This is the second frugal science item* I’m publishing today (May 29, 2019) which means that I’ve gone from complete ignorance on the topic to collecting news items about it. Manu Prakash, the developer behind a usable paper microscope than can be folded and kept in your pocket, is going to be giving a talk locally according to a May 28, 2019 announcement (received via email) from Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Faculty of Science,
On June 3rd , at 7:30 pm, Manu Prakash from Stanford University will give the Herzberg Public Lecture in conjunction with this year’s Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) conference that the department is hosting. Dr. Prakash’s lecture is entitled “Frugal Science in the Age of Curiosity”. Tickets are free and can be obtained through Eventbrite: https://t.co/WNrPh9fop5 .
This presentation will be held at the Shrum Science Centre Chemistry C9001 Lecture Theatre, Burnaby campus (instead of the Diamond Family Auditorium).
Science faces an accessibility challenge. Although information/knowledge is fast becoming available to everyone around the world, the experience of science is significantly limited. One approach to solving this challenge is to democratize access to scientific tools. Manu Prakash believes this can be achieved via “Frugal science”; a philosophy that inspires design, development, and deployment of ultra-affordable yet powerful scientific tools for the masses. Using examples from his own work (Foldscope: one-dollar origami microscope, Paperfuge: a twenty-cent high-speed centrifuge), Dr. Prakash will describe the process of identifying challenges, designing solutions, and deploying these tools globally to enable open ended scientific curiosity/inquiries in communities around the world. By connecting the dots between science education, global health and environmental monitoring, he will explore the role of “simple” tools in advancing access to better human and planetary health in a resource limited world.
If you’re curious there is a Foldscope website where you can find out more and/or get a Foldscope for yourself.
In addition to the talk, there is a day-long workshop for teachers (as part of the 2019 CAP Congress) with Dr. Donna Strickland the University of Waterloo researcher who won the 2018 Nobel Prize for physics. If you want to learn how to make a Foldscope, t here is also a one hour session for which you can register separately from the day-long event,. (I featured Strickland and her win in an October 3, 2018 posting.)
Getting back to the main event. Dr. Prakash’s evening talk, you can register here.
A toy that’s been a plaything for 5,000 years and known as a whirligig (in English, anyway) has inspired a scientific tool for use by field biologists and students interested in creating state-of-the-art experiments. Exciting stuff, eh?
A 5,000-year-old toy still enjoyed by kids today has inspired an inexpensive, hand-powered scientific tool that could not only impact how field biologists conduct their research but also allow high-school students and others with limited resources to realize their own state-of-the-art experiments.
The device, a portable centrifuge for preparing scientific samples including DNA, is reported May 21  in the journal PLOS Biology. The co-first author of the paper is Gaurav Byagathvalli, a senior at Lambert High School in Georgia. His colleagues are M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Soham Sinha, a Georgia Tech undergraduate; Janet Standeven, Byagathvalli’s biology teacher at Lambert; and Aaron F. Pomerantz, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I am exceptionally proud of this paper and will remember it 10, 20, 30 years from now because of the uniquely diverse team we put together,” said Bhamla, who is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
From a Rainforest to a High School
Together the team demonstrated the device, dubbed the 3D-Fuge because it is created through 3D printing, in two separate applications. In a rainforest in Peru the 3D-Fuge was an integral part of a “lab in a backpack” used to identify four previously-unknown plants and insects by sequencing their DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]. Back in the United States, a slightly different design enabled a new approach to creating living bacterial sensors for the potential detection of disease. That work was conducted at Lambert High School for a synthetic biology competition.
Thanks to social media and a preprint of the PLOS Biology paper on BioRxiv, the 3D-Fuge has already generated interest from around the world, including emails from high-school teachers in Zambia and Kenya. “It’s awesome to see research not just remain isolated to one location but see it spread,” said Byagathvalli. “Through this, we’ve realized how much of an impact simple yet effective tools can have, and hope this technology motivates others to continue along the same path and innovate new solutions to global issues.”
To better share the work, the team has posted the 3D-Fuge designs, videos, and photos online available to anyone.
One focus of Bhamla’s lab at Georgia Tech is the development of tools for frugal science, or real research that just about anyone can afford. The tools behind state-of-the-art science often cost thousands of dollars that make them inaccessible to those without serious resources.
