Tag Archives: University of British Columbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The human body as a musical instrument: performance at the University of British Columbia on April 10, 2014

It’s called The Bang! Festival of interactive music with performances of one kind or another scheduled throughout the day on April 10, 2014 (12 pm: MUSC 320; 1:30 PM: Grad Work; 2 pm: Research) and a finale featuring the Laptop Orchestra at 8 pm at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) School of Music (Barnett Recital Hall on the Vancouver campus, Canada).

Here’s more about Bob Pritchard, professor of music, and the students who have put this programme together (from an April 7, 2014 UBC news release; Note: Links have been removed),

Pritchard [Bob Prichard], a professor of music at the University of British Columbia, is using technologies that capture physical movement to transform the human body into a musical instrument.

Pritchard and the music and engineering students who make up the UBC Laptop Orchestra wanted to inject more human performance in digital music after attending one too many uninspiring laptop music sets. “Live electronic music can be a bit of an oxymoron,” says Pritchard, referring to artists gazing at their laptops and a heavy reliance on backing tracks.

“Emerging tools and techniques can help electronic musicians find more creative and engaging ways to present their work. What results is a richer experience, which can create a deeper, more emotional connection with your audience.”

The Laptop Orchestra, which will perform a free public concert on April 10, is an extension of a music technology course at UBC’s School of Music. Comprised of 17 students from Arts, Science and Engineering, its members act as musicians, dancers, composers, programmers and hardware specialists. They create adventurous electroacoustic music using programmed and acoustic instruments, including harp, piano, clarinet and violin.

Despite its name, surprisingly few laptops are actually touched onstage. “That’s one of our rules,” says Pritchard, who is helping to launch UBC’s new minor degree in Applied Music Technology in September with Laptop Orchestra co-director Keith Hamel. “Avoid touching the laptop!”

Instead, students use body movements to trigger programmed synthetic instruments or modify the sound of their live instruments in real-time. They strap motion sensors to their bodies and instruments, play wearable iPhone instruments, swing Nintendo Wiis or PlayStation Moves, while Kinect video cameras from Sony Xboxes track their movements.

“Adding movement to our creative process has been awesome,” says Kiran Bhumber, a fourth-year music student and clarinet player. The program helped attract her back to Vancouver after attending a performing arts high school in Toronto. “I really wanted to do something completely different. When I heard of the Laptop Orchestra, I knew it was perfect for me. I begged Bob to let me in.”

The Laptop Orchestra has partnered itself with UBC’s Dept. of Computer and Electrical Engineering (from the news release),

The engineers come with expertise in programming and wireless systems and the musicians bring their performance and composition chops, and program code as well.

Besides creating their powerful music, the students have invented a series of interfaces and musical gadgets. The first is the app sensorUDP, which transforms musicians’ smartphones into motion sensors. Available in the Android app store and compatible with iPhones, it allows performers to layer up to eight programmable sounds and modify them by moving their phone.

Music student Pieteke MacMahon modified the app to create an iPhone Piano, which she plays on her wrist, thanks to a mount created by engineering classmates. As she moves her hands up, the piano notes go up in pitch. When she drops her hands, the sound gets lower, and a delay effect increases if her palm faces up. “Audiences love how intuitive it is,” says the composition major. “It creates music in a way that really makes sense to people, and it looks pretty cool onstage.”

Here’s a video of the iPhone Piano (aka PietekeIPhoneSensor) in action,

The members of the Laptop Orchestra have travelled to collaborate internationally (Note: Links have been removed),

Earlier this year, the ensemble’s unique music took them to Europe. The class spent 10 days this February in Belgium where they collaborated and performed in concert with researchers at the University of Mons, a leading institution for research on gesture-tracking technology.

The Laptop Orchestra’s trip was sponsored by UBC’s Go Global and Arts Research Abroad, which together send hundreds of students on international learning experiences each year.

In Belgium, the ensemble’s dancer Diana Brownie wore a body suit covered head-to-toe in motion sensors as part of a University of Mons research project on body movement. The researchers – one a former student of Pritchard’s – will use the suit’s data to help record and preserve cultural folk dances.

For anyone who needs directions, here’s a link to UBC’s Vancouver Campus Maps, Directions, & Tours webpage.

