Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blockchain made physical: BlocKit

Caption: Parts of BlocKit Credit: Irni Khairuddin

I’m always on the lookout for something that helps make blockchain and cryptocurrency more understandable. (For the uninitiated or anyone like me who needed to refresh their memories, I have links to good essays on the topic further down in this posting.)

A July 10, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily announces a new approach to understanding blockchain technology,

A kit made from everyday objects is bringing the blockchain into the physical world.

The ‘BlocKit’, which includes items such as plastic tubs, clay discs, padlocks, envelopes, sticky notes and battery-powered candles, is aimed to help people understand how digital blockchains work and can also be used by innovators designing new systems and services around blockchain.

A team of computer scientists from Lancaster University, the University of Edinburgh in the UK, and the Universiti Teknologi MARA, in Malaysia, created the prototype BlocKit because blockchain — the decentralised digital infrastructure that is used to organise the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and holds promise to revolutionise many other sectors from finance, supply-chain and healthcare — is so difficult for people to comprehend.

A July 10, 2019 Lancaster University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Despite growing interest in its potential, the blockchain is so novel, disruptive and complex, it is hard for most people to understand how these systems work,” said Professor Corina Sas of Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications. “We have created a prototype kit consisting of physical objects that fulfil the roles of different parts of the blockchain. The kit really helps people visualise the different component parts of blockchain, and how they all interact.

“Having tangible physical objects, such as a transparent plastic box for a Bitcoin wallet, clay discs for Bitcoins, padlocks for passwords and candles representing miners’ computational power, makes thinking around processes and systems much easier to comprehend.”

The BlocKit consisted of physical items that represented 11 key aspects of blockchain infrastructure and it was used to explore key characteristics of blockchain, such as trust – an important challenge for Bitcoin users. The kit was evaluated as part of a study involving 15 experienced Bitcoin users.

“We received very positive feedback from the people who used the kit in our study and, interestingly, we found that the BlocKit can also be used by designers looking to develop new services based around blockchain – such as managing patients’ health records for example.”

I will be providing a link to and a citation for the paper but first, I’m excerpting a few bits,

We report on a workshop with 15 bitcoin experts, [emphasis mine] 12 males, 3 females, (mean age 29, range 21-39). All participants had at least 2 years of engaging in bitcoin transactions: 9 had between 2 and 3 years, 4 had between 4 and 5 years, 2had more than 6 years. All participants have at least graduate education, i.e., 6 BSc, 7 MScs, and 2 Ph.D. Participants were recruited through the mailing lists of two universities,and through a local Bitcoins meetup group. [p. 3]

A striking finding was the overwhelmingly positive experience supported by BlocKit. Findings show that 10 participants deeply enjoyed physically touching [emphasis mine] its objects and enacting their movement in space while talking about blockchain processes: “there is going to be other transactions from other people essentially, so let’s put a few bitcoins in that box. I love this stuff, this is amazing” [P12]. Participants suggested that BlocKit could be a valuable tool for learning about blockchain: “I think this all makes sense and would be fine to explain to the novices. It is cool, this is really an interesting kit”[P7]. Other participants suggested leveraging gamification principles for learning about blockchain: “It’s almost like you could turn this into some kind of cool game like a monopoly”[P5] [p. 5]

A significant finding is the value of the kit in supporting experts to materialize and reflect on their understanding of blockchain infrastructure and its inner working. We argue that through its materiality, the kit allows bringing the mental models into question, which in turn helps experts confirm their understandings, develop more nuanced understandings, or even revise some previously held, less accurate assumptions. [emphasis mine]

Even experts are still learning about bitcoin and blockchain according to this research sample. it’s also interesting to note that the workshop participants enjoyed the physicality. I don’t see too many mentions of it in my wanderings but I can’t help wondering if all this digitization is going to leave people starved for touch.

Getting back to blockchain, here’s the link and citation I promised,

BlocKit: A Physical Kit for Materializing and Designing for Blockchain Infrastructure by Irni Eliana Khairuddin, Corina Sas, and Chris Speed.presented at Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) 2019
ACM International Conference Series [downloaded from https://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/132467/1/Design_Kit_DIS_28.pdf]

This paper is open access, as for BlocKit, it exists only as a prototype according to the July 10, 2019 Lancaster University press release.

Introductory essays for blockchain and cryptocurrency

Here are two of my favourites. First, there’s this February 6, 2018 essay (part ii of a series) by Tim Schneider on artnet.com explaining it all by using the art world and art market as examples,

… the fraught relationship between art and value lies at the molten core of several pieces made using blockchain technology. Part one of this series addressed how, in theory, the blockchain strengthens the markets for new media by introducing the concept of digital scarcity. This innovation means that works as simple as an “original” JPG or GIF could be made as rare as Francis Bacon paintings. (This fact leads to a host of business implications that will be covered in Part III.

However, a handful of forward-looking artists is using the blockchain to do more than reset the market’s perception of supply and demand. The technology, their work proves, is more than new software—it’s also a new medium.

The description of how artists using blockchain as a medium provides some of the best descriptions of cryptocurrency and blockchain that I’ve been able to find.

The other essay, a January 5, 2018 article for Slate.com by Joshua Oliver, provides some detail I haven’t seen anywhere else (Note: A link has been removed),

Already, blockchain has been hailed as likely to revolutionize … well … everything. Banks, health care, voting, supply chains, fantasy football, Airbnb, coffee: Nothing is beyond the hypothetical reach of blockchain as a revolutionary force. These predictions are easy to sell because blockchain is still little-understood. If you don’t quite know what blockchain is, it’s easier to imagine that it is whatever you want it to be. But before we can begin to search for the real potential amid the mass of blockchain conjecture and hype, we need to clear up what exactly we mean when we say blockchain.

One cause of confusion is the phrase the blockchain, which makes it sound like blockchain is one specific thing. In reality, the word blockchain is commonly used to describe two broad types of computer systems. [emphases mine] Both use similar underlying protocols, but they have other important differences. Bitcoin represents one approach to using blockchain, one wedded to principles of radical decentralization. The second approach—pioneered by more business-minded players—puts blockchain to use without adopting bitcoin’s revolutionary, decentralized governance. Both of these designs are short-handed as blockchains, so it’s easy to miss the crucial differences. Without grasping these differences, it’s hard to understand where we are today in the development of this promising technology, which blockchain ventures are worth your attention, and what might happen next.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

2019 Canadian Science Policy Conference (Nov.13 – 16, 2019 in Ottawa, Canada) celebrates its 10th year

Congratulations to the folks at the Canadian Science Policy Centre who’ve worked for 10 years to produce an annual, national Canadian Science Policy Conference! That’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and determination.

Here are highlights from the 2019 programme as noted in a July 10, 2019 CSPC announcement (received via email),

Theme: Science and Policy

Bringing the Social Sciences into New Policy Spaces: Solution-oriented case studies and dialogue

Organized by Natural Resources Canada

Evidence in Practice: How do decision-makers obtain and use information?
Organized by Evidence for Democracy

Fishing for Open Science Innovation–Should Canada join cOAlition/Plan S?
Organized by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council | Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council | Canadian Institutes of Health Research

How the Sciences of Human Behaviour Can Help us Put Knowledge at the Heart of Policymaking
Organized by European Commission – Joint Research Centre

International Research Collaboration in a Polarized World
Organized by Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation, University of Toronto

Mapping Dynamic Research Ecosystems: Tapping into new indicators, big data, and emerging technologies
Organized by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

Municipalities: Terrain for innovation
Organized by Fonds de recherche du Québec

National Inuit Strategy on Research (NISR) in Action: Developing an Inuit Nunangat research policy
Organized by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami

Not a Palaver! How can interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international collaboration be successful?
Organized by UK Research and Innovation

Policy Lessons in the Age of Technological Disruption
Organized by Spindle Strategy Corp.