Centrifuges are a good example. A small benchtop unit costs between $3,000 and $5,000; larger units cost many times that. Yet the devices are necessary to produce concentrated amounts of, say, genomic materials like DNA. By rapidly spinning samples, they separate materials of interest from biological debris.
The Bhamla team found that the 3D-Fuge works as well as its more expensive cousins, but costs less than $1.
An Ancient Toy
The 3D-Fuge is based on earlier work by Bhamla and colleagues at Stanford University on a simple centrifuge made of paper. The “paperfuge,” in turn, was inspired by a toy composed of string and a button that Bhamla played with as a child. He later discovered that these toys, known as whirligigs, have existed for some 5,000 years.
They consist of a disk – like a button – with two holes, through which is threaded a length of flexible cord whose ends are knotted to create a single loop with the disk in the middle. That simple contraption is then swung with two hands until the button is spinning and whirring at very fast speeds.
The earlier paperfuge uses a disk of paper. To that disk Bhamla glued small plastic tubes filled with a sample. He and colleagues reported that the device did indeed create high-quality samples.
In late 2017 Bhamla was separately approached by the Lambert High team and Pomerantz to see if the paperfuge could be adapted for the larger samples they needed (the paperfuge is limited to small samples of ~1 microliter—or one drop of blood).
Together they came up with the 3D-Fuge, which includes cavities for tubes that can hold some 100 times more of a sample than the paperfuge. The team developed two equally effective designs: one for field biology (led by Pomerantz) and the other for the high-school’s synthetic biology project (led by Byagathvalli).
Bhamla notes that the 3D-Fuge has some limitations. For example, it can only process a few samples at a time (some applications require thousands of samples). Further, because it’s 10 times heavier than the paperfuge, it can’t reach the same speeds or produce the same forces of that device. That said, it still weighs only 20 grams, slightly less than a AA battery.
“But it works,” said Bhamla. “All you need is an [appropriate] application and some creativity.”
Here are a couple of images showing the 3D-Fuge in action,
As biologists have probed deeper into the molecular and genetic underpinnings of life, K-12 schools have struggled to provide a curriculum that reflects those advances. Hands-on learning is known to be more engaging and effective for teaching science to students, but even the most basic molecular and synthetic biology experiments require equipment far beyond an average classroom’s budget, and often involve the use of bacteria and other substances that can be difficult to manage outside a controlled lab setting.
Now, a collaboration between the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and Northwestern University has developed BioBits, new educational biology kits that use freeze-dried cell-free (FD-CF) reactions to enable students to perform a range of simple, hands-on biological experiments. The BioBits kits introduce molecular and synthetic biology concepts without the need for specialized lab equipment, at a fraction of the cost of current standard experimental designs. The kits are described in two papers published in Science Advances .
“The main motivation in developing these kits was to give students fun activities that allow them to actually see, smell, and touch the outcomes of the biological reactions they’re doing at the molecular level,” said Ally Huang, a co-first author on both papers who is an MIT graduate student in the lab of Wyss Founding Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D. “My hope is that they will inspire more kids to consider a career in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] and, more generally, give all students a basic understanding of how biology works, because they may one day have to make personal or policy decisions based on modern science.”
Synthetic and molecular biology frequently make use of the cellular machinery found in E. coli bacteria to produce a desired protein. But this system requires that the bacteria be kept alive and contained for an extended period of time, and involves several complicated preparation and processing steps. The FD-CF reactions pioneered in Collins’ lab for molecular manufacturing, when combined with innovations from the lab of Michael Jewett, Ph.D. at Northwestern University, offer a solution to this problem by removing bacteria from the equation altogether.
“You can think of it like opening the hood of a car and taking the engine out: we’ve taken the ‘engine’ that drives protein production out of a bacterial cell and given it the fuel it needs, including ribosomes and amino acids, to create proteins from DNA outside of the bacteria itself,” explained Jewett, who is the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology, and co-corresponding author of both papers. This collection of molecular machinery is then freeze-dried into pellets so that it becomes shelf-stable at room temperature. To initiate the transcription of DNA into RNA and the translation of that RNA into a protein, a student just needs to add the desired DNA and water to the freeze-dried pellets.
