Tag Archives: UK

Isis Innovation (University of Oxford, UK) spins out buckyball company, Designer Carbon Materials

Buckyballs are also known as Buckminsterfullerenes. The name is derived from Buckminster Fuller who designed something he called geodesic domes, from the Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Buckminsterfullerene (or bucky-ball) is a spherical fullerene molecule with the formula C60 [C = carbon; 60 is the number of carbon atoms in the molecule]. It has a cage-like fused-ring structure (truncated icosahedron) which resembles a soccer ball, made of twenty hexagons and twelve pentagons, with a carbon atom at each vertex of each polygon and a bond along each polygon edge.

It was first generated in 1985 by Harold Kroto, James R. Heath, Sean O’Brien, Robert Curl, and Richard Smalley at Rice University.[2] Kroto, Curl and Smalley were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their roles in the discovery of buckminsterfullerene and the related class of molecules, the fullerenes. The name is a reference to Buckminster Fuller, as C60 resembles his trademark geodesic domes. Buckminsterfullerene is the most commonly naturally occurring fullerene molecule, as it can be found in small quantities in soot.[3][4] Solid and gaseous forms of the molecule have been detected in deep space.[5]

Here’s a model of a buckyball,

Courtesy: Isis Innovation (Oxford University)

Courtesy: Isis Innovation (Oxford University)

An April 15, 2014 University of Oxford (Isis Innovation) news release (h/t phys.org) describes the news research and some technical details while avoiding any mention of how they’ve tackled the production problems (a major issue, which has seriously constrained their commercial use),

The firm, Designer Carbon Materials, has been established by Isis Innovation, the University of Oxford’s technology commercialisation company, and will cost-effectively manufacture commercially useful quantities of the spherical carbon cage structures. Designer Carbon Materials is based on research from Dr Kyriakos Porfyrakis of Oxford University’s Department of Materials.

‘It is possible to insert a variety of useful atoms or atomic clusters into the hollow interior of these ball-like molecules, giving them new and intriguing abilities. Designer Carbon Materials will focus on the production of these value-added materials for a range of applications,’ said Dr Porfyrakis.

‘For instance, fullerenes are currently used as electron acceptors in polymer-based solar cells achieving some of the highest power conversion efficiencies known for these kinds of solar cells. Our endohedral fullerenes are even better electron-acceptors and therefore have the potential to lead to efficiencies exceeding 10 per cent.

‘The materials could also be developed as superior MRI contrast agents for medical imaging and as diagnostics for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as they are able to detect the presence of superoxide free radical molecules which may cause these conditions. We are receiving fantastic interest from organisations developing these applications, who until now have been unable to access useful quantities of these materials.’

The manufacturing process, patented by Isis Innovation, will continue to be developed by Designer Carbon Materials as it also makes its first sales of these extremely high-value materials.

Tom Hockaday, managing director of Isis Innovation, said: ‘This is a great example of an Isis spin-out which is both looking at exciting future applications for its technology and also answering a real market need. There is already significant demand for these nanomaterials and we expect the first customer orders will be fulfilled over the next few months.’

Investment in the company has been led by Oxford Technology Management and the Oxford Invention Fund. Lucius Carey from Oxford Technology Management said: ‘We are delighted to be investing in Designer Carbon Materials. The purposes of the investment will be to move into commercial premises and to scale up.’

Isis Innovation is a University of Oxford initiative and you can find out more about Isis Innovation here. As for the new spin-out company, Designer Carbon Materials, they have no website that I’ve been able to find but there is this webpage on the Isis Innovation website.

UK’s Graphene NanoChem shares jump from 10p to 101p

Nick Fletcher in an April 7, 2014 posting on the Guardian’s MarketForcesLive blog provides a few tidbits about Graphene NanoChem,

The company [Graphene NanoChem] has formed a joint venture with Malaysia’s Scomi Oiltools and will licence its technology to produce a range of speciality chemicals. It has also signed an agreement with Emery advanced materials to develop chemicals for plastic additives, biolubricants and rubber.

Fletcher’s post provides more detail. You can also check out the Graphene NanoChem website and/or the Scomi Oilfield Services (aka Scomi Group) website. I think I finally tracked down the third company mentioned in the posting. Emery Advanced Materials seems to be part of Emery Oleochemicals Group based in Malyasia; I believe the parent company is based in the US. I have had problems linking to their site so found some information about Emery Oleochemicals on Bloomberg Business Week,

Emery Oleochemicals LLC produces natural-source oleochemical basestocks. It offers fatty acids, glycerin and triacetin, ozone acids, plastic additives, and ester-based oilfield chemicals. The company also provides sustainable polyol solutions for use in the manufacturing of flexible and rigid polyurethane foam that is used in transportation, construction, packaging, furniture, and bedding applications; and various coatings, adhesives, sealants, and elastomers applications. Emery Oleochemicals LLC was formerly known as Cognis Oleochemicals LLC and changed its name to Emery Oleochemicals LLC in May 2009. The company was founded in 2005 and is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Emery Oleochemicals LLC …

So there you have it.