Precision Policy- Advances in big data analytics and government policy
Organized by Simon Fraser University

Risk, Uncertainty, Unknowns, and Nonsense – Engagement with the public on radiation, nuclear, and climate [sic]
Organized by Centre for the Study of Science and Innovation Policy (CSIP), University of Saskatchewan

The Influence of Indigenous Knowledge on Policy and Practice
Organized by Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and Genome British Columbia

The PROMISE OF SCIENCE and Its Implications for Science Policy: Perspectives of Canada’s STI community
Organized by VISTA Science & Technology Inc.

Towards a National Approach to Responsible AI
Organized by Queen’s University

Understanding and Addressing the Challenges for Collaborative Federal Science
Organized by Public Services and Procurement Canada
 
Theme: Science and Society

Artificial Intelligence – How interdisciplinary AI contributes to resilient and just societies
Organized by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Convergence Science and Tackling Grand Challenges
Organized by Privy Council Office

Creating SciComm: An interactive session connecting scientists, policy makers and the public
Organized by Pixels and Plans | Art the Science

Eating Right, Living Better: Building healthier food systems worldwide
Organized by International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Fighting the Opioid Crisis by Reducing Stigma in the Media and Using Media to Reduce Stigma
Organized by Carleton University

Harnessing the Power of the Crowd: Innovative solutions to engaging communities in research
Organized by MEOPAR/Fathom Fund

Making Science Communication Happen – Moving from good intentions to getting the job done
Organized by NIVA

Scientists in the Public Space: When discussion turns into a media storm
Organized by Fonds de recherche du Québec

The Public Record: Enabling scientists to be honest brokers of evidence & information in an age of popular misinformation
Organized by  Alberta Environment and Parks – Office of the Chief Scientist
 
Theme: Science, Innovation, and Economic Development

A Winning Formula for Building Regional Innovation Capacity: Skills, research and collaboration
Organized by Colleges and Institutes Canada / National Alliance of Provincial Health Research Organizations

AI as an Enabler of Innovative Competitiveness
Organized by National Research Council Canada

Examining the Role of Data Trusts in Smart Cities Governance
Organized by Compute Ontario

Ontario-First in the Innovation Economy: Impacts of a $1B public-private-partnership on Canadian healthcare commercialization
Organized by FACIT

Open Science is Transforming the Research Landscape
Organized by The Neuro – Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital

Supports for Women Entrepreneurs: Discussion on existing knowledge, research and innovative methods to dismantle barriers
Organized by Ryerson University

Toward a Quantum Strategy for Canada
Organized by National Research Council Canada

Whose Facts actually Matter? How to truly embrace inclusiveness in science, innovation and policy
Organized by University of Ottawa, Institute for Science, Society and Policy  
Theme: Science and International Affairs

Artificial Intelligence: Building resilience against cyber threats 
Organized  by Simon Fraser University

Lines in the Sand: The struggle for national security in a world [sic]
Organized by David Johnston Research and Technology Park, University of Waterloo

Personhood Rights for Water Bodies: A fad or a path to sustainable development goals?
Organized by University of Waterloo

Research Without Borders: Funding agency case studies on international collaboration
Organized by UK Research and Innovation

Science Diplomacy in a Changing Arctic
Organized by Embassy of Switzerland
Theme: Science and the Next Generation

Empowering Youth Through Self-led and Experiential Learning

Organized by Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation

SING’ing Indigenous Technoscience: An encounter with the summer internship for Indigenous peoples in Genomics Canada
Organized by University of Alberta

The Role of the Next Generation in Science Diplomacy 
Organized by Fonds de recherche du Québec

What Future for Young Science Policy Practitioners?
Organized by American Association for the Advancement of Science

What Would an Inclusive Innovation Agenda for a New Generation of Indigenous Children in Canada Look Like?
Organized by Ulnooweg – Digital Mikmaq
 
Short Talks 

Global Governance and Emerging ‘High-Risk’ Technologies

Journal of Science Policy & Governance: Engaging students & early career researchers in S&T policy

Mapping Diversity in Post-Disaster Emergency Assistance

Mobilizing Change from Within: A case study on gender equity and internal research funding

Translating Research to Impact Policy – Our journey in concussion policy in canada [sic]

Why Pro-LGBT Policies Can Turn Out to be Innovation Policies? Evidence-based arguments to support diversity in Canada

Wikipedia Editing & Edit-A-Thons: A form of science advocacy  
View CSPC 2019 Program

Comments

It looks like a good programme. I’m particularly excited about the artificial intelligence (AI) sessions and heartened to see more participation from the indigenous community as it continues to organize. For so long, the thought of indigenous science was rejected so it’s good to see these small steps toward recognition and respect.

Also, there are a couple of countries and regions represented at this conference that suggest Canadian policymakers (or policymakers in training) might be opening the door to welcome more than just our US, UK, and European neighbours into the discussion. There’s someone from Chile and someone from the Caribbean (specifically, Barbados) in addition to the sprinkling of Americans, Brits, and Europeans at this year’s conference.

One thing I wasn’t expecting to see was representation by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Of course, the member (Susheel Gupta) will be on the panel discussing national security. Hopefully this participation is part of a new direction for the RCMP’s public outreach. They definitely need some positive news given the current state of their reputation in Canada.

What’s missing?

The most puzzling thing about this programme is CRISPR and germline editing. Not a single session touches on the subject. Given that the news about the CRISPR twins broke in November 2018 (see my November 28, 2018 posting) and the international furor that followed, I’d expect we’d be discussing it.

Especially in light of the interest in changing the rules in Canada on germline editing. Currently there’s a ban on it and as I noted in my April 26, 2019 posting, there seems to be a campaign to change to lift or alter that ban..

It seems like a glaring omission but perhaps no one made the suggestion and no one organizing committee was able to assemble a panel.

Plus this year too, there’s no mention of the Phoenix Pay System failure. Sure, there’s talk about big data (a panel on Precision Policy) and the previously noted AI sessions but where’s the talk about the failures, specifically, Phoenix, a digital/technology failure.

The Canadian government’s new pay system was an astonishing debacle from when it was first implemented in early 2016 and the saga continues. In the three years since I don’t recall a single session at a Canadian Science Policy Conference where failure of major digital projects and the implications have been discussed. Meanwhile, the Canadian government continues on its merry drive towards more data collection and implementation of AI and other technologies. Shouldn’t we be considering the social and policy implications of this drive and what happens when there’s a failure? I gather the answer is no.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Phoenix failure, it affected every pay system in the Canadian federal government. In a bid to cut costs by centralizing, updating, and further digitizing the system, Phoenix was implemented despite warnings that it wasn’t ready. As I understand it, government employees (273,571 in 2018), to this day, still don’t know if they will get a pay cheque or if they will get the right amount in their pay cheque in any given month.

Finally

Bravo! There are lots of good things happening with the Canadian Science Policy Conferences.

