How AI-designed fiction reading lists and self-publishing help nurture far-right and neo-Nazi novelists

Literary theorists Helen Young and Geoff M Boucher, both at Deakin University (Australia), have co-written a fascinating May 29, 2022 essay on The Conversation (and republished on phys.org) analyzing some of the reasons (e.g., novels) for the resurgence in neo-Nazi activity and far-right extremism, Note: Links have been removed,

Far-right extremists pose an increasing risk in Australia and around the world. In 2020, ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] revealed that about 40% of its counter-terrorism work involved the far right.

The recent mass murder in Buffalo, U.S., and the attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 are just two examples of many far-right extremist acts of terror.

Far-right extremists have complex and diverse methods for spreading their messages of hate. These can include through social media, video games, wellness culture, interest in medieval European history, and fiction [emphasis mine]. Novels by both extremist and non-extremist authors feature on far-right “reading lists” designed to draw people into their beliefs and normalize hate.

Here’s more about how the books get published and distributed, from the May 29, 2022 essay, Note: Links have been removed,

Publishing houses once refused to print such books, but changes in technology have made traditional publishers less important. With self-publishing and e-books, it is easy for extremists to produce and distribute their fiction.

In this article, we have only given the titles and authors of those books that are already notorious, to avoid publicizing other dangerous hate-filled fictions.

Why would far-right extremists write novels?

Reading fiction is different to reading non-fiction. Fiction offers readers imaginative scenarios that can seem to be truthful, even though they are not fact-based. It can encourage readers to empathize with the emotions, thoughts and ethics of characters, particularly when they recognize those characters as being “like” them.

A novel featuring characters who become radicalized to far-right extremism, or who undertake violent terrorist acts, can help make those things seem justified and normal.

Novels that promote political violence, such as The Turner Diaries, are also ways for extremists to share plans and give readers who hold extreme views ideas about how to commit terrorist acts. …

In the late 20th century, far-right extremists without Pierce’s notoriety [American neo-Nazi William L. Pierce published The Turner Diaries (1978)] found it impossible to get their books published. One complained about this on his blog in 1999, blaming feminists and Jewish people. Just a few years later, print-on-demand and digital self-publishing made it possible to circumvent this difficulty.

The same neo-Nazi self-published what he termed “a lifetime of writing” in the space of a few years in the early 2000s. The company he paid to produce his books—iUniverse.com—helped get them onto the sales lists of major booksellers Barnes and Noble and Amazon in the early 2000s, making a huge difference to how easily they circulated outside extremist circles.

It still produces print-on-demand hard copies, even though the author has died. The same author’s books also circulate in digital versions, including on Google Play and Kindle, making them easily accessible.

Distributing extremist novels digitally

Far-right extremists use social media to spread their beliefs, but other digital platforms are also useful for them.

Seemingly innocent sites that host a wide range of mainstream material, such as Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive, are open to exploitation. Extremists use them to share, for example, material denying the Holocaust alongside historical Nazi newspapers.

Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing service has been called “a haven for white supremacists” because of how easy it is for them to circulate political tracts there. The far-right extremist who committed the Oslo terrorist attacks in 2011 recommended in his manifesto that his followers use Kindle to to spread his message.

Our research has shown that novels by known far-right extremists have been published and circulated through Kindle as well as other digital self-publishing services.

Ai and its algorithms also play a role, from the May 29, 2022 essay,

Radicalising recommendations

As we researched how novels by known violent extremists circulate, we noticed that the sales algorithms of mainstream platforms were suggesting others that we might also be interested in. Sales algorithms work by recommending items that customers who purchased one book have also viewed or bought.

Those recommendations directed us to an array of novels that, when we investigated them, proved to resonate with far-right ideologies.

A significant number of them were by authors with far-right political views. Some had ties to US militia movements and the gun-obsessed “prepper” subculture. Almost all of the books were self-published as e-books and print-on-demand editions.

Without the marketing and distribution channels of established publishing houses, these books rely on digital circulation for sales, including sale recommendation algorithms.

The trail of sales recommendations led us, with just two clicks, to the novels of mainstream authors. They also led us back again, from mainstream authors’ books to extremist novels. This is deeply troubling. It risks unsuspecting readers being introduced to the ideologies, world-views and sometimes powerful emotional narratives of far-right extremist novels designed to radicalise.

It’s not always easy to tell right away if you’re reading fiction promoting far-right ideologies, from the May 29, 2022 essay,

Recognising far-right messages

Some extremist novels follow the lead of The Turner Diaries and represent the start of a racist, openly genocidal war alongside a call to bring one about. Others are less obvious about their violent messages.

Some are not easily distinguished from mainstream novels – for example, from political thrillers and dystopian adventure stories like those of Tom Clancy or Matthew Reilly – so what is different about them? Openly neo-Nazi authors, like Pierce, often use racist, homophobic and misogynist slurs, but many do not. This may be to help make their books more palatable to general readers, or to avoid digital moderation based on specific words.

Knowing more about far-right extremism can help. Researchers generally say that there are three main things that connect the spectrum of far-right extremist politics: acceptance of social inequality, authoritarianism, and embracing violence as a tool for political change. Willingness to commit or endorse violence is a key factor separating extremism from other radical politics.

It is very unlikely that anyone would become radicalised to violent extremism just by reading novels. Novels can, however, reinforce political messages heard elsewhere (such as on social media) and help make those messages and acts of hate feel justified.

With the growing threat of far-right extremism and deliberate recruitment strategies of extremists targeting unexpected places, it is well worth being informed enough to recognise the hate-filled stories they tell.

I recommend reading the essay as my excerpts don’t do justice to the ideas being presented. As Young and Boucher note, it’s “… unlikely that anyone would become radicalised to violent extremism …” by reading novels but far-right extremists and neo-Nazis write fiction because the tactic works at some level.

Tunable metasurfaces and reshaping the future of light

Thinner, meaning smaller and less bulky, is a prized quality in technologies such as phones, batteries, and, in this case, lenses. From a May 16, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,

The technological advancement of optical lenses has long been a significant marker of human scientific achievement. Eyeglasses, telescopes, cameras, and microscopes have all literally and figuratively allowed us to see the world in a new light. Lenses are also a fundamental component of manufacturing nanoelectronics by the semiconductor industry.

One of the most impactful breakthroughs of lens technology in recent history has been the development of photonic metasurfaces — artificially engineered nano-scale materials with remarkable optical properties. Georgia Tech [Georgia Institute of Technology] researchers at the forefront of this technology have recently demonstrated the first-ever electrically tunable photonic metasurface platform in a recent study published by Nature Communications.