Wilkinson Prize for numerical software: call for 2015 submissions

The Wilkinson Prize is not meant to recognize a nice, shiny new algorithm, rather it’s meant for the implementation phase and, as anyone who have ever been involved in that phase of a project can tell you, that phase is often sadly neglected. So, bravo for the Wilkinson Prize!

From the March 27, 2014 Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG) news release, here’s a brief history of the Wilkinson Prize,

Every four years the Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG), the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Argonne National Laboratory award the prestigious Wilkinson Prize in honour of the outstanding contributions of Dr James Hardy Wilkinson to the field of numerical software. The next Wilkinson Prize will be awarded at the [2015] International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics in Beijing, and will consist of a $3000 cash prize.

NAG, NPL [UK National Physical Laboratory] and Argonne [US Dept. of Energy, Argonne National Laboratory] are committed to encouraging innovative, insightful and original work in numerical software in the same way that Wilkinson inspired many throughout his career. Wilkinson worked on the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) while at NPL and later authored numerous papers on his speciality, numerical analysis. He also authored many of the routines for matrix computation in the early marks of the NAG Library.

The most recent Wilkinson Prize was awarded in 2011 to Andreas Waechter and Carl D. Laird for IPOPT. Commenting on winning the Wilkinson Prize Carl D. Laird, Associate Professor at the School of Chemical Engineering, Purdue University, said “I love writing software, and working with Andreas on IPOPT was a highlight of my career. From the beginning, our goal was to produce great software that would be used by other researchers and provide solutions to real engineering and scientific problems.

The Wilkinson Prize is one of the few awards that recognises the importance of implementation – that you need more than a great algorithm to produce high-impact numerical software. It rewards the tremendous effort required to ensure reliability, efficiency, and usability of the software.

Here’s more about the prize (list of previous winners, eligibility, etc.), from the Wilkinson Prize for Numerical Software call for submissions webpage,

Previous Prize winners:

  • 2011: Andreas Waechter and Carl D. Laird for Ipopt
  • 2007: Wolfgang Bangerth for deal.II
  • 2003: Jonathan Shewchuch for Triangle
  • 1999: Matteo Frigo and Steven Johnson for FFTW.
  • 1995: Chris Bischof and Alan Carle for ADIFOR 2.0.
  • 1991: Linda Petzold for DASSL.

Eligibility

The prize will be awarded to the authors of an outstanding piece of numerical software, or to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to an existing piece of numerical software. In the latter case applicants must clearly be able to distinguish their personal contribution and to have that contribution authenticated, and the submission must be written in terms of that personal contribution and not of the software as a whole. To encourage researchers in the earlier stages of their career all applicants must be at most 40 years of age on January 1, 2014.
Rules for Submission

Each entry must contain the following:

Software written in a widely available high-level programming language.
A two-page summary of the main features of the algorithm and software implementation.
A paper describing the algorithm and the software implementation. The paper should give an analysis of the algorithm and indicate any special programming features.
Documentation of the software which describes its purpose and method of use.
Examples of use of the software, including a test program and data.

Submissions

The preferred format for submissions is a gzipped, tar archive or a zip file. Please contact us if you would like to use a different submission mechanism. Submissions should include a README file describing the contents of the archive and scripts for executing the test programs. Submissions can be sent by email to [email protected]. Contact this address for further information.

The closing date for submissions is July 1, 2014.

Good luck to you all!

Learn to love slime; it may help you to compute in the future

Eeeewww! Slime or slime mold is not well loved and yet scientists seem to retain a certain affection for it, if their efforts at researching ways to make it useful could be termed affection. A March 27, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a project where scientists have used slime and nanoparticles to create logic units (precursors to computers; Note: A link has been removed),

A future computer might be a lot slimier than the solid silicon devices we have today. In a study published in the journal Materials Today (“Slime mold microfluidic logical gates”), European researchers reveal details of logic units built using living slime molds, which might act as the building blocks for computing devices and sensors.