Good lignin, bad lignin: Florida researchers use plant waste to create lignin nanotubes while researchers in British Columbia develop trees with less lignin

An April 4, 2014 news item on Azonano describes some nanotube research at the University of Florida that reaches past carbon to a new kind of nanotube,

Researchers with the University of Florida’s [UF] Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences took what some would consider garbage and made a remarkable scientific tool, one that could someday help to correct genetic disorders or treat cancer without chemotherapy’s nasty side effects.

Wilfred Vermerris, an associate professor in UF’s department of microbiology and cell science, and Elena Ten, a postdoctoral research associate, created from plant waste a novel nanotube, one that is much more flexible than rigid carbon nanotubes currently used. The researchers say the lignin nanotubes – about 500 times smaller than a human eyelash – can deliver DNA directly into the nucleus of human cells in tissue culture, where this DNA could then correct genetic conditions. Experiments with DNA injection are currently being done with carbon nanotubes, as well.

“That was a surprising result,” Vermerris said. “If you can do this in actual human beings you could fix defective genes that cause disease symptoms and replace them with functional DNA delivered with these nanotubes.”

An April 3, 2014 University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences news release, which originated the news item, describes the lignin nanotubes (LNTs) and future applications in more detail,

The nanotube is made up of lignin from plant material obtained from a UF biofuel pilot facility in Perry, Fla. Lignin is an integral part of the secondary cell walls of plants and enables water movement from the roots to the leaves, but it is not used to make biofuels and would otherwise be burned to generate heat or electricity at the biofuel plant. The lignin nanotubes can be made from a variety of plant residues, including sorghum, poplar, loblolly pine and sugar cane. [emphasis mine]

The researchers first tested to see if the nanotubes were toxic to human cells and were surprised to find that they were less so than carbon nanotubes. Thus, they could deliver a higher dose of medicine to the human cell tissue.  Then they researched if the nanotubes could deliver plasmid DNA to the same cells and that was successful, too. A plasmid is a small DNA molecule that is physically separate from, and can replicate independently of, chromosomal DNA within a cell.

“It’s not a very smooth road because we had to try different experiments to confirm the results,” Ten said. “But it was very fruitful.”

In cases of genetic disorders, the nanotube would be loaded with a functioning copy of a gene, and injected into the body, where it would target the affected tissue, which then makes the missing protein and corrects the genetic disorder.

Although Vermerris cautioned that treatment in humans is many years away, among the conditions that these gene-carrying nanotubes could correct include cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. But, he added, that patients would have to take the corrective DNA via nanotubes on a continuing basis.

Another application under consideration is to use the lignin nanotubes for the delivery of chemotherapy drugs in cancer patients. The nanotubes would ensure the drugs only get to the tumor without affecting healthy tissues.

Vermerris said they created different types of nanotubes, depending on the experiment. They could also adapt nanotubes to a patient’s specific needs, a process called customization.

“You can think about it as a chest of drawers and, depending on the application, you open one drawer or use materials from a different drawer to get things just right for your specific application,” he said.  “It’s not very difficult to do the customization.”

The next step in the research process is for Vermerris and Ten to begin experiments on mice. They are in the application process for those experiments, which would take several years to complete.  If those are successful, permits would need to be obtained for their medical school colleagues to conduct research on human patients, with Vermerris and Ten providing the nanotubes for that research.

“We are a long way from that point,” Vermerris said. “That’s the optimistic long-term trajectory.”

I hope they have good luck with this work. I have emphasized the plant waste the University of Florida scientists studied due to the inclusion of poplar, which is featured in the University of British Columbia research work also being mentioned in this post.

Getting back to Florida for a moment, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Lignin Nanotubes As Vehicles for Gene Delivery into Human Cells by Elena Ten, Chen Ling, Yuan Wang, Arun Srivastava, Luisa Amelia Dempere, and Wilfred Vermerris. Biomacromolecules, 2014, 15 (1), pp 327–338 DOI: 10.1021/bm401555p Publication Date (Web): December 5, 2013
Copyright © 2013 American Chemical Society

This is an open access paper.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) are trying to limit the amount of lignin in trees (specifically poplars, which are not mentioned in this excerpt but in the next). From an April 3, 2014 UBC news release,

Researchers have genetically engineered trees that will be easier to break down to produce paper and biofuel, a breakthrough that will mean using fewer chemicals, less energy and creating fewer environmental pollutants.

“One of the largest impediments for the pulp and paper industry as well as the emerging biofuel industry is a polymer found in wood known as lignin,” says Shawn Mansfield, a professor of Wood Science at the University of British Columbia.

