Tag Archives: World Science Festival

World Science Festival 2012

I’ve been writing about the World Science Festival in New York City for a few years now (here’s a May 5, 2011 posting about Baba Brinkman and Fotini Markopoulou-Kalamara at the 2011 festival)  and the 2012 edition is about to launch.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012, a 5th anniversary gala celebration will be hosted by Alan Alda (mentioned in my Nov. 11, 2011 posting) and Brian Greene (who co-founded the festival) at the at The Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center at 7:30 pm. From the May 22, 2012 article by Dan Bacalzo for TheaterMania,

Performers will include Joshua Bell, Paige Faure, Drew Gehling, Rose Hemingway, David Hibbard, James Naughton, Momix, Debra Monk, Eryn Murman, and Abby O’Brien.

In addition, Festival co-founder Brian Greene will conduct two rarely-seen-in-public Physics experiments: the “Quantum Levitation” and “Double-Slit” experiments.

The 2012 World Science Festival runs from M1y 30, 2012 to June 3, 2012. I took a brief glance at the event listings and estimate that 25 to 30% are sold out. Tickets are still available for Cool Jobs, Cool Kids, Hot Contest, which features Baba Brinkman, the Canadian rap artist who performs the only peer-reviewed science rap in the world and was featured in last year’s Cool Jobs presentation.  From the Cool Jobs event page,

This spectacular double feature shows science in a whole new light: pure, imaginative, mind-bending fun! The big event heats up as Alan Alda hosts The Flame Challenge, a contest conceived by Alda and Stony Brook University’s Center for Communicating Science, that calls on scientists worldwide to give their best explanation of how a flame works—but in a way that makes sense to a kid. Cheer for your own favorite as Alda announces the winner chosen by hundreds of 11-year olds around the country. The excitement continues with the Festival’s ever-popular Cool Jobs, a jaw-dropping show that brings you face-to-face with amazing scientists with amazing jobs. Imagine having an office that’s a zoo and co-workers that are lemurs and porcupines. How about getting paid to build machines that can read people’s thoughts. Or imagine your desk was a basketball court and your clients were superstars trying to improve their game through biomechanics? Well, you don’t have to just imagine. Hear from scientists who have these jobs—find out what they do, how they do it, and how they got the coolest and weirdest gigs on the planet.

There will also be a street fair on Sunday, June 3, 2012 from 9:59 am to 5:59 pm (what is the significance of those hours?). From the Ultimate Science Street Fair webpage,

The Ultimate Science Street Fair returns to Washington Square Park with another action-packed day of interactive exhibits, experiments, games and shows, all designed to entertain and inspire. Visit a telepathy lab and control a computer just by thinking about it, learn the science tricks to shooting perfect free-throws with NBA stars, create your own fragrance at the Smell Lab, ride a square-wheeled tricycle, and much more!

Admission to the street fair and some of the other events are free. Of course, you do need to be in New York City.

Biology is the new physics?

Robin McKie, writing on the Guardian’s Science Desk blog (Notes & Theories), remarks on the fact that Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate for Medicine, is about be installed as president of the Royal Society at the end of November. From the Nov. 12, 2010 posting,

Paul Nurse has a modest way with his ideas. “Are you like me when you read books on relativity?” he asks. “You think you have got it and then you close the book, and you find it has all slipped away from you. And if you think you have trouble with relativity, wait till you take on quantum mechanics. It is utterly incomprehensible.” Not a bad admission for a Nobel prizewinner.

The point for Nurse is that biology is facing a similar leap into the incomprehensible as physics did at the beginning of the 20th century when the ordered world of Newtonian theory was replaced by relativity and quantum mechanics. [emphasis mine] Now a revolution awaits the study of living creatures.

There is a video of Paul Nurse talking about biology as a system on the Guardian site or you can take a look at this video (part 1 of 8 for a discussion on physics and unification theories that Nurse moderated  amongst Peter Galison, Sylvester James Gates Jr., Janna Levin and Leonard Susskind, at the 2008 World Science Festival in New York).

I find Nurse’s idea about biology facing some of the same issues as physics particularly interesting as I once found a piece written by a physicist who declared that science at the nanoscale meant that the study of biology was no longer necessary as we could amalgamate it with the study of chemistry and physics, i.e., we could return to the study of natural philosophy. About a year later I came across something written by a biologist declaring that physics and chemistry could be abolished as we could now fold them into the study of biology.

As I understand it, Nurse is not trying to abolish anything but merely pointing out that our understanding of biology may well undergo the same kind of transformation that physics did during the early part of the 20th century.

Cool science; where are the women?; biology discovers graphical notations

Popular Science’s Future of .., a programme [developed in response to a question "What's missing from science programming?" posed by Debbie Myers, {US} Science Channel general manager] , was launched last night (Aug. 11, 2009). From the Fast Company posting by Lynne D. Johnston,

The overall response from the 50-plus room full of mostly New York digerati, was resoundingly, “a show that was both entertaining and smart–not dumbed down.”

Their host, Baratunde Thurston, offers an interesting combination of skills as he is a comedian, political pundit, and author. If you go to the posting, you can find the trailer. (It’s gorgeous and, I suspect, quite expensive due to the effects, and as you’d expect from a teaser, it’s short on science content.)