“Metasurfaces can make the optical systems very thin, and as they become easier to control and tune, you’ll soon find them in cell phone cameras and similar electronic imaging systems,” said Ali Adibi, professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology [Georgia Tech; US].

A May 10, 2022 Georgia Tech news release (also on EurekAlert but published May 16, 2022), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

The pronounced tuning measures achieved through the new platform represent a critical advancement towards the development of miniaturized reconfigurable metasurfaces. The results of the study have shown a record eleven-fold change in the reflective properties, a large range of spectral tuning for operation, and much faster tuning speed.

Heating Up Metasurfaces

Metasurfaces are a class of nanophotonic materials in which a large range of miniaturized elements are engineered to affect the transmission and reflection of light at different frequencies in a controlled way.

“When viewing under very strong microscopes, metasurfaces look like a periodic array of posts,” said Adibi. “The best analogy would be to think of a LEGO pattern formed by connecting many similar LEGO bricks next to each other.”

Since their inception, metasurfaces have been used to demonstrate that very thin optical devices can affect light propagation with metalenses (the formation of thin lenses) being the most developed application.

Despite impressive progress, most demonstrated metasurfaces are passive, meaning their performance cannot be changed (or tuned) after fabrication. The work presented by Adibi and his team, led by Ph.D. candidate Sajjad Abdollahramezani, applies electrical heat to a special class of nanophotonic materials to create a platform that can enable reconfigurable metasurfaces to be easily manufactured with high levels of optical modulation.

PCMs Provide the Answer

A wide range of materials may be used to form metasurfaces including metals, oxides, and semiconductors, but Abdollahramezani and Adibi’s research focuses on phase-change materials (PCMs) because they can form the most effective structures with the smallest feature sizes. PCMs are substances that absorb and release heat during the process of heating and cooling. They are called “phase-change” materials because they go from one crystallization state to another during the thermal cycling process. Water changing from a liquid to a solid or gas is the most common example.

The Georgia Tech team’s experiments are substantially more complicated than heating and freezing water. Knowing that the optical properties of PCMs can be altered by local heating, they have harnessed the full potential of the PCM alloy Ge2Sb2Te5 (GST), which is a compound of germanium, antimony, and tellurium.

By combining the optical design with a miniaturized electrical microheater underneath, the team can change the crystalline phase of the GST to make active tuning of the metasurface device possible. The fabricated metasurfaces were developed at Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN) and tested in characterization labs by illuminating the reconfigurable metasurfaces with laser light at different frequencies and measuring the properties of the reflected light in real time.

What Tunable Metasurfaces Mean for the Future

Driven by device miniaturization and system integration, as well as their ability to selectively reflect different colors of light, metasurfaces are rapidly replacing bulky optical assemblies of the past. Immediate impact on technologies like LiDAR systems for autonomous cars, imaging, spectroscopy, and sensing is expected.

With further development, more aggressive applications like computing, augmented reality, photonic chips for artificial intelligence, and biohazard detection can also be envisioned, according to Abdollahramezani and Adibi.

“As the platform continues to develop, reconfigurable metasurfaces will be found everywhere,” said Adibi. “They will even empower smaller endoscopes to go deep inside the body for better imaging and help medical sensors detect different biomarkers in blood.”

Funding: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. 1837021. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. The work was primarily funded by Office of Naval Research (ONR) (N00014-18-1-2055, Dr. B. Bennett) and by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] (D19AC00001, Dr. R. Chandrasekar). W.C. acknowledges support from ONR (N00014-17-1-2555) and National Science Foundation (NSF) (DMR-2004749). A. Alù acknowledges support from Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Simons Foundation. M.W. acknowledges support by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SFB 917). M.E.S. acknowledges financial support of NSF-CHE (1608801). This work was performed in part at the Georgia Tech Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN), a member of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), which is supported by NSF (ECCS1542174).

Caption: Georgia Tech professor Ali Adibi [on the right] with Ph.D. candidate Sajjad Abdollahramezani [on th eleft holding an unidentified object] in Ali’s Photonics Research Group lab where the characterization of the tunable metasurfaces takes place. Credit: Georgia Tech

I am charmed by this image. Neither of these two are professionals at posing for photographers. Nonetheless, they look pleased and happy to help the publicity team spread the word about their research, they also seem like they’re looking forward to getting back to work.

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

Electrically driven reprogrammable phase-change metasurface reaching 80% efficiency by Sajjad Abdollahramezani, Omid Hemmatyar, Mohammad Taghinejad, Hossein Taghinejad, Alex Krasnok, Ali A. Eftekhar, Christian Teichrib, Sanchit Deshmukh, Mostafa A. El-Sayed, Eric Pop, Matthias Wuttig, Andrea Alù, Wenshan Cai & Ali Adibi. Nature Communications volume 13, Article number: 1696 (2022) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-29374-6 Published: 30 March 2022

This paper is open access.

Electrotactile rendering device virtualizes the sense of touch

I stumbled across this November 15, 2022 news item on Nanowerk highlighting work on the sense of touch in the virual originally announced in October 2022,

A collaborative research team co-led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU) has developed a wearable tactile rendering system, which can mimic the sensation of touch with high spatial resolution and a rapid response rate. The team demonstrated its application potential in a braille display, adding the sense of touch in the metaverse for functions such as virtual reality shopping and gaming, and potentially facilitating the work of astronauts, deep-sea divers and others who need to wear thick gloves.

Here’s what you’ll need to wear for this virtual tactile experience,

Caption: The new wearable tactile rendering system can mimic touch sensations with high spatial resolution and a rapid response rate. Credit: Robotics X Lab and City University of Hong Kong

An October 20, 2022 City University of Hong Kong (CityU) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

“We can hear and see our families over a long distance via phones and cameras, but we still cannot feel or hug them. We are physically isolated by space and time, especially during this long-lasting pandemic,” said Dr Yang Zhengbao,Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering of CityU, who co-led the study. “Although there has been great progress in developing sensors that digitally capture tactile features with high resolution and high sensitivity, we still lack a system that can effectively virtualize the sense of touch that can record and playback tactile sensations over space and time.”

In collaboration with Chinese tech giant Tencent’s Robotics X Laboratory, the team developed a novel electrotactile rendering system for displaying various tactile sensations with high spatial resolution and a rapid response rate. Their findings were published in the scientific journal Science Advances under the title “Super-resolution Wearable Electro-tactile Rendering System”.

