Tag Archives: University of Calgary

Green chemistry and zinc oxide nanoparticles from Iran (plus some unhappy scoop about Elsevier and access)

It’s been a while since I’ve featured any research from Iran partly due to the fact that I find the information disappointingly scant. While the Dec. 22, 2013 news item on Nanowerk doesn’t provide quite as much detail as I’d like it does shine a light on an aspect of Iranian nanotechnology research that I haven’t previously encountered, green chemistry (Note: A link has been removed),

Researchers used a simple and eco-friendly method to produce homogenous zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles with various applications in medical industries due to their photocatalytic and antibacterial properties (“Sol–gel synthesis, characterization, and neurotoxicity effect of zinc oxide nanoparticles using gum tragacanth”).

Zinc oxide nanoparticles have numerous applications, among which mention can be made of photocatalytic issues, piezoelectric devices, synthesis of pigments, chemical sensors, drug carriers in targeted drug delivery, and the production of cosmetics such as sunscreen lotions.

The Dec. 22, 2013 Iran Nanotechnology Initiative Council (INIC) news release, which originated the news item, provides a bit more detail (Note: Links have been removed),

By using natural materials found in the geography of Iran and through sol-gel technique, the researchers synthesized zinc oxide nanoparticles in various sizes. To this end, they used zinc nitrate hexahydrate and gum tragacanth obtained from the Northern parts of Khorassan Razavi Province as the zinc-providing source and the agent to control the size of particles in aqueous solution, respectively.

Among the most important characteristics of the synthesis method, mention can be made of its simplicity, the use of cost-effective materials, conservation of green chemistry principals to prevent the use of hazardous materials to human safety and environment, production of nanoparticles in homogeneous size and with high efficiency, and most important of all, the use of native materials that are only found in Iran and its introduction to the world.

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

Sol–gel synthesis, characterization, and neurotoxicity effect of zinc oxide nanoparticles using gum tragacanth by Majid Darroudi, Zahra Sabouri, Reza Kazemi Oskuee, Ali Khorsand Zak, Hadi Kargar, and Mohamad Hasnul Naim Abd Hamidf. Ceramics International, Volume 39, Issue 8, December 2013, Pages 9195–9199

There’s a bit more technical information in the paper’s abstract,

The use of plant extract in the synthesis of nanomaterials can be a cost effective and eco-friendly approach. In this work we report the “green” and biosynthesis of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO-NPs) using gum tragacanth. Spherical ZnO-NPs were synthesized at different calcination temperatures. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging showed the formation most of nanoparticles in the size range of below 50 nm. The powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD) analysis revealed wurtzite hexagonal ZnO with preferential orientation in (101) reflection plane. In vitro cytotoxicity studies on neuro2A cells showed a dose dependent toxicity with non-toxic effect of concentration below 2 µg/mL. The synthesized ZnO-NPs using gum tragacanth were found to be comparable to those obtained from conventional reduction methods using hazardous polymers or surfactants and this method can be an excellent alternative for the synthesis of ZnO-NPs using biomaterials.

I was not able to find the DOI (digital object identifier) and this paper is behind a paywall.

Elsevier and access

On a final note, Elsevier, the company that publishes Ceramics International and many other journals, is arousing some ire with what appears to be its latest policies concerning access according to a Dec. 20, 2013 posting by Mike Masnick for Techdirt Note: Links have been removed),

We just recently wrote about the terrible anti-science/anti-knowledge/anti-learning decision by publishing giant Elsevier to demand that Academia.edu take down copies of journal articles that were submitted directly by the authors, as Elsevier wished to lock all that knowledge (much of it taxpayer funded) in its ridiculously expensive journals. Mike Taylor now alerts us that Elsevier is actually going even further in its war on access to knowledge. Some might argue that Elsevier was okay in going after a “central repository” like Academia.edu, but at least it wasn’t going directly after academics who were posting pdfs of their own research on their own websites. While some more enlightened publishers explicitly allow this, many (including Elsevier) technically do not allow it, but have always looked the other way when authors post their own papers.

That’s now changed. As Taylor highlights, the University of Calgary sent a letter to its staff saying that a company “representing” Elsevier, was demanding that they take down all such articles on the University’s network.

While I do feature the topic of open access and other issues with intellectual property from time to time, you’ll find Masnick’s insights and those of his colleagues are those of people who are more intimately familiar (albeit firmly committed to open access) with the issues should you choose to read his Dec. 20, 2013 posting in its entirely.

Grand Challenges Canada funds 83 projects to improve global health

For the third year in a row (as per my Dec. 22, 2011 posting and my Nov. 22, 2012 posting), I’m featuring Grand Challenges Canada funding for its ‘Stars in Global Health’ programme . From the Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) Nov. 21, 2013 news release,

Imaginative: 83 Bold Innovations to Improve Global Health Receive Grand Challenges Canada Funding

Among novel ideas to reduce disease, save lives in developing world:
Diagnostic diapers to detect deadly rotavirus; Rolling water barrel;
Special yogurt offsets pesticides, heavy metals, toxins in food;
Inventive shoe, boot material releases bug repellent when walking

50 innovators from low- and middle-income countries,
plus 33 from Canada, share $9.3 million in seed grants

Grand Challenges Canada, funded by the Government of Canada, today extends seed grants of $100,000 each to 83 inventive new ideas for addressing health problems in resource-poor countries.

The Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program seeks breakthrough and affordable innovations that could transform the way disease is treated in the developing world — innovations that may benefit the health of developed world citizens as well.

Of the 83 grants announced today, 50 are given to innovators in 15 low- and middle-income nations worldwide and 33 to Canadian-originated projects, to be implemented in a total of 30 countries throughout the developing world.

“Innovation powers development leading to better health and more jobs. I feel proud that Canada, through Grand Challenges Canada, has supported almost 300 bold ideas to date in our Stars in Global Health program,” says Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada.  ”This is one of the largest pipelines of innovations in global health in the world today.”

Says the Honourable Christian Paradis, Canadian Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie: “Grand Challenges Canada’s portfolio of projects shows how innovators with bold ideas have the potential to make a big impact on global health.  By connecting game-changing ideas with some of the most pressing global health challenges, these projects will lead to sustainable and affordable health solutions in low- and middle-income countries.”