The March 27, 2014 Elsevier press release, which originated the news item, describes the researchers and their work in more detail,

Andrew Adamatzky (University of the West of England, Bristol, UK) and Theresa Schubert (Bauhaus-University Weimar, Germany) have constructed logical circuits that exploit networks of interconnected slime mold tubes to process information.

One is more likely to find the slime mold Physarum polycephalum living somewhere dark and damp rather than in a computer science lab. In its “plasmodium” or vegetative state, the organism spans its environment with a network of tubes that absorb nutrients. The tubes also allow the organism to respond to light and changing environmental conditions that trigger the release of reproductive spores.

In earlier work, the team demonstrated that such a tube network could absorb and transport different colored dyes. They then fed it edible nutrients – oat flakes – to attract tube growth and common salt to repel them, so that they could grow a network with a particular structure. They then demonstrated how this system could mix two dyes to make a third color as an “output”.

Using the dyes with magnetic nanoparticles and tiny fluorescent beads, allowed them to use the slime mold network as a biological “lab-on-a-chip” device. This represents a new way to build microfluidic devices for processing environmental or medical samples on the very small scale for testing and diagnostics, the work suggests. The extension to a much larger network of slime mold tubes could process nanoparticles and carry out sophisticated Boolean logic operations of the kind used by computer circuitry. The team has so far demonstrated that a slime mold network can carry out XOR or NOR Boolean operations. Chaining together arrays of such logic gates might allow a slime mold computer to carry out binary operations for computation.

“The slime mold based gates are non-electronic, simple and inexpensive, and several gates can be realized simultaneously at the sites where protoplasmic tubes merge,” conclude Adamatzky and Schubert.

Are we entering the age of the biological computer? Stewart Bland, Editor of Materials Today, believes that “although more traditional electronic materials are here to stay, research such as this is helping to push and blur the boundaries of materials science, computer science and biology, and represents an exciting prospect for the future.

I did look at the researchers’ paper and it is fascinating even to someone (me) who doesn’t understand the science very well. Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Slime mold microfluidic logical gates by Andrew Adamatzky and Theresa Schubert. Materials Today, Volume 17, Issue 2, March 2014, Pages 86–91 (2014) published by Elsevier. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mattod.2014.01.018 The article is available for free at www.materialstoday.com

Yes, it’s an open access paper published by Elsevier, good on them!

Call for papers: conference on sound art curation

It’s not exactly data sonification (my Feb. 7, 2014 posting about sound as a way to represent research data) but there’s a call for papers (deadline March 31, 2014) for a conference focused on curating sound art. Lanfranco Aceti, an academic, an artist and a curator whom I met some years ago at a conference sent me a March 20, 2014 announcement,

OCR (Operational and Curatorial Research in Art, Design, Science and Technology) is launching a series of international conferences with international partners.

Sound Art Curating is the first conference to take place in London, May 15-17, 2014 at Goldsmiths and at the Courtauld Institute of Art [both located in London, England].

The call for paper will close March 31, 2014 and it can be accessed at this link:
http://ocradst.org/blog/2014/01/25/histories-theories-and-practices-of-sound-art/

The conference website is available at this link: http://ocradst.org/soundartcurating/

I did get more information about the OCR from their About page,

Operational and Curatorial Research in Contemporary Art, Design, Science and Technology (OCR) is a research center that focuses on research in the fine arts. Its projects are characterized by elements of interdisciplinarity and transdiciplinarity. OCR engages with public and private institutions worldwide in order to foster innovation and best practices through collaborations and synergies.

OCR has two international outlets: the Media Exhibition Platform (MEP), a platform for peer reviewed exhibitions, and Contemporary Art and Culture (CAC), a peer-reviewed publishing platform for academic texts, artists’ books and catalogs.

Lanfranco Aceti is the founder and director of OCR, MEP and CAC, and has worked in the field for over twenty years.

Here’s more about what the organizers are looking for from the Call for Papers webpage,

Traditionally, the curator has been affiliated to the modern museum as the persona who manages an archive, and arranges and communicates knowledge to an audience, according to fields of expertise (art, archaeology, cultural or natural history etc.). However, in the later part of the 20th century the role of the curator changes – first on the art-scene and later in other more traditional institutions – into a more free-floating, organizational and ’constructive’ activity that allows the curator to create and design new wider relations, interpretations of knowledge modalities of communication and systems of dissemination to the wider public.