Register here and take advantage of the early bird discount (until August 31,2019).

World’s smallest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of a single atom

While not science’s sleekest machine, this microscope was able to capture M.R.I. scans of single atoms. Credit: IBM Research

Such a messy looking thing—it makes me feel better about my housekeeping. In any event, it’s fascinating to think this scanning tunneling microscope as seen in the above can actually act as an MRI device and create an image of a single atom.

There’s a wonderful article in the New York Times about the work but I’m starting first with a July 1, 2019 news item on Nanowerk,

Researchers at the Center for Quantum Nanoscience (QNS) within the Institute for Basic Science (IBS) at Ewha Womans University [Seoul, South Korea) have made a major scientific breakthrough by performing the world’s smallest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In an international collaboration with colleagues from the US, QNS scientists used their new technique to visualize the magnetic field of single atoms.

A July 2, 2019 IBS news release (also on EurekAlert but published July 1, 2019), which originated the news item, provides some insight into the research,

An MRI is routinely done in hospitals nowadays as a part of imaging for diagnostics. MRI’s detect the density of spins – the fundamental magnets in electrons and protons – in the human body. Traditionally, billions and billions of spins are required for an MRI scan. The new findings, published today [July 1, 2019] in the journal Nature Physics, show that this process is now also possible for an individual atom on a surface. To do this, the team used a Scanning Tunneling Microscope, which consists of an atomically sharp metal tip that allows researchers to image and probe single atoms by scanning the tip across the surface.

The two elements that were investigated in this work, iron and titanium, are both magnetic. Through precise preparation of the sample, the atoms were readily visible in the microscope. The researchers then used the microscope’s tip like an MRI machine to map the three-dimensional magnetic field created by the atoms with unprecedented resolution. In order to do so, they attached another spin cluster to the sharp metal tip of their microscope. Similar to everyday magnets, the two spins would attract or repel each other depending on their relative position. By sweeping the tip spin cluster over the atom on the surface, the researchers were able to map out the magnetic interaction. Lead author, Dr. Philip Willke of QNS says: “It turns out that the magnetic interaction we measured depends on the properties of both spins, the one on the tip and the one on the sample. For example, the signal that we see for iron atoms is vastly different from that for titanium atoms. This allows us to distinguish different kinds of atoms by their magnetic field signature and makes our technique very powerful.”

The researchers plan to use their single-atom MRI to map the spin distribution in more complex structures such as molecules and magnetic materials. “Many magnetic phenomena take place on the nanoscale, including the recent generation of magnetic storage devices.” says Dr. Yujeong Bae also of QNS, a co-author in this study. “We now plan to study a variety of systems using our microscopic MRI.” The ability to analyze the magnetic structure on the nanoscale can help to develop new materials and drugs. Moreover, the research team wants to use this kind of MRI to characterize and control quantum systems. These are of great interest for future computation schemes, also known as quantum computing

“I am very excited about these results. It is certainly a milestone in our field and has very promising implications for future research.” says Prof. Andreas Heinrich, Director of QNS. “The ability to map spins and their magnetic field with previously unimaginable precision, allows us to gain deeper knowledge about the structure of matter and opens new fields of basic research.”

The Center for Quantum Nanoscience, on the campus of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, South Korea, is a world-leading research center merging quantum and nanoscience to engineer the quantum future through basic research. Backed by Korea’s Institute for Basic Science, which was founded in 2011, the Center for Quantum Nanoscience draws on decades of QNS Director Andreas J. Heinrich’s (A Boy and His Atom, IBM, 2013) scientific leadership to lay the foundation for future technology by exploring the use of quantum behavior atom-by-atom on surfaces with highest precision.

You may have noticed that other than a brief mention in the first paragraph (in the Nanowerk news item excerpt), there’s no mention of the US researchers and their contribution to the work.

Interestingly, the July 1, 2019 New York Time article by Knvul Sheikh returns the favour by focusing almost entirely on US researchers while giving the Korean researchers a passing mention (Note: Links have been removed),

Different microscopy techniques allow scientists to see the nucleotide-by-nucleotide genetic sequences in cells down to the resolution of a couple atoms as seen in an atomic force microscopy image. But scientists at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., and the Institute for Basic Sciences in Seoul, have taken imaging a step further, developing a new magnetic resonance imaging technique that provides unprecedented detail, right down to the individual atoms of a sample.

When doctors want to detect tumors, measure brain function or visualize the structure of joints, they employ huge M.R.I. machines, which apply a magnetic field across the human body. This temporarily disrupts the protons spinning in the nucleus of every atom in every cell. A subsequent, brief pulse of radio-frequency energy causes the protons to spin perpendicular to the pulse. Afterward, the protons return to their normal state, releasing energy that can be measured by sensors and made into an image.

But to gather enough diagnostic data, traditional hospital M.R.I.s must scan billions and billions of protons in a person’s body, said Christopher Lutz, a physicist at IBM. So he and his colleagues decided to pack the power of an M.R.I. machine into the tip of another specialized instrument known as a scanning tunneling microscope to see if they could image individual atoms.

The tip of a scanning tunneling microscope is just a few atoms wide. And it moves along the surface of a sample, it picks up details about the size and conformation of molecules.

The researchers attached magnetized iron atoms to the tip, effectively combining scanning-tunneling microscope and M.R.I. technologies.

When the magnetized tip swept over a metal wafer of iron and titanium, it applied a magnetic field to the sample, disrupting the electrons (rather than the protons, as a typical M.R.I. would) within each atom. Then the researchers quickly turned a radio-frequency pulse on and off, so that the electrons would emit energy that could be visualized. …

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

Magnetic resonance imaging of single atoms on a surface by Philip Willke, Kai Yang, Yujeong Bae, Andreas J. Heinrich & Christopher P. Lutz. Nature Physics (2019) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41567-019-0573-x Published 01 July 2019

This paper is behind a paywall.

Brief note about changes

June 19,2019: Hello! I apologize for this site’s unavailability over the last 10 days or so (June 7 – 18, 2019). Moving to a new web hosting service meant that the ‘law of unintended consequences’ came into play. Fingers crossed that all the problems have been resolved.

On another matter, I’ve accumulated quite a backlog of postings, which I will be resizing (publishing) over the next few months. I’ve been trying to bring that backlog down to a reasonable size for quite some time now but I see more drastic, focused action is required. I will continue posting some more recent news items along with my older pieces.

Counterfeiting olive oil, honey, wine, and more

This seems like the right thing to post on April Fool’s Day (April 1, 2019) as the upcoming news item concerns fooling people although not in a any friendly, amusing way.. More pleasantly, the other story I’m including holds the possibility of foiling the would-be adulterators/counterfeiters.

The problem and blockchain anti-counterfeiting measures

Adulterating or outright counterfeiting products such as olive oil isn’t new. I’m willing to bet the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians, and others were intimately familiar with the practice. It seems that 2019 might see an increase in the practice according to a March 22, 2019 article by Emma Woollacott for BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) news online,

“Fraud in the olive oil market has been going on a very long time,” says Susan Testa, director of culinary innovation at Italian olive oil producer Bellucci.

“Seed oil is added maybe; or it may contain only a small percentage of Italian oil and have oil from other countries added, while it just says Italian oil on the label.”

In February [2019] the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) warned that poor olive harvests are likely to lead to a big increase in such adulterated oil this year.