The portfolio of 83 creative, out-of-the-box ideas, selected through independent peer review from 451 applications, includes projects submitted by social entrepreneurs, private sector companies and non-government organizations as well as university researchers.  Among them:

Diagnostics

  • A simple, portable, dry, yeast-based blood screening test (Belize, Jamaica).  WHO estimates almost half of 46 million blood donations in low-income countries are inadequately tested;  in Africa up to 10% of new HIV infections are caused by transfusions.  A University of Toronto-developed yeast-based blood screening tool will detect combinations of diseases. Like baking yeast, it can be stored dry, and can be grown locally with minimal equipment and training, improving accessibility in rural areas.
  • A bedside, Litmus paper-like test to detect bronchitis (Brazil, India). Being pioneered at McMaster University with international collaborators, a simple sputum test will detect infectious and allergic bronchitis in adults and children, reducing mis-diagnosis in developing countries and saving resources: time, steroids, antibiotics.

Water, sanitation, hygiene and general health

  • Special yogurts formulated to offset the harm to health caused by heavy metals, pesticides and other toxics in food (Africa).  Between 2006-2009 in Nairobi, only 17% of the total maize sampled and 5% of feed was fit for human and animal consumption respectively. University of Western Ontario researchers have developed novel yogurts containing a bacteria that, in the stomach, sequesters certain toxins and heavy metals and degrades some pesticides.
  • Addressing arsenic-laced groundwater. In Bangladesh, 1 in 5 deaths (600,000 per year) occur due to groundwater arsenic, dubbed by WHO as the largest mass poisoning in history, with some 77 million people at risk.  Project 1) Toronto-based PurifAid will deploy new filtration units via franchised villagers who will filter and deliver purified water, perform maintenance, acquire new filters and dispose of old ones, which can be used to produce biofuels.  Project 2) A project based at the University of Calgary, meanwhile, will work to increase the use of Western Canadian lentils in Bangladeshi diets.  The crop is rich in selenium, which can decrease arsenic levels and improve health.
  • “WaterWheel” (India, Kenya, Mongolia).  This simple, innovative device from India is a wheeled water container that enables the collection and transport of 3 to 5 times as much water as usual per trip, as well as hygienic storage, saving valuable time for productive activities and improving health.

Malaria

  • A vaccine based on a newly-discovered antibody in men that prevents malaria infection in the placenta (Benin, Colombia).  Colombian men exposed to malaria are found to have antibodies that can prevent infection in the placenta of a pregnant woman. This University of Alberta finding forms the basis for developing a novel vaccine against several forms of malaria, which cause 10,000 maternal deaths and 200,000 stillbirths annually.
  • Insect-repellent clothing, footwear and wall plaster (East Africa).  1) In Tanzania, the Africa Technical Research Institute will lead the design and manufacture of attractive, affordable insecticide-treated clothing while 2) the Ifakara Health Institute will develop anti-mosquito footwear material that slowly releases repellents from the friction of walking.  A key advantage: no compliance or change in habits required.  3) Uganda’s Med Biotech Laboratories, meanwhile, will produce a colorful, insecticide-infused ‘plaster’ for the outside walls of African village homes.

Maternal and child health

  • Mothers Telling Mothers: improving maternal health through storytelling (Uganda).  Work by Twezimbe Development Association has found that stories told by mothers in their own words and reflecting shared realities are most likely to increase the number of moms seeking skilled health care, and convince policymakers to improve healthcare access.  This project will capture 3 to 5 minutes stories to be shared through digital media platforms and health clinics.

Mobile technology

  • Digital African Health Library (Sub-Saharan Africa).  The University of Calgary-led project is creating an app to support bedside care by medical doctors in Africa: a smartphone-accessible resource providing evidence-based, locally-relevant decision support and health information.  A pilot involving 65 doctors in Rwanda showed point of care answers to patient questions more than tripled to 43%, with self-reported improvement in patient outcomes.

Health care

  • Simple sticker helps track clean surfaces in healthcare facilities (Philippines).  WHO estimates that 10% to 30% of all patients in developing country health care facilities acquire an infection.   An innovative sticker for hospital surfaces developed by Lunanos Inc. changes colour when a cleaner is applied and fades color after a predetermined period of time, helping staff track and ensure cleanliness of equipment and other frequently touched surfaces.
  • “Mystery clients” to assess and improve quality of TB care (India).  India accounts for 25% of global tuberculosis (TB) incidence.  To evaluate variations in practice quality, and identify ways to improve TB management in India, this project, led by Canada’s McGill University, will send researchers into clinics posing as a patient with standard TB symptoms.  The project builds on earlier work related to angina, asthma and dysentery, which revealed incorrect diagnoses and treatment.

And many more.

A complete set of 83 short project descriptions, with links to additional project details, available photos / video, and local contact information, is available in the full news release online here: http://bit.ly/HOLt5b

Here’s a video for the one of the projects (filtering arsenic out of Bangladesh’s water),

I chose this project somewhat haphazardly. It caught my attention as I have written more than once about purification efforts and as it turns out, this is a Canada-based project (with a Bangladeshi partner, BRAC) from the University of Toronto.

You may have heard the video’s narrator mention scotch whiskey, here’s why (from the YouTube page hosting the project video,page),

We plan to roll out a new generation of filtration units which run on an organic by-product of the beverage industry. The units address many of the failings of existing devices (they require no power or chemicals and are very low maintenance).

This project gets still more interesting (from the full project description page),

Device for the Remediation and Attenuation of Multiple Pollutants (DRAM) removes 95% of arsenic from contaminated water within 5 minutes of exposure. With an estimated 600,000 deaths directly attributable to arsenic poisoning every year, these units hold the potential to save millions of lives. Existing solutions are too complicated and suffer from significant usability issues (2012 UNICEF study).

We will deploy our units through a franchise business model. [emphasis mine] Local villagers will filter and deliver purified water, perform maintenance, acquire new media, and dispose spent media. The current market leader, the Sono Filter, has less than 20% uptake (according to UNICEF). DRAM costs only 25% of this solution, has lower maintenance requirements (4-6 month media cycle vs. 2 week media cycle), higher durability, and can be retrofitted onto existing tube wells villagers use thereby requiring no behavior change. The spent media (which must be replaced every 4-6 months) can be used to produce biofuels, giving PurifAid a decisive capability over competitors.