This shift is parallel to a changing role of the artist, that from producer becomes manager of its own archives, structures for displays, arrangements and recombinatory experiences that design interactive or analog journeys through sound artworks and soundscapes. Museums and galleries, following the impact of sound artworks in public spaces and media based festivals, become more receptive to aesthetic practices that deny the ‘direct visuality’ of the image and bypass, albeit partially, the need for material and tangible objects. Sound art and its related aesthetic practices re-design ways of seeing, imaging and recalling the visual in a context that is not sensory deprived but sensory alternative.

This is a call for studies into the histories, theories and practices of sound art production and sound art curating – where the creation is to be considered not solely that of a single material but of the entire sound art experience and performative elements.

We solicit and encourage submissions from practitioners and theoreticians on sound art and curating that explore and are linked to issues related to the following areas of interest:

  • Curating Interfaces for Sound + Archives
  • Methodologies of Sound Art Curating
  • Histories of Sound Art Curating
  • Theories of Sound Art Curating
  • Practices and Aesthetics of Sound Art
  • Sound in Performance
  • Sound in Relation to Visuals

Chairs: Lanfranco Aceti, Janis Jefferies, Morten Søndergaard and Julian Stallabrass

Conference Organizers: James Bulley, Jonathan Munro, Irene Noy and Ozden Sahin

The event is supported by LARM [Danish interdisciplinary radiophonic project; Note: website is mixed Danish and English language], Kasa Gallery, Goldsmiths, the Courtauld Institute of Art and Sabanci University.

With the participation and support of the Sonics research special interest group at Goldsmiths, chaired by Atau Tanaka and Julian Henriques.

The event is part of the Graduate Festival at Goldsmiths and the Graduate research projects at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

250 words abstract submissions. Please send your submissions to: [email protected]

Deadline: March 31, 2014.

Good luck!

British Library’s Beautiful Science exhibit of data visualization leads to Vancouver, Canada’s Martin Krzywinski, scientist and data visualizer

One tends to think of data visualization as a new phenomenon but the practice dates back to the 17th century at least according to the British Library’s Beautiful Science exhibition opening today, Feb. 20, 2014 and extending to May 26, 2014. Rebekah Higgitt’s Feb. 20, 2014 posting for the Guardian’s Science blog network offers a preview (Note: Links have been removed),

Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight, which opens at the British Library tomorrow, is a small but thought-provoking display that looks at how scientific data has and can be visualised. Prompted by today’s interest in big data and infographics, it merges modern digital displays with historic texts and images.

The display items are well-chosen, and include some key examples of innovation in data collection and presentation. However, the science- rather than history-led interpretation of the 17th- to 19th-century texts is clear in the fact that their selection reflects trends and concerns of the present, rather than a concern to reveal those of the past. There is, likewise, an emphasis on progress toward ever better and more accurate approaches to data visualisation (although in a post at PLOS Blogs, Kieniewicz suggests that designers have recently stolen a march over scientists in the display of data).

The PLOS (Public Library of Science) blogger mentioned in previous excerpt is Johanna Kieniewicz and the Beautiful Science exhibition’s curator. In the Feb. 13, 2014 posting on her ‘At the Interface’ blog, where she discusses the exhibit she also makes it clear that this is a personal blog and is not associated with her employers (Note: A link has been removed),

When it comes to the visual representation of scientific information, in a scientific context, does aesthetic matter? In my day job at the British Library, I’ve spent the past year curating the upcoming Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Ideas exhibition. This experience has given me a phenomenal opportunity to think about the way we communicate and discover things in science. And, I think there’s a strong case to be made for beautiful science.

The visual representation of data is a fundamental part of what it means to be a scientist today. Whether a single data point plotted on a graph or a whole genome sequence, data visualisation helps us to examine, interpret, and contextualise information in a way that numbers and statistics often do not. Moreover, at a time when we are expected to process ever-increasing volumes of information, visualisations are often more readily digestible than some of the more ‘traditional’ alternatives; as the increased prominence of colourful ‘data viz’ work in the pages of our newspapers, websites, and in-flight magazines would attest.

You do have to be in London, UK to attend this show however the British Library’s Feb. 19, 2014 press release does offer more information which might satisfy curiosity about the show and associated events, as well as, some images (Note: Links have been removed),

In an age of rapidly advancing technologies Beautiful Science, opening tomorrow in The Folio Society Gallery at the British Library, shows that the challenge of presenting big data in innovative ways is not a new one. From 17th century illustrated diagrams to contemporary interactive visualisations, the exhibition explores how advances in science alongside changes in technology have allowed us to visually interpret masses of information.

Beautiful Science, sponsored by Winton Capital Management, explores the work of scientists and statisticians through the ages using the Library’s own vast science collections together with new and exciting technology, focusing on three key themes – public health, weather and evolution.

