True love with AI (artificial intelligence): The Nature of Things explores emotional and creative AI (long read)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) science television series,The Nature of Things, which has been broadcast since November 1960, explored the world of emotional, empathic and creative artificial intelligence (AI) in a Friday, November 19, 2021 telecast titled, The Machine That Feels,

The Machine That Feels explores how artificial intelligence (AI) is catching up to us in ways once thought to be uniquely human: empathy, emotional intelligence and creativity.

As AI moves closer to replicating humans, it has the potential to reshape every aspect of our world – but most of us are unaware of what looms on the horizon.

Scientists see AI technology as an opportunity to address inequities and make a better, more connected world. But it also has the capacity to do the opposite: to stoke division and inequality and disconnect us from fellow humans. The Machine That Feels, from The Nature of Things, shows viewers what they need to know about a field that is advancing at a dizzying pace, often away from the public eye.

What does it mean when AI makes art? Can AI interpret and understand human emotions? How is it possible that AI creates sophisticated neural networks that mimic the human brain? The Machine That Feels investigates these questions, and more.

In Vienna, composer Walter Werzowa has — with the help of AI — completed Beethoven’s previously unfinished 10th symphony. By feeding data about Beethoven, his music, his style and the original scribbles on the 10th symphony into an algorithm, AI has created an entirely new piece of art.

In Atlanta, Dr. Ayanna Howard and her robotics lab at Georgia Tech are teaching robots how to interpret human emotions. Where others see problems, Howard sees opportunity: how AI can help fill gaps in education and health care systems. She believes we need a fundamental shift in how we perceive robots: let’s get humans and robots to work together to help others.

At Tufts University in Boston, a new type of biological robot has been created: the xenobot. The size of a grain of sand, xenobots are grown from frog heart and skin cells, and combined with the “mind” of a computer. Programmed with a specific task, they can move together to complete it. In the future, they could be used for environmental cleanup, digesting microplastics and targeted drug delivery (like releasing chemotherapy compounds directly into tumours).

The film includes interviews with global leaders, commentators and innovators from the AI field, including Geoff Hinton, Yoshua Bengio, Ray Kurzweil and Douglas Coupland, who highlight some of the innovative and cutting-edge AI technologies that are changing our world.

The Machine That Feels focuses on one central question: in the flourishing age of artificial intelligence, what does it mean to be human?

I’ll get back to that last bit, “… what does it mean to be human?” later.

There’s a lot to appreciate in this 44 min. programme. As you’d expect, there was a significant chunk of time devoted to research being done in the US but Poland and Japan also featured and Canadian content was substantive. A number of tricky topics were covered and transitions from one topic to the next were smooth.

In the end credits, I counted over 40 source materials from Getty Images, Google Canada, Gatebox, amongst others. It would have been interesting to find out which segments were produced by CBC.

David Suzuki’s (programme host) script was well written and his narration was enjoyable, engaging, and non-intrusive. That last quality is not always true of CBC hosts who can fall into the trap of overdramatizing the text.

Drilling down

I have followed artificial intelligence stories in a passive way (i.e., I don’t seek them out) for many years. Even so, there was a lot of material in the programme that was new to me.

For example, there was this love story (from the ‘I love her and see her as a real woman.’ Meet a man who ‘married’ an artificial intelligence hologram webpage on the CBC),

In the The Machine That Feels, a documentary from The Nature of Things, we meet Kondo Akihiko, a Tokyo resident who “married” a hologram of virtual pop singer Hatsune Miku using a certificate issued by Gatebox (the marriage isn’t recognized by the state, and Gatebox acknowledges the union goes “beyond dimensions”).

I found Akihiko to be quite moving when he described his relationship, which is not unique. It seems some 4,000 men have ‘wed’ their digital companions, you can read about that and more on the ‘I love her and see her as a real woman.’ Meet a man who ‘married’ an artificial intelligence hologram webpage.

What does it mean to be human?

Overall, this Nature of Things episode embraces certainty, which means the question of what it means to human is referenced rather than seriously discussed. An unanswerable philosophical question, the programme is ill-equipped to address it, especially since none of the commentators are philosophers or seem inclined to philosophize.

The programme presents AI as a juggernaut. Briefly mentioned is the notion that we need to make some decisions about how our juggernaut is developed and utilized. No one discusses how we go about making changes to systems that are already making critical decisions for us. (For more about AI and decision-making, see my February 28, 2017 posting and scroll down to the ‘Algorithms and big data’ subhead for Cathy O’Neil’s description of how important decisions that affect us are being made by AI systems. She is the author of the 2016 book, ‘Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy’; still a timely read.)

In fact, the programme’s tone is mostly one of breathless excitement. A few misgivings are expressed, e.g,, one woman who has an artificial ‘texting friend’ (Replika; a chatbot app) noted that it can ‘get into your head’ when she had a chat where her ‘friend’ told her that all of a woman’s worth is based on her body; she pushed back but intimated that someone more vulnerable could find that messaging difficult to deal with.

The sequence featuring Akihiko and his hologram ‘wife’ is followed by one suggesting that people might become more isolated and emotionally stunted as they interact with artificial friends. It should be noted, Akihiko’s wife is described as ‘perfect’. I gather perfection means that you are always understanding and have no needs of your own. She also seems to be about 18″ high.

Akihiko has obviously been asked about his ‘wife’ before as his answers are ready. They boil down to “there are many types of relationships” and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an intriguing thought which is not explored.

Also unexplored, these relationships could be said to resemble slavery. After all, you pay for these friends over which you have control. But perhaps that’s alright since AI friends don’t have consciousness. Or do they? In addition to not being able to answer the question, “what is it to be human?” we still can’t answer the question, “what is consciousness?”

AI and creativity

The Nature of Things team works fast. ‘Beethoven X – The AI Project’ had its first performance on October 9, 2021. (See my October 1, 2021 post ‘Finishing Beethoven’s unfinished 10th Symphony’ for more information from Ahmed Elgammal’s (Director of the Art & AI Lab at Rutgers University) technical perspective on the project.

Briefly, Beethoven died before completing his 10th symphony and a number of computer scientists, musicologists, AI, and musicians collaborated to finish the symphony.)

The one listener (Felix Mayer, music professor at the Technical University Munich) in the hall during a performance doesn’t consider the work to be a piece of music. He does have a point. Beethoven left some notes but this ’10th’ is at least partly mathematical guesswork. A set of probabilities where an algorithm chooses which note comes next based on probability.

There was another artist also represented in the programme. Puzzlingly, it was the still living Douglas Coupland. In my opinion, he’s better known as a visual artist than a writer (his Wikipedia entry lists him as a novelist first) but he has succeeded greatly in both fields.