Lignin makes up a substantial portion of the cell wall of most plants and is a processing impediment for pulp, paper and biofuel. Currently the lignin must be removed, a process that requires significant chemicals and energy and causes undesirable waste.

Researchers used genetic engineering to modify the lignin to make it easier to break down without adversely affecting the tree’s strength.

“We’re designing trees to be processed with less energy and fewer chemicals, and ultimately recovering more wood carbohydrate than is currently possible,” says Mansfield.

Researchers had previously tried to tackle this problem by reducing the quantity of lignin in trees by suppressing genes, which often resulted in trees that are stunted in growth or were susceptible to wind, snow, pests and pathogens.

“It is truly a unique achievement to design trees for deconstruction while maintaining their growth potential and strength.”

The study, a collaboration between researchers at the University of British Columbia, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michigan State University, is a collaboration funded by Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, was published today in Science.

Here’s more about lignin and how a decrease would free up more material for biofuels in a more environmentally sustainable fashion, from the news release,

The structure of lignin naturally contains ether bonds that are difficult to degrade. Researchers used genetic engineering to introduce ester bonds into the lignin backbone that are easier to break down chemically.

The new technique means that the lignin may be recovered more effectively and used in other applications, such as adhesives, insolation, carbon fibres and paint additives.

Genetic modification

The genetic modification strategy employed in this study could also be used on other plants like grasses to be used as a new kind of fuel to replace petroleum.

Genetic modification can be a contentious issue, but there are ways to ensure that the genes do not spread to the forest. These techniques include growing crops away from native stands so cross-pollination isn’t possible; introducing genes to make both the male and female trees or plants sterile; and harvesting trees before they reach reproductive maturity.

In the future, genetically modified trees could be planted like an agricultural crop, not in our native forests. Poplar is a potential energy crop for the biofuel industry because the tree grows quickly and on marginal farmland. [emphasis mine] Lignin makes up 20 to 25 per cent of the tree.

“We’re a petroleum reliant society,” says Mansfield. “We rely on the same resource for everything from smartphones to gasoline. We need to diversify and take the pressure off of fossil fuels. Trees and plants have enormous potential to contribute carbon to our society.”

As noted earlier, the researchers in Florida mention poplars in their paper (Note: Links have been removed),

Gymnosperms such as loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) contain lignin that is composed almost exclusively of G-residues, whereas lignin from angiosperm dicots, including poplar (Populus spp.) contains a mixture of G- and S-residues. [emphasis mine] Due to the radical-mediated addition of monolignols to the growing lignin polymer, lignin contains a variety of interunit bonds, including aryl–aryl, aryl–alkyl, and alkyl–alkyl bonds.(3) This feature, combined with the association between lignin and cell-wall polysaccharides, which involves both physical and chemical interactions, make the isolation of lignin from plant cell walls challenging. Various isolation methods exist, each relying on breaking certain types of chemical bonds within the lignin, and derivatizations to solubilize the resulting fragments.(5) Several of these methods are used on a large scale in pulp and paper mills and biorefineries, where lignin needs to be removed from woody biomass and crop residues(6) in order to use the cellulose for the production of paper, biofuels, and biobased polymers. The lignin is present in the waste stream and has limited intrinsic economic value.(7)

Since hydroxyl and carboxyl groups in lignin facilitate functionalization, its compatibility with natural and synthetic polymers for different commercial applications have been extensively studied.(8-12) One of the promising directions toward the cost reduction associated with biofuel production is the use of lignin for low-cost carbon fibers.(13) Other recent studies reported development and characterization of lignin nanocomposites for multiple value-added applications. For example, cellulose nanocrystals/lignin nanocomposites were developed for improved optical, antireflective properties(14, 15) and thermal stability of the nanocomposites.(16) [emphasis mine] Model ultrathin bicomponent films prepared from cellulose and lignin derivatives were used to monitor enzyme binding and cellulolytic reactions for sensing platform applications.(17) Enzymes/“synthetic lignin” (dehydrogenation polymer (DHP)) interactions were also investigated to understand how lignin impairs enzymatic hydrolysis during the biomass conversion processes.(18)

The synthesis of lignin nanotubes and nanowires was based on cross-linking a lignin base layer to an alumina membrane, followed by peroxidase-mediated addition of DHP and subsequent dissolution of the membrane in phosphoric acid.(1) Depending upon monomers used for the deposition of DHP, solid nanowires, or hollow nanotubes could be manufactured and easily functionalized due to the presence of many reactive groups. Due to their autofluorescence, lignin nanotubes permit label-free detection under UV radiation.(1) These features make lignin nanotubes suitable candidates for numerous biomedical applications, such as the delivery of therapeutic agents and DNA to specific cells.