With the assistance of our local partner BRAC (ranked #1 on Global Journal’s list of top NGOs in 2012) we will retrofit our units onto existing tubewells. Contaminated water is pumped from the tubewell into the unit where it passes into the bottom of the unit, rising up through a bed of the organic filter media, binding the arsenic. Clean water is displaced and forced out of the top of the unit and out through the built-in tap. Our community based solution will begin with a proof-of-concept installation in the Mujibnagar District (pop. 1.3 million). BRAC will assist in testing our filter water quality on the ground and these results will be used to obtain regulatory approval for our technology. We will then operationalize our community-run DRAM systems. A council of local stakeholders will nominate prospective franchisees amongst villagers. These villagers will replace filter media in 4 month intervals and order annual delivery of new media. We are securing partnerships with nearby distilleries to locally source the filter media. [emphasis mine] Disposal will be handled by a local caretaker who will store spent media in bulk before transferring it for use as biofuel. Caretaker salary, media sourcing, and delivery costs will be paid by charging a levy on customer households. PurifAid will monitor behavioural and health indicators to ascertain DRAM’s immediate and long-term impact. To this end PurifAid has partnered with Ashalytics, a start-up global health analytics company, to report operational issues, measure impact, and communicate important metrics to key staff and stakeholders via mobile phones. This results in an environmentally-friendly value chain that uses beverage industry waste, maximizing positive impact. If the Bangladesh installations are a success then this system can be introduced across the Indian subcontinent and in west Africa, where arsenic in groundwater poses a serious health problem. DRAM has the potential to improve the lives of millions globally.

After 18 months we envisage having installed 15 DRAM systems supplying 45 liters of purified water per day to 2,700 households. In order to ensure maintenance, 15 paid caretakers will operate the pumps and a driver will supply the caretakers with fresh media every 4-6 months. Biannually, new bulk media will be provided to storage unit in the village, spent media will in turn be taken to a plant and converted to biofuel. Villagers will invest collectively to purchase, install and operate DRAM on pre-existing tube wells – thus no behavioral changes needed.

Our filters employ a new water filtration technology. Our franchise model involves social and business innovation, empowering communities to manage their own water treatment under the stewardship of a local partner that manages 17 social businesses with combined annual revenues of $93m in 2011.

(Aside: Don’t they ask for a ‘dram’ of whiskey in the movies?) This project is intended to do more than purify water; it’s designed to create jobs. Bravo!

Now back to the news release for details about the countries and agencies involved,

The global portfolio of grants, broken down by region and country:

30 projects based in 6 African countries (16 in Kenya, 5 in Tanzania, 5 in Uganda, 2 in Nigeria and 1 each in Senegal and Ghana)
17 projects based in 7 countries in Asia (7 in India, 2 in Pakistan 4 in Thailand and 1 each in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia and the Philippines)
Two projects based in South America (Peru) and one in Europe (Armenia)
33 projects based in 11 Canadian cities (14 in Toronto, 3 each in Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver, 2 each in Winnipeg, Edmonton and London, and 1 each in Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa and Saskatoon)

The Canadian-based projects will be implemented worldwide (a majority of them implemented simultaneously in more than one country):

15 countries in Africa (5 in Kenya, 4 in Tanzania, 3 each in Uganda and Ethiopia, 2 each in Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Zambia, and 1 each in Benin, Botswana, Ghana,  Malawi, Nigeria, and DR Congo)
8 countries in Asia (8 in India, 6 in Bangladesh, 1 each in Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand)
5 countries in South and Latin America (Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica, Peru.) and
1 in the Middle East (Egypt)

Including today’s grants, total investments to date under the Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program is $32 million in 295 projects.

For full details: http://bit.ly/HOLt5b

* * * * *

About Grand Challenges Canada

Grand Challenges Canada is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global

health. We are funded by the Government of Canada through the Development Innovation Fund announced in the 2008 Federal Budget. We fund innovators in low- and middle-income countries and Canada. Grand Challenges Canada works with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and other global health foundations and organizations to find sustainable, long-term solutions through Integrated Innovation − bold ideas that integrate science, technology, social and business innovation. Grand Challenges Canada is hosted at the Sandra Rotman Centre.

Please visit grandchallenges.ca  and look for us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

About Canada’s International Development Research Centre

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development. IDRC also encourages sharing this knowledge with policymakers, other researchers and communities around the world. The result is innovative, lasting local solutions that aim to bring choice and change to those who need it most. As the Government of Canada’s lead on the Development Innovation Fund, IDRC draws on decades of experience managing publicly funded research projects to administer the Development Innovation Fund. IDRC also ensures that developing country researchers and concerns are front and centre in this exciting new initiative.

www.idrc.ca

About Canadian Institutes of Health Research

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada’s health research investment agency. CIHR’s mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 14,100 health researchers and trainees across Canada. CIHR will be responsible for the administration of international peer review, according to international standards of excellence. The results of CIHR-led peer reviews will guide the awarding of grants by Grand Challenges Canada from the Development Innovation Fund.

www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

About the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The mandate of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada is to manage Canada’s diplomatic and consular relations, to encourage the country’s international trade, and to lead Canada’s international development and humanitarian assistance.

www.international.gc.ca

About Sandra Rotman Centre

The Sandra Rotman Centre is based at University Health Network and the University of Toronto. We develop innovative global health solutions and help bring them to scale where they are most urgently needed. The Sandra Rotman Centre hosts Grand Challenges Canada.

www.srcglobal.org

I have found it confusing that there’s a Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a Grand Challenges programme, both of which making funding announcements at this time of year. I did make some further investigations which I noted in my Dec. 22, 2011 posting,

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $21.1 M grant over three years for research into point-of-care diagnostic tools for developing nations. A Canadian nongovermental organization (NGO) will be supplementing this amount with $10.8 M for a total of $31.9 M. (source: Dec. 16, 2011 AFP news item [Agence France-Presse] on MedicalXpress.com)

At this point, things get a little confusing. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a specific program called Grand Challenges in Global Health and this grant is part of that program. Plus, the Canadian NGO is called Grand Challenges Canada (couldn’t they have found a more distinctive name?), which is funded by a federal Canadian government initiative known as the Development Innovation Fund (DIF). …

Weirdly, no one consulted with me when they named the Bil & Melinda Gates Foundation programme or the Canadian NGO.

Alberta’s (Canada) Ingenuity Lab and its nanotechnology dreams

I believe the Nov. 6, 2013 news release from Alberta’s Ingenuity Lab was meant to announce this new lab’s existence (why does Alberta need another nanotechnology-focused institution?),

Alberta’s first accelerator laboratory brings together some of nanotechnology’s leading players to make small science have a big impact in Alberta, by harnessing and commercializing emerging technologies, and simultaneously addressing some of the grand challenges faced by our province.

“We still have an incredible amount to learn from nature. This we know,” says Ingenuity Lab Director, Dr. Carlo Montemagno. “The opportunity in front of us is the potential to create a bio-enabled, globally-competitive and value-added industry while training the next generation of researchers and innovators in Alberta.”

With a research team of 25 strong and growing, Ingenuity Lab is focusing its research on the mining, energy, agriculture and health sectors, and is a $40 million provincial government led initiative working in partnership with the National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT), Campus Alberta and industry.