What makes his inclusion in the Nature of Things ‘The Machine That Feels’ programme puzzling, is that it’s not clear how he worked with artificial intelligence in a collaborative fashion. Here’s a description of Coupland’s ‘AI’ project from a June 29, 2021 posting by Chris Henry on the Google Outreach blog (Note: Links have been removed),

… when the opportunity presented itself to explore how artificial intelligence (AI) inspires artistic expression — with the help of internationally renowned Canadian artist Douglas Coupland — the Google Research team jumped on it. This collaboration, with the support of Google Arts & Culture, culminated in a project called Slogans for the Class of 2030, which spotlights the experiences of the first generation of young people whose lives are fully intertwined with the existence of AI. 

This collaboration was brought to life by first introducing Coupland’s written work to a machine learning language model. Machine learning is a form of AI that provides computer systems the ability to automatically learn from data. In this case, Google research scientists tuned a machine learning algorithm with Coupland’s 30-year body of written work — more than a million words — so it would familiarize itself with the author’s unique style of writing. From there, curated general-public social media posts on selected topics were added to teach the algorithm how to craft short-form, topical statements. [emphases mine]

Once the algorithm was trained, the next step was to process and reassemble suggestions of text for Coupland to use as inspiration to create twenty-five Slogans for the Class of 2030. [emphasis mine]

I would comb through ‘data dumps’ where characters from one novel were speaking with those in other novels in ways that they might actually do. It felt like I was encountering a parallel universe Doug,” Coupland says. “And from these outputs, the statements you see here in this project appeared like gems. Did I write them? Yes. No. Could they have existed without me? No.” [emphases mine]

So, the algorithms crunched through Coupland’s word and social media texts to produce slogans, which Coupland then ‘combed through’ to pick out 25 slogans for the ‘Slogans For The Class of 2030’ project. (Note: In the programme, he says that he started a sentence and then the AI system completed that sentence with material gleaned from his own writings, which brings to Exquisite Corpse, a collaborative game for writers originated by the Surrealists, possibly as early as 1918.)

The ‘slogans’ project also reminds me of William S. Burroughs and the cut-up technique used in his work. From the William S. Burroughs Cut-up technique webpage on the Language is a Virus website (Thank you to Lake Rain Vajra for a very interesting website),

The cutup is a mechanical method of juxtaposition in which Burroughs literally cuts up passages of prose by himself and other writers and then pastes them back together at random. This literary version of the collage technique is also supplemented by literary use of other media. Burroughs transcribes taped cutups (several tapes spliced into each other), film cutups (montage), and mixed media experiments (results of combining tapes with television, movies, or actual events). Thus Burroughs’s use of cutups develops his juxtaposition technique to its logical conclusion as an experimental prose method, and he also makes use of all contemporary media, expanding his use of popular culture.

[Burroughs says] “All writing is in fact cut-ups. A collage of words read heard overheard. What else? Use of scissors renders the process explicit and subject to extension and variation. Clear classical prose can be composed entirely of rearranged cut-ups. Cutting and rearranging a page of written words introduces a new dimension into writing enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variation. Images shift sense under the scissors smell images to sound sight to sound to kinesthetic. This is where Rimbaud was going with his color of vowels. And his “systematic derangement of the senses.” The place of mescaline hallucination: seeing colors tasting sounds smelling forms.

“The cut-ups can be applied to other fields than writing. Dr Neumann [emphasis mine] in his Theory of Games and Economic behavior introduces the cut-up method of random action into game and military strategy: assume that the worst has happened and act accordingly. … The cut-up method could be used to advantage in processing scientific data. [emphasis mine] How many discoveries have been made by accident? We cannot produce accidents to order. The cut-ups could add new dimension to films. Cut gambling scene in with a thousand gambling scenes all times and places. Cut back. Cut streets of the world. Cut and rearrange the word and image in films. There is no reason to accept a second-rate product when you can have the best. And the best is there for all. Poetry is for everyone . . .”

First, John von Neumann (1902 – 57) is a very important figure in the history of computing. From a February 25, 2017 John von Neumann and Modern Computer Architecture essay on the ncLab website, “… he invented the computer architecture that we use today.”

Here’s Burroughs on the history of writers and cutups (thank you to QUEDEAR for posting this clip),

You can hear Burroughs talk about the technique and how he started using it in 1959.

There is no explanation from Coupland as to how his project differs substantively from Burroughs’ cut-ups or a session of Exquisite Corpse. The use of a computer programme to crunch through data and give output doesn’t seem all that exciting. It’s hard to know if this was an interview situation where he wasn’t asked the question or if the editors decided against including it.

Kazuo Ishiguro?

Given that Ishiguro’s 2021 book (Klara and the Sun) is focused on an artificial friend and raises the question of ‘what does it mean to be human’, as well as the related question, ‘what is the nature of consciousness’, it would have been interesting to hear from him. He spent a fair amount of time looking into research on machine learning in preparation for his book. Maybe he was too busy?

AI and emotions

The work being done by Georgia Tech’s Dr. Ayanna Howard and her robotics lab is fascinating. They are teaching robots how to interpret human emotions. The segment which features researchers teaching and interacting with robots, Pepper and Salt, also touches on AI and bias.

Watching two African American researchers talk about the ways in which AI is unable to read emotions on ‘black’ faces as accurately as ‘white’ faces is quite compelling. It also reinforces the uneasiness you might feel after the ‘Replika’ segment where an artificial friend informs a woman that her only worth is her body.

(Interestingly, Pepper and Salt are produced by Softbank Robotics, part of Softbank, a multinational Japanese conglomerate, [see a June 28, 2021 article by Ian Carlos Campbell for The Verge] whose entire management team is male according to their About page.)

While Howard is very hopeful about the possibilities of a machine that can read emotions, she doesn’t explore (on camera) any means for pushing back against bias other than training AI by using more black faces to help them learn. Perhaps more representative management and coding teams in technology companies?

While the programme largely focused on AI as an algorithm on a computer, robots can be enabled by AI (as can be seen in the segment with Dr. Howard).

My February 14, 2019 posting features research with a completely different approach to emotions and machines,

“I’ve always felt that robots shouldn’t just be modeled after humans [emphasis mine] or be copies of humans,” he [Guy Hoffman, assistant professor at Cornell University)] said. “We have a lot of interesting relationships with other species. Robots could be thought of as one of those ‘other species,’ not trying to copy what we do but interacting with us with their own language, tapping into our own instincts.”

[from a July 16, 2018 Cornell University news release on EurekAlert]

This brings the question back to, what is consciousness?

What scientists aren’t taught

Dr. Howard notes that scientists are not taught to consider the implications of their work. Her comment reminded me of a question I was asked many years ago after a presentation, it concerned whether or not science had any morality. (I said, no.)

My reply angered an audience member (a visual artist who was working with scientists at the time) as she took it personally and started defending scientists as good people who care and have morals and values. She failed to understand that the way in which we teach science conforms to a notion that somewhere there are scientific facts which are neutral and objective. Society and its values are irrelevant in the face of the larger ‘scientific truth’ and, as a consequence, you don’t need to teach or discuss how your values or morals affect that truth or what the social implications of your work might be.