And it’s far from the only product affected, with the European Union’s Knowledge Centre for Food Fraud and Quality recently highlighting wine, honey, fish, dairy products, meat and poultry as being frequently faked.


Food suppliers, like Bellucci are making efforts to guarantee the provenance of their food themselves, using new tools such as blockchain technology.

Best-known for its role in crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, blockchain is a way of keeping records in which each block of data is time-stamped and linked irreversibly to the last, in a way that can’t be subsequently altered.

That makes it possible to keep a secure record of the product’s journey to the supermarket shelf.

Since the company was founded in 2013, Bellucci has aimed to build a reputation around the traceability of its oil. Customers can enter the lot number of a particular bottle into an app to see its precise provenance, right back to the groves where the olives were harvested.


“We expect an improvement in the exchange of information throughout the supply chain,” says Andrea Biagianti, chief information officer for Certified Origins, Bellucci’s parent company.

“We would also like the ability [to have] more transparency in the supply chain and the genuine trust of consumers.”

IBM’s Food Trust network, formally launched late last year, uses similar techniques.

“In the registration phase, you define the product and its properties – for example, the optical spectrum you see when you look at a bottle of whisky,” explains Andreas Kind, head of blockchain at IBM Research.

The appearance of the whisky is precisely recorded within the blockchain, meaning that the description can’t later be altered. Then transport companies, border control, storage providers or retailers, can see if the look of the liquid no longer matches the description or “optical signature”.

Meanwhile, labels holding tamper-proof “cryptoanchors” are fixed to the bottles. These contain tiny computers holding the product data – encrypted, or encoded, so it can’t be tampered with. The labels break when the bottle is opened.

Linking the packaging and the product in this way offers a kind of proof says Mr Kind, “a bit like when you buy a diamond and get a certificate.”


Wollacott’s March 22, 2019 article is fascinating and well worth reading in its entirety.

The honey problem and nuclear detection

Getting back to Canada, specifically, the province of British Columbia (BC), it seems honey producers are concerned that adulterated product is affecting their sales. A January 25, 2019 news article by Glenda Luymes for the Vancouver Sun describes the technology to detect the problem (Note: Links have been removed),

A high-tech honey-testing machine unveiled Thursday [January 24, 2019] in Chilliwack could help B.C. beekeepers root out “adulterated” honey imports that threaten to cheapen their product.

Using a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) machine, Peter Awram’s lab will be able to determine if cheap sweeteners, such as corn syrup or rice syrup, have been added to particular brands of honey to increase producers’ profits.

The machine will also create a “fingerprint” for each honey sample, which will be kept in a database to help distinguish premium B.C. honey from a flood of untested, adulterated honey entering Canada from around the world.

“We’d eventually like to see it lead to a certification scheme, where producers submit their honey for testing and get a label,” said Awram, who runs Worker Bee Honey Company with his parents, Jerry and Pia Awram. “It would give security to the people buying it.”

A study published in October [2018] in Scientific Reports found evidence of global honey fraud, calling honey the world’s “third-most adulterated food.” Researchers tested 100 honey samples from 18 honey-producing countries. They discovered 27 per cent of the samples were “of questionable authenticity,” while 52 of the samples from Asia were adulterated.

There’s more about honey, adulteration, and detection in this Vancouver Sun video,

You can find the Worker Bee Honey Company here and you can find a 25 minute presentation about hone and the NMR by Peter Awram for the 2018 BC Honey Producers Association annual general meeting here.

Wizards wanted for Canadian federal government positions

The final (you may want to apply as soon as possible) deadline for applying is August 30, 2019 and the salary range is from $57,000 $61,000. (H/T: Liz Haq’s March 27, 2019 article for Huffington Post Canada.) While this might seem like a departure from my usual fare, it’s possible there’s some science involved since the Treasury Board President, Joyce Murray, is also the Minister of Digital Government and that ‘ministry’ is tightly interwoven with the Treasury Board Secretariat. Other than having a deputy minister and chief information office, Alex Benay, who reports to the Treasury Board President, there doesn’t appear to be an office or even a webpage dedicated to this ‘ministry’. You can find the Office of the Chief Information Officer in the Treasury Board’s Organizational Structure webpage. Moving on.

Has there been anything this whimsical from any Canadian government (pick your jurisdiction, federal, provincial, or municipal) job posting since the fabled 1960s and 70s? From the Government of Canada Jobs webpage hosting: AS-02 Various Administrative Wizardry Positions – INVENTORY (Note: I’ve changed some of the formatting),

Work environment
Are you a Gryffindor (brave, loyal, courageous and adventurous), a Ravenclaw (wise, creative, clever and knowledgeable) a Hufflepuff (hard working, dedicated, fair, patient) or a Slytherin (resourceful, ambitious, determined and crave leadership)?

No matter what ‘house’ you belong to, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) has various teams that we would love to use our ‘sorting hat’ to place you into. We are looking for strong and motivated candidates that are interested in making an impact on Canadian citizens. With our Talent Management Program, we will help you grow, learn and further develop your magical career within the Public Service. Come and let TBS become your home away from home!

Intent of the process
We will conduct the first random selection of applicants – also known as “wizards” – on April 8, 2019. Therefore, if you would like to increase your chance of being considered in this first group, please ensure to submit your application by April 7, 2019.

A pool of partially qualified persons resulting from this process WILL be created and WILL be used to fill similar positions with linguistic profiles (Bilingual Imperative BBB/BBB and CBC/CBC. In order to continue creating a diverse workforce, some positions may be filled on a bilingual Non-Imperative BBB/BBB and CBC/CBC basis for the following Employment Equity groups: Indigenous Persons, Visible Minorities and Persons with Disabilities) as well as tenures (please refer to Employment Tenure section of this poster) that may vary according to the position being staffed. This pool may be used to staff similar positions in other organizations within the core public administration (http://www.psc-cfp.gc.ca/plcy-pltq/rfli-lirf/index-eng.htm). By applying to this process, you consent to your personal application-related information being shared with other government departments interested in staffing similar positions.

Positions to be filled: Number to be determined
Information you must provide
Your résumé.
In order to be considered, your application must clearly explain how you meet the following (essential qualifications)
Education:
• A secondary school diploma or an acceptable combination of education, training and/or experience.
Degree equivalency
Experience:
• Significant* experience in providing administrative support services;
• Significant* experience in processing, tracking and proof reading documents such as reports, letters, briefing notes, memos or correspondence;
• Experience liaising with and providing advice or guidance to management, staff or clients.

*Significant experience is defined as having performed the duties for a minimum of one (1) year.
The following will be applied / assessed at a later date (essential for the job)
Various language requirements
Bilingual Imperative BBB/BBB and CBC/CBC
Bilingual Non-Imperative BBB/BBB and CBC/CBC. In order to continue creating a diverse workforce, some positions may be filled on a bilingual Non-Imperative BBB/BBB and CBC/CBC basis for the following Employment Equity groups: Indigenous Persons, Visible Minorities and Persons with Disabilities
Information on language requirements
Second Language Writing Skills Self-Assessment
In order to help you decide if you should apply to a bilingual position, an optional self-assessment of your writing skills in your second official language is available for you to take before completing your application.
For more information, please consult:
Unsupervised Internet Test of Second Language Writing Skills
Competencies:
• Demonstrates integrity and respect;
• Thinking things through;
• Working effectively with others;
• Showing initiative and being action-oriented.
Abilities:
• Ability to communicate effectively in writing;
• Ability to communicate effectively orally.
Personal Suitability:
• Reliability;
• Attention to detail.
The following may be applied / assessed at a later date (may be needed for the job)
Asset Qualifications (Although these are not mandatory to be found qualified in this appointment process, you must clearly demonstrate in your resume how you meet the asset criterion if you respond yes.)