Alberta already hosts the National Institute of Nanotechnology (which was and perhaps still is partially funded by the province of Alberta) and there’s ACAMP “(Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products) is a not for profit organization that provides specialized services to micro nano technology clients. Clients have access to world-class equipment, facilities …” Both the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary have any number of labs dedicated to nanotechnology research and then there’s nanoAlberta which now lives on as part of  Alberta Innovates where* it’s listed on their Programs and Services page. It seems to me they have a number of organizations devoted to nanotechnology research and/or commercialization in Alberta. By the way, Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) can still be found on two different websites; there’s the NINT on the National Research Council of Canada website and there’s the NINT on the University of Alberta website.

While the lab’s Nov. 19, 2013 news release (h/t Nanowerk) explores the lab’s goals, it doesn’t really answer the question: why another one?,

Dr. Carlo Montemagno and a world-class team of researchers are working across disciplines to identify innovative solutions to some of the province’s most difficult issues, including optimal resource extraction while enhancing environmental stewardship of Alberta’s signature natural resources [oil sands].

“Nanotechnology will have a significant impact on Canada’s economic prosperity and global competitive advantage,” says Ingenuity Lab Director, Dr. Carlo Montemagno.  “This enhanced understanding of matter will provide the necessary underpinning for revolutionary discoveries across disciplines that will forever change the way we envisage the future.”

Ingenuity Lab is applying recent advances in targeted drug delivery and other areas to develop novel technologies that will enable the recovery of valuable materials, currently discarded as waste, from our industrial operations and the environment.

The Ingenuity research team is engineering new materials that have the capability to detect, extract and bind to rare earth and precious metals that exist in nature or synthetic materials. As this approach is refined, it will spawn a variety of applications like reclamation of trace amounts of valuable or harmful materials from soil, water and industrial process streams, including tailing ponds.

“Our molecular recognition techniques, what we call biomining, offer the ability to maximize the utility of our resources, establish a new path forward to restore damaged lands and water and to reaffirm Canada’s commitment to societal and economic prosperity,” says Dr. Montemagno. “The further we delve into the very makeup of the natural and inorganic components of our universe, the more opportunities we uncover. This radical shift away from conventional thinking means that we leverage research gains beyond their intended purpose. We achieve a multiplier effect that increases the capacity of nanotechnology to address the grand challenges facing modern industrial societies.”

I became a little curious about Dr. Montemagno and found this on the Ingenuity Lab’s About the Director page,

Dr. Carlo Montemagno

“The purpose of scientific study is to create new knowledge by working at the very edge where world-changing knowledge unfolds.” – C. Montemagno

Driven by the principles of excellence, honor and responsibility and an unwavering commitment to education as an engine of economic prosperity, Dr. Montemagno has become a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology and is responsible for creating groundbreaking innovations which solve complex challenges in the areas of informatics, agriculture, chemical refining, transportation, energy, and healthcare.

He was Founding Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at University of Cincinnati; received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and Bio Engineering from Cornell University; a Master’s Degree  in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering from Penn State and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering and Geological Sciences from Notre Dame.

“Research and education are critical to success because the transfer of knowledge creates economic prosperity.” — C. Montemagno

Dr. Montemagno has been recognized with prestigious awards including the Feynman Prize (for creating single molecule biological motors with nano-scale silicon devices); the Earth Award Grand Prize (for cell-free artificial photosynthesis with over 95% efficiency); the CNBC Business Top 10 Green Innovator award (for Aquaporin Membrane water purification and desalination technology); and named a Bill & Melinda Gates Grand Challenge Winner (for a pH sensing active microcapsule oral vaccine delivery system which increased vaccine stability and demonstrated rapid uptake in the lower GI tract.)

Despite my doubts, I wish the Ingenuity Lab folks good luck with their efforts.

*where’s changed to where, Feb. 3, 2014

Testing ‘Schroedinger’s cat’ on everyday objects at the University of Calgary (Canada)

For decades physicists have been grappling with the question of why the rules for quantum mechanics/physics are so different from classical physics while they try to unify the theories into one coherent explanation for why things are the way they are. At the same time, they’ve also been trying to test how the rules of quantum mechanics might apply to everyday objects and it seems a team from the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada) have made a breakthrough.

The July 21, 2013 University of Calgary news release on EurekAlert provides an explanation of Schroedinger’s thought experiment (the dead/alive cat), quantum mechanics, and difficulties testing the theory on everyday objects thus helping those of us without that knowledge to better understand the breakthrough,

In contrast to our everyday experience, quantum physics allows for particles to be in two states at the same time — so-called quantum superpositions. A radioactive nucleus, for example, can simultaneously be in a decayed and non-decayed state.

Applying these quantum rules to large objects leads to paradoxical and even bizarre consequences. To emphasize this, Erwin Schroedinger, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, proposed in 1935 a thought experiment involving a cat that could be killed by a mechanism triggered by the decay of a single atomic nucleus. If the nucleus is in a superposition of decayed and non-decayed states, and if quantum physics applies to large objects, the belief is that the cat will be simultaneously dead and alive.

While quantum systems with properties akin to ‘Schroedinger’s cat’ have been achieved at a micro level, the application of this principle to everyday macro objects has proved to be difficult to demonstrate.

“This is because large quantum objects are extremely fragile and tend to disintegrate when subjected to any interaction with the environment,” explains Lvovsky [professor Alex Lvovsky].

Now for the breakthrough (from the news release),

The breakthrough achieved by Calgary quantum physicists is that they were able to contrive a quantum state of light that consists of a hundred million light quanta (photons) and can even be seen by the naked eye. In their state, the “dead” and “alive” components of the “cat” correspond to quantum states that differ by tens of thousands of photons.

“The laws of quantum mechanics which govern the microscopic world are very different from classical physics that rules over large objects such as live beings,” explains lead author Lvovsky. “The challenge is to understand where to draw the line and explore whether such a line exists at all. Those are the questions our experiment sheds light on,” he states.

While the findings are promising, study co-author Simon [professor Christoph Simon] admits that many questions remain unanswered.

“We are still very far from being able to do this with a real cat,” he says. “But this result suggests there is ample opportunity for progress in that direction.”

They want to try this on a real live  cat? hmmm

For those who’d like to satisfy their curiosity further, here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper,

Observation of micro–macro entanglement of light by A. I. Lvovsky, R. Ghobadi, A. Chandra, A. S. Prasad & C. Simon. Nature Physics (2013) doi:10.1038/nphys2682 Published online 21 July 2013

This paper is behind a paywall.