Science is practiced without much if any thought to values. By contrast, there is the medical injunction, “Do no harm,” which suggests to me that someone recognized competing values. E.g., If your important and worthwhile research is harming people, you should ‘do no harm’.

The experts, the connections, and the Canadian content

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Ray Kurzweil mentioned but he seems to be getting more attention these days. (See this November 16, 2021 posting by Jonny Thomson titled, “The Singularity: When will we all become super-humans? Are we really only a moment away from “The Singularity,” a technological epoch that will usher in a new era in human evolution?” on The Big Think for more). Note: I will have a little more about evolution later in this post.

Interestingly, Kurzweil is employed by Google these days (see his Wikipedia entry, the column to the right). So is Geoffrey Hinton, another one of the experts in the programme (see Hinton’s Wikipedia entry, the column to the right, under Institutions).

I’m not sure about Yoshu Bengio’s relationship with Google but he’s a professor at the Université de Montréal, and he’s the Scientific Director for Mila ((Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence research institute)) & IVADO (Institut de valorisation des données), Note: IVADO is not particularly relevant to what’s being discussed in this post.

As for Mila, the Canada Google blog in a November 21, 2016 posting notes a $4.5M grant to the institution,

Google invests $4.5 Million in Montreal AI Research

A new grant from Google for the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) will fund seven faculty across a number of Montreal institutions and will help tackle some of the biggest challenges in machine learning and AI, including applications in the realm of systems that can understand and generate natural language. In other words, better understand a fan’s enthusiasm for Les Canadien [sic].

Google is expanding its academic support of deep learning at MILA, renewing Yoshua Bengio’s Focused Research Award and offering Focused Research Awards to MILA faculty at University of Montreal and McGill University:

Google reaffirmed their commitment to Mila in 2020 with a grant worth almost $4M (from a November 13, 2020 posting on the Mila website, Note: A link has been removed),

Google Canada announced today [November 13, 2020] that it will be renewing its funding of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, with a generous pledge of nearly $4M over a three-year period. Google previously invested $4.5M US in 2016, enabling Mila to grow from 25 to 519 researchers.

In a piece written for Google’s Official Canada Blog, Yoshua Bengio, Mila Scientific Director, says that this year marked a “watershed moment for the Canadian AI community,” as the COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges that demanded rapid innovation and increased interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in Canada and around the world.

COVID-19 has changed the world forever and many industries, from healthcare to retail, will need to adapt to thrive in our ‘new normal.’ As we look to the future and how priorities will shift, it is clear that AI is no longer an emerging technology but a useful tool that can serve to solve world problems. Google Canada recognizes not only this opportunity but the important task at hand and I’m thrilled they have reconfirmed their support of Mila with an additional $3,95 million funding grant until 22.

– Yoshua Bengio, for Google’s Official Canada Blog

Interesting, eh? Of course, Douglas Coupland is working with Google, presumably for money, and that would connect over 50% of the Canadian content (Douglas Coupland, Yoshua Bengio, and Geoffrey Hinton; Kurzweil is an American) in the programme to Google.

My hat’s off to Google’s marketing communications and public relations teams.

Anthony Morgan of Science Everywhere also provided some Canadian content. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he’s working on a PhD in molecular science, which is described this way, “My work explores the characteristics of learning environments, that support critical thinking and the relationship between critical thinking and wisdom.”

Morgan is also the founder and creative director of Science Everywhere, from his LinkedIn profile, “An events & media company supporting knowledge mobilization, community engagement, entrepreneurship and critical thinking. We build social tools for better thinking.”

There is this from his LinkedIn profile,

I develop, create and host engaging live experiences & media to foster critical thinking.

I’ve spent my 15+ years studying and working in psychology and science communication, thinking deeply about the most common individual and societal barriers to critical thinking. As an entrepreneur, I lead a team to create, develop and deploy cultural tools designed to address those barriers. As a researcher I study what we can do to reduce polarization around science.

There’s a lot more to Morgan (do look him up; he has connections to the CBC and other media outlets). The difficulty is: why was he chosen to talk about artificial intelligence and emotions and creativity when he doesn’t seem to know much about the topic? He does mention GPT-3, an AI programming language. He seems to be acting as an advocate for AI although he offers this bit of almost cautionary wisdom, “… algorithms are sets of instructions.” (You can can find out more about it in my April 27, 2021 posting. There’s also this November 26, 2021 posting [The Inherent Limitations of GPT-3] by Andrey Kurenkov, a PhD student with the Stanford [University] Vision and Learning Lab.)

Most of the cautionary commentary comes from Luke Stark, assistant professor at Western [Ontario] University’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies. He’s the one who mentions stunted emotional growth.

Before moving on, there is another set of connections through the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, a Canadian government science funding initiative announced in the 2017 federal budget. The funds allocated to the strategy are administered by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Yoshua Bengio through Mila is associated with the strategy and CIFAR, as is Geoffrey Hinton through his position as Chief Scientific Advisor for the Vector Institute.

Evolution

Getting back to “The Singularity: When will we all become super-humans? Are we really only a moment away from “The Singularity,” a technological epoch that will usher in a new era in human evolution?” Xenobots point in a disconcerting (for some of us) evolutionary direction.

I featured the work, which is being done at Tufts University in the US, in my June 21, 2021 posting, which includes an embedded video,

From a March 31, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily,

Last year, a team of biologists and computer scientists from Tufts University and the University of Vermont (UVM) created novel, tiny self-healing biological machines from frog cells called “Xenobots” that could move around, push a payload, and even exhibit collective behavior in the presence of a swarm of other Xenobots.

Get ready for Xenobots 2.0.

Also from an excerpt in the posting, the team has “created life forms that self-assemble a body from single cells, do not require muscle cells to move, and even demonstrate the capability of recordable memory.”

Memory is key to intelligence and this work introduces the notion of ‘living’ robots which leads to questioning what constitutes life. ‘The Machine That Feels’ is already grappling with far too many questions to address this development but introducing the research here might have laid the groundwork for the next episode, The New Human, telecast on November 26, 2021,

While no one can be certain what will happen, evolutionary biologists and statisticians are observing trends that could mean our future feet only have four toes (so long, pinky toe) or our faces may have new combinations of features. The new humans might be much taller than their parents or grandparents, or have darker hair and eyes.

And while evolution takes a lot of time, we might not have to wait too long for a new version of ourselves.

Technology is redesigning the way we look and function — at a much faster pace than evolution. We are merging with technology more than ever before: our bodies may now have implanted chips, smart limbs, exoskeletons and 3D-printed organs. A revolutionary gene editing technique has given us the power to take evolution into our own hands and alter our own DNA. How long will it be before we are designing our children?