It does seem as if there’s some sort of campaign to make science ‘cool’ in the US. I say campaign because there was also, a few months ago, the World Science Festival in New York (mentioned in my June 12, 2009 posting). Thanks to Darren Barefoot’s blog I see they have posted some highlights and videos from the festival. Barefoot features one of musician Bobby McFerrin’s presentations here.

Barefoot comments on the oddity of having a musician presenting at a science event. The clip doesn’t clarify why McFerrin would be on the panel but neuroscientists have been expressing a lot of interest in musician’s brains and I noticed that there was at least one neuroscientist on the panel. Still, it would have been nice to have understood the thinking behind the panel composition. If you’re interested in more clips and information about the World Science Festival, go here.

Back to my thoughts on the ‘cool’ science campaign, there have been other initiatives including the ‘Dancing with scientists’ video contest put on by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the nanotechnology video contests put on by the American Chemical Society. All of these initiatives have taken place this year. By contrast, nothing of a similar nature appears to be taking place in Canada. (If you know of a ‘cool science’ project in Canada, please do contact me as I’d be happy to feature it here.)

On the subject of putting together panels, there’s an interesting blog posting by Allyson Kapin (Fast Company) on the dearth of women on technology and/or social media panels. She points out that the problem has many aspects and requires more than one tactic for viable solutions.

She starts by talking about the lack of diversity and she very quickly shifts her primary focus to women. (I’ve seen this before in other writing and I think it happens because the diversity topic is huge so writers want to acknowledge the breadth but have time and expertise to discuss only a small piece of it.) On another tack altogether, I’ve been in the position of assembling a panel and trying to get a diverse group of people can be incredibly difficult. That said, I think more work needs to be done to make sure that panels are as diverse as possible.

Following on my interest in multimodal discourse and new ways of communicating science, a new set of standards for graphically representing biology has been announced. From Physorg.com,

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and their colleagues in 30 labs worldwide have released a new set of standards for graphically representing biological information – the biology equivalent of the circuit diagram in electronics. This visual language should make it easier to exchange complex information, so that models are accurate, efficient and readily understandable. The new standard, called the Systems Biology Graphical Notation (SBGN), is published today (August 11, 2009) in Nature Biotechnology.

There’s more here and the article in Nature Biotechnology is here (keep scrolling).

Nanotechnology, toxicity, and sunscreens

You don’t expect to read about nanotechnology in a fashion magazine but there it was — in an article on sunscreens by Sarah Nicole Prickett. (The article titled, ‘Overprotected‘ can be found in the Summer 09 issue of a Canadian magazine called ‘Fashion‘.) The piece highlighted for me some of the constraints that writers encounter when writing about science issues in articles that are not destined for popular science magazines and the concerns that scientists have with how their work is represented in popular media.

I enjoyed the article but this caught my attention immediatedly,

But there’s another potentially dark side to sunscreen: nanotechnology.

For nanotechnology, you could substitute the words science or chemistry. The word covers  a lot of ground as Victor Jones, consultant and former chair of Nanotech BC, noted in part 2 of his interview here where he described it as an enabling technology.

There are any number of reasons why the writer might have chosen this approach. She’s trying to keep your attention (I’ve done this myself); she doesn’t understand nanotechnology very well (Note: there are competing definitions and narratives which makes it time-consuming to sort things out); she thought the readers would not be interested in a more technically accurate and dull description (well, it’s not a science magazine); she didn’t have the editorial space; etc.

The problem for scientists is that a lot of people get their science information in this casual, informal way and it’s not understood by the general audience and scientists that writers are under a great many constraints when they’re producing their articles (or their tv or movie or game scripts for that matter) and I’ve only named a few possible constraints.

To give the writer credit, she does explain some of the potential issues with nanoparticles clearly. Personally, I would have liked to have seen where she got information from because I don’t know which type of particles she’s talking about.

Coincidentally, I just found a story about nanoparticles and lung problems. The type of particles discussed in the news release are new to me (from Physorg.com),

In a study published online today (Thursday 11 June) in the newly launched Journal of Molecular Cell Biology [1] Chinese researchers discovered that a class of nanoparticles being widely developed in medicine – ployamidoamine dendrimers (PAMAMs) – cause lung damage by triggering a type of programmed cell death known as autophagic cell death. They also showed that using an autophagy inhibitor prevented the cell death and counteracted nanoparticle-induced lung damage in mice.

Back to the article in ‘Fashion‘, she’s right there are a lot of questions about the impact about all these particles potentially entering our cells. The Canadian Council of Academies’ Expert Panel that she refers to in her article produced a report in 2008 and I thought their recommendations were rather tepid (you can see my posting here) but the quote she has from the chair of the committee, Pekka Sinervo, puts a different face on it.

I’m glad a chance to see the article and learn from it. Now, I’m going to be looking for more information about the particles in sunscreens and more cautious about what I put on my skin.

As for scientists getting their message out, maybe they could have a ‘Sexy Scientists’ article in a poular magazine and more accurate information about nanotechnology and other emerging technologies could be sausaged in somehow. In New York, there’s an annual World Science Festival going on. It looks like they’ve managed to move out of the science museum and into the street.