Evelyn Fox Keller, Lee Smolin, or Kathleen M. Vogel may be speaking at a science event near you

More details are emerging about Evelyn Fox Keller’s April 2013 visit to western Canada (first mentioned in my Jan. 23, 2013 posting). Fox Keller is an eminent scholar as per this description, from my Oct. 29, 2012 posting about her talk in Halifax, Nova Scotia,

Before giving you details about where to go for a link [to her livestreamed Oct. 30, 2012 talk], here’s more about the talk and about Keller,

Fifty years ago, Thomas Kuhn irrevocably transformed our thinking about the sciences with the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. For all his success, debate about the adequacy and applicability of his formulation persists to this day. Are there scientific revolutions in biology? Molecular genetics, for example, is currently undergoing a major transformation in its understanding of what genes are and of what role they play in an organism’s development and evolution. Is this a revolution? More specifically, is this a revolution of the sort that Kuhn had in mind? How is language used? What implications can we draw from this?

Dr. Keller is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award and author of many influential works on science, society and modern biology such as: A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1983), Reflections on Gender and Science (1985), Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death: Essays on Language, Gender, and Science (1992), The Century of the Gene (2000), Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors and Machines (2002) and The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture (2010).

Keller Fox will be visiting the University of Calgary (Alberta) on April 1, the University of Alberta on April 2, and the University of British Columbia on April 4, 2013.  I’ve not found details about the University of Calgary visit but did find this for the University of Alberta visit (from the  Situating Science network node for the University of Alberta web page),

Tue., Apr. 2, 4:00 PM – , 6:00 PM

Dr. Keller visits U. Alberta as part of her travels as the Cluster Visiting Scholar.

Dr. Keller will speak at 4 pm in the Engineering and Technology Learning Centre, room 1-017d. There will be a reception directly after the talk.

PARADIGM SHIFTS AND REVOLUTIONS IN CONTEMPORARY BIOLOGY

Details about the visit to the University of  British Columbia are a little sparse, Situating Science network node for the University of British Columbia web page

Network Node:
University of British Columbia
Date:
Thu., Apr. 4, 5:00 PM – , 6:30 PM

What Kind of Divide Separates Biology from Culture?
Evelyn Fox Keller, History and Philosophy of Science, MIT
April 4 2013 5:00 – 6:30 pm, with reception to follow

Presented by Science and Society Series at Green College
Location: TBD

I did try to find more information about where and who might be allowed to attend her University of British Columbia (UBC) visit on the UBC site (Science and Technology Studies colloquium webpage, which lists her visit) and on their Green College site but no more details were available.

The Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario (the other side of Canada) has announced, with full details, an April 3, 2013 talk by Lee Smolin. Smolin moved to Canada in 2000 to become a founding member of the Perimeter Institute as per the biographical information attached to this event announcement. From their Mar. 13, 2013 announcement,

Time Reborn(Live webcast)

Wednesday, April 3 @ 7:00 pm
Mike Lazaridis Theatre of Ideas
Perimeter Institute, Waterloo

Lee Smolin
Perimeter Institute

What is time? Is our perception of time passing an illusion which hides a deeper, timeless reality? Or is it real, indeed, the most real aspect of our experience of the world? Einstein said that, “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” and many contemporary theorists agree that time emerges from a more fundamental timeless quantum universe. But in recent cosmological speculation, this timeless picture of nature seems to have reached a dead end, populated by infinite numbers of imagined unobservable universes.

In this talk, Lee Smolin explains why he changed his mind about the nature of time and has embraced the view that time is real and everything else, including the laws of nature, evolves. In a world in which time is real, the future is open and there is an essential role for human agency and imagination in envisioning and shaping a good future. Read More

Win tickets to be part of the live audience at Perimeter Institute for Time Reborn.

Sign up to receive an email reminder to watch the live webcast of Time Reborn.

As a service to audience members,
Words Worth Books will be onsite at this event.

Thank you for your support!

There is no information about accessing the webcast in the announcement. I last mentioned Smolin (briefly) in a June 4, 2009 posting,

… a physicist at Canada’s Perimeter Institute, Lee Smolin who, based on his work with Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a Brazilian philospher, suggests that the timeless multiverse (beloved of physicists and science fiction writers) does not exist.

This last event with Kathleen Vogel takes place in Washington, DC. From the Mar. 13, 2013 Woodrow Wilson Center announcement,

Invitation from the Woodrow Wilson Center

and the Los Alamos National Laboratory

Book Discussion: Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?: A New Framework for Assessing Bioweapons Threats

Speaker: Kathleen M. Vogel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Science & Technology Studies

Acting Director, Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies

Cornell University

Date/Time: Friday, March 22, 2013, noon to 1:30 p.m.

Location: 5th Floor Conference Room

Woodrow Wilson Center in the Ronald Reagan Building,

1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

(“Federal Triangle” stop on Blue/Orange Line)

Please RSVP (acceptances only) at [email protected]

For directions see the map on the Center’s website at www.wilsoncenter.org/directions. Please bring a photo ID and allow additional time to pass through a security checkpoint.

This meeting is part of an ongoing series that provides a forum for policy specialists from Congress and the Executive, business, academia, and journalism to exchange information and share perspectives on current nonproliferation issues. Lunch will be served. Seating is limited.

Carbon Management Canada announces research for an affordable CO2 nanosensor

Researchers at the University of Toronto (Ontario) and St. Francis Xavier University (Nova Scotia) have received funding from Carbon Management Canada (a Network Centre for Excellence [NCE]) to develop an ultra-sensitive and affordable CO2 nanosensor. From the Feb. 4, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at the Universities of Toronto and St. Francis Xavier are developing an affordable, energy efficient and ultra-sensitive nano-sensor that has the potential to detect even one molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Current sensors used to detect CO2 at surface sites are either very expensive or they use a lot of energy. And they’re not as accurate as they could be. Improving the accuracy of measuring and monitoring stored CO2 is seen as key to winning public acceptance of carbon capture and storage as a greenhouse gas mitigation method.

With funding from Carbon Management Canada (CMC), Dr. Harry Ruda of the Centre for Nanotechnology at the University of Toronto and Dr. David Risk of St. Francis Xavier are working on single nanowire transistors that should have unprecedented sensitivity for detecting CO2 emissions.

The Carbon Management Canada (CMC) Feb. 4, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, provides  details about the funding and reasons for the research,

CMC, a national network that supports game-changing research to reduce CO2 emissions in the fossil energy industry as well as from other large stationary emitters, is providing Ruda and his team $350,000 over three years. [emphasis mine] The grant is part of CMC’s third round of funding which saw the network award $3.75 million to Canadian researchers working on eight different projects.