Limitations in existing techniques

Existing techniques to reproduce tactile stimuli can be broadly classified into two categories: mechanical and electrical stimulation. By applying a localised mechanical force or vibration on the skin, mechanical actuators can elicit stable and continuous tactile sensations. However, they tend to be bulky, limiting the spatial resolution when integrated into a portable or wearable device. Electrotactile stimulators, in contrast, which evoke touch sensations in the skin at the location of the electrode by passing a local electric current though the skin, can be light and flexible while offering higher resolution and a faster response. But most of them rely on high voltage direct-current (DC) pulses (up to hundreds of volts) to penetrate the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin, to stimulate the receptors and nerves, which poses a safety concern. Also, the tactile rendering resolution needed to be improved.

The latest electro-tactile actuator developed by the team is very thin and flexible and can be easily integrated into a finger cot. This fingertip wearable device can display different tactile sensations, such as pressure, vibration, and texture roughness in high fidelity. Instead of using DC pulses, the team developed a high-frequency alternating stimulation strategy and succeeded in lowering the operating voltage under 30 V, ensuring the tactile rendering is safe and comfortable.

They also proposed a novel super-resolution strategy that can render tactile sensation at locations between physical electrodes, instead of only at the electrode locations. This increases the spatial resolution of their stimulators by more than three times (from 25 to 105 points), so the user can feel more realistic tactile perception.

Tactile stimuli with high spatial resolution

“Our new system can elicit tactile stimuli with both high spatial resolution (76 dots/cm2), similar to the density of related receptors in the human skin, and a rapid response rate (4 kHz),” said Mr Lin Weikang, a PhD student at CityU, who made and tested the device.

The team ran different tests to show various application possibilities of this new wearable electrotactile rendering system. For example, they proposed a new Braille strategy that is much easier for people with a visual impairment to learn.

The proposed strategy breaks down the alphabet and numerical digits into individual strokes and order in the same way they are written. By wearing the new electrotactile rendering system on a fingertip, the user can recognise the alphabet presented by feeling the direction and the sequence of the strokes with the fingertip sensor. “This would be particularly useful for people who lose their eye sight later in life, allowing them to continue to read and write using the same alphabetic system they are used to, without the need to learn the whole Braille dot system,” said Dr Yang.

Enabling touch in the metaverse

Second, the new system is well suited for VR/AR [virtual reality/augmented reality] applications and games, adding the sense of touch to the metaverse. The electrodes can be made highly flexible and scalable to cover larger areas, such as the palm. The team demonstrated that a user can virtually sense the texture of clothes in a virtual fashion shop. The user also experiences an itchy sensation in the fingertips when being licked by a VR cat. When stroking a virtual cat’s fur, the user can feel a variance in the roughness as the strokes change direction and speed.

The system can also be useful in transmitting fine tactile details through thick gloves. The team successfully integrated the thin, light electrodes of the electrotactile rendering system into flexible tactile sensors on a safety glove. The tactile sensor array captures the pressure distribution on the exterior of the glove and relays the information to the user in real time through tactile stimulation. In the experiment, the user could quickly and accurately locate a tiny steel washer just 1 mm in radius and 0.44mm thick based on the tactile feedback from the glove with sensors and stimulators. This shows the system’s potential in enabling high-fidelity tactile perception, which is currently unavailable to astronauts, firefighters, deep-sea divers and others who need wear thick protective suits or gloves.

“We expect our technology to benefit a broad spectrum of applications, such as information transmission, surgical training, teleoperation, and multimedia entertainment,” added Dr Yang.

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

Super-resolution wearable electrotactile rendering system by Weikang Lin, Dongsheng Zhang, Wang Wei Lee, Xuelong Li, Ying Hong, Qiqi Pan, Ruirui Zhang, Guoxiang Peng, Hong Z. Tan, Zhengyou Zhang, Lei Wei, and Zhengbao Yang. Science Advances 9 Sep 2022 Vol 8, Issue 36 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abp8738

This paper is open access.

Replace plastic with Choetsu which waterproofs paper and degrades safely

It’s good to see research into practical ways of replacing plastic. From a May 13, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,

For our sake and the environment, there is a considerable amount of research into the reduction of plastic for many and various applications. For the first time, researchers have found a way to imbue relatively sustainable paper materials with some of the useful properties of plastic. This can be done easily, cost effectively, and efficiently. A coating called Choetsu not only waterproofs paper, but also maintains its flexibility and degrades safely as well.

Caption: A classic origami crane made from paper and coated with Choetsu (left) and uncoated (right). When submerged in water, the coated paper crane keeps its shape while the uncoated one quickly saturates with water and starts to disintegrate. Credit: ©2022 Hiroi et al.

A May 13, 2022 University of Tokyo press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

It’s hard to escape the fact that plastic materials are by and large detrimental to the environment. You’ve probably seen images of plastic pollution washing up on beaches, spoiling rivers and killing countless animals. Yet the problem often seems completely out of our hands given the ubiquity of plastic materials in everyday life. Professor Zenji Hiroi from the Institute for Solid State Physics at the University of Tokyo and his team explore ways materials science can help, and their recent discovery aims to replace some uses of plastic with something more sustainable: Paper.

“The main problem with plastic materials as I see it is their inability to degrade quickly and safely,” said Hiroi. “There are materials that can degrade safely, such as paper, but obviously paper cannot fulfill the vast range of uses plastic can. However, we’ve found a way to give paper some of the nice properties of plastic, but with none of the detriments. We call it Choetsu, a low-cost biodegradable coating that adds waterproofing and strength to simple paper.”

Choetsu is a combination of materials which, when applied to paper, spontaneously generate a strong and waterproof film when it makes contact with moisture in the air. The coating consists of safe and low-cost chemicals, mostly methyltrimethoxysilane, some isopropyl alcohol, and a small amount of tetraisopropyl titanate. Paper structures, for example food containers, are sprayed with or dipped into this liquid mixture and are dried at room temperature. Once dry, a thin layer of silica containing methyl, a type of alcohol, forms on the cellulose making up the paper, providing the strong and waterproof properties.

Furthermore, reactions that take place during the coating procedure automatically creates a layer of titanium dioxide nanoparticles. These give rise to a dirt- and bacterial-repellent property known as photocatalytic activity, which protects the coated item for an extended period of time. All of the chemicals involved in the coating break down over time into harmless things such as carbon, water and sandlike silicon.

“The technical challenge is complete, and some applications could be realized soon, such as items for consuming, packaging or storing food,” said Hiroi. “We now hope to use this approach on other kinds of materials as well. The liquid composition can be tuned for other materials, and we can create a dirt- and mold-resistant coating that could form onto glass, ceramics and even other plastics to extend their usefulness. Alongside researcher Yoko Iwamiya, who has been working in this field for some time now, and the rest of my team, I hope we can do something truly beneficial for the world.”