From an early visual representation of a hierarchically ordered universe in Robert Fludd’s ‘Great Chain of Being’ (1617) and Florence Nightingale’s seminal ‘rose diagram’ (1858), which showed that significantly more Crimean War deaths were caused by poor hospital conditions than battlefield wounds, to a contemporary moving infographic of ocean currents from NASA, this exhibition shows how visualising data has changed the way we see, interpret and understand the world around us.

Dr Johanna Kieniewicz, lead curator of Beautiful Science, says: “The British Library is home to the nation’s science collection and we’re thrilled to be opening up our fantastic collections in the Library’s first science exhibition. As big data is becoming a topic of such huge interest, we particularly wanted to show the important connections between the past and the present. Data that is centuries old from collections like ours is now being used to inform cutting edge science. We’re also delighted to include video interviews with leading experts, Dame Sally Davies, UK Chief Medical Officer, Sir Nigel Shadbolt, chairman and co-founder of the Open Data Institute, David McCandless, data-journalist and designer, and David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University.”

Following the success of last year’s Inspiring Science season, the exhibition is accompanied by a range of events including Festival of the Spoken Nerd: I Chart the Library, Seeing is Believing: Picturing the Nation’s Health with Sally Davies and David Spiegelhalter, Knowledge is Beautiful with David McCandless and a Family Discovery Day.

Now for some of the images in the show. This first one is Florence Nightingale’s Rose,

In her seminal ‘rose diagram’, Florence Nightingale demonstrated that far more soldiers died from preventable epidemic diseases (blue) than from wounds inflicted on the battlefield (red) or other causes (black) during the Crimean War (1853-56). Courtesy British Library

In her seminal ‘rose diagram’, Florence Nightingale demonstrated that far more soldiers died from preventable epidemic diseases (blue) than from wounds inflicted on the battlefield (red) or other causes (black) during the Crimean War (1853-56). Courtesy British Library

Next, there’s a contemporary reworking of Florence Nightingale’s Rose,

Cambridge University statistician David Spiegelhalter and his colleagues have taken the data from Florence Nightingale’s ‘rose diagram’ and animated the ‘rose’, as well as picturing the data as a bar chart and icon diagram. This shows not only the lasting relevance of Nightingale’s diagram as a visual icon, but also demonstrates how data can be pictured in different ways, to different effect. Courtesy British Library

Cambridge University statistician David Spiegelhalter and his colleagues have taken the data from Florence Nightingale’s ‘rose diagram’ and animated the ‘rose’, as well as picturing the data as a bar chart and icon diagram. This shows not only the lasting relevance of Nightingale’s diagram as a visual icon, but also demonstrates how data can be pictured in different ways, to different effect. Courtesy British Library

This next image from the Beautiful Science show leads to Vancouver,

Specially commissioned for Beautiful Science, these striking ‘Circos’ diagrams picture the genetic similarities between humans and five other animals: chimpanzee, dog, opossum, platypus and chicken.  Courtesy British Library

Specially commissioned for Beautiful Science, these striking ‘Circos’ diagrams picture the genetic similarities between humans and five other animals: chimpanzee, dog, opossum, platypus and chicken. Courtesy British Library

This particular set of ‘Circos’ diagrams are also called the ‘Circles of Life’ and were created by Martin Krzywinski, a Vancouver-based scientist (mostly biosciences) and data visualizer. His blog features his data visualization work which is quite beautiful and, I imagine, is at least part of the reason for the worldwide interest in his work. Krzywinsk has contributed to a Nature (journal) group blog devoted to data visualization. The blog has since been retired but the July 30, 2013 posting provides a subject index to the group’s postings. Krzywinsk was also a featured speaker at a WIRED (magazine) Data | Life conference in New York City on Nov. 6, 2013.

 

 

Competition for funds (feasibility studies about accelerating commercial applications of graphene in the UK)

The UK’s Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have given notice of their funding competition for feasibility studies on commercialising graphene  (registration opens April 7, 2014) according to a Feb. 11, 2014 news item on Nanowerk,

The Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are investing up to £2.5m in feasibility studies to accelerate commercial applications in the novel material, graphene. It will include related carbon-based, two-dimensional nanotechnologies that have recently emerged from the science base.

This competition will invest in projects that explore the realistic potential of graphene to yield new products that could disrupt markets. We expect them to stimulate development of a robust and competitive supply base to support the nascent graphene-using industry.

Proposals must be collaborative and business-led. We are looking to attract consortia drawn from small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) and/or large companies.