Experience:
• Experience working in a legal environment;
• Experience working in a Human Resources environment;
• Experience in using a human resources information management system;
• Experience providing functional support and advice to clients on systems;
• Experience working with advanced Excel functions (for example: macros, pivot tables, formulas, etc.);
• Experience working in a security environment or related field;
• Experience in scheduling and coordinating an Executives calendar (EX-01 level or equivalent or above);
• Experience supervising/managing a team;
• Experience in providing budget support and financial services;
• Experience organizing events or government travel arrangements;
• Experience working on a project or program;
• Experience working in a communication environment;
• Experience working in accommodations or facilities management.
Other information

The Public Service of Canada is committed to building a skilled and diverse workforce that reflects the Canadians we serve. We promote employment equity and encourage you to indicate if you belong to one of the designated groups when you apply.
Information on employment equity

We will communicate with you about this process by email. As a result, you must update your Public Service Resourcing System profile if it changes as well as advise us of these changes via email. Applicants should use an email address that accepts messages from unknown senders (some email systems block such messages).

Come join TBS the “Hogwarts” of the Public Service!
Preference
Preference will be given to veterans and to Canadian citizens, in that order, with the exception of a job located in Nunavut, where Nunavut Inuit will be appointed first.
Information on the preference to veterans
We thank all those who apply. Only those selected for further consideration will be contacted.
Contact information
AS-02 Inventory team / “Dumbledore’s army”
AS02.TBS-AS02.SCT@tbs-sct.gc.ca

Apply online

Here are a few more details that might help you decide if you want to ‘throw your hat in’, from the Government of Canada Jobs webpage hosting: AS-02 Various Administrative Wizardry Positions – INVENTORY (Note: I’ve changed some of the formatting),

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Ottawa (Ontario)
AS-02
Permanent, acting and temporary
$57,430 to $61,877

For further information on the organization, please visit Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
The Cracking the Code video helps people who are looking for a new career with the Government of Canada to navigate the application process step by step.
Closing date: 30 August 2019 – 23:59, Pacific Time
Who can apply: Persons residing in Canada and Canadian citizens residing abroad. Apply online

I think they’re trying to introduce some fresh air into the federal civil service (or public service, if you prefer) . It is badly needed if the about-to-be former Clerk of the Privy Council (Canada’s top ranking bureaucrat), Michael Wernick is any indication of the state of our government bureaucracy (from a March 18, 2019 news item on CTV [Canadian Television] news online),

He [Martin Wernick] was directly named by Jody Wilson-Raybould [former Attorney General and Justice Minister] as one of the senior officials who she alleges was involved in a “sustained effort” to politically interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. She accused Wernick of issuing “veiled threats” if she did not change her mind about instructing federal prosecutors to pursue a remediation agreement rather than continuing with the criminal trial.

During his two appearances before the House Justice Committee on this matter, Wernick delivered direct and sometimes terse responses to MPs’ questions about his alleged involvement. He denied ever making any threats in relation to Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the criminal case against the Quebec company, as she had alleged.

He also raised eyebrows during his first round of testimony when he offered off-topic opening remarks on the state of online discourse, partisanship and the prospect of political assassinations in the upcoming campaign. [emphases mine]

In addition to concerns over his behaviour and perceived partisan comments as part of the SNC-Lavalin affair, MPs have also registered their discomfort with a related role he held: being part of a high-level panel responsible for deciding when and how to inform Canadians about concerning online behaviour during an election campaign.

NDP MP and ethics critic Charlie Angus sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prior to Wernick’s second round of testimony, saying that Wernick was “deeply compromised,” has “overstepped his role,” and could not remain in his position

In the video clips I’ve seen of Wernick’s testimony before the Justice Committee , he seemed a little condescending and arrogant. If you want to see for yourself, there’s an embedded video of the CTV report on Wernick’s resignation in the March 18, 2019 CTV news item, which includes some of his testimony.

Online Link to Intelligence Squared’s De-Extinction Debate in NYC on January 31, 2919 at 7 pm ET (or 4 pm PT)

Click https://www.youtube.com/embed/N-1iqmKlTs8 at 7 pm ET (or 4 pm PT) to listen on the De-Extinction debate.

The proposition for the debate is: “Don’t bring extinct creatures back to life” and arguing against are George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard and MIT & Founder, Personal Genome Project, and Stewart Brand, Co-Founder of Revive & Restore & Founder of Whole Earth Catalog and arguing for are Dr. Ross MacPhee: Curator, Department of Mammalogy, Division of Vertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History and Dr. Lynn J. Rothschild: Evolutionary Biologist & Astrobiologist. For more about the debate and the participants check my January 18, 2019 posting.

WordPress 5.0—Worse Christmas gift ever!

Without checking to see the reaction to this latest version, I updated this blog to the latest version of WordPress (WP). After using WP for over ten years and never having had a big problem, there was a surprise in store for me. There have been glitches in the past but for the most part, I have written, edited, and published my pieces with relative ease. This is no longer true.

First, I’m going to show some of the response from WordPress and from other users, then, I’m going to mention my specific issues with this ‘upgrade’, and finish with my sadder but wiser thoughts.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda

I should have … if only, I’d known, I would have … I could have … Only after days of struggling did I check for comments about this latest WordPress. First, I had to contend with a lot of ‘tech’ analysis. I don’t care about blocks, themes, ease of coding/programming, etc. All I wanted and still want to do is write and post my work. (sigh)

My first stop was wordpress.org and their forums. It was quite educational although perhaps not in the way that the developers might have hoped. Published in early December (probably Dec. 5 or 6, 2018), the ‘READ This First WordPress 5.0 Master List‘ by Marius L. J. starts out relatively well and then devolves to this (Note: Links have been removed),

Also keep in mind that not liking the direction of WordPress’s design is a not a bug. If you don’t like a feature, please don’t make a series of posts complaining about it. Look and see if someone already did, and post there, or consider joining the process earlier on (like in Beta or even test via SVN). What you’re seeing today is the result of thousands of hours of work and testing, and unless something is outright broken, it’s highly unlikely to be changed

Again, before you post

Make sure you’ve read this entire thread and New Features in 5.0 Article.
Go to your own install’s about page – example.com/wp-admin/about.php (or click the WordPress logo in the top corner) – to see what’s new.

Developers I once worked with used to joke bitterly that “there are no bugs just features,” meaning that developers can justify almost anything.

Getting back to the excerpt, the attitude seems a little less than welcoming . So, thank you, Marius L. J. for the gently scolding tone you’ve taken to address those of us who did not participate in beta or other testing. and for refusing to listen to anything other that reports on ‘bugs’.