An expansion of the BioBits Bright kit, called BioBits Explorer, includes experiments that engage the senses of smell and touch and allow students to probe their environment using designer synthetic biosensors. In the first experiment, the FD-CF reaction pellets contain a gene that drives the conversion of isoamyl alcohol to isoamyl acetate, a compound that produces a strong banana odor. In the second experiment, the FD-CF reactions contain a gene coding for the enzyme sortase, which recognizes and links specific segments of proteins in a liquid solution together to form a squishy, semi-solid hydrogel, which the students can touch and manipulate. The third module uses another Wyss technology, the toehold switch sensor, to identify DNA extracted from a banana or a kiwi. The sensors are hairpin-shaped RNA molecules designed such that when they bind to a “trigger” RNA, they spring open and reveal a genetic sequence that produces a fluorescent protein. When fruit DNA is added to the sensor-containing FD-CF pellets, only the sensors that are designed to open in the presence of each fruit’s RNA will produce the fluorescent protein.
The researchers tested their BioBits kits in the Chicago Public School system, and demonstrated that students and teachers were able to perform the experiments in the kits with the same success as trained synthetic biology researchers. In addition to refining the kits’ design so that they can one day provide them to classrooms around the world, the authors hope to create an open-source online database where teachers and students can share their results and ideas for ways to modify the kits to explore different biological questions.
“Synthetic biology is going to be one of the defining technologies of the century, and yet it has been challenging to teach the fundamental concepts of the field in K-12 classrooms given that such efforts often require expensive, complicated equipment,” said Collins, who is a co-corresponding author of both papers and also the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science at MIT. “We show that it is possible to use freeze-dried, cell-free extracts along with freeze-dried synthetic biology components to conduct innovative educational experiments in classrooms and other low-resource settings. The BioBits kits enable us to expose young kids, older kids, and even adults to the wonders of synthetic biology and, as a result, are poised to transform science education and society.
“All scientists are passionate about what they do, and we are frustrated by the difficulty our educational system has had in inciting a similar level of passion in young people. This BioBits project demonstrates the kind of out-of-the-box thinking and refusal to accept the status quo that we value and cultivate at the Wyss Institute, and we all hope it will stimulate young people to be intrigued by science,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “It’s exciting to see this project move forward and become available to biology classrooms worldwide and, hopefully some of these students will pursue a path in science because of their experience.”
Additional authors of the papers include Peter Nguyen, Ph.D., Nina Donghia, and Tom Ferrante from the Wyss Institute; Melissa Takahashi, Ph.D. and Aaron Dy from MIT; Karen Hsu and Rachel Dubner from Northwestern University; Keith Pardee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto; and a number of teachers and students in the Chicago school system including: Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Tom Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander Hill, Jemima Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzales, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, and TaRhonda Woods.
This research was supported by the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence Grant, The Defense Threat Reduction Agency Grant, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. [emphases mine]
Well, that list of funding agencies is quite interesting. The US Army and Air Force but not the Navy? As for what the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada is doing on that list, I can only imagine why.
This is what they were doing in 2018,
Now for the latest update, a May 7, 2019 news item on phys.org announces the BioBits Kits have been expanded,
How can high school students learn about a technology as complex and abstract as CRISPR? It’s simple: just add water.
A Northwestern University-led team has developed BioBits, a suite of hands-on educational kits that enable students to perform a range of biological experiments by adding water and simple reagents to freeze-dried cell-free reactions. The kits link complex biological concepts to visual, fluorescent readouts, so students know—after a few hours and with a single glance—the results of their experiments.
After launching BioBits last summer, the researchers are now expanding the kit to include modules for CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] and antibiotic resistance. A small group of Chicago-area teachers and high school students just completed the first pilot study for these new modules, which include interactive experiments and supplementary materials exploring ethics and strategies.
“After we unveiled the first kits, we next wanted to tackle current topics that are important for society,” said Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, principal investigator of the study. “That led us to two areas: antibiotic resistance and gene editing.”
Called BioBits Health, the new kits and pilot study are detailed in a paper published today (May 7 ) in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.
Jewett is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology. Jessica Stark, a graduate student in Jewett’s laboratory, led the study.