The sensor technology needed to monitor and validate the amount of CO2 being emitted has not kept pace with the development of other technologies required for carbon capture and storage (CCS), says Ruda.

“This is especially true when it comes to surface monitoring verification and accounting (MVA),” he says. “Improving MVA is essential to meet the potential of carbon capture and storage.”

And that’s where the ultra-sensitive sensor comes in. “It’s good for sounding the alarm but it’s also good from a regulatory point of view because you want to able to tell people to keep things to a certain level and you need sensors to ensure accurate monitoring of industrial and subsurface environments,” Ruda says.

Given CMC’s vision for ‘game-changing research to reduce carbon emissions’, it bears noting that this organization is located in Calgary (the street address ‘EEEL 403, 2500 University Drive NW Calgary‘ as per my search today [Feb.4.13] on Google [https://www.google.ca/search?q=CMC+address+Calgary&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a] suggests the University of Calgary houses the organization). Calgary is the home of the Canadian fossil fuel industry and a centre boasting many US-based fossil fuel-based companies due to its size and relative proximity to the Alberta oil sands (aka, Athabaska oil sands). From the Wikipedia essay (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

The Athabasca oil sands or Athabasca tar sands are large deposits of bitumen or extremely heavy crude oil, located in northeastern Alberta, Canada – roughly centred on the boomtown of Fort McMurray. These oil sands, hosted in the McMurray Formation, consist of a mixture of crude bitumen (a semi-solid form of crude oil), silica sand, clay minerals, and water. The Athabasca deposit is the largest known reservoir of crude bitumen in the world and the largest of three major oil sands deposits in Alberta, along with the nearby Peace River and Cold Lake deposits.

Together, these oil sand deposits lie under 141,000 square kilometres (54,000 sq mi) of boreal forest and muskeg (peat bogs) and contain about 1.7 trillion barrels (270×109 m3) of bitumen in-place, comparable in magnitude to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum. Although the former CEO of Shell Canada, Clive Mather, estimated Canada’s reserves to be 2 trillion barrels (320 km3) or more, the International Energy Agency (IEA) lists Canada’s reserves as being 178 billion barrels (2.83×1010 m3).

As for locating a carbon management organization in Calgary, it does make sense of a sort. Here’s a somewhat calmer description of Carbon Management Canada on the website’s About CMC page,

Carbon Management Canada CMC-NCE [Network Centre for Escellence] is a national network of academic researchers working with experts in the fossil energy industry, government, and the not-for-profit sector. Together, we are developing the technologies, the knowledge and the human capacity to radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the fossil energy industry and other large stationary emitters.

Carbon emissions and the growing global concern about its effects present a unique opportunity for innovation and collaboration, especially in the fossil energy industry. Rapidly increasing global complexity demands robust, responsive innovation that can only develop in a highly collaborative context involving industry, scientists, policy makers, politicians and industry leaders in concert with an informed, supportive public.

Carbon Management Canada is the national body charged with harnessing the collective energy of this diverse group in order to push forward an ambitious agenda of innovation and commercialization to bring research from the lab into the world of practice.

Funding

Funding for CMC was provided through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence ($25 million) and the Province of Alberta through Alberta Environment ($25 million). Industry has also provided $5.7 million in contributions.

The Network has over 160 investigators at 27 Canadian academic institutions and close to 300 graduate and postdoctoral students working on research projects. CMC currently has invested $22 million in 44 research projects.

Our Themes

CMC is an interdisciplinary network with scientists working in fields that range from engineering to nanotechnology to geoscience to business to political science and communications. These investigators work in 4 themes: Recovery, Processing and Capture; Enabling and Emerging Technologies; Secure Carbon Storage; and Accelerating Appropriate Deployment of Low Carbon Emission Technologies.

Given that CMC is largely government-funded, it seems odd (almost as if they don’t want anyone to know) that the website does not feature a street address. In addition to trying  a web search, you can find the information on the last page of the 2012 annual/financial report. One final note, the chair of CMC’s board is Gordon Lambert who is also Vice President, Sustainable Development, Suncor Energy. From Suncor’s About Us webpage,

n 1967, we pioneered commercial development of Canada’s oil sands — one of the largest petroleum resource basins in the world. Since then, Suncor has grown to become a globally competitive integrated energy company with a balanced portfolio of high-quality assets, a strong balance sheet and significant growth prospects. Across our operations, we intend to achieve production of one million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

Then, there’s this on the company’s home page,

We create energy for a better world

Suncor’s vision is to be trusted stewards of valuable natural resources. Guided by our values, we will lead the way to deliver economic prosperity, improved social well-being and a healthy environment for today and tomorrow.

The difficulty I’m highlighting is the number of competing interests. Governments which are dependent on industry for producing jobs and tax dollars are also funding ‘carbon management’. The fossil fuel-dependent industry make a great deal money from fossil fuels and doesn’t have much incentive to explore carbon management as that costs money and doesn’t add to profit. Regardless of how enlightened any individuals within that industry may be they have a fundamental problem similar to an asthmatic who’s being poisoned by the medication they need to breathe. Do you get immediate relief from the medication, i.e., breathe, or do you refuse the medication which causes damage years in the future and continue struggling for air?

All of these institutions (CMC, Suncor, etc.) would have more credibility if they addressed the difficulties rather than ignoring them.

Situating Science in Canada; excerpts from the Winter 2013 newsletter

Situating Science is a SSHRC (Social Science and Humanities Research Council) funded network for Canadian Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Philosophy and History of Science scholars amongst others who examine the social impacts of science both in the present and in the past. The network is in its seventh and final year of funding (sunsetting) although there are plans for the future as per its most recent newsletter. Here’s a brief description of Situating Science’s  recent activities along with a listing of activities taking place in various Canadian cities over the next several months, as well as, a hint about future plans, from the Winter 2013 newsletter,

Happy New Year!

It’s been a busy few months. Members of the Cluster are now able to present you with all the latest in this Winter 2013 newsletter. In this issue, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Strategic Knowledge Cluster, Situating Science: Cluster for the Humanist and Social Study of Science (www.situsci.ca) is pleased to update you on activities …

Given our past successes, Cluster members plan to move forward with a few grant applications to sustain and initiate partnerships and activities. Some partners and stakeholders met in October to begin the planning process for a national and international partnership to explore sciences, technologies and their publics. They also plan to arrange to meet again this year to concretize plans for a sustainable network and national centre.

The Cluster hopes to build upon partnership activities with scholars and institutions in Southeast Asia and India. Members are currently planning to seek support for a Canada-Southeast Asia and India partnership to explore cosmopolitanism and circulation of knowledge.

