen and Theranoptics.
Panzarasa now drips various liquids with different pH levels onto all the little cylinders on the wound pad prototype. Sure enough, the lighter and darker dots are also clearly discernible as soon as the UV lamp is switched on. They are even visible to the naked eye and glow in bright yellow if liquids with a high pH come into contact with the sensor. The scientists are convinced: since the pH level is so easy to read and provides precise information about the acidic or alkaline state of the sample, this kind of wound dressing is just the ticket as a diagnostic tool. Using the fluorescence meter developed by CSEM, more accurate, quantitative measure-ments of the pH level can be accomplished for medical purposes.
According to Boesel, it might one day even be possible to read the signals with the aid of a smartphone camera. Combined with a simple app, nursing staff and doctors would have a tool that enables them to easily and conveniently read the wound status “from outside”, even without a UV lamp. And patients would then also have the possibility of detecting the early onset of a chronic wound at home.
I wonder how long or even if this innovation will ever make its way into medical practice. I’m guessing this stage would be described as ‘proof of concept’ and that clinical testing is still many years away.
The metaphor in the press release’s title helped to wake me up. Thank you to whoever wrote it.