As the story about the xenobots doesn’t say, we could also take the evolution of another species into our hands.

David Suzuki, where are you?

Our programme host, David Suzuki surprised me. I thought that as an environmentalist he’d point out that the huge amounts of computing power needed for artificial intelligence as mentioned in the programme, constitutes an environmental issue. I also would have expected a geneticist like Suzuki might have some concerns with regard to xenobots but perhaps that’s being saved for the next episode (The New Human) of the Nature of Things.

Artificial stupidity

Thanks to Will Knight for introducing me to the term ‘artificial stupidity’. Knight, a senior writer covers artificial intelligence for WIRED magazine. According to its Wikipedia entry,

Artificial stupidity is commonly used as a humorous opposite of the term artificial intelligence (AI), often as a derogatory reference to the inability of AI technology to adequately perform its tasks.[1] However, within the field of computer science, artificial stupidity is also used to refer to a technique of “dumbing down” computer programs in order to deliberately introduce errors in their responses.

Knight was using the term in its humorous, derogatory form.

Finally

The episode certainly got me thinking if not quite in the way producers might have hoped. ‘The Machine That Feels’ is a glossy, pretty well researched piece of infotainment.

To be blunt, I like and have no problems with infotainment but it can be seductive. I found it easier to remember the artificial friends, wife, xenobots, and symphony than the critiques and concerns.

Hopefully, ‘The Machine That Feels’ stimulates more interest in some very important topics. If you missed the telecast, you can catch the episode here.

For anyone curious about predictive policing, which was mentioned in the Ayanna Howard segment, see my November 23, 2017 posting about Vancouver’s plunge into AI and car theft.

Lost Women of Science

Both an organization and a podcast series, Lost Women of Science is preparing for its second, third, and fourth podcasts seasons thanks to a grant announced in a November 19, 2021 Lost Women of Science news release (on Cision),

 Journalist and author Katie Hafner, and bioethicist Amy Scharf, today announced that the Lost Women of Science podcast series will continue for an additional three seasons thanks to a grant award of $446,760 from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The podcast series will continue its partnership with public media organization PRX and the award-winning Scientific American magazine.

The first season features multiple in-depth episodes centered on Dr. Dorothy Andersen, a pediatric pathologist who identified and named cystic fibrosis in 1938. Three episodes are now available across all major podcast listening platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Amazon Music. The fourth episode [I believe it’s Season 1] will be released on Thanksgiving Day [November 25, 2021].

Genny Biggs, Special Projects Officer of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation said, “We have been excited about this project from our initial conversations and have been pleased to see the results. Our history books have unfortunately taught us too little about these women and we support bringing their stories to the forefront. We hope they will inspire the next generation of female scientists.”

Hafner said, “The response to the podcast so far has been overwhelmingly positive.  We could not be more grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, not only for early funding to help us get started, but for continued support and confidence that will allow us to tell more stories.”

Dr. Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College and Chair of the Lost Women of Science Initiative Advisory Board, said, “It’s wonderful that the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation recognizes that women have been making great contributions to science for centuries, even though they’re often not recognized. And the rich storytelling approach has deep impact in helping people understand the importance of a scientist’s work.”

Earlier funding for Lost Women of Science has come from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Schmidt Futures and the John Templeton Foundation. The Initiative is also partnering with Barnard College at Columbia University, one-third of whose graduates are STEM majors. Harvey Mudd College graciously served as an early Fiscal Sponsor.

To learn more about the Lost Women of Science Initiative, or to donate to this important work, please visit: www.lostwomenofscience.org and follow @lostwomenofsci.

About Lost Women of Science:

The Lost Women of Science Initiativeis a 501(c)3 nonprofit with two overarching and interrelated missions: to tell the story of female scientists who made groundbreaking achievements in their fields, yet remain largely unknown to the general public, and to inspire girls and young women to pursue education and careers in STEM. The Initiative’s flagship is its Lost Women of Science podcast series. As a full, mission-driven organization, the Lost Women of Science Initiative plans to digitize and archive its research, and to make all primary source material available to students and historians of science.

About the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation:

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org and follow @MooreFound.

You can listen to this trailer for Season 1,

The four episodes currently available constitute a four-part series on Dorothy Andersen, her work, and how she got ‘lost’. You can find the podcasts here.

Thank you to the publicist who sent the announcement about the grant!

US President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) meeting on Biomanufacturing, the Federal Science and Technology Workforce, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative

It’s been years since I’ve featured a PCAST meeting here; I just don’t stumble across the notices all that often anymore.

Unfortunately, I got there late this time, It’s especially unfortunate as the meeting was on “Biomanufacturing, the Federal Science and Technology Workforce, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative.” Held on November 29, 2021, it was livestreamed. Happily, there’s already a video of the meeting (a little over 4.5 hours long) on YouTube.

If you go to the White House PCAST Meetings webpage, you’ll find, after scrolling down about 40% of the way, ‘Past Meetings’, which in addition to the past meetings includes agendas, lists of guests and their biographies and more. Given the title of the meeting and the invitees, this looks like it will have a focus on the business of biotechnology and nanotechnology. This hearkens back to when former President Barack Obama pushed for nanotechnology manufacturing taking the science out of the laboratories and commercializing it.

Here’s part of the agenda for the November 29, 2021 meeting (I’m particularly interested in the third session; apologies for the formatting),

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

Public Meeting Agenda
November 29, 2021
Virtual
(All times Eastern)

12:15 pm Welcome

PCAST Co-Chairs: Frances Arnold, Eric Lander, Maria Zuber


3:45 pm Session 3: Overview of the National Nanotechnology Initiative

Moderator: Eric Lander

Speaker: Lisa Friedersdorf, National Nanotechnology Coordination Office

The biographies for the speakers can be found here. (I’m glad to see that President Joe Biden has revitalized the council.)

For anyone unfamiliar with PCAST, it has an interesting history (from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology webpage),

Beginning in 1933 with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Science Advisory Board, each President has established an advisory committee of scientists, engineers, and health professionals. Although the name of the advisory board has changed over the years, the purpose has remained the same—to provide scientific and technical advice to the President of the United States.

Drawing from the nation’s most talented and accomplished individuals, President Biden’s PCAST consists of 30 members, including 20 elected members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, five MacArthur “Genius” Fellows, two former Cabinet secretaries, and two Nobel laureates. Its members include experts in astrophysics and agriculture, biochemistry and computer engineering, ecology and entrepreneurship, immunology and nanotechnology, neuroscience and national security, social science and cybersecurity, and more

Enjoy!

Quick and efficient nanographene synthesis

Thank you to Nagoya University (Japan) for making this image available.