The synthesis of LNTs in a sacrificial template membrane is not limited to a single source of lignin or a single lignin isolation procedure. Dimensions of the LNTs and their cytotoxicity to HeLa cells appear to be determined primarily by the lignin isolation procedure, whereas the transfection efficiency is also influenced by the source of the lignin (plant species and genotype). This means that LNTs can be tailored to the application for which they are intended. [emphasis mine] The ability to design LNTs for specific purposes will benefit from a more thorough understanding of the relationship between the structure and the MW of the lignin used to prepare the LNTs, the nanomechanical properties, and the surface characteristics.

We have shown that DNA is physically associated with the LNTs and that the LNTs enter the cytosol, and in some case the nucleus. The LNTs made from NaOH-extracted lignin are of special interest, as they were the shortest in length, substantially reduced HeLa cell viability at levels above approximately 50 mg/mL, and, in the case of pine and poplar, were the most effective in the transfection [penetrating the cell with a bacterial plasmid to leave genetic material in this case] experiments. [emphasis mine]

As I see the issues presented with these two research efforts, there are environmental and energy issues with extracting the lignin while there seem to be some very promising medical applications possible with lignin ‘waste’. These two research efforts aren’t necessarily antithetical but they do raise some very interesting issues as to how we approach our use of resources and future policies.

Greg Rickford, we hardly knew ya; hello to Ed Holder, Canada’s new Minister of State (Science and Technology)

A shakeup in the Stephen Harper (Conservative party) government’s cabinet was destined when Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance, announced his resignation in a surprise move earlier this March (2014). Greg Rickford was promoted from Minister of State (Science and Technology), considered a junior ministry, to Minister of Natural Resources, a more important portfolio.

A March 20, 2014 posting by David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog first alerted me to the change (Note: A link has been removed,

… Taking his responsibilities for science and technology will be MP Ed Holder from Ontario.  Holder represents parts of London, Ontario, and has stood in Parliament since 2008.  His background is in insurance, where he established a successful brokerage company, and contributed time and resources to several charitable causes.  In other words, the appointment reflects the second-tier status the science minister holds within the Canadian government.

(To be fair, science ministers who are elected politicians in many other nations hold a similar status.)

I did find some commentary about Holder and his move, from the March 19, 2014 article by John Miner for the London Free Press,

Eight years after Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won power, the London region — turf they’ve since sewn up — finally has its first Tory cabinet minister.

The question is, why has it taken so long?

London West MP Ed Holder’s appointment Wednesday [March 19, 2014] as minister of state for science and technology makes him the government’s first London minister and its first in the 10-riding region.

Holder’s move from the back benches, part of a cabinet mini-shuffle triggered by Jim Flaherty’s surprise resignation as finance minister, also makes him ­London’s first Conservative ­minister in Ottawa in 21 years.

Holder wasn’t doing interviews Wednesday [March 19, 2014], but in a statement said “I have always believed that investments in science and research create good jobs and drive economic growth.”

On social media, some questioned why Holder was given the science and technology beat when he has a philosophy degree and an insurance background. But others, including former London Liberal MP Glen Pearson, praised the move on Twitter.

I was hoping for a little more insight into Holder’s approach to the portfolio and his personal thoughts on science and technology as opposed to the regional pique and the government rhetoric being reiterated in the article. (The curious can find out more about Ed Holder here.) As noted in my July 17, 2013 posting when Rickford was appointed to the Science and Technology portfolio in July 2013, I don’t believe that the minister has to have a science degree and/or research experience. However, I do like to think they’ve given or will give the matter some thought.

As befitting the Natural Resources’ portfolio’s importance I have found some commentary about Rickford’s move, from the March 19, 2014 article by Alex Boutillier for thestar.com,

Newly minted Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford gives the Harper government a new face on the energy portfolio as a number of key projects hang in the balance.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promoted the Kenora [Ontario] MP from a junior minister to one of the most important and sensitive portfolios in the Conservative government in a mini cabinet shuffle Wednesday [March 19, 2014].