Universities and other research organisations can be partners in consortia where their high-end academic knowledge and innovation expertise is needed to deliver the project.

The Technology Strategy Board’s competition (Realising the graphene revolution) webpage contains more information such as this,

We expect to fund feasibility studies (mainly pre-industrial research projects) in which a business partner will generally attract up to 65% public funding for their project costs (75% for SMEs). Research organisations can attract funding of up to 100% of their costs.

We expect projects to last up to 12 months and to range in size up to total costs of £200k.

This competition opens on 7 April 2014 and the deadline for receipt of applications is noon on 4 June 2014. A briefing for potential applicants will be held on 24 April 2014. Consortium building events will be run by the Graphene Special Interest Group between 27 February 2014 and 18 March 2014. We strongly advise potential applicants to attend at least one of these events.

There is a deadline for registration (May 28, 2014 noon UK time) and you must register before submitting your proposal.

The Technology Strategy Board offers a competition brief (PDF) and more details on its Realising the graphene revolution webpage.

ETA Feb. 12, 2014 11:15 am PST: I forgot to include this  graphene image from the website which is quite pretty,

[downloaded from https://www.innovateuk.org/competition-display-page/-/asset_publisher/RqEt2AKmEBhi/content/realising-the-graphene-revolution]

[downloaded from https://www.innovateuk.org/competition-display-page/-/asset_publisher/RqEt2AKmEBhi/content/realising-the-graphene-revolution]

Citizen scientists track conker (horse chestnut) tree invader

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a citizen science story. so here we go: from a Jan. 22, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

An army of citizen scientists has helped the professionals understand how a tiny ‘alien’ moth is attacking the UK’s conker (horse-chestnut) trees, and showed that naturally-occurring pest controlling wasps are not able to restrict the moth’s impact.

No bigger than a grain of rice, the horse-chestnut leaf-mining moth has spread rapidly through England and Wales since its arrival in London in 2002. The caterpillars of the moth ‘tunnel’ through the leaves of conker trees, causing them to turn brown and autumnal in appearance, even in the height of summer.

In 2010 thousands of ‘citizen scientists’ were asked by two professional ecologists to collect records of leaf damage from across the country as part of a project called ‘Conker Tree Science’.

The results show that over the last decade the moth has spread from London to reach almost all of England and Wales. Investigating the data further the scientific team concluded that it takes just three years from the first sighting of the moth in a particular location to maximum levels of damage to the horse-chestnut trees being recorded.

The Jan. 23, 2014 Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) news release, which originated the news item, describes the experiment which followed the 2010 project and features quotes from the researchers about citizen science,

In a follow-up experiment, many of the citizen scientists, including hundreds of school children, followed instructions to rear the moth by sealing the infested leaves in plastic bags and waiting for the insects to emerge. The results reveal that the tiny pest controllers (‘parasitiod’ wasps) that prey upon the caterpillars are not present in high enough numbers to control the moths.

Dr Michael Pocock, an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and lead author of the research paper said, “This is the sort of science that anyone can do. By taking part the public are doing real science – and the publication of this scientific paper is a demonstration of how seriously citizen science is now taken by the community of professional scientists.”

He added, “It seems almost like magic for children and other people to put a damaged leaf in a plastic bag, wait two weeks and then see insects – the adult moths or their pest controllers – emerge, but making these discoveries was a valuable contribution to understanding why some animals become so invasive.”

Co-author Dr Darren Evans, a conservation biologist at the University of Hull said, “This work could have been done by paying research assistants to travel the country and collect records, but by inviting thousands of people to get involved we, together, were able to pull this off much more cost-effectively.”

He added, “We have been challenged by other professional scientists as to whether ‘ordinary people’ can make accurate observations, suitable for real science. Of course they can – and we tested this in our study. So thank you to the thousands of participants because together we were able to do this science.”

Unlike some other citizen science projects that use biological records submitted by members of the public for long-term monitoring, the Conker Tree Science project set out to test two specific hypotheses over the course of a year. The authors suggest that this approach can be developed to examine a range of environmental problems.

This image provided by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology shows the damage inflicted by the leaf-mining moths,

A blue tit among horse-chestnut leaves that are covered with brown patches of damage caused by caterpillars of the leaf mining moths. Photo: Richard Broughton/CEH

A blue tit among horse-chestnut leaves that are covered with
brown patches of damage caused by caterpillars
of the leaf mining moths. Photo: Richard Broughton/CEH

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

The Success of the Horse-Chestnut Leaf-Miner, Cameraria ohridella, in the UK Revealed with Hypothesis-Led Citizen Science by Michael J. O. Pocock & Darren M. Evans. Published: January 22, 2014 PLOS [Public Library of Science] ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086226

This paper is in a an open access journal.