Test in a tube
Instead of using live cells, the BioBits team removed the essential cellular machinery from inside the cells and freeze-dried them for shelf stability. Keeping cells alive and contained for an extended period of time involves several complicated, time-consuming preparation and processing steps as well as expensive equipment. Freeze-dried cell-free reactions bypass those complications and costs.
“These are essentially test-tube biological reactions,” said Stark, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. “We break the cells open and use their guts, which still contain all of the necessary biological machinery to carry out a reaction. We no longer need living cells to demonstrate biology.”
This method to harness biological systems without intact, living cells became possible over the last two decades thanks to multiple innovations, including many in cell-free synthetic biology by Jewett’s lab. Not only are these experiments doable in the classroom, they also only cost pennies compared to standard high-tech experimental designs.
“I’m hopeful that students get excited about engineering biology and want to learn more,” Jewett said.
One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past decade, CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The powerful gene-editing technology uses enzymes to cut DNA in precise locations to turn off or edit targeted genes. It could be used to halt genetic diseases, develop new medicines, make food more nutritious and much more.
BioBits Health uses three components required for CRISPR: an enzyme called the Cas9 protein, a target DNA sequence encoding a fluorescent protein and an RNA molecule that targets the fluorescent protein gene. When students add all three components — and water — to the freeze-dried cell-free system, it creates a reaction that edits, or cuts, the DNA for the fluorescent protein. If the DNA is cut, the system does not glow. If the DNA is not cut, the fluorescent protein is made, and the system glows fluorescent.
“We have linked this abstract, really advanced biological concept to the presence or absence of a fluorescent protein,” Stark said. “It’s something students can see, something they can visually understand.”
The curriculum also includes activities that challenge students to consider the ethical questions and dilemmas surrounding the use of gene-editing technologies.
“There is a lot of excitement about being able to edit genomes with these technologies,” Jewett said. “BioBits Health calls attention to a lot of important questions — not only about how CRISPR technology works but about ethics that society should be thinking about. We hope that this promotes a conversation and dialogue about such technologies.”
Jewett and Stark are both troubled by a prediction that, by the year 2050, drug-resistant bacterial infections could outpace cancer as a leading cause of death. This motivated them to help educate the future generation of scientists about how antibiotic resistance emerges and inspire them to take actions that could help limit the emergence of resistant bacteria. In this module, students run two sets of reactions to produce a glowing fluorescent protein — one set with an antibiotic resistance gene and one set without. Students then add antibiotics. If the experiment glows, the fluorescent protein has been made, and the reaction has become resistant to antibiotics. If the experiment does not glow, then the antibiotic has worked.
“Because we’re using cell-free systems rather than organisms, we can demonstrate drug resistance in a way that doesn’t create drug-resistant bacteria,” Stark explained. “We can demonstrate these concepts without the risks.”
A supporting curriculum piece challenges students to brainstorm and research strategies for slowing the rate of emerging antibiotic resistant strains.
Part of something cool
After BioBits was launched in summer 2018, 330 schools from around the globe requested prototype kits for their science labs. The research team, which includes members from Northwestern and MIT, has received encouraging feedback from teachers, students and parents.
“The students felt like scientists and doctors by touching and using the laboratory materials provided during the demo,” one teacher said. “Even the students who didn’t seem engaged were secretly paying attention and wanted to take their turn pipetting. They knew they were part of something really cool, so we were able to connect with them in a way that was new to them.”
“My favorite part was using the equipment,” a student said. “It was a fun activity that immerses you into what top scientists are currently doing.”
The study, “BioBits Health: Classroom activities exploring engineering, biology and human health with fluorescent readouts,” was supported by the Army Research Office (award number W911NF-16-1-0372), the National Science Foundation (grant numbers MCB-1413563 and MCB-1716766), the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence (grant number FA8650-15-2-5518), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (grant number HDTRA1-15-10052/P00001), the Department of Energy (grant number DE-SC0018249), the Human Frontiers Science Program (grant number RGP0015/2017), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (grant number DE-EE008343) and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program. [emphases mine]
This is an image you’ll find in the abstract for the 2019 paper,
Here are links and citations for the 2018 papers and the 2019 paper,
BioBits™ Explorer: A modular synthetic biology education kit by Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Jessica C. Stark, Melissa K. Takahashi, Nina Donghia, Tom Ferrante, Aaron J. Dy, Karen J. Hsu, Rachel S. Dubner, Keith Pardee, Michael C. Jewett, and James J. Collins. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5105 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5105
BioBits™ Bright: A fluorescent synthetic biology education kit by Jessica C. Stark, Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Rachel S. Dubner, Karen J. Hsu, Thomas C. Ferrante, Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica S. Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Thomas Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander R. Hill, Jemima F. Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzalzles, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, TaRhonda Woods, Nina Donghia, Keith Pardee, James J. Collins, and Michael C. Jewett. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5107 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5107
Both of the 2018 papers appear to be open access while the 2019 paper is behind a paywall.