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

Photocatalytic Silica–Resin Coating for Environmental Protection of Paper as a Plastic Substitute by Yoko Iwamiya, Daisuke Nishio-Hamane, Kazuhiro Akutsu-Suyama, Hiroshi Arima-Osonoi, Mitsuhiro Shibayama, and Zenji Hiroi. Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2022, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.iecr.2c00784 Publication Date: May 13, 2022 © 2022 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence launched at Harvard University and University of Manchester pushes the boundaries of smart robotics and AI

Before getting to the two news items, it might be a good idea to note that ‘artificial intelligence (AI)’ and ‘robot’ are not synonyms although they are often used that way, even by people who should know better. (sigh … I do it too)

A robot may or may not be animated with artificial intelligence while artificial intelligence algorithms may be installed on a variety of devices such as a phone or a computer or a thermostat or a … .

It’s something to bear in mind when reading about the two new institutions being launched. Now, on to Harvard University.

Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence

A September 23, 2022 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) news release (also on EurekAlert) announces a symposium to launch a new institute close to Mark Zuckerberg’s heart,

On Thursday [September 22, 2022], leadership from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) and Harvard University celebrated the launch of the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence at Harvard University with a symposium on Harvard’s campus. Speakers included CZI Head of Science Stephen Quake, President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow, Provost of Harvard University Alan Garber, and Kempner Institute co-directors Bernardo Sabatini and Sham Kakade. The event also included remarks and panels from industry leaders in science, technology, and artificial intelligence, including Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, Andy Jassy, Daniel Huttenlocher, Sam Altman, Joelle Pineau, Sangeeta Bhatia, and Yann LeCun, among many others.

The Kempner Institute will seek to better understand the basis of intelligence in natural and artificial systems. Its bold premise is that the two fields are intimately interconnected; the next generation of AI will require the same principles that our brains use for fast, flexible natural reasoning, and understanding how our brains compute and reason requires theories developed for AI. The Kempner Institute will study AI systems, including artificial neural networks, to develop both principled theories [emphasis mine] and a practical understanding of how these systems operate and learn. It will also focus on research topics such as learning and memory, perception and sensation, brain function, and metaplasticity. The Institute will recruit and train future generations of researchers from undergraduates and graduate students to post-docs and faculty — actively recruiting from underrepresented groups at every stage of the pipeline — to study intelligence from biological, cognitive, engineering, and computational perspectives.

CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Mark Zuckerberg [chairman and chief executive officer of Meta/Facebook] said: “The Kempner Institute will be a one-of-a-kind institute for studying intelligence and hopefully one that helps us discover what intelligent systems really are, how they work, how they break and how to repair them. There’s a lot of exciting implications because once you understand how something is supposed to work and how to repair it once it breaks, you can apply that to the broader mission the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has to empower scientists to help cure, prevent or manage all diseases.”

CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Priscilla Chan said: “Just attending this school meant the world to me. But to stand on this stage and to be able to give something back is truly a dream come true … All of this progress starts with building one fundamental thing: a Kempner community that’s diverse, multi-disciplinary and multi-generational, because incredible ideas can come from anyone. If you bring together people from all different disciplines to look at a problem and give them permission to articulate their perspective, you might start seeing insights or solutions in a whole different light. And those new perspectives lead to new insights and discoveries and generate new questions that can lead an entire field to blossom. So often, that momentum is what breaks the dam and tears down old orthodoxies, unleashing new floods of new ideas that allow us to progress together as a society.”

CZI Head of Science Stephen Quake said: “It’s an honor to partner with Harvard in building this extraordinary new resource for students and science. This is a once-in-a-generation moment for life sciences and medicine. We are living in such an extraordinary and exciting time for science. Many breakthrough discoveries are going to happen not only broadly but right here on this campus and at this institute.”

CZI’s 10-year vision is to advance research and develop technologies to observe, measure, and analyze any biological process within the human body — across spatial scales and in real time. CZI’s goal is to accelerate scientific progress by funding scientific research to advance entire fields; working closely with scientists and engineers at partner institutions like the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub and Chan Zuckerberg Institute for Advanced Biological Imaging to do the research that can’t be done in conventional environments; and building and democratizing next-generation software and hardware tools to drive biological insights and generate more accurate and biologically important sources of data.

President of Harvard University Lawrence Bacow said: “Here we are with this incredible opportunity that Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have given us to imagine taking what we know about the brain, neuroscience and how to model intelligence and putting them together in ways that can inform both, and can truly advance our understanding of intelligence from multiple perspectives.”

Kempner Institute Co-Director and Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and of Statistics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Sham Kakade said: “Now we begin assembling a world-leading research and educational program at Harvard that collectively tries to understand the fundamental mechanisms of intelligence and seeks to apply these new technologies for the benefit of humanity … We hope to create a vibrant environment for all of us to engage in broader research questions … We want to train the next generation of leaders because those leaders will go on to do the next set of great things.”

Kempner Institute Co-Director and the Alice and Rodman W. Moorhead III Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School Bernardo Sabatini said: “We’re blending research, education and computation to nurture, raise up and enable any scientist who is interested in unraveling the mysteries of the brain. This field is a nascent and interdisciplinary one, so we’re going to have to teach neuroscience to computational biologists, who are going to have to teach machine learning to cognitive scientists and math to biologists. We’re going to do whatever is necessary to help each individual thrive and push the field forward … Success means we develop mathematical theories that explain how our brains compute and learn, and these theories should be specific enough to be testable and useful enough to start to explain diseases like schizophrenia, dyslexia or autism.”

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our communities. Through collaboration, providing resources and building technology, our mission is to help build a more inclusive, just and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit chanzuckerberg.com.

Principled theories, eh. I don’t see a single mention of ethicists or anyone in the social sciences or the humanities or the arts. How are scientists and engineers who have no training in or education in or, even, an introduction to ethics or social impacts or psychology going to manage this?

Mark Zuckerberg’s approach to these issues was something along the lines of “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” I understand there have been changes but it took far too long to recognize the damage let alone attempt to address it.

If you want to gain a little more insight into the Kempner Institute, there’s a December 7, 2021 article by Alvin Powell announcing the institute for the Harvard Gazette,

The institute will be funded by a $500 million gift from Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, which was announced Tuesday [December 7, 2021] by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The gift will support 10 new faculty appointments, significant new computing infrastructure, and resources to allow students to flow between labs in pursuit of ideas and knowledge. The institute’s name honors Zuckerberg’s mother, Karen Kempner Zuckerberg, and her parents — Zuckerberg’s grandparents — Sidney and Gertrude Kempner. Chan and Zuckerberg have given generously to Harvard in the past, supporting students, faculty, and researchers in a range of areas, including around public service, literacy, and cures.