Three other responses (Hint: they’re not happy either)

The first piece I’m highlighting is from a company that both provides a plug-in for the WordPress community and has a business based on their free product. From a December 4, 2018 posting on the Yoast SEO (search engine optimization) blog (Note: Links have been removed),

WordPress 5.0 is coming out December 6th [2018], or, as I’m writing this, the day after tomorrow. This came as a surprise to us, as this release date has only been communicated to the community today. Given this short notice, we thought it would be wise to give you advice on what you should do. Note that Yoast SEO has been ready for this release for a few weeks. [emphases mine]

If there is no compelling reason for you to update, our suggestion is going to be: wait. WordPress 5.0 will probably be more stable in January than it is now. Let’s be clear: we absolutely love Gutenberg and what Yoast SEO looks like in Gutenberg. The Schema blocks we’ve added are very cool. Yoast SEO is ready. We don’t think WordPress 5.0 is as stable as it should be.

Surprise? only? today? short notice? All of this conveys a less than happy response to the news from WordPress from people who know WordPress and likely did participate in beta testing and all the rest of it.

Sarah Gooding’s December 5, 2018 posting on WP Tavern provides some insight into some of the battles taking place amongst the hardcore WordPress community,


Official feedback channels and social media erupted with largely negative feedback on the decision, as the new release date has 5.0 landing the day before WordCamp US begins. This is a travel day for many attending the conference. It also means both of the planned follow-up releases will be expected during the upcoming weeks when many have scheduled time off for major world holidays

Yoast CEO Joost de Valk, one of the most vocal critics of the 5.0 timelime, posted a public message of dissent that resonated with many on Twitter

“We vehemently disagree with the decision to release WordPress 5.0 on December 6th, and think it’s irresponsible and disrespectful towards the community.

However, we’re now going to try and support the community as well as possible and we hope to show everyone that Gutenberg is indeed a huge step forward.”

There’s more in Goodings’s article,

“This decision was made in disregard to earlier specific timelines and promises, and does not take the realities on the ground into account,” Morten Rand-Hendricksen said. “I agree with @yoast it is both irresponsible and disrespectful.

Although reactions on Twitter run the gamut from unbridled optimism to full on outrage, many of those commenting on the schedule have fallen into resignation, convinced that community feedback never really mattered when it came to scheduling the release

Mullenweg’s [Matt Mullenweg, WordPress big cheese] rationale behind announcing the release date with three days notice is that Gutenberg and/or the Classic Editor are already active on more than 1.3 million sites. Users do not have to upgrade to WordPress 5.0 until they are ready. If they opt for the Classic Editor, the editing experience “will be indistinguishable from 4.9.8.”

Users who are informed enough to make this choice will be well-prepared when they see that 5.0 update in their dashboards. However, one of the chief concerns is that millions of WordPress users will update without testing. …

As noted, I am one of those millions who did “update without testing.”

Gooding finishes with this,

“I so want to be supportive of this release,” Teague [John Teague] said. “But between the top down, heavily Automattic managed process, poor release communication, super short RC2, RC3, punting on accessibility, and now this two-day notice to 5.0 release – it reminds me of an old Air Force saying when instructors sent barely trained pilots up for their first solo:

“Send em up and let God grade em.’”

Finally, there’s a December 7, 2018 posting on The Mud Room blog (from the Mudflower Media website) where you are warned specifically about the editor (Gutenberg), Note: Links have been removed,

Today I excitedly downloaded WordPress 5.0 with the much-touted Gutenberg Post Editor, and really looking forward to using what I was sure was going to be a massive upgrade to the classic WordPress editor. Well…trust me when I tell you it was massive, but an upgrade? Hardly.

Prince Charles was talking with some people many years ago, and the subject of the “king of books” the King James Bible was brought up. The prince and the men discussed at length the glorious history of the King James, and the impact it has had upon the world. All agreed it was something quite special.

  Then one of the men turned to Prince Charles and asked him what he thought about the new versions, written in “modern English”. The prince thought for a moment and then he said

“I think they’ve improved it worse”

I can think of no better description of the new WordPress Gutenberg Editor than to say “they’ve improved it worse”. Gutenberg was designed by people who design responsive websites, and it utilizes something called a “drag-and-drop” interface. This is a great feature when found living inside a WordPress theme. It makes new page creating and updating old ones a breeze.

But what drag-and-drop offers in benefits for theme builds, it takes that away inside an editor where a writer or an author is trying to compose something. As I type what you are reading right now, I am using WordPress 5.0, but have added the Classic plugin to restore the post editor to it’s previous glory. So as I create this article, the layout is nearly identical to how it will look on the front end when view online. This is not what Gutenberg provides.


The WordPress developers are just that, developers. They are not content creators and writers, as it is obvious in this new editor design. I have spend the better part of 20 years as a UI/UX [user interface/user experience] expert, working on huge multi-million dollar projects at the highest level of the Fortune 500 world. And the first thing that jumps out at me when I look at Gutenberg is how nothing makes sense, nothing is where you would expect it to be.

I am now a ‘sadder but wiser’ users. Next, specific issues

WordPress 5.0 editor issues from a writer’s perspective

A few things before I launch into my list, first, I waited almost a week before downloading the new version. Also, I work on a PC (personal computer as opposed to an Apple product). It’s a desktop system and I’m running it on Windows 7.0. Two plug-ins are currently enabled: Akismet and UpDraftPlus; I have the latest versions of both, which are supposedly compatible with WordPress 5.0 and I use the Twenty Twelve theme.

Invisibility

So, the almost invisible lines around the blocks are a feature? Also, does making some of my editing choices a slightly darker grey and disappearing some of those choices from the block when I make a decision about what I want to do in that text block also count as a feature?

Vocabulary

Seriously, is near invisibility a bug or a feature? Or, is it something the developers don’t care about consequently, it’s neither and not to be discussed?

Disappearing options

There’s one more than one kind of invisibility, things disappear. For example, if I write some text in a block and, then, change my mind, delete my text, and decide I’d like to embed image? I can’t.) Plus, the instant I put my cursor into the block, the options fade to a difficult-to-see grey. Not quite as hard to see as the lines around the blocks but making options harder to see seems like an odd choice to me. Is this another feature or dare I call it a bug?

Tags

I use the tagging function extensively and it is now broken. First, where there was once an ‘add tag’ box and a field below showing tags already added or not, there is now only an ‘add new tag’ box. What this means functionally (for me, if no one else) is that removing a tag has become too easy. in fact, this part of the feature could be described as designed for failure. I can guarantee that you will at some point inadvertently remove one or more of your tags without noticing.

Second, I have great difficulty saving my tags which I prepare in a group. (I put all of my post into a text file and then trim away most of the text leaving only the words that I want to use as tags and then copy into the ‘add new tag’ box. The new ‘save draft/saved’ function on the top right hand side of my screen doesn’t always register the addition of any tags. I can take many attempts before the system allows me to ‘save’. And, if I am allowed to save tags, they may disappear from my ‘add tag’ box anyway. Plus, if they don’t disappear in my now ‘saved’ draft, they may disappear when I ‘preview’ my post.

I have tried a few tactics to overcome this problem/bug/feature. (1) I have tried to add tags in groups and then saving, when and if I’m allowed to. (failure, most of the time) (2) I have tried to add each tag individually. (failure most of the time) (3) I have persisted in my efforts to add my tags by repeating the save over and over. (failure most of the time)

I have on occasion managed to force the system into accepting my tags using one or more of the above tactics. Weirdly, I have occasionally not had to use any of my tactics because the function worked. BTW, typing each tag individually seems to work best but it is the least efficient method for me.