Rickford replaces Joe Oliver, who was moved to finance after the surprise departure of Jim [Jim] Flaherty on Tuesday. The move gives the Conservatives a chance to change the tone of debate surrounding a number of large-scale pipeline and mining projects; a debate that turned toxic at times under Oliver’s watch.

The bilingual 46-year old has a nursing degree, a MBA from Laval, and civil and common law degrees from McGill. He worked as a nurse on reserves in northern Ontario, giving him an instinctive feel for communicating with aboriginal communities as well as a degree of credibility in relations with those communities.

That experience can only help Rickford as he navigates difficult negotiations with First Nations groups on the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed Northern Gateway project, and the prospective Ring of Fire mining development in northern Ontario.

As Rickford prepares for the negotiations, Holder makes announcements such as this one, from a March 28, 2014 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release (I’ve trimmed the list down to the two ‘sciencish’ appointments),

UBC gets $8.5M boost for eight Canada Research Chairs

Research ranging from Latin poetry to neuroethics at the University of British Columbia has received an $8.5 million boost in federal funding for eight professors appointed or renewed as Canada Research Chairs.

The UBC contingent is among the 102 new and renewed chairs announced Friday [March 28, 2014] by Ed Holder, Minister of State for Science and Technology, at the University of Alberta. [emphasis mine]

The Minister of National Revenue Kerry-Lynne Findlay announced UBC’s two new recipients and six renewals at an event on the Vancouver campus to recognize B.C. appointees. The event featured the work of Martin Ordonez, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who was named a new Chair in Power Converters and Renewable Systems. His work aims to maximize the use of renewable energy from wind, solar, and the ocean by developing the next generation of power conversion and storage solutions to produce low emissions power.

“The CRC program strengthens UBC’s leading role in world-class research, attracting the best and the brightest minds to work here,” said John Hepburn, UBC vice-president, research and international. “The work of these professors creates lasting change within Canada and beyond.”

Renewed CRCs at UBC are:

Judy Illes, Chair in Neuroethics
Illes studies the ethics of neuroscience, a field that allows us to understand, monitor and potentially manipulate human thought using technology.

For a full list of UBC’s Canada Research Chairs mentioned in the announcement, go here.

Longtime readers know I sometimes make connections between ideas that are at best tenuous and the ‘we hardly knew ya’ phrase which leaped into my mind while considering a head for this post led me, eventually, to punk rock band, Dropkick Murphys,

The song, also known as ‘Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye’ has a long history as per its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

“Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” (also known as “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye” or “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya”) is a popular traditional song, sung to the same tune as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. First published in London in 1867 and written by Joseph B. Geoghegan, a prolific English songwriter and successful music hall figure,[1] it remained popular in Britain and Ireland and the United States into the early years of the 20th century. The song was recorded by The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem on their self-titled album in 1961,[2][3] leading to a renewal of its popularity.

Originally seen as humorous, the song today is considered a powerful anti-war song. …

Lyrics

While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy
A stick in me hand and a tear in me eye
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Chorus:

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums
The enemy nearly slew ye
Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild
When my poor heart you first beguiled
Why did ye scadaddle from me and the child
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run
When you went to carry a gun
Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home
All from the island of Ceylon
So low in the flesh, so high in the bone
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg
Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl out to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.

(Chorus)

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again
But they never will take my sons again
No they’ll never take my sons again
Johnny I’m swearing to ye.

As for the Dropkick Murphys, here’s an excerpt from their Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Dropkick Murphys are an American Celtic punk band formed in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1996.[1] The band was initially signed to independent punk record label Hellcat Records, releasing five albums for the label, and making a name for themselves locally through constant touring and yearly St. Patrick’s Day week shows, held in and around Boston. The 2004 single “Tessie” became the band’s first hit and one of their biggest charting singles to date. The band’s final Hellcat release, 2005′s The Warrior’s Code, included the song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston”; the song was featured in the 2006 Academy Award-winning movie The Departed, and went on to become the band’s only Platinum-selling single to date, and remains one of their best-known songs.