Caption: APEX reactions are carried out on the K, M and bay regions of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, synthesizing multiple nanographenes. These reactions can then be repeated, further increasing the number of potential nanographene structures that can be synthesized. Credit: Issey Takahashi

From a June 28, 2021 Nagoya University press release (also on EurekAlert),

A group of researchers at Nagoya University, Japan, have developed a new method for quickly and efficiently synthesizing nanographenes, a type of nanocarbon with great potential as a next generation material.

Nanographenes are the part structures of graphene, which is a sheet of carbon atoms around 3 nanometers thick with particular potential for use in semiconductor development, having electron mobility several hundred times better than current generation materials. Graphene was first isolated in 2004, a discovery which received the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics, making it a very new material which is currently the subject of a great deal of research.

With magnetic and electric characteristics beyond those of graphene, nanographenes are equally of interest to scientists in the nanocarbon research field. The biggest obstacle, albeit an exciting one, faced by researchers is the sheer number of potential nanographenes. The number of potentially possible nanographene structures increases with the number of benzene rings (6 atoms of carbon in a hexagonal formation) to make them. For example, even a relatively small 10 benzene ring nanographene may have up to 16,000 variants. As each nanographene has different physical characteristics, the key to applied nanographene research is to identify the relationship between the structure and characteristics of as many nanographenes as possible.

Thus, scientists’ task is to create a nanographene library, containing data on the properties of as many nanographenes as possible. However, the current method of nanographene synthesis, known as a coupling reaction, is a multi-step process which produces one single nanographene. Thus, to create a 100-nanographene library, 100 separate coupling reactions would have to be carried out. Even this would be a significant undertaking, rendering the construction of a truly comprehensive nanographene library practically impossible.

To solve this problem, the Nagoya University research group, led by Professor Kenichiro Itami, have been working on the APEX reaction, a reaction which uses polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as templates to synthesize nanographenes. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have three areas of their structure – known as the K region, M region and bay region – which can be elongated in an APEX reaction, producing three nanographenes. These nanographenes can then be further elongated in a second reaction, meaning that a large number of nanographenes can be synthesized from a single polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon template molecule.

With Professor Itami’s group having already developed the K region APEX reaction, and another group of scientists having done so for the bay region, they turned their attention to the M region. They activated the M region using the 1950 Nobel Prize winning Diels-Alder reaction, and succeeded in carrying out an elongation reaction on the activated M region, thus rendering all three possible sites on the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons capable of synthesizing nanographenes.

The researchers were able to produce 13 nanographenes with three APEX reactions, with most of these being previously unseen structures, thus proving both the efficiency and usefulness of this new method.

This exciting new piece of research and its potential to accelerate the creation of nanographene libraries is a step towards the development of the next generation of materials, which have the potential to revolutionize semiconductors and solar energy and improve lives all around the world.

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

Diversity-oriented synthesis of nanographenes enabled by dearomative annulative π-extension by Wataru Matsuoka, Hideto Ito, David Sarlah & Kenichiro Itami. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 3940 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-24261-y Published 24 June 2021

This paper is open access.

INTER/her, a talk with Camille Baker about an immersive journey inside the female body on Friday, December 3, 2021

Before getting to the announcement, this talk and Q&A (question and answer) session is being co-hosted by ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and the OCAD University/DMG Bodies in Play (BiP) initiative.

For anyone curious about OCAD, it was the Ontario College of Art and Design and then in a very odd government/marketing (?) move, they added the word university. As for DMG, in their own words and from their About page, “DMG is a not-for-profit videogame arts organization that creates space for marginalized creators to make, play and critique videogames within a cultural context.” They are located in Toronto, Ontario. Finally, the Art/Sci Salon and the Fields Institute are located at the University of Toronto.

As for the talk, here’s more from the November 28, 2021 Art/Sci Salon announcement (received via email),

Inspired by her own experience with the health care system to treat a
post-reproductive disease, interdisciplinary artist [Camille] Baker created the
project INTER/her, an immersive installation and VR [virtual reality] experience exploring
the inner world of women’s bodies and the reproductive diseases they
suffer. The project was created to open up the conversation about
phenomena experienced by women in their late 30’s (sometimes earlier)
their 40’s, and sometimes after menopause. Working in consultation
with a gynecologist, the project features interviews with several women
telling their stories. The themes in the work include issues of female
identity, sexuality, body image, loss of body parts, pain, disease, and
cancer. INTER/her has a focus on female reproductive diseases explored
through a feminist lens; as personal exploration, as a conversation
starter, to raise greater public awareness and encourage community
building. The work also represents the lived experience of women’s
pain and anger, conflicting thoughts through self-care and the growth of
disease. Feelings of mortality are explored through a medical process in
male-dominated medical institutions and a dearth of reliable
information. https://inter-her.art/ [1]

In 2021, the installation was shortlisted for the Lumen Prize.

 Join us for a talk and Q&A with the artist to discuss her work and its
future development.

 Friday, December 3,

6:00 pm EST

 Register in advance for this meeting:

https://utoronto.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0rcO6rpzsvGd057GQmTyAERmRRLI2MQ4L1

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing
information about joining the meeting.

This talk is  Co-Hosted by the ArtSci Salon at the Fields Institute for
Research in Mathematical Sciences and the OCAD University/DMG Bodies in
Play (BiP) initiative.

This event will be recorded and archived on the ArtSci Salon Youtube
channel

Bio

Camille Baker is a Professor in Interactive and Immersive Arts,
University for the Creative Arts [UCA], Farnham Surrey (UK). She is an
artist-performer/researcher/curator within various art forms: immersive
experiences, participatory performance and interactive art, mobile media
art, tech fashion/soft circuits/DIY electronics, responsive interfaces
and environments, and emerging media curating. Maker of participatory
performance and immersive artwork, Baker develops methods to explore
expressive non-verbal modes of communication, extended embodiment and
presence in real and mixed reality and interactive art contexts, using
XR, haptics/ e-textiles, wearable devices and mobile media. She has an
ongoing fascination with all things emotional, embodied, felt, sensed,
the visceral, physical, and relational.

Her 2018 book _New Directions in Mobile Media and Performance_ showcases
exciting approaches and artists in this space, as well as her own work.
She has been running a regular meetup group with smart/e-textile artists
and designers since 2014, called e-stitches, where participants share
their practice and facilitate workshops of new techniques and
innovations. Baker  also has been Principal Investigator for UCA for the
EU funded STARTS Ecosystem (starts.eu [2]) Apr 2019-Nov 2021 and founder
initiator for the EU WEAR Sustain project Jan 2017-April 2019
(wearsustain.eu [3]).

The EU or European Union is the agency that provided funding for S+T+Arts (Science, Technology & the Arts), which is an initiative of the European Commission’s. I gather that Baker was involved in two STARTS projects, one called the WEAR Sustain project and the other called, the STARTS Ecosystem.

A newsletter from the Pan-Canadian AI strategy folks

The AICan (Artificial Intelligence Canada) Bulletin is published by CIFAR (Canadian Institute For Advanced Research) and it is the official newsletter for the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. This is a joint production from CIFAR, Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute), Mila (Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence research institute) and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence (Toronto, Ontario).