Freezing transient events (frozen magnetic monopoles)

A Jan. 20, 2014 news item on Nanowerk highlights a new phase in laboratory physics (Note: A link has been removed),

Many of the most interesting things in nature – from spectacular lightning strikes to the subtlety of life itself – are transient, or far-from-equilibrium. To discover the secrets of far from equilibrium states, physicists need simple yet appealing laboratory systems. Now a researcher at the London Centre for Nanotechnology [UK] has collaborated with workers in Grenoble (France), Cardiff [Wales], Oxford [UK] and Kitakyushu (Japan), to create just such a system in the magnetic material known as “spin ice” (“Far-from-equilibrium monopole dynamics in spin ice”).

The Jan. 19 (?), 2014 (?) London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) research brief by Steve Bramwell, which originated the news item. explains ‘spin ice’ in greater detail and the trickery employed by the scientists’,

Spin ice is an unusual magnetic material in that it contains the magnetic equivalent of electrical charges – so called magnetic monopoles. It has attracted great interest on account of the currents of these charges forming a magnetic equivalent of electricity or “magnetricity”.

The number of magnetic monopoles in spin ice diminishes as the temperature goes down in much the same way as does the number of electrical charge carriers in semiconducting materials such as silicon – the basis of the electronics industry. The monopoles or charges disappear at low temperatures by positive and negative charges annihilating each other.

The researchers found a trick that used magnetic fields to create a hot “gas” of magnetic monopoles in very cold surroundings. The surroundings then sucked the heat out of the magnetic monopole gas, resulting in many magnetic monopoles trapped at a fraction of a degree above the absolute zero. The frozen monopoles no longer annihilated each other but instead could be made to flow by applying magnetic fields.

“Our low temperature experiments will tell us a lot about how magnetic monopoles move, as well as about the physics of far-from equilibrium systems in general” explains Prof. Steve Bramwell.

The researchers have provided this artist’s illustration of their work,

Figure: Artist’s impression of a hot gas of magnetic monopoles in very cold surroundings. Eventually the surroundings suck the heat out of the monopole gas leaving it frozen at low temperature. [downloaded from http://www.london-nano.com/research-and-facilities/highlight/frozen-magnetic-monopoles-create-new-laboratory-physics]

Figure: Artist’s impression of a hot gas of magnetic monopoles in very cold surroundings. Eventually the surroundings suck the heat out of the monopole gas leaving it frozen at low temperature. [downloaded from http://www.london-nano.com/research-and-facilities/highlight/frozen-magnetic-monopoles-create-new-laboratory-physics]

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

Far-from-equilibrium monopole dynamics in spin ice by C. Paulsen, M. J. Jackson, E. Lhotel, B. Canals, D. Prabhakaran, K. Matsuhira, S. R. Giblin, & S. T. Bramwell. Nature Physics (2014) doi:10.1038/nphys2847 Published online 19 January 2014

This paper is behind a paywall with several payment options.

The beauty of silence in the practice of science

Most writers need silence at some point in their process and I feel strongly that’s true of anyone involved in creative endeavours of any kind including science. As well, it may seem contradictory to some but one needs to be both open (communicative) and closed (silent).

These days in the field of science there’s a lot of pressure to be open and communicative at all times according to Felicity Mellor’s [Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Imperial College London] Jan. 15, 2014 blog posting for the Guardian and she feels it’s time to redress the balance (Note: Links have been removed),

Round the back of the British Library in London, a new building is taking shape. Due to open in 2015, the Crick Institute is set to become one of the largest research centres for biomedical science in Europe, housing over 1200 scientists.

The aim is to foster creative and imaginative research through interdisciplinary collaboration and the emphasis on collaboration pervades every aspect of the enterprise, from its joint foundation by six major institutions through to the very fabric of the building itself.

In stark contrast to the hunkered-down solidity of the British Library next door, with its pin-drop silences within, the glass walls and open-plan labs of the Crick Institute are intended to create “an atmosphere that maximises openness and permeability”. In place of the studious silences of the library, there will be the noisy cacophony of multidisciplinary exchanges.

Collaboration is clearly a key component of modern science and the Crick Institute is not alone in prioritising cross-disciplinary interaction. The rhetoric of openness is also widespread, with calls for public engagement and open data further extending the demands on scientists’ communications.

… Last year, Victoria Druce, then a student on the MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College, interviewed some of the scientists due to move into the Crick and found that they were already getting twitchy about sharing equipment and spoke territorially about their labs.