“The Kempner Institute at Harvard represents a remarkable opportunity to bring together approaches and expertise in biological and cognitive science with machine learning, statistics, and computer science to make real progress in understanding how the human brain works to improve how we address disease, create new therapies, and advance our understanding of the human body and the world more broadly,” said President Larry Bacow.

Q&A

Bernardo Sabatini and Sham Kakade [Institute co-directors]

GAZETTE: Tell me about the new institute. What is its main reason for being?

SABATINI: The institute is designed to take from two fields and bring them together, hopefully to create something that’s essentially new, though it’s been tried in a couple of places. Imagine that you have over here cognitive scientists and neurobiologists who study the human brain, including the basic biological mechanisms of intelligence and decision-making. And then over there, you have people from computer science, from mathematics and statistics, who study artificial intelligence systems. Those groups don’t talk to each other very much.

We want to recruit from both populations to fill in the middle and to create a new population, through education, through graduate programs, through funding programs — to grow from academic infancy — those equally versed in neuroscience and in AI systems, who can be leaders for the next generation.

Over the millions of years that vertebrates have been evolving, the human brain has developed specializations that are fundamental for learning and intelligence. We need to know what those are to understand their benefits and to ask whether they can make AI systems better. At the same time, as people who study AI and machine learning (ML) develop mathematical theories as to how those systems work and can say that a network of the following structure with the following properties learns by calculating the following function, then we can take those theories and ask, “Is that actually how the human brain works?”

KAKADE: There’s a question of why now? In the technological space, the advancements are remarkable even to me, as a researcher who knows how these things are being made. I think there’s a long way to go, but many of us feel that this is the right time to study intelligence more broadly. You might also ask: Why is this mission unique and why is this institute different from what’s being done in academia and in industry? Academia is good at putting out ideas. Industry is good at turning ideas into reality. We’re in a bit of a sweet spot. We have the scale to study approaches at a very different level: It’s not going to be just individual labs pursuing their own ideas. We may not be as big as the biggest companies, but we can work on the types of problems that they work on, such as having the compute resources to work on large language models. Industry has exciting research, but the spectrum of ideas produced is very different, because they have different objectives.

For the die-hards, there’s a September 23, 2022 article by Clea Simon in Harvard Gazette, which updates the 2021 story,

Next, Manchester, England.

Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI

Robotots take a break at a lab at The University of Manchester – picture courtesy of Marketing Manchester [downloaded from https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/manchester-ai-summit-aims-to-attract-experts-in-advanced-engineering-and-robotics/]

A November 22, 2022 University of Manchester press release (also on EurekAlert) announces both a meeting and a new centre, Note: Links to the Centre have been retained; all others have been removed,

How humans and super smart robots will live and work together in the future will be among the key issues being scrutinised by experts at a new centre of excellence for AI and autonomous machines based at The University of Manchester.

The Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI will be a new specialist multi-disciplinary centre to explore developments in smart robotics through the lens of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous machinery.

The University of Manchester has built a modern reputation of excellence in AI and robotics, partly based on the legacy of pioneering thought leadership begun in this field in Manchester by legendary codebreaker Alan Turing.

Manchester’s new multi-disciplinary centre is home to world-leading research from across the academic disciplines – and this group will hold its first conference on Wednesday, Nov 23, at the University’s new engineering and materials facilities.

A  highlight will be a joint talk by robotics expert Dr Andy Weightman and theologian Dr Scott Midson which is expected to put a spotlight on ‘posthumanism’, a future world where humans won’t be the only highly intelligent decision-makers.

Dr Weightman, who researches home-based rehabilitation robotics for people with neurological impairment, and Dr Midson, who researches theological and philosophical critiques of posthumanism, will discuss how interdisciplinary research can help with the special challenges of rehabilitation robotics – and, ultimately, what it means to be human “in the face of the promises and challenges of human enhancement through robotic and autonomous machines”.

Other topics that the centre will have a focus on will include applications of robotics in extreme environments.

For the past decade, a specialist Manchester team led by Professor Barry Lennox has designed robots to work safely in nuclear decommissioning sites in the UK. A ground-breaking robot called Lyra that has been developed by Professor Lennox’s team – and recently deployed at the Dounreay site in Scotland, the “world’s deepest nuclear clean up site” – has been listed in Time Magazine’s Top 200 innovations of 2022.

Angelo Cangelosi, Professor of Machine Learning and Robotics at Manchester, said the University offers a world-leading position in the field of autonomous systems – a technology that will be an integral part of our future world. 

Professor Cangelosi, co-Director of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI, said: “We are delighted to host our inaugural conference which will provide a special showcase for our diverse academic expertise to design robotics for a variety of real world applications.

“Our research and innovation team are at the interface between robotics, autonomy and AI – and their knowledge is drawn from across the University’s disciplines, including biological and medical sciences – as well the humanities and even theology. [emphases mine]

“This rich diversity offers Manchester a distinctive approach to designing robots and autonomous systems for real world applications, especially when combined with our novel use of AI-based knowledge.”

Delegates will have a chance to observe a series of robots and autonomous machines being demoed at the new conference.

The University of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI will aim to: 

  • design control systems with a focus on bio-inspired solutions to mechatronics, eg the use of biomimetic sensors, actuators and robot platforms; 
  • develop new software engineering and AI methodologies for verification in autonomous systems, with the aim to design trustworthy autonomous systems; 
  • research human-robot interaction, with a pioneering focus on the use of brain-inspired approaches [emphasis mine] to robot control, learning and interaction; and 
  • research the ethics and human-centred robotics issues, for the understanding of the impact of the use of robots and autonomous systems with individuals and society. 

In some ways, the Kempner Institute and the Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI have very similar interests, especially where the brain is concerned. What fascinates me is the Manchester Centre’s inclusion of theologian Dr Scott Midson and the discussion (at the meeting) of ‘posthumanism’. The difference is between actual engagement at the symposium (the centre) and mere mention in a news release (the institute).

I wish the best for both institutions.

US and Nano4EARTH

After such a long time (a couple of years at least), it was nice to come across this update on the US government’s national nanotechnology efforts. From a October 7, 2022 (US) White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) news release (h/t JD Supra October 17, 2022 legal news update),

Today [October 7, 2022], to mark National Nanotechnology Day, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) are making key announcements that aim to advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to leverage the promise of science and technology to benefit all Americans. They also complement the Administration’s ongoing CHIPS and Science Act implementation efforts that will ensure the United States remains a world leader in the industries of tomorrow.