Save Draft function

In addition to the problems noted previously with ‘Save Draft’, I have occasionally noted that the system doesn’t sense when I’ve made a change in my text and, in this latest WordPress, I can no longer override the system and force it to save.

One more thing, saving tags takes a much longer time even when the system fails to save them.

Talking with developers

Guess what? I don’t ‘beta test’. I don’t want to load software onto my system until I’m reasonably certain it won’t break anything. I don’t have the technical skills to fix the problems.

By the way, I worked with developers for years (I was the writer). At the best of times it can be difficult as we don’t use the same vocabulary or share a perspective on the problem. It’s easiest to do this in person. Second best, is the phone. However, writing it up is almost always a misery.

Even in person, I have found the inevitable questions from a developer difficult to understand and no matter how simply I describe my problem, the developer doesn’t understand me. Should we successfully pass that stage, I’m then presented with a solution that may require my intervention into the code. As I noted earlier, I don’t have the technical skills (or confidence, for that matter).

There is no one to blame for this communication problem; it’s a function of perspective and vocabulary. However, I do blame developers who don’t recognize there is a gap and/or arrogantly dismiss users’ concerns. Marius L.J.’s posting brought back memories.

Finding a fix, breaking faith, and moving on (maybe)

After struggling with this new WordPress for two and a half weeks (I think I downloaded it on Dec. 10, 2018), I’m ready to try the Classic Editor plug-in although I may wait until after the New Year to see if anything that matters to me has been fixed. Sadly, I don’t think the situation with the tags will be affected.

As for WordPress itself, my faith is shaken. I have depended on it and even taken it for granted but i can’t anymore. This build was not ready to be released and the person or persons who made the decision knew it and didn’t care. WordPress: Once you’ve shaken someone’s faith in your product or in you, it’s very hard to regain.

As a consequence of all this, I’m looking at the possibility of replacing WordPress. I’m not saying I’m going to do it but it is no longer unthinkable as it would have been at the beginning of December 2018.

‘One health in the 21st century’ event and internship opportunities at the Woodrow Wilson Center

One health

This event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Wilson Center) is the first that I’ve seen of its kind (from a November 2, 2018 Wilson Center Science and Technology Innovation Program [STIP] announcement received via email; Note: Logistics such as date and location follow directly after),

One Health in the 21st Century Workshop

The  One Health in the 21st Century workshop will serve as a snapshot of government, intergovernmental organization and non-governmental organization innovation as it pertains to the expanding paradigm of One Health. One Health being the umbrella term for addressing animal, human, and environmental health issues as inextricably linked [emphasis mine], each informing the other, rather than as distinct disciplines.

This snapshot, facilitated by a partnership between the Wilson Center, World Bank, and EcoHealth Alliance, aims to bridge professional silos represented at the workshop to address the current gaps and future solutions in the operationalization and institutionalization of One Health across sectors. With an initial emphasis on environmental resource management and assessment as well as federal cooperation, the One Health in the 21st Century Workshop is a launching point for upcoming events, convenings, and products, sparked by the partnership between the hosting organizations. RSVP today.

Agenda:

1:00pm — 1:15pm: Introductory Remarks

1:15pm — 2:30pm: Keynote and Panel: Putting One Health into Practice

Larry Madoff — Director of Emerging Disease Surveillance; Editor, ProMED-mail
Lance Brooks — Chief, Biological Threat Reduction Department at DoD
Further panelists TBA

2:30pm — 2:40pm: Break

2:40pm — 3:50pm: Keynote and Panel: Adding Seats at the One Health Table: Promoting the Environmental Backbone at Home and Abroad

Assaf Anyamba — NASA Research Scientist
Jonathan Sleeman — Center Director for the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center
Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta — Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science for the Office of Research and Development and the EPA Science Advisor
Further panelists TBA

3:50pm — 4:50pm: Breakout Discussions and Report Back Panel

4:50pm — 5:00pm: Closing Remarks

5:00pm — 6:00pm: Networking Happy Hour

Co-Hosts:

Sponsor Logos

You can register/RSVP here.

Logistics are:

November 26
1:00pm – 5:00pm
Reception to follow
5:00pm – 6:00pm

Flom Auditorium, 6th floor

Directions

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Phone: 202.691.4000

stip@wilsoncenter.org

Privacy Policy

Internships

The Woodrow Wilson Center is gearing up for 2019 although the deadline for a Spring 2019  November 15, 2018. (You can find my previous announcement for internships in a July 23, 2018 posting). From a November 5, 2018 Wilson Center STIP announcement (received via email),

Internships in DC for Science and Technology Policy

Deadline for Fall Applicants November 15

The Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) at the Wilson Center welcomes applicants for spring 2019 internships. STIP focuses on understanding bottom-up, public innovation; top-down, policy innovation; and, on supporting responsible and equitable practices at the point where new technology and existing political, social, and cultural processes converge. We recommend exploring our blog and website first to determine if your research interests align with current STIP programming.

We offer two types of internships: research (open to law and graduate students only) and a social media and blogging internship (open to undergraduates, recent graduates, and graduate students). Research internships might deal with one of the following key objectives:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Citizen Science
  • Cybersecurity
  • One Health
  • Public Communication of Science
  • Serious Games Initiative
  • Science and Technology Policy

Additionally, we are offering specific internships for focused projects, such as for our Earth Challenge 2020 initiative.

Special Project Intern: Earth Challenge 2020

Citizen science involves members of the public in scientific research to meet real world goals.  In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN), The U.S. Department of State, and the Wilson Center are launching Earth Challenge 2020 (EC2020) as the world’s largest ever coordinated citizen science campaign.  EC2020 will collaborate with existing citizen science projects as well as build capacity for new ones as part of a larger effort to grow citizen science worldwide.  We will become a nexus for collecting billions of observations in areas including air quality, water quality, biodiversity, and human health to strengthen the links between science, the environment, and public citizens.

We are seeking a research intern with a specialty in topics including citizen science, crowdsourcing, making, hacking, sensor development, and other relevant topics.

This intern will scope and implement a semester-long project related to Earth Challenge 2020 deliverables. In addition to this the intern may:

  • Conduct ad hoc research on a range of topics in science and technology innovation to learn while supporting department priorities.
  • Write or edit articles and blog posts on topics of interest or local events.
  • Support meetings, conferences, and other events, gaining valuable event management experience.
  • Provide general logistical support.

This is a paid position available for 15-20 hours a week.  Applicants from all backgrounds will be considered, though experience conducting cross and trans-disciplinary research is an asset.  Ability to work independently is critical.

Interested applicants should submit a resume, cover letter describing their interest in Earth Challenge 2020 and outlining relevant skills, and two writing samples. One writing sample should be formal (e.g., a class paper); the other, informal (e.g., a blog post or similar).

For all internships, non-degree seeking students are ineligible. All internships must be served in Washington, D.C. and cannot be done remotely.

Full application process outlined on our internship website.

I don’t see a specific application deadline for the special project (Earth Challenge 2010) internship. In any event, good luck with all your applications.

Body-on-a-chip (10 organs)

Also known as human-on-a-chip, the 10-organ body-on-a-chip was being discussed at the 9th World Congress on Alternatives to Animal Testing in the Life Sciences in 2014 in Prague, Czech Republic (see this July 1, 2015 posting for more). At the time, scientists were predicting success at achieving their goal of 10 organs on-a-chip in 2017 (the best at the time was four organs). Only a few months past that deadline, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) seem to have announced a ’10 organ chip’ in a March 14, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

MIT engineers have developed new technology that could be used to evaluate new drugs and detect possible side effects before the drugs are tested in humans. Using a microfluidic platform that connects engineered tissues from up to 10 organs, the researchers can accurately replicate human organ interactions for weeks at a time, allowing them to measure the effects of drugs on different parts of the body.