The Cluster Centre and its many and varied local partners kept Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller busy during her 3.5 week fall visit to Halifax as the Cluster Visiting Scholar. Her time here allowed her to research genotypic plasticity, biological information and mathematical biology on top of participating in several activities, including a public lecture on “Paradigm Shifts and Revolutions in Contemporary Biology”. She then continued to Montreal to present and discuss her work at McGill [University] and UQAM [Université de Québec à Montréal] (CIRST) [Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie] and then to Toronto for discussions at York University, a University of Toronto IHPST [Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology] Brown Bag colloquium and a Wiegand Memorial Foundation Lecture on “Self-organization and God.” Select videos and podcasts of her public events are available on our website.

Dr. Anne Harrington, professor of History of Science at Harvard University, came to the Cluster Centre in October for a packed history of medicine luncheon conversation on “Culture in the Brain and Under the Skin”. This was followed by a post-performance discussion of placebo effect and medical attitudes and treatments after an original 2b Theatre production of “The Story of Mr. Wright.” Other recently supported events and visiting speakers to the Cluster Nodes include the Reading Artifacts Summer Institute at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM); Toronto’s Technoscience Salon on Ecologies; Women in Science and Engineering Symposium at McGiIll University; Dr. Suzanne Zeller, Wilfrid Laurier University in Halifax; Dr. Arun Bala, National University of Singapore at York University; Dr. Michael Lynch, Cornell University at U. Alberta [University of Alberta]; and many more.

II. UPCOMING WORKSHOPS, CONFERENCES AND EVENTS    

All of our events are supported by a host of partners and some are recorded, streamed live online or blogged about. Please visit our website for more information.

Fri. January 25, 5 PM, University of Toronto: “Technoscience Salon: Queer(y)ing Technologies.”

Wed., Feb. 27-28, National University of Singapore: “The Bright Dark Ages: Comparative and Connective Perspectives.”

Fri. Mar. 22-23, UBC [University of British Columbia]: Workshop on “Bodies in Motion: Translating Early Modern Science.”

Mon. April 1- Th. April 4, Calgary [University of Calgary], Edmonton [University of Alberta], Vancouver [University of British Columbia]: Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller continues her Node visits out west as the Cluster Visiting Scholar.

Fri. April 5, U. [University] King’s College: “Aelita: Queen of Mars” screening with live music.

Fri. Apr. 26-27, McGill University: McGill Node supports the Indian Ocean World Centreconference on “Histories of Medicine in the Indian Ocean.”

Fri. May. 3-4, York University: Conference on “Materiality: Objects and Idioms in Historical Studies of Science and Technology.”

Fri. Jun. 7-9, 2013, University of Calgary: Workshop on “Where is the Laboratory now? “Representation”, “Intervention” and “Realism” in 19th and 20th Century Biomedical Sciences.”

Mon. Oct. 21-23, 2013, U. Ottawa: Conference on “Science and Society.” In partnership with University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy and the Professional Institute for the Public Service of Canada.

V. BLOGS, VIDEOS AND PODCASTS

Blogs: A fascinating array of blog entries on summer, fall and winter workshops, lectures and events are now available on our website here: www.situsci.ca/blog.

The entries treat topics as diverse as

  • “The Women Question in Science: Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium (WISEMS) 2012”,
  • “The Play’s the Thing: Putting History of Science on Stage”,
  • “The story I hold about myself: the epistemology of Mr. Wright”,
  • “Narrative Theory, Historical Ethics, Sound Reasoning Through Pseudo-Science, and Testing Implicit Bias: a day at the WISEMS”,
  • “A Week with the Wonder Photo Cannon”,
  • “Reflections on Reading Artifacts Summer Institute 2012”,
  • “Gender and the Digital Silo: Cultures of Knowledge at Situating Early Modern Science Networks Workshop” and
  • “Notes on Caring in a Technoscientific World”. Please feel free to share and comment.

Videos and Podcasts: Videos and podcasts of events are constantly uploaded and announced on our website and via our social media. The latest uploads include:

Evelyn Fox Keller speaking on “Self-Organization and God”, “Paradigm Shifts And Revolutions In Contemporary Biology” and “Legislating for Catastrophic Risk”.

Heinrich von Staden’s HOPOS 2012 presentation entitled “Experimentation in Ancient Science?

All about the University of Calgary and its microscopy and imaging facility

A July 24, 2012 news item on Nanowerk features the the equipment and capabilities of …

The Calgary Microscopy and Imaging Facility (MIF) is a world-class university-wide facility housing transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), advanced light microscopy, atomic force microscopy (AFM), including single cell force spectroscopy (SCFS), and advanced image processing for three-dimensional electron and light microscopy, directed by Professor Matthias Amrein.

Single cell force spectroscopy at the MIF has now attracted high profile research with three NanoWizard® AFM systems from JPK [Instruments], one of which is equipped with the CellHesion® module. Describing the work of the Calgary group, Professor Amrein says “While we do some work for the energy sector (to predict behaviour of nanoparticles injected into oil reservoirs) our main focus is medicine. We delve into very fundamental problems such as “how does a malaria red blood cell attach itself to a blood vessel” or “how does binding of a ligand to a cell surface receptor or contact of a crystalline surface with the plasma membrane drive lipid sorting and how will this lead to signalling” but then immediately apply it to a practical problem such as “how does contact of uric acid crystals with dendritic cells cause gout in affected joints and how can we prevent this occurrence?” We want to understand disease processes at a very fundamental level so we know how to intervene in the best possible way. For example, a chronic inflammatory disease such as gout or arteriosclerosis may be triggered by a very specific interaction of a particle (uric acid crystals, cholesterol crystals, amyloid plaque, …. ) and specific cell (dendritic cell, macrophage, T-cell, …). Understanding this interaction will lead to targeted treatment “block the interaction” rather than the non-specific dampening of inflammation such as by corticosteroids with its many well-documented side effects and limited efficacy.”

It’s always nice to get some information about activities in microscopy, etc. in Canada although I’m not sure what occasioned the news item/release.

Turing tizzy

Alan Turing led one of those lives that seems more like an act of fiction than anything else. Born June 23, 1912, the centenary is being celebrated in the UK and internationally as he was an instrumental figure in the field of science. This video about the UK’s Science Museum Turing centenary exhibition titled, Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy, only hints at some of his accomplishments and tragedies,

John Butterworth in his June 21, 2012 posting on the Guardian Science blogs describes a few of the artifacts he saw in a preview showing of the exhibit,

There is the prototype of one of the first ever general-purpose programmable computers (see picture above [in Butterworth's posting]). Machines like this were used to help find and solve the metal fatigue problem which had caused the first passenger jets to crash. They have the relevant piece of the Comet jet, fished out of the Mediterranean. Enigma machines, including one loaned by Sir Michael Jagger [Rolling Stones] of Honky Tonk Women fame; a bottle of the hormone pills which Turing was forced to take by a profoundly grateful nation after he saved many thousands of lives in World War II, and loved a man.