For anyone curious about the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, first announced in the 2017 federal budget, I have a March 31, 2017 post which focuses heavily on the, then new, Vector Institute but it also contains information about the artificial intelligence scene in Canada at the time, which is at least in part still relevant today.

The AICan Bulletin October 2021 issue number 16 (The Energy and Environment Issue) is available for viewing here and includes these articles,

Equity, diversity and inclusion in AI climate change research

The effects of climate change significantly impact our most vulnerable populations. Canada CIFAR AI Chair David Rolnick (Mila) and Tami Vasanthakumaran (Girls Belong Here) share their insights and call to action for the AI research community.

Predicting the perfect storm

Canada CIFAR AI Chair Samira Kahou (Mila) is using AI to detect and predict extreme weather events to aid in disaster management and raise awareness for the climate crisis.

AI in biodiversity is crucial to our survival

Graham Taylor, a Canada CIFAR AI Chair at the Vector Institute, is using machine learning to build an inventory of life on Earth with DNA barcoding.

ISL Adapt uses ML to make water treatment cleaner & greener

Amii, the University of Alberta, and ISL Engineering explores how machine learning can make water treatment more environmentally friendly and cost-effective with the support of Amii Fellows and Canada CIFAR AI Chairs — Adam White, Martha White and Csaba Szepesvári.

This climate does not exist: Picturing impacts of the climate crisis with AI, one address at a time

Immerse yourself into this AI-driven virtual experience based on empathy to visualize the impacts of climate change on places you hold dear with Mila.

The bulletin also features AI stories from Canada and the US, as well as, events and job postings.

I found two different pages where you can subscribe. First, there’s this subscription page (which is at the bottom of the October 2021 bulletin and then, there’s this page, which requires more details from you.

I’ve taken a look at the CIFAR website and can’t find any of the previous bulletins on it, which would seem to make subscription the only means of access.

Magnetic nanopowder for mobile 6G technology

It seems a little early to be talking about 6G technology, given that in Canada 5G technology is not fully implemented (from a February 8, 2021 article [unchanged as November 18, 2021] by Stephen Clark for whistleout.ca), Note: A link has been removed,

Should I Buy a 5G Phone Now?

There is no rush to buy a 5G phone for most Canadians. Current 5G smartphones offer other premium features such as leading edge Qualcomm CPU performance, brilliant OLED screens and recording video at 8K resolution. These devices can also cost well over $1,000, so you don’t shop for a 5G phone if that’s the only premium feature you are looking for. We expect that Canadians won’t see coast-to-coast coverage by 5G cell towers until at least 2022 [emphasis mine]. Besides, Canada’s 4G LTE mobile performance is among the fastest in the world, serves 99% of Canadians and 4G smartphones will continue to be supported for many years.

A study released by OpenSignal found Canadian 5G networks among the top 5 best in the world for mobile gaming. …

It’s good not to get too focused on one’s naval as there are many other countries in the world and it’s likely at least some, if not most, are more advanced with their 5G technology deployment and are looking forward to 6G. (See this November 1, 2021 University of Tokyo news release “Japan and Finland collaborate to develop 6G” on EurekAlert.)

Now to 6G news, this June 28, 2021 news item on phys.org describes a new technique for producing the new materials necessary for a future 6G deployment,

Material scientists have developed a fast method for producing epsilon iron oxide and demonstrated its promise for next-generation communications devices. Its outstanding magnetic properties make it one of the most coveted materials, such as for the upcoming 6G generation of communication devices and for durable magnetic recording. The work was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry C, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

A June 23, 2021 Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) press release, which originated the news item, describes the work in detail,

Iron oxide (III) is one of the most widespread oxides on Earth. It is mostly found as the mineral hematite (or alpha iron oxide, α-Fe2O3). Another stable and common modification is maghemite (or gamma modification, γ-Fe2O3). The former is widely used in industry as a red pigment, and the latter as a magnetic recording medium. The two modifications differ not only in crystalline structure ( alpha-iron oxide has hexagonal syngony and gamma-iron oxide has cubic syngony) but also in magnetic properties.

In addition to these forms of iron oxide (III), there are more exotic modifications such as epsilon-, beta-, zeta-, and even glassy. The most attractive  phase is epsilon iron oxide, ε-Fe2O3. This modification has an extremely high coercive force (the ability of the material to resist an external magnetic field). The strength reaches 20 kOe at room temperature, which is comparable to the parameters of magnets based on expensive rare-earth elements. Furthermore, the material absorbs electromagnetic radiation in the sub-terahertz frequency range (100-300 GHz) through the effect of natural ferromagnetic resonance.The frequency of such resonance is one of the criteria for the use of materials in wireless communications devices – the 4G standard uses megahertz and 5G uses tens of gigahertz. There are plans to use the sub-terahertz range as a working range in the sixth generation (6G) wireless technology, which is being prepared for active introduction in our lives from the early 2030s.

The resulting material is suitable for the production of converting units or absorber circuits at these frequencies. For example, by using composite ε-Fe2O3 nanopowders it will be possible to make paints that absorb electromagnetic waves and thus shield rooms from extraneous signals, and protect signals from interception from the outside. The ε-Fe2O3 itself can also be used in 6G reception devices.

Epsilon iron oxide is an extremely rare and difficult form of iron oxide to obtain. Today, it is produced in very small quantities, with the process itself taking up to a month. This, of course, rules out its widespread application. The authors of the study developed a method for accelerated synthesis of epsilon iron oxide capable of reducing the synthesis time to one day (that is, to carry out a full cycle of more than 30 times faster!) and increasing the quantity of the resulting product. The technique is simple to reproduce, cheap and can be easily implemented in industry, and the materials required for the synthesis – iron and silicon – are among the most abundant elements on Earth.

“Although the epsilon-iron oxide phase was obtained in pure form relatively long ago, in 2004, it still has not found industrial application due to the complexity of its synthesis, for example as a medium for magnetic – recording. We have managed to simplify the technology considerably,” says Evgeny Gorbachev, a PhD student in the Department of Materials Sciences at Moscow State University and the first author of the work.

The key to successful application of materials with record-breaking characteristics is research into their fundamental physical properties. Without in-depth study, the material may be undeservedly forgotten for many years, as has happened more than once in the history of science. It was the tandem of materials scientists at Moscow State University, who synthesised the compound, and physicists at MIPT, who studied it in detail, that made the development a success.