In 2007, the band signed with Warner Bros. Records and began releasing music through their own vanity label, Born & Bred. 2007′s The Meanest of Times made its debut at No. 20 on the Billboard charts and featured the successful single, “The State of Massachusetts”, while 2011′s Going Out in Style was an even bigger success, making its debut at No. 6, giving the band their highest-charting album to date.[2][3] The band’s eighth studio album, Signed and Sealed in Blood was released in 2013 making its debut at No. 9 on the Billboard charts.[4]

Cancer as a fashion statement at the University of British Columbia (Canada) and a Marimekko dress made of birch in Finland

The ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ at the University of British Columbia (UBC) bears some resemblance to the types of outreach projects supported by the UK’s Wellcome Trust (for an example see my June 21, 2011 posting) where fashion designers are inspired by some aspect of science. Here’s more about the ‘Fashioning Cancer Project’ and its upcoming fashion show (on March 25, 2014). From the March 12, 2014 UBC news release (Note: Links have been removed),

A UBC costume design professor has created a collection of ball gowns inspired by microscopic photos of cancer cells and cellular systems to get people talking about the disease, beauty and body image.

The project aims to create alternative imagery for discussions of cancer, to complement existing examples such as the pink ribbon, which is an important symbol of cancer awareness, but may not accurately represent women’s experience with the disease.

“Many women who have battled cancer express a disconnect with the fashion imagery that commonly represents the disease,” says Jacqueline Firkins, an assistant professor in UBC’s Dept. of Theatre and Film, who designed the collection of 10 dresses and dubbed the work ‘Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty.’

Inspired by cellular images captured by researchers in the lab of UBC scientist Christian Naus, a Peter Wall Distinguished Scholar in Residence, the project seeks to create artistic imagery based on the disease itself.

“My hope is that somehow through fashion, I more closely tap into what a woman might be feeling about her body as she undergoes the disease, but simultaneously reflect a strength, beauty, and resilience,” says Firkins, who will use the collection to raise money for cancer research, patients and survivors.

“This will be an opportunity for people to share their thoughts about the gowns,” says Firkins. “Are they too pretty to reflect something as destructive as cancer? Do they encourage you to tell your own story? Do they evoke any emotions related to your own experience?”

Before giving you where and when, here are two images (a cell and a dress based on the cell),

http://news.ubc.ca/2014/03/12/prof-challenges-cancer-fashion/

Cell7_brain_cells_in_a_dish; Astrocytes from the brain growing in a culture dish. Green colour indicates the cytoskeleton of these cells, red colour shows specific membrance [sic] channels (gap junctions), blue colour indicates the cell nuclei (DNA). The ability to grow cells in a dish has contributed to our understand of the changes these cells undergo when they become channels. Photo credit: John Bechberger, MSc., Christian Naus, PhD.

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Cell7_Mercedes_de_la_Zerda: Dress modeled by BFA Acting student Mercedes de la Zerda.Black organza cap sleeve w/ sheer top and multicolour organza diagonal trim. Photo credit: Tim Matheson

Details about the show (from the UBC event description webpage where you can also find a slide show more pictures),

  • Event: Fashioning Cancer: The Correlation between Destruction and Beauty
  • Date: Tue. March 25, 2014 | Time: 12-1pm
  • Location: UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre, 6354 Crescent Rd.
  • MAP: http://bit.ly/1fZ4bC8

On a more or less related note, Aalto University (Finland) has announced a dress made of birch cellulose fibre, from a March 13, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

The first garment made out of birch cellulose fibre using the Ioncell method is displayed at a fashion show in Finland on 13 March [2014]. The Ioncell method, which was developed by researchers at Aalto University, is an environmentally friendly alternative to cotton in textile production. The dress produced for Marimekko is a significant step forward in the development of fibre for industrial production.

Researchers were looking for new alternatives to cotton, because demand for textile fibres is expected to nearly double by 2030. The raw material for the Ioncell fibre is a birch-based pulp from Finnish pulp mills. Growing birch wood does not require artificial irrigation in its native habitat, for instance.

The Aalto University March 12, 2014 news release, which originated the news item, describes the new Ioncell fibre and its relationship with Finnish clothing company Marimekko,

The production method for Ioncell has been developed by Professor Herbert Sixta’s research group. The method is based on a liquid salt (ionic liquid) developed under the guidance of Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen which is a very efficient cellulose solvent. The fibres derived from it are carded and spun to yarns at the Textile University of Börås in Sweden.