There is an extensive Wikipedia essay on Turing, which provides more detail about his accomplishments  and travails including his conviction for ‘indecency’ in 1952. Homosexual behaviour was illegal in Britain at the time and once convicted Turing was given the choice, as noted in the video, of prison or chemical castration. From the Turing essay, here’s a brief description of Turning and his death (Note: I have removed links and footnotes),

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (…, 23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954), was an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” with the Turing machine, which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. For a time he was head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

After the war he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE.

On 8 June 1954, Turing’s cleaner found him dead; he had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it is speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was delivered. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954. Turing’s mother argued strenuously that the ingestion was accidental, caused by her son’s careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in an ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. David Leavitt has suggested that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the 1937 film Snow White, his favourite fairy tale, pointing out that he took “an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Witch immerses her apple in the poisonous brew.”

Of course, Snow White doesn’t die because the poison puts her into a ‘sleep’ from which she can be awakened by a kiss from her true love, as per the Disney 1937 classic. This suggests to me that Turing was a bit of a ‘romantic’. Apples are also associated with forbidden knowledge (as per the bible’s Adam and Eve story) and with Isaac Newton and gravity.

There are celebration taking place worldwide. You can find a list of Turing events here on the Leeds University website. I did search for Canadian events and found this,

I have one more piece I’d like to include here; it’s an excerpt from a June 20, 2012 posting by S. Barry Cooper for the Guardian’s Northerner blog,

John Turing talks in the family’s reminscences about his younger brother Alan, recalling how the future computer genius was noted for:

bad reports, slovenly habits and unconventional behaviour

The ‘neurotypical’ John says that neither he nor his parents “had the faintest idea that this tiresome, eccentric and obstinate small boy was a budding genius.”

It is still very common for geekishly irritating little boys and girls to suffer misunderstanding and routine bullying at school. Nowadays Alan would probably have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

Back in 2009 I met a Finnish artist/performer/musician who was working on an opera about Alan Turing and his life. I haven’t hear of it since but if anyone’s life ever cried out for ‘opera’ treatment, Turing’s does. I hope that opera got written and one day there’ll be a performance I can view.

A sciences and humanities in Canada spring update from Situating Science

For anyone unfamiliar with the Situating Science ‘cluster’ which brings together the sciences and the humanities in Canada, here’s a self-description from the Spring 2012 newsletter,

Created in 2007 with the generous funding of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Strategic Knowledge Cluster grant, Situating Science is a seven-year project promoting communication and collaboration among humanists and social scientists that are engaged in the study of science and technology. We operate on a hub and spoke model of six nodes spread across the country and explore a set of four interrelated themes. These are: “Science and its Publics”; “Historical Epistemology and Ontology” (including philosophy of science); “Material Culture and Scientific/ Technological Practices”; and “Geography and Sites of Knowing”.

For more information on your local “Network Node” events, video recordings and podcasts, research themes and network, please visit: www.situsci.ca.

I think the most interesting part of the newsletter was the list of upcoming events,

HOPOS 2012

The University of King’s College and Dalhousie University, institutions of the Atlantic Node, are hosting the 9th Biennial Meeting of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science occurring in Halifax, June 21-24th, 2012.
Link:  http://hopos2012.philosophy.dal.ca/ 

VISITING SCHOLAR

The Cluster is pleased to announce Dr. Evelyn Fox Keller as the Cluster Visiting Scholar for 2012-13. Details will be available in coming weeks on our website.

WORKSHOPS

Two major Cluster workshops are planned for early summer 2013. The University of British Columbia will host “Translating Early Modern Science” while the University of Calgary will host “Where is the Laboratory Now?: ’Representation’, ‘Intervention’ and ‘Realism’ in 19th and 20th Century Biomedical Sciences”.

CONFERENCES

York University will host the Cluster conference on the theme of Material Culture and Scientific / Technological Practices in the summer of 2013. Details will be available in coming months on our website.  

A conference on the theme of “Scientific Communication and its Publics” is being planned in Ottawa for the fall of 2013. The event, co-organized with the Institute of Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa (ISSP) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) will provide a unique opportunity and platform on which to follow up Cluster activities over the years.  Details will be available in coming months on our website.

I imagine Evelyn Fox Keller’s impending visit is causing great excitement. She is a professor emerita in MIT ‘s (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Science, Technology, and Society Program and considered a groundbreaking academic. From her webpage on the MIT website,

Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science, Emerita (STS)

Evelyn Fox Keller received her B.A. from Brandeis University (Physics, 1957) and her Ph.D. from Harvard University (Physics, 1963). She came to MIT from the University of California, Berkeley, where she was Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric, History, and Women’s Studies (1988-1992). Professor Keller has taught at Northeastern University, S.U.N.Y. at Purchase, and New York University. She has been awarded numerous academic and professional honors, including most recently the Blaise Pascal Research Chair by the Préfecture de la Région D’Ile-de-France for 2005–07, which she spent in Paris, and elected membership in the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Science. In addition, Professor Keller serves on the editorial boards of various journals including the Journal of the History of Biology and Biology and Philosophy.

Keller’s research focuses on the history and philosophy of modern biology and on gender and science. She is the author of several books, including A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (1983), Reflections on Gender and Science (1985), The Century of the Gene (2000), and Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors and Machines(2002). Her most recent book, The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture, is now in press.

That listing of upcoming events gives you a sense of the Situating Science cluster’s scope. Luckily, there are many podcasts and blogs of previous events so you can catch up on anything you may have missed. Here’s a listing of some of the latest presentations which have been made available,

Isabelle Stenger’s “Cosmopolitics: Learning to Think with Sciences, Peoples and Natures”:
Link:
Paul Thompson’s “Ethical Issues in Agriculture: Organic, Locavore and Genetic Modification”
Link:
Gordon McOuat’s keynote address in India for “Sciences and Narratives of Nature: East and West” workshop entitled “Orientalism in Science Studies: Should We Worry?”  (podcast in process)
Link:

Owen Flanagan Jr’s “The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized”
Link:
Charis Thompson’s keynote for the “Politics of Care in Technoscience” workshop entitled “The Politics of Care: Beyond Altruism and Anonymity in Biomedical Donation”
Link:

Bernie Lightman’s NS Institute of Science address “Communicating Knowledge to New Audiences: Victorian Popularizers of Science”
Link:

Enjoy!