“Materials with such high ferromagnetic resonance frequencies have enormous potential for practical applications. Today, terahertz technology is booming: it is the Internet of Things, it is ultra-fast communications, it is more narrowly focused scientific devices, and it is next-generation medical technology. While the 5G standard, which was very popular last year, operates at frequencies in the tens of gigahertz, our materials are opening the door to significantly higher frequencies (hundreds of gigahertz), which means that we are already dealing with 6G standards and higher. Now it’s up to engineers, we are happy to share the information with them and look forward to being able to hold a 6G phone in our hands,” says Dr. Liudmila Alyabyeva, Ph.D., senior researcher at the MIPT Laboratory of Terahertz Spectroscopy , where the terahertz research was carried out.

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

Tuning the particle size, natural ferromagnetic resonance frequency and magnetic properties of ε-Fe2O3 nanoparticles prepared by a rapid sol–gel method by Evgeny Gorbachev, Miroslav Soshnikov, Mingxi Wu, Liudmila Alyabyeva, Dmitrii Myakishev, Ekaterina Kozlyakova, Vasilii Lebedev, Evgeny Anokhin, Boris Gorshunov, Oleg Brylev, Pavel Kazin, Lev Truso. J. Mater. Chem. C, 2021,9, 6173-6179 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1039/D1TC01242H First published 26 Apr 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nanomaterial shapes and forms affect passage through blood brain barrier (BBB)

I meant to get this published a lot sooner.

There seems to be a lot of excitement about this research. I got an embargoed press release further in advance than usual and now the embargo is lifted, it’s everywhere except, at the time of this writing (0920 PDT July 6, 2021), on the publisher’s (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS]) website.

A July 5, 2021 news item on Medical Express announces the news,

Nanomaterials found in consumer and health-care products can pass from the bloodstream to the brain side of a blood-brain barrier model with varying ease depending on their shape—creating potential neurological impacts that could be both positive and negative, a new study reveals.

A July 5, 2021 University of Birmingham press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves into the details,

Scientists found that metal-based nanomaterials such as silver and zinc oxide can cross an in vitro model of the ‘blood brain barrier’ (BBB) as both particles and dissolved ions – adversely affecting the health of astrocyte cells, which control neurological responses.

But the researchers also believe that their discovery will help to design safer nanomaterials and could open up new ways of targeting hard-to-reach locations when treating brain disease.

Publishing its findings today in PNAS, an international team of researchers discovered that the physiochemical properties of metallic nanomaterials influence how effective they are at penetrating the in vitro model of the blood brain barrier and their potential levels of toxicity in the brain.

Higher concentration of certain shapes of silver nanomaterials and zinc oxide may impair cell growth and cause increased permeability of the BBB, which can lead to the BBB allowing easier brain access to these compounds.

The BBB plays a vital role in brain health by restricting the passage of various chemical substances and foreign molecules into the brain from surrounding blood vessels.

Impaired BBB integrity compromises the health of the central nervous system and increased permeability to foreign substances may eventually cause damage to the brain (neurotoxicity).

Study co-author Iseult Lynch, Professor of Environmental Nanosciences at the University of Birmingham, commented: “We found that silver and zinc oxide nanomaterials, which are widely used in various daily consumer and health-care products, passed through our in vitro BBB model, in the form of both particles and dissolved ions.

“Variation in shape, size and chemical composition can dramatically influence nanomaterials penetration through the (in vitro) blood brain barrier. This is of paramount importance for tailored medical application of nanomaterials – for example targeted delivery systems, bioimaging and assessing possible risks associated with each type of metallic nanomaterial.”

The BBB is a physical barrier composed of a tightly packed layer of endothelial cells surrounding the brain which separates the blood from the cerebrospinal fluid allowing the transfer of oxygen and essential nutrients but preventing the access of most molecules.

Recent studies found nanomaterials such as zinc oxide can accumulate on the brain side of the in vitro BBB in altered states which can affect neurological activity and brain health. Inhaled, ingested, and dermally-applied nanomaterials can reach the blood stream and a small fraction of these may cross the BBB – impacting on the central nervous system.

The researchers synthesised a library of metallic nanomaterials with different particle compositions, sizes, and shapes – evaluating their ability to penetrate the BBB using an in vitro BBB model, followed by assessment of their behaviour and fate in and beyond the model BBB.

Co-author Zhiling Guo, a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, commented: “”Understanding these materials’ behaviour once past the blood brain barrier is vital for evaluating the neurological effects arising from their unintentional entry into the brain. Neurotoxicity potential is greater in some materials than others, due to the different ways their shapes allow them to move and be transported.”

The research team tested varied sizes of cerium oxide and iron oxide, along with zinc oxide and four different shapes of silver – spherical (Ag NS), disc-like (Ag ND), rod-shaped (Ag NR) and nanowires (Ag NW).

Zinc oxide slipped through the in vitro BBB with the greatest ease. The researchers found spherical and disc-like silver nanomaterials underwent different dissolution regimes – gradually transforming to silver-sulfur compounds within the BBB, creating ‘easier’ entry pathways.

Zinc oxide is used as a bulking agent and a colorant. In over-the-counter drug products, it is used as a skin protectant and a sunscreen – reflecting and scattering UV radiation to help reduce or prevent sunburn and premature aging of the skin. Silver is used in cosmetic and skincare products such as anti-aging creams.

There’s still a long way to go with this research. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the term ‘in vitro’, the rough translation is ‘in glass’ meaning test tubes, petri dishes, etc. are used. Even though the research paper has been peer-reviewed (not a perfect process), once it becomes available there will be added scrutiny from scientists with regard to how the research was conducted and whether or not the conclusions drawn are reasonable. One more question should also be asked, are the results reproducible by other scientists?

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

Biotransformation modulates the penetration of metallic nanomaterials across an artificial blood–brain barrier model by Zhiling Guo, Peng Zhang, Swaroop Chakraborty, Andrew J Chetwynd, Fazel Abdolahpur Monikh, Christopher Stark, Hanene Ali-Boucetta, Sandra Wilson, Iseult Lynch, and Eugenia Valsami-Jones. PNAS 118 (28) e2105245118 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2105245118 Published: July 13, 2021

This paper appears to be open access.

Job at the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA); application deadline: December 15, 2021

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is looking for a research associate. Before launching into the job description, here’s a little more about the CCA from their About page,

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) [which include The Royal Society of Canada {RSC}, The Canadian Academy of Engineering {CAE}, and The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences {CAHS}] is a not-for-profit organization that convenes the best experts in their respective fields to assess the evidence on complex scientific topics of public interest to inform decision-making in Canada. Led by a Board of Directors and guided by a Scientific Advisory Committee and its founding Academies, the CCA’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social, and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.

Assessments are conducted by multidisciplinary and multisectoral panels of experts from across Canada and abroad who volunteer their time and lend their expertise and knowledge to the CCA. The overarching goal of CCA assessments is to evaluate the best available evidence on particularly complex issues where the science may be challenging to understand, contradictory, or difficult to assemble. Upon completion, assessments provide key decision-makers, as well as researchers and stakeholders, with high-quality information and evidence to develop informed and innovative public policy. Assessments can be referred to the CCA (or “sponsored”) by foundations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, or any level of government.