Should you be interested in acquiring a BioBits kit, you can check out the BioBits website. As for ‘conguering’ CRISPR, do we really need to look at it that way? Maybe a more humble appraoch could work just as well or even better, eh?
I did a very quick search for today’s (March 8, 2019) women in science stories and found three to highlight here. First, a somewhat downbeat Canadian story.
Can Canadians name a woman scientist or engineer?
According to Emily Chung’s March 8, 2019 article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news site, the answer is: no,
You’ve probably heard of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Mark Zuckerberg.
But can you name a woman scientist or engineer? Half of Canadians can’t, suggests a new poll.
The online survey of 1,511 Canadians was commissioned by the non-profit group Girls Who Code and conducted by the market research firm Maru/Blue from March 1-3 and released for International Women’s Day today [March 8, 2019].
It was intended to collect data about how people felt about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and education in Canada, said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the group, which aims to close the gender gap in technology by teaching girls coding skills.
The poll found:
When asked how many women scientists/engineers they could name, 52 per cent of respondents said “none.”
When asked to picture a computer scientist, 82 per cent of respondents immediately imagined a man rather than a woman.
77 per cent of respondents think increased media representation of women in STEM careers or leadership roles would help close the gender gap in STEM.
Sandra Corbeil, who’s involved a Women in STEM initiative at Ingenium, the organization that oversees Canada’s national museums of science and innovation, agrees that women scientists are under-recognized.
… Ingenium organized an event where volunteers from the public collaborated to add more women scientists to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this past February .
The 21 participants added four articles, including Dr. Anna Marion Hilliard, who developed a simple pap test for early detection of cervical cancer and Marla Sokolowski, who discovered an important gene that affects both metabolism and behaviour in fruit flies. The volunteer editors also updated and translated several other entries.
Similar events have been held around the world to boost the representation of women on Wikipedia, where as of March 4, 2019, only 17.7 per cent of biographies were of women — even 2018’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Donna Strickland, didn’t have a Wikipedia entry until the prize was announced.
Corbeil acknowledged that in science, the individual contributions of scientists, whether they are men or women, tend to not be well known by the public.[emphasis mine]
“We don’t treat them like superstars … to me, it’s something that we probably should change because their contributions matter.”
Chung points to a criticism of the Girls Who Code poll, they didn’t ask Canadians whether they could name male scientists or engineers. While Reshma Saujani acknowledged the criticism, she also brushed it off (from Chung’s article),
Saujani acknowledges that the poll didn’t ask how many male scientists or engineers they could name, but thinks the answer would “probably” be different. [emphasis mine]
Chung seems to be hinting (with the double quotes around the word probably) but I’m going to be blunt, that isn’t good science but, then, Saujani is not a scientist (from the reshmasujani.com’s About page),
Reshma began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. She has also served as Deputy Public Advocate for New York City and ran a spirited campaign for Public Advocate in 2013.
I’m inclined to believe that Saujani is right but I’d want to test the hypothesis. I have looked at what I believe to be the entire report here. I’m happy to see the questions but I do have a few questions about the methodology (happily, also included in the report),
… online survey was commissioned by Girls Who Code of 1,511 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Maru Voice panelists.
If it’s an online survey, how can the pollsters be sure the respondents are Canadian or sure about any other of the demographic details? What is a Maru Voice panelist? Is there some form of self-selection inherent in being a Maru Voice panelist? (If I remember my social science research guidelines properly, self-selected groups are not the same as the general population.)
All I’m saying, this report is interesting but seems problematic so treat it with a little caution.