Such a system could reveal, for example, whether a drug that is intended to treat one organ will have adverse effects on another.

A March 14, 2018 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

“Some of these effects are really hard to predict from animal models because the situations that lead to them are idiosyncratic,” says Linda Griffith, the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation, a professor of biological engineering and mechanical engineering, and one of the senior authors of the study. “With our chip, you can distribute a drug and then look for the effects on other tissues, and measure the exposure and how it is metabolized.”

These chips could also be used to evaluate antibody drugs and other immunotherapies, which are difficult to test thoroughly in animals because they are designed to interact with the human immune system.

David Trumper, an MIT professor of mechanical engineering, and Murat Cirit, a research scientist in the Department of Biological Engineering, are also senior authors of the paper, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports. The paper’s lead authors are former MIT postdocs Collin Edington and Wen Li Kelly Chen.

Modeling organs

When developing a new drug, researchers identify drug targets based on what they know about the biology of the disease, and then create compounds that affect those targets. Preclinical testing in animals can offer information about a drug’s safety and effectiveness before human testing begins, but those tests may not reveal potential side effects, Griffith says. Furthermore, drugs that work in animals often fail in human trials.

“Animals do not represent people in all the facets that you need to develop drugs and understand disease,” Griffith says. “That is becoming more and more apparent as we look across all kinds of drugs.”

Complications can also arise due to variability among individual patients, including their genetic background, environmental influences, lifestyles, and other drugs they may be taking. “A lot of the time you don’t see problems with a drug, particularly something that might be widely prescribed, until it goes on the market,” Griffith says.

As part of a project spearheaded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Griffith and her colleagues decided to pursue a technology that they call a “physiome on a chip,” which they believe could offer a way to model potential drug effects more accurately and rapidly. To achieve this, the researchers needed new equipment — a platform that would allow tissues to grow and interact with each other — as well as engineered tissue that would accurately mimic the functions of human organs.

Before this project was launched, no one had succeeded in connecting more than a few different tissue types on a platform. Furthermore, most researchers working on this kind of chip were working with closed microfluidic systems, which allow fluid to flow in and out but do not offer an easy way to manipulate what is happening inside the chip. These systems also require external pumps.

The MIT team decided to create an open system, which essentially removes the lid and makes it easier to manipulate the system and remove samples for analysis. Their system, adapted from technology they previously developed and commercialized through U.K.-based CN BioInnovations, also incorporates several on-board pumps that can control the flow of liquid between the “organs,” replicating the circulation of blood, immune cells, and proteins through the human body. The pumps also allow larger engineered tissues, for example tumors within an organ, to be evaluated.

Complex interactions

The researchers created several versions of their chip, linking up to 10 organ types: liver, lung, gut, endometrium, brain, heart, pancreas, kidney, skin, and skeletal muscle. Each “organ” consists of clusters of 1 million to 2 million cells. These tissues don’t replicate the entire organ, but they do perform many of its important functions. Significantly, most of the tissues come directly from patient samples rather than from cell lines that have been developed for lab use. These so-called “primary cells” are more difficult to work with but offer a more representative model of organ function, Griffith says.

Using this system, the researchers showed that they could deliver a drug to the gastrointestinal tissue, mimicking oral ingestion of a drug, and then observe as the drug was transported to other tissues and metabolized. They could measure where the drugs went, the effects of the drugs on different tissues, and how the drugs were broken down. In a related publication, the researchers modeled how drugs can cause unexpected stress on the liver by making the gastrointestinal tract “leaky,” allowing bacteria to enter the bloodstream and produce inflammation in the liver.

Kevin Healy, a professor of bioengineering and materials science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, says that this kind of system holds great potential for accurate prediction of complex adverse drug reactions.

“While microphysiological systems (MPS) featuring single organs can be of great use for both pharmaceutical testing and basic organ-level studies, the huge potential of MPS technology is revealed by connecting multiple organ chips in an integrated system for in vitro pharmacology. This study beautifully illustrates that multi-MPS “physiome-on-a-chip” approaches, which combine the genetic background of human cells with physiologically relevant tissue-to-media volumes, allow accurate prediction of drug pharmacokinetics and drug absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion,” says Healy, who was not involved in the research.

Griffith believes that the most immediate applications for this technology involve modeling two to four organs. Her lab is now developing a model system for Parkinson’s disease that includes brain, liver, and gastrointestinal tissue, which she plans to use to investigate the hypothesis that bacteria found in the gut can influence the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Other applications include modeling tumors that metastasize to other parts of the body, she says.

“An advantage of our platform is that we can scale it up or down and accommodate a lot of different configurations,” Griffith says. “I think the field is going to go through a transition where we start to get more information out of a three-organ or four-organ system, and it will start to become cost-competitive because the information you’re getting is so much more valuable.”

The research was funded by the U.S. Army Research Office and DARPA.

Caption: MIT engineers have developed new technology that could be used to evaluate new drugs and detect possible side effects before the drugs are tested in humans. Using a microfluidic platform that connects engineered tissues from up to 10 organs, the researchers can accurately replicate human organ interactions for weeks at a time, allowing them to measure the effects of drugs on different parts of the body. Credit: Felice Frankel

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

Interconnected Microphysiological Systems for Quantitative Biology and Pharmacology Studies by Collin D. Edington, Wen Li Kelly Chen, Emily Geishecker, Timothy Kassis, Luis R. Soenksen, Brij M. Bhushan, Duncan Freake, Jared Kirschner, Christian Maass, Nikolaos Tsamandouras, Jorge Valdez, Christi D. Cook, Tom Parent, Stephen Snyder, Jiajie Yu, Emily Suter, Michael Shockley, Jason Velazquez, Jeremy J. Velazquez, Linda Stockdale, Julia P. Papps, Iris Lee, Nicholas Vann, Mario Gamboa, Matthew E. LaBarge, Zhe Zhong, Xin Wang, Laurie A. Boyer, Douglas A. Lauffenburger, Rebecca L. Carrier, Catherine Communal, Steven R. Tannenbaum, Cynthia L. Stokes, David J. Hughes, Gaurav Rohatgi, David L. Trumper, Murat Cirit, Linda G. Griffith. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-22749-0 Published online:

This paper which describes testing for four-, seven-, and ten-organs-on-a-chip, is open access. From the paper’s Discussion,

In summary, we have demonstrated a generalizable approach to linking MPSs [microphysiological systems] within a fluidic platform to create a physiome-on-a-chip approach capable of generating complex molecular distribution profiles for advanced drug discovery applications. This adaptable, reusable system has unique and complementary advantages to existing microfluidic and PDMS-based approaches, especially for applications involving high logD substances (drugs and hormones), those requiring precise and flexible control over inter-MPS flow partitioning and drug distribution, and those requiring long-term (weeks) culture with reliable fluidic and sampling operation. We anticipate this platform can be applied to a wide range of problems in disease modeling and pre-clinical drug development, especially for tractable lower-order (2–4) interactions.

Congratulations to the researchers!