“National Nanotechnology Day is an opportunity to celebrate the NNCO’s – and Biden-Harris Administration’s – efforts to advance research breakthroughs on the nanoscale that impact nearly every scientific discipline and lay the foundation for emerging fields and technologies,” said newly announced National Nanotechnology Coordination Office Director Dr. Branden Brough. “As evidenced by this week’s Nobel Prize announcements highlighting work in quantum information science and click chemistry, the nanotechnology community is leveraging the Nation’s investments in research at the level of atoms and molecules to find solutions to address today’s most pressing challenges, including climate change, pandemic preparedness, and domestic microelectronics manufacturing.”

Biden-⁠Harris Administration’s National Nanotechnology Challenge, Nano4EARTH

The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office is announcing the inaugural National Nanotechnology Challenge, Nano4EARTH. Nano4EARTH will leverage recent investments in understanding and controlling matter at the nanoscale to develop technologies and industries that address climate change. Nano4EARTH recognizes the role nanotechnology plays in: Evaluating, monitoring, and detecting climate change status and trends; Averting future greenhouse gas emissions; Removing existing greenhouse gasses; Training and educating a highly skilled workforce to harness nanotechnology solutions; and developing Higher resilience to – and mitigation of – climate change-induced pressures for improved societal/economic resilience.

The NNCO supports the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), a White House-led initiative that coordinates the nanotechnology R&D activities of 20 federal government agencies. Identified in the 2021 NNI Strategic Plan, National Nanotechnology Challenges are a new mechanism to mobilize and connect the NNI community so it can help to address global societal challenges.

Members of the NNI community – the scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and government leaders developing solutions at the nanoscale – are invited to participate in Nano4EARTH! By doing so, they can support the United States’ goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and inspire and build the STEM workforce capacity that will help develop and implement climate change mitigation and resilience solutions. Links to relevant agency programs, information about the public kick-off workshop, and a link to join a mailing list to get involved can be found on the Nano4EARTH webpage. The Nano4EARTH kick-off workshop (to be held in early 2023) will serve as an information-gathering exercise to identify key feasible outputs of the challenge and effective ways to measure success.

National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) Leadership

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and The National Nanotechnology Coordination Office are announcing Dr. Branden Brough as the new Director of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO) and Dr. Quinn Spadola as its Deputy Director.

Dr. Brough joins the NNCO from the Molecular Foundry, a U.S. Department of Energy-funded nanoscale science research center that provides users from around the world with access to cutting-edge expertise and instrumentation. He will also serve as OSTP’s Assistant Director for Nanotechnology. As the Molecular Foundry’s Deputy Director, Dr. Brough was responsible for helping guide the organization’s scientific plans and initiatives, while also managing the center’s operations. Before joining the Molecular Foundry, Dr. Brough worked at the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, where he led strategic policy and planning activities, as well as Congressional and public outreach efforts. Dr. Brough received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering – focusing on the integration of synthetic motor molecules and natural self-assembling proteins into micro/nanotechnologies – from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Dr. Spadola was the Associate Director of Education for the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), a network of open nanotechnology laboratory user facilities supported by the National Science Foundation, and the Director of Education and Outreach for the Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor NNCI site at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to joining the Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Spadola was the Education and Outreach Coordinator and a Technical Advisor to the Director at NNCO. She received her Ph.D. in physics from Arizona State University and her MFA in Science and Natural History Filmmaking from Montana State University.

Once again, the Climate Change National Nanotechnology Challenge (Nano4EARTH) webpage is here and apparently they aren’t quite ready yet but,

The NNI is planning a Nano4EARTH kick-off workshop! Join our mailing list to get all future updates!

Science Communication Skills for Journalists; A Resource Book for Universities in Africa (a new book on teaching science journalism)

This new book has been published by an organization with an organizational history that started in the United Kingdom (UK). Founded in 1910, it was called the Entomological Research Committee (Tropical Africa).

(Then, tor many years, CABI was known as the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, the Commonwealth Institute of Entomology, and the Commonwealth Mycological Institute before melding themselves together into to CAB, and more recently with the addition of the word international, as CABI or CAB International.)

An October 19, 2022 CABI press release on EurekAlert announces an initiative (book) to improve science communication in Africa,

Script’s new book aimed at helping to improve the communication of science in Africa has now been published. The book is available for free electronically and to buy in paperback in the CABI Digital Library.

Science Communication Skills for Journalists: A Resource Book for Universities in Africa,’ is edited and authored by Dr Charles Wendo who is himself a qualified vet and science journalist as well as Training Coordinator for SciDev.Net.

Further contributors to the book include Dr Abraham Kiprop Mulwo (Moi University, Kenya), Dr Darius Mukiza (University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania), and Dr Aisha Sembatya Nakiwala, Dr Samuel George Okech and Dr William Tayeebwa – the latter of whom are all from Makerere University in Uganda.

Future of science journalism

In the book Dr Abraham Kiprop Mulwo, Dean of the School of Information Sciences at Moi University, Kenya, reviews the current status and future of science journalism and communication in Africa.

Dr Wendo uses his detailed knowledge and experience in the field to package engaging and informative content for journalists, students of science journalism and communication, and educators.

The book, that was recently launched at a science journalism conference at Moi University, provides hands-on advice on the practice of science journalism. It also includes learning activities and discussion questions to deepen the readers’ understanding of the topic.

With 22 chapters of engaging content, the book is divided into two parts. Part 1 lays down the theoretical foundation of science communication while Part 2 has 16 chapters of hands-on advice about science journalism.

Real life experiences

Five academic papers are also included that identify, review and synthesize available literature and experiences on science journalism and communication issues in Africa.

The book also includes a case study detailing the experience of Makerere University in introducing science journalism and communication into their undergraduate and post-graduate curricula.

This is after some of the content of the book was tried and tested by lecturers at Makerere University, Nasarawa State University in Nigeria, Moi University and University of Dar es Salaam.

Samuel Musungu Muturi, a third-year student of journalism and media studies at Moi University, said science journalism training and the book will increase the relevance of journalists.

Bridging gaps in communication

Mr Muturi said, “This book is part of a training that will enable us to claim our position as journalists who are vital in the science communication process, bridging the gap between scientists, the public, and policymakers.”

Science Communication Skills for Journalists: A Resource Book for Universities in Africa,’ is published as part of SciDev.Net’s Script science communication training programme.

Script was funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung. This is a free training and networking resource. It is aimed at journalists, scientists and anyone who wants to communicate science in an engaging and accurate way. The programme was launched in 2018 to bridge the gap in science communication in sub-Saharan Africa.

Emanuel Dandaura, Professor of Development Communication and Performance Aesthetics at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria, said, “Part of the challenge for scientists is to communicate often complex science to journalists who then help analyse and disseminate that information to a range of stakeholders including the general public.