Celebrating women in science in UK (United Kingdom)
This story comes from the UK’s N8 Research Partnership (I’m pretty sure that N8 is meant to be pronounced as ‘innate’). On March 7, 2019 they put up a webpage celebrating women in science,
All #N8women deliver our vision of making the N8 Research Partnership an exceptionally effective cluster of research innovation and training excellence; we celebrate all of your contributions and thank you for everything that you do. Read more about the women below or find out about them on our social channels by searching #N8Women.
Professor Dame Sue Black
Professor Dame Sue Black from Lancaster University pioneered research techniques to identify an individual by their hand alone, a technique that has been used successfully in Court to identify perpetrators in relation to child abuse cases. Images have been taken from more than 5000 participants to form an open-source dataset which has allowed a breakthrough in the study of anatomical variation.
Professor Diana Williams
Professor Diana Williams from The University of Liverpool has led research with Farming Online into a digital application that predict when and where disease is likely to occur. This is hoped to help combat the £300m per year UK agriculture loses per year through the liver fluke parasite which affects livestock across the globe.
Professor Louise Heathwaite
Professor Louise Heathwaite from Lancaster University has gained not only international recognition for her research into environmental pollution and water quality, but she also received the royal seal of approval after being awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018.
Professor Sue Black
Professor Sue Black from Durham University has helped support 100 women retrain into tech roles thanks to the development of online programme, TechUP. Supported by the Institute of Coding, the programme lasts six months and concludes with a job interview, internship or apprenticeship.
Dr Anna Olsson-Brown
Dr Anna Olsson-Brown from the University of Liverpool has been instrumental in research into next-generation drugs that can treat patients with more advanced, malignant cancers and help them deal with the toxicity that can accompany novel therapies.
Professor Katherine Denby
Professor Katherine Denby, Director of N8 Agrifood, based at the University of York has been at the forefront of developing novel ways to enhance and enable breeding of crops resistance to environmental stress and disease.
Most recently, she was involved in the development of a genetic control system that enables plants to strengthen their defence response against deadly pathogens.
Doctor Louise Ellis
Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability at the University of Leeds has been leading their campaign – Single Out: 2023PlasticFree – crucially commits the University and Union to phase out single-use plastic across the board, not just in catering and office spaces.
Professor Philippa Browning
Professor Philippa Browning from the University of Manchester wanted to be an astronaut when she was a child but found that there was a lack of female role models in her field. She is leading work on the interactions between plasmas and magnetic fields and is a mentor for young solar physicists.
Doctor Anh Phan
Dr Anh Phan is a Lecturer of Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering at Newcastle University. She has been leading research into cold plasma pyrolysis, a process that could be used to turn plastic waste into green energy. This is a novel process that could revolutionise our problem with plastic and realise the true value of plastic waste.
So, Canadians take note of these women and the ones featured in the next item.
Canada Science and Technology Museum’s (an Ingenium museum) International Women’s Day video
It was posted on YouTube in 2017 but given the somewhat downbeat Canadian story I started with I thought this appropriate,
It’s never too late to learn about women in science and engineering. The women featured in the video are: Ursula Franklin, Maude Abbott, Janice Zinck, and Indira Samarasekera
February 11, 2019 was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science but there’s at least one celebratory event that is extended to include February 12. So, I’ll take what I can get and jump on to that bandwagon too. Happy 2019 International Day of Women and Girls in Science—a day late!
To make up fr being late to the party, I have two news items to commemorate the event.
21st Edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO International Awards for Women in Science
From a February 11, 2019 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) press release received via email,
Paris, 11 February —On the occasion of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science celebrated on 11 February, the L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have announced the laureates of the 21st International Awards For Women in Science, which honours outstanding women scientists, from all over the world. These exceptional women are recognized for the excellence of their research in the fields of material science, mathematics and computer science.
Each laureate receive €100,000 and their achievements will be celebrated alongside those of 15 promising young women scientists from around the world at an awards ceremony on 14 March  at UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris.
EXTENDING THE AWARD TO MATHEMATICS AND COMPUTER SCIENCE
Mathematics is a prestigious discipline and a source of innovation in many domains, however, it is also one of the scientific fields with the lowest representation of women at the highest level. Since the establishment of the three most prestigious international prizes for the discipline (Fields, Wolf and Abel), only one woman mathematician has been recognized, out of a total of 141 laureates.