The unease is about more than territoriality (from the blog posting),

Researchers may quickly find ways to carve up the multidisciplinary spaces of the Crick Institute. But will they ever be able to shut themselves off from all that openness? Where, in these spaces of constant chatter, are scientists supposed to find a place to think?

Historically, the pursuit of knowledge was characterised as an activity conducted in, and requiring, silence, symbolically located in solitary spaces – whether the garret of the writer or the study of the intellectual. Newton was famously reluctant to engage with others and his theory of gravity came to him whilst sequestered in Lincolnshire, remote from the hubbub of London. Darwin, too, withdrew to Down House and held off publishing for as long as he could.

Mellor acknowledges that Darwin and Newton did not live in complete seclusion as there were neighbours, family members, and servants about during their ‘solitary’ sojourns but they still were able to enjoy some solitude where it seems the scientists at the Crick Institute will not (from the blog posting),

… when scientists recount moments of creativity, they frequently allude to periods of solitude and silence. If the aim of research centres like the Crick Institute is to foster creativity, then perhaps silence and withdrawal need to be catered for as well as collaboration and communication.

In response to this perceived need, Mellor and her colleague, Stephen Webster, organized a series of conferences titled, The silences of science, from the conferences’ homepage,

Constructive pauses and strategic delays in the practice and communication of science

The Silences of Science is an AHRC-funded reearch network examining different aspects of the paradox that science depends both on prolixity and on reticence. It seeks to interrogate the assumption that open and efficient channels of communication are always of greatest benefit to science and to society. It aims to remind the research community of the creative importance of silence, of interruptions in communication, of isolation and of ‘stuckness’.

Through a series of three workshops and conferences, the research network will bring together a range of scholars – from literary studies, anthropology, legal studies, religious studies, as well as from the history and philosophy of science and science communication studies – to draw on insights from their disciplines in order to examine the role of silence within the sciences.

Workshop/conference series: 

Conceptualising Silence: 2nd-3rd July 2013, Wellcome Trust. Programme here.

Silence in the History and Communication of Science: 17th December 2013, Imperial College London. (Further details and recordings of talks can be found here.)

The Role of Silence in Scientific Practice: Spring 2014, Imperial College London.

The most recent of the conferences features, as noted previously, audio recordings of some of the talks (from the Silence in the History and Communication of Science webpage),

Silence is often construed negatively, as a lack, an absence. Yet silences carry meaning. They can be strategic and directed at particular audiences; they can be fiercely contested or completely overlooked. Silence is not only oppressive but also generative, playing a key role in creative and intellectual processes. Conversely, speech, whilst seeming to facilitate open communication, can serve to mask important silences or can replace the quietude necessary for insightful thought with thoughtless babble.

Despite a currently dominant rhetoric that assumes that openness in science is an inherent good, science – and its communication – depends as much on discontinuities, on barriers and lacunae, as it does on the free flow of information. …

Brian Rappert (University of Exeter). The sounds of silencing.
Kees-Jan Schilt (University of Sussex), “Tired with this subject…”: Isaac Newton on publishing and the ideal natural philosopher.
Nick Verouden (Delft University of Technology), Silences as strategic communication in multi-disciplinary collaborations within the university and beyond.
Paul Merchant (National Life Stories, The British Library), “He didn’t go round the conference circuit talking about it”: oral histories of Joseph Farman and the ozone hole.
Emma Weitkamp (University of the West of England), Offering anonymity: journalists, PR and funders.
Carolyn Cobbold (University of Cambridge), The silent introduction of synthetic dyestuffs into food in the 19th century
Oliver Marsh (UCL), Lurking nine to five: ‘non-participants’ in online science communication.
Ann Grand (University of the West of England), Having it all: quality and quantity in open science.
Camilla Mørk Røstvik (University of Manchester), The silence of Rosalind Franklin’s Photograph 51
Elizabeth Hind, Reconstructing ancient thought: the case of Egyptian mathematics
Tim Boon (Science Museum) ‘The Silence of the Labs’: on mute machines and the communication of science
Alice White (University of Kent), Silence and selection: the “trick cyclist” at the War Office Selection Boards

Enjoy! One final note, Tim Boon’s ‘Silence of the Labs’ is not to be confused with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Fifth Estate telecast titled Silence of the Labs (mentioned in my Jan. 6, 2014 posting),which focused on opposition to Canadian government initiatives which have forced journalists to send queries for interviews and interview questions to communications officers rather than directly to the scientists and such other measures.