“This new resource will go a long way towards bridging the gap in Africa between science communication and audiences, such as policymakers, who we hope will take heed of our findings for the betterment of society.”

Accurate and ethical reporting

At the launch event, Dr Wendo, who is also SciDev.Net’s Training Coordinator, discussed a paper on reporting science in a local language. He also chaired a session on the ethical reporting of science.

Dr Wendo said, “Science Communication Skills for Journalists: A Resource Book for Universities in Africa,’ equips the reader to not only understand often complex scientific findings but also to communicate research in layman’s terms.

“The book also highlights the need to take a critical and analytical viewpoint of new scientific endeavours to ensure that reporting is accurate, fair and balanced. This is particularly important in our age of ‘fake news’ and misleading information.”

You can view the book online for free here or order a paperback version for $65 (USD?) when it’s available.

I took a very quick look at the online version of the book and found a surprise or two. From Science Communication Skills for Journalists, Note: Links have been removed.

Nakkazi (2012) reports on the growth of science journalism in Africa from the early 2000s. Whereas science journalism in the Global North was experiencing a crisis during this period, with science desks shutting down and science journalists changing to other news beats, the reverse was true in Africa [emphasis mine]. Editors in African countries cited an improvement in the number of journalists reporting science stories, the quality of stories and the number of media outlets with dedicated science space. Nakkazi attributes the growth of science journalism in Africa to the activities of professional associations: for example, SjCOOP, a science journalism training and mentoring programme run by the World Federation of Science Journalists. About 100 African journalists benefited from the programme between 2006 and 2012. During the same period several new science journalism associations were formed in Africa, and scientists’ trust in journalism increased. Lugalambi et al. (2011) also reported an improvement in the trust and engagement between scientists and journalists over time, with scientists being more willing than before to share information with journalists.

This positive outlook of science journalism in Africa was confirmed by the Global Science Journalism Report (Massarani et al., 2021). According to the report, science journalists in Africa were more satisfied with their work than those in most other parts of the world, even though most of them worked as freelancers, as opposed to being staff reporters.

You’ll find the excerpt above in the chapter titled: Current Status and Future of Science Journalism and Communication in Africa by Dr Abraham Kip.

The book offer a good basic grounding on science journalism and communication in Africa. Perhaps future editions will see the addition of South Africa; that omission was surprising to me since that country is the one that pops up most often on my radar. As for data visualization and other graphic arts as they relate science communication and journalism, that’s, in all probability, another book.

2023 Preview: Bill Nye the Science Guy’s live show and Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) coming to Vancouver (Canada)

The first show to arrive will be Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) in March 2023 then, Bill Nye arrives with his new show in June 2023.

Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training And Tactical Intelligence Operative Network)

H/t to Rebecca Bollwitt’s November 23, 2022 posting on her Miss604 blog for information about this upcoming show (Note: A link has been removed),

After sold out runs and millions of fans in London, New York, Seoul, Paris, Singapore, China, Las Vegas, Toronto and India, Avengers: S.T.A.T.I.O.N., an interactive experience, is on its way to thrill audiences across BC. Guests will step into the world of the Avengers, discovering intelligence and cutting-edge science inspired by the Marvel Studios’ films. After completing their training, participants only have one thing left to do: Assemble!

Here are logistical details (from Bollwitt’s November 23, 2022 posting), Note: Links have been removed,

  • When: March 3 – May 28, 2023 
    • Mon to Wed & Sunday 10:00am to 7:00pm 
    • Thurs to Sat 10:00am to 9:00pm final entry 1 hour before close 
  • Where: The Amazing Brentwood (4567 Lougheed Hwy, Burnaby)
  • Tickets: On sale November 24, 2022. Prices start at $29 for adults and $23 for children (plus ticketing fees), with discounts for students, seniors, and groups. VIP packages are also available.
    • Special Early Bird discount pricing is available until November 28 only. This is bound to be on someone’s holiday wish-list so make sure you buy early and save!

Bollwitt has a family pack to tickets to give away. Instructions for how to win are in her posting. Good luck!

I have tried to find more information about the exhibit since it is described as educational. Here’s the best I can do (from the Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. website),

About

AVENGERS S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Scientific Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network) is a world-class interactive experience for the whole family based on the global phenomenon, Marvel’s Avengers.

The exhibition has traveled the world with its exclusive storyline steeped in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, integrating science and modern technology with movie based props and augmented reality. [emphasis mine]

There’s also an Avengers Station Canada website, which offers this (and an opportunity to buy tickets),

ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE

THE WORLD NEEDS YOUR HELP!

Are you ready to join S.T.A.T.I.O.N., the scientific combat support network [emphasis mine] for the Avengers?

Start as a new recruit and delve into the history, science, engineering, genetics, [emphasis mine] and profiles of your favourite Avengers, including Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, the Hulk, Thor, and more. Then, complete your training to become an integral member of the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N.

It seems the Vancouver stop is the only Canadian one on this tour but that could change.

There are three companies listed on the Canadian Avengers website as producing the exhibit.

(1) This company’s branding has proved a bit of a challenge for me but here goes: the corporate parent is currently known as NEON or neon (located in Singapore) but it was founded as Cityneon (the name they’ve used on the Canadian Avengers website),

About Neon

A Global Leader In Immersive & Epic Experiences

We specialize in unique, experiential and large scale epic experiences for fans & families. With strategically located entertainment spaces in key markets around the world, neon is uniquely positioned to bring communities together, and closer to what they love.

Founded in April 14, 1956, Cityneon was guided by the principles of excellence coupled with an unwavering commitment to deliver on our promises. Since then, we have grown from strength to strength.

In October 2022, we have repositioned ourselves as neon, a portal & platform for communities to Get CloserTM to what they love. We are committed to helping communities forge new relationships with each other and with the object of their passion, inspiring new stories to be told for decades to come.

(2) Victory Hill Exhibitions is based Las Vegas, Nevada and is a subsidiary of Cityneon (as noted on its LinkedIn profile page).

(3) Paquin Entertainment Group doesn’t seem to have corporate headquarters but they do have offices in Toronto and Winnipeg, as well as, contact email addresses for Vancouver and Nashville. (I’m guessing it’s a Canadian company since Winnipeg is not often mentioned when entertainment enterprises are discussed and there’s a dearth of US offices). Paquin Entertainment Group was last mentioned here, in passing, in a November 30, 2020 posting about the immersive “Imagine Van Gogh” exhibit then due to open.

The Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. experience looks like fun although I’m not sure how educational it will be given that all three exhibition companies seem to be almost exclusively entertainment oriented.