The L’Oréal Foundation and UNESCO have therefore decided to reinforce their efforts to empower women in science by extending the International Awards dedicated to material science to two more research areas: mathematics and computer science.
Two mathematicians now figure among the five laureates receiving the 2019 For Women in Science Awards: Claire Voisin, one of five women to have received a gold medal from the the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), and the first women mathematician to enter the prestigious Collège de France, and Ingrid Daubechies of Duke University (USA), the first woman researcher to head the International Mathematical Union.
FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE:MORE THAN 20-YEARS OF COMMITMENT
In the field of scientific research, the glass ceiling is still a reality: Women only account for 28% of researchers, occupy just 11% of senior academic positions, and number a mere 3% of Nobel Science Prizes
Since 1998, the L’Oréal Foundation, in partnership with UNESCO, has worked to improve the representation of women in scientific careers, upholding the conviction that the world needs science, and science needs women.
In its first 20 years, the For Women in Science programme supported and raised the profiles of 102 laureates and more than 3,000 talented young scientists, both doctoral and post-doctoral candidates, providing them with research fellowships, allocated annually in 117 countries.
L’ORÉAL-UNESCO INTERNATIONAL AWARDS FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE THE FIVE 2019 LAUREATES
AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATESProfessor Najat Aoun SALIBA – Analytical and atmospheric chemistry
Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Nature Conservation Center at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon
Professor Saliba is rewarded for her pioneering work in identifying carcinogenic agents and other toxic air pollutants in the in Middle East, and in modern nicotine delivery systems, such as cigarettes and hookahs. Her innovative work in analytical and atmospheric chemistry will make it possible to address some of the most pressing environmental challenges and help advance public health policies and practices.
Professeur Maki KAWAI – Chemistry / Catalysis Director General, Institute of Molecular Sciences, Tokyo University, Japan, member of the Science Council of Japan
Professor Maki Kawai is recognized for her ground-breaking work in manipulating molecules at the atomic level, in order to transform materials and create innovative materials. Her exceptional research has contributed to establishing the foundations of nanotechnologies at the forefront of discoveries of new chemical and physical phenomena that stand to address critical environmental issues such as energy efficiency.
Professor Karen HALLBERG – Physics/ Condensed matter physics Professor at the Balseiro Institute and Research Director at the Bariloche Atomic Centre, CNEA/CONICET, Argentina
Professor Karen Hallberg is rewarded for developing cutting-edge computational approaches that allow scientists to understand the physics of quantum matter. Her innovative and creative techniques represent a major contribution to understanding nanoscopic systems and new materials.
Professor Ingrid DAUBECHIES – Mathematics / Mathematical physics Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke University, United States
Professor Daubechies is recognized for her exceptional contribution to the numerical treatment of images and signal processing, providing standard and flexible algorithms for data compression. Her innovative research on wavelet theory has led to the development of treatment and image filtration methods used in technologies from medical imaging equipment to wireless communication.
Professor Claire VOISIN – Mathematics / Algebraic geometry
Professor at the Collège de France and former researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)
Professor Voisin is rewarded for her outstanding work in algebraic geometry. Her pioneering discoveries have allowed [mathematicians and scientists] to resolve fundamental questions on topology and Hodge structures of complex algebraic varieties.
L’ORÉAL-UNESCO INTERNATIONAL AWARDS FOR WOMEN IN SCIENCE THE 15 INTERNATIONAL RISING TALENTS OF 2019
Among the 275 national and regional fellowship winners we support each year, the For Women in Science programme selects the 15 most promising researchers, all of whom will also be honoured on 14 March 2019.
AFRICA AND THE ARAB STATES
Dr. Saba AL HEIALY – Health sciences
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashid University for Medicine and Health Sciences
Dr. Zohra DHOUAFLI – Neuroscience/ Biochemistry
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Tunisia, Center of Biotechnology of Borj-Cédria
Dr. Menattallah ELSERAFY – Molecular biology/Genetics
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Egypt, Zewail City of Science and Technology
Dr. Priscilla Kolibea MANTE – Neurosciences
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Dr. Jacquelyn CRAGG