The CCA assessment process is guided by a professional staff and is completed through in-person meetings, teleconferences, and hundreds of hours of research. To protect the independence of the assessment process, sponsors do not participate in the production of assessments, review drafts of reports, or propose any changes to reports before their release. This process ensures the highest integrity and objectivity of the work. All reports undergo formal peer review and are made available to the public free of charge in both official languages.

Now for the job description and other particulars, from the November 22, 2021 job posting page on the CCA website,

Job Title: Research Associate

Organization: Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

Job Categories: Research and Analysis; Evidence-Based Decision-Making

Location: Ottawa, Ontario [under current COVID-19 restrictions will be working remotely but expected to work in Ottawa at future date]

Application deadline: December 15, 2021

Position Status: Full time, permanent

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is looking for an experienced research associate to join our team of diverse professionals committed to supporting evidence-informed policy and practice in Canada.  

Reporting directly to one or more Project Directors as a member of one or more assessment teams, Research Associates carry out research and writing in support of multidisciplinary expert panels on wide ranging policy areas related to innovation, economics, science and society, health and life sciences, environment, energy and security.

Responsibilities include: Leading the development and execution of assigned elements of assessment-specific research plans in support of panel deliberations and report production, including: conduct of literature searches, synthesis of material and data and determining relevance of data for purposes of study; Draft assessment report content; Provide leadership in the design and implementation of the assessment specific research plan; and, Engage in active relationship management with external contributors, including panel members (correspondence, co-production of material, facilitating feedback, etc.).

Requirements

At least 5 years of relevant work experience; Ability to quickly develop a working knowledge of unfamiliar subject matter; and synthesize complex discussions, documentation, and literature into summary documents; Excellent written communication skills ― particularly an ability to translate scientific concepts and results into text for non-specialists; Team player with a commitment to excellence; Excellent oral communication skills; and A [sic] post-graduate or professional degree.

Assets

A background in economics or other social sciences; and French bilingualism.

How to Apply

Please send a cover letter and résumé summarizing your experience and suitability for the position to careers@cca-reports.ca by December 15, 2021.
-Why are you interested in this position with the CCA?
-What are your long-term career goals, and how will this position with CCA contribute to meeting those goals?
-What strengths and areas of expertise would you bring this position?
-What else would you like us to know about you?

We thank all applicants and will contact those selected for an interview. CCA is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Please let us know if you require accommodation.

CCA staff are currently working remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions. The new hire will work remotely, until those restrictions are lifted, at which time they will be expected to be able to work on-site at our office in Ottawa.

Applicants must be legally eligible to work in Canada.

Well, well, well. No mention of a salary? What an intriguing approach to recruiting new staff members.

I’m also intrigued by this responsibility, “… Engage in active relationship management with external contributors, including panel members (correspondence, co-production of material, facilitating feedback, etc.).” Relationship management, eh?

First off, there’s always at least one prima donna in the group, someone who requires delicate handling and, often, that person is not particularly pleasant to deal with. As well, imagine getting people to deliver materials on deadline and these people are volunteers, which means more occasions for delicate handling.

I’m struck by this requirement, “Excellent written communication skills ― particularly an ability to translate scientific concepts and results into text for non-specialists.”

I have read more than one CCA assessment and I would not describe any of them as excellent writing. They are written in a clear, competent fashion but excellent writing is something more than competent; it requires imagination and, as far as I can tell, that quality is not encouraged at the CCA.

On the plus side, this is an opportunity to make a lot of contacts both nationally and internationally and the work will be varied as the assessments cover quite a range of topics from Public Safety in the Digital Age to Canada’s Carbon Sink Potential to The Socio-Economic Impacts of Science and Health Misinformation to AI for Science and Engineering, and more.

Good luck!

Graphene in art preservation and restoration

A July 5, 2021 news item on phys.org announces a new technology for preserving and restoring your paintings,

The exposure of colors used in artworks to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light in the presence of oxidizing agents triggers color degradation, fading and yellowing. These degradation mechanisms can lead to irreversible alteration of artworks. Protective varnishes and coatings currently used to protect art paintings are not acceptable solutions, since their removal requires the use of solvents, which can affect adversely the underlying work surface.

A team of researchers from the Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences of Foundation for Research and Technology-Hellas (FORTH/ ICE-HT), the Department of Chemical Engineering of the University of Patras, and the Center for Colloid and Surface Science (CSGI) of the University of Florence, led by Professor Costas Galiotis, had the innovative ideato use graphene veils for the protection of paintings against environmental degradation.

A July 2, 2021 Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH) press release, which originated the news item, provides more details,

Since its isolation in 2004 by Geim [Andre Geim] and Novoselov [Konstantin Novoselov] from the University of Manchester (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010), graphene has been termed as a ‘wonder material’ due to its exceptional properties that have already been used in many applications and products. The graphene veil used in this work is a flexible, transparent film, produced by the technique of chemical vapor deposition. It has a monoatomic thickness and, since there are no size limitations in the other dimensions (length and width), it can cover any required large surface areas.

The results from measurements performed in the above mentioned laboratories, showed that this membrane is impermeable to moisture, the oxidizing agents and other harmful pollutants and also can absorb a large amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation. Finally, in contrast to other protective means, it is demonstrated that these graphene coatings are relatively easy to remove without damaging the surface of the artworks.

[downloaded from https://phys.org/news/2021-07-graphene-paving-methods-art.html]

Before getting to the link and citation for the paper, here’s the abstract, which helps fill n a few more details,

Modern and contemporary art materials are generally prone to irreversible colour changes upon exposure to light and oxidizing agents. Graphene can be produced in thin large sheets, blocks ultraviolet light, and is impermeable to oxygen, moisture and corrosive agents; therefore, it has the potential to be used as a transparent layer for the protection of art objects in museums, during storage and transportation. Here we show that a single-layer or multilayer graphene veil, produced by chemical vapour deposition, can be deposited over artworks to protect them efficiently against colour fading, with a protection factor of up to 70%. We also show that this process is reversible since the graphene protective layer can be removed using a soft rubber eraser without causing any damage to the artwork. We have also explored a complementary contactless graphene-based route for colour protection that is based on the deposition of graphene on picture framing glass for use when the directapplication of graphene is not feasible due to surface roughness or artwork fragility. Overall, the present results are a proof of concept of the potential use of graphene as an effective and removable protective advanced material to prevent colour fading in artworks.

And now, a link to and a citation for the paper,

Preventing colour fading in artworks with graphene veils by M. Kotsidi, G. Gorgolis, M. G. Pastore Carbone, G. Anagnostopoulos, G. Paterakis, G. Poggi, A. Manikas, G. Trakakis, P. Baglioni & C. Galiotis. Nature Nanotechnology (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-021-00934-z Published 01 July 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.