Bill Nye in Vancouver on June 20, 2023

Details about this show come courtesy of Daniel Chai’s November 15, 2022 news item on the Daily Hive (Note: A link has been removed),

Beloved scientist Bill Nye the Science Guy is coming to Vancouver in 2023, and he just might inspire local fans to help save the world.

Science World has announced that The End is Nye! An Evening with Bill Nye the Science Guy! is taking place on Tuesday, June 20, 2023 [8 pm], at Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

Nye will be presenting his new live multimedia show based on his Peacock series, The End is Nye. Science World promises that it will be “an eye-opening, funny, informative, incredible evening.”

Calum Slingerland’s November 16, 2022 article for exclaim.ca offers more details about the show,

After returning to screens earlier this year with new series The End Is Nye, Bill Nye has announced plans to take the show on the road in 2023. 

Ticketmaster listings point to the beloved Science Guy rolling through Canada on live tour “The End is Nye! An Evening with Nye the Science Guy” with four dates revealed for 2023 at present.

In March of next year [2023], Nye will bring the show to Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall (March 28) and Toronto’s Meridian Hall (March 29), ahead of Western Canadian stops set for June at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre (June 20) and Calgary’s Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (June 21).

Nye’s The End Is Nye series, which premiered with a six-episode season in August [2022] via American streaming service Peacock, finds the scientist exploring natural and unnatural disasters with a focus on prevention, mitigation and survival.

Slingerland’s November 16, 2022 article includes a trailer for The End is Nye series, which may offer some hints about what you might see in Nye’s live show.

Daniel Chai’s November 15, 2022 news item offers a link to where you can purchase tickets, as well as, a few more details. Ticket prices start at $77CAD including all taxes and they add a $3CAD processing fee.

Nanobiotics and a new machine learning model

A May 16, 2022 news item on phys.org announces work on a new machine learning model that could be useful in the research into engineered nanoparticles for medical purposes (Note: Links have been removed),

With antibiotic-resistant infections on the rise and a continually morphing pandemic virus, it’s easy to see why researchers want to be able to design engineered nanoparticles that can shut down these infections.

A new machine learning model that predicts interactions between nanoparticles and proteins, developed at the University of Michigan, brings us a step closer to that reality.

A May 16, 2022 University of Michigan news release by Kate McAlpine, which originated the news item, delves further into the work (Note: Links have been removed),

“We have reimagined nanoparticles to be more than mere drug delivery vehicles. We consider them to be active drugs in and of themselves,” said J. Scott VanEpps, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and an author of the study in Nature Computational Science.

Discovering drugs is a slow and unpredictable process, which is why so many antibiotics are variations on a previous drug. Drug developers would like to design medicines that can attack bacteria and viruses in ways that they choose, taking advantage of the “lock-and-key” mechanisms that dominate interactions between biological molecules. But it was unclear how to transition from the abstract idea of using nanoparticles to disrupt infections to practical implementation of the concept. 

“By applying mathematical methods to protein-protein interactions, we have streamlined the design of nanoparticles that mimic one of the proteins in these pairs,” said Nicholas Kotov, the Irving Langmuir Distinguished University Professor of Chemical Sciences and Engineering and corresponding author of the study. 

“Nanoparticles are more stable than biomolecules and can lead to entirely new classes of antibacterial and antiviral agents.”

The new machine learning algorithm compares nanoparticles to proteins using three different ways to describe them. While the first was a conventional chemical description, the two that concerned structure turned out to be most important for making predictions about whether a nanoparticle would be a lock-and-key match with a specific protein.

Between them, these two structural descriptions captured the protein’s complex surface and how it might reconfigure itself to enable lock-and-key fits. This includes pockets that a nanoparticle could fit into, along with the size such a nanoparticle would need to be. The descriptions also included chirality, a clockwise or counterclockwise twist that is important for predicting how a protein and nanoparticle will lock in.

“There are many proteins outside and inside bacteria that we can target. We can use this model as a first screening to discover which nanoparticles will bind with which proteins,” said Emine Sumeyra Turali Emre, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering and co-first author of the paper, along with Minjeong Cha, a PhD student in materials science and engineering.

Emre and Cha explained that researchers could follow up on matches identified by their algorithm with more detailed simulations and experiments. One such match could stop the spread of MRSA, a common antibiotic-resistant strain, using zinc oxide nanopyramids that block metabolic enzymes in the bacteria.  

“Machine learning algorithms like ours will provide a design tool for nanoparticles that can be used in many biological processes. Inhibition of the virus that causes COVID-19 is one good example,” said Cha. “We can use this algorithm to efficiently design nanoparticles that have broad-spectrum antiviral activity against all variants.”

This breakthrough was enabled by the Blue Sky Initiative at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. It provided $1.5 million to support the interdisciplinary team carrying out the fundamental exploration of whether a machine learning approach could be effective when data on the biological activity of nanoparticles is so sparse.

“The core of the Blue Sky idea is exactly what this work covers: finding a way to represent proteins and nanoparticles in a unified approach to understand and design new classes of drugs that have multiple ways of working against bacteria,” said Angela Violi, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, a professor of mechanical engineering and leader of the nanobiotics Blue Sky project.

Emre led the building of a database of interactions between proteins that could help to predict nanoparticle and protein interaction. Cha then identified structural descriptors that would serve equally well for nanoparticles and proteins, working with collaborators at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles to develop a machine learning algorithm that combed through the database and used the patterns it found to predict how proteins and nanoparticles would interact with one another. Finally, the team compared these predictions for lock-and-key matches with the results from experiments and detailed simulations, finding that they closely matched.

Additional collaborators on the project include Ji-Young Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering at U-M, who helped calculate chirality in the proteins and nanoparticles. Paul Bogdan and Xiongye Xiao, a professor and PhD student, respectively, in electrical and computer engineering at USC [University of Southern California] contributed to the graph theory descriptors. Cha then worked with them to design and train the neural network, comparing different machine learning models. All authors helped analyze the data.

Here are links to and a citation for the research briefing and paper, respectively,

Universal descriptors to predict interactions of inorganic nanoparticles with proteins. Nature Computational Science (2022) [Research briefing] DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43588-022-00230-3 Published: 28 April 2022

This paper is behind a paywall.

Unifying structural descriptors for biological and bioinspired nanoscale complexes by Minjeong Cha, Emine Sumeyra Turali Emre, Xiongye Xiao, Ji-Young Kim, Paul Bogdan, J. Scott VanEpps, Angela Violi & Nicholas A. Kotov. Nature Computational Science volume 2, pages 243–252 (2022) Issue Date: April 2022 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s43588-022-00229-w Published: 28 April 2022

This paper appears to be open access.