‒ We made a breakthrough in the development of the method about a year ago. Progress has been rapid since then. [see my Oct. 3, 2013 posting for another Finnish team's work with wood cellulose to create fabric]  Production of the fibre and the thread is still a cumbersome process, but we have managed to triple the amount of fibre that is produced in six months. The quality has also improved: the fibers are stronger and of more even quality, Professor Sixta says with satisfaction.

The surface of the ready textile has a dim glow and it is pleasing to the touch. According to Sixta, because of its strength, the strength properties of the Ioncell fibre are equal or even better than other pulp-based fibres on the market. The fibres are even stronger than cotton and viscose.

The Finnish textile and clothing design company Marimekko became inspired by the new fibre at an event organised by the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC, which coordinates bioeconomy research, and immediately got in touch with Professor Herbert Sixta at Aalto University.

‒ We monitor product development for materials closely in order to be able to offer our customers new and more ecological alternatives. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to join this Aalto University development project at such an early stage. Fibre made from birch pulp seems to be a promising material by virtue of its durability and other characteristics, and we hope that we will soon be able to utilise this new material in our collections, says Noora Niinikoski, Head of Fashion at Marimekko.

Here’s the birch cellulose dress,

Marimekko Birch Dress Courtesy: Aalto University

Let’s all have a fashionable day!

Fierce mice and brain disorders topic at at Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique March 2014 get together

Vancouver’s next Café Scientifique is being held in the back room of the The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], Vancouver, Canada), on Tuesday, March 25,  2014 at 7:30 pm. Here’s the meeting description (from the March. 18, 2014 announcement),

Our speaker for the evening will be Dr. Elizabeth Simpson.  The title of her talk is:

“Fierce Mice” and “Good Viruses” are Impacting Brain Disorders

Mental illness accounts for over 15 percent of the burden of disease in the developed world, which is higher than all cancers combined. Nevertheless, from a research perspective, these “brain and behaviour” disorders are relatively underserved. Combinations of both genetic and environmental factors cause brain and behaviour disorders, and the Simpson laboratory is focused on exploring the genetic cause.

Dr. Simpson’s group was the first to find that the human gene (NR2E1) can correct violent behaviour in the fierce mouse; a model of pathological aggression. NR2E1 is involved in controlling stem cell proliferation in the brain, and the Simpson group has found an association between this gene and bipolar disorder (manic-depressive psychosis), a brain illness that is usually diagnosed in late teens to early twenties, but likely initiates in childhood.

Working to open a new therapeutic door for mental illness and other brain disorders, Dr. Simpson is leading a large genomics project to build MiniPromoters; tools designed to deliver therapeutic genes to defined regions of the brain. This technology will enable virus-based-gene therapies for many different brain disorders regardless of the underlying cause. Thus, the Simpson laboratory is bringing new technologies to childhood and adult brain and behaviour disorders, all of which are underserved by traditional therapeutic approaches.

You canl see this description of Simpson’s talk is taken from her page on the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics webspace on the University of British Columbia website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I’ll see you at the Vancouver event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainable extraction

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

International sustainable mining institute launched

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freshwater fishes topic at Vancouver’s (Canada) Café Scientifique January 2014 get together

Vancouver’s next Café Scientifique is being held in the back room of the The Railway Club (2nd floor of 579 Dunsmuir St. [at Seymour St.], Vancouver, Canada), on Tuesday, January 28,  2014 at 7:30 pm. Here’s the meeting description (from the Jan.. 21, 2014 announcement),

… Our speaker for the evening will be Eric Taylor, a zoology professor at UBC [University of British Columbia] and director of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.  The title and abstract for his talk is:

Fluviatili Pisces Diversi (The Diversity of Freshwater Fishes): Underappreciated and Under Threat

The term fish biodiversity immediately conjures up images of strikingly-coloured fishes on a coral reef, but over 40% of the more than 33,000 fish species occur in fresh water which comprises only 0.8% of the Earth’s surface area. Freshwater fishes are, therefore, the most diverse group of vertebrates per unit area on Earth. Furthermore, recent research suggests that the rate of the origin of new biodiversity is greater in fresh water than in the marine realm. Within this context, my presentation will discuss general patterns of biodiversity in British Columbia freshwater fishes, its nature and origins, and explore a few examples of evolutionary marvels of our native freshwater fishes. Finally, I will outline some of the key threats to our freshwater fish bioheritage.

You can find out more about the Beaty Biodiversity Museum here. Note: It is located on the University of British Columbia lands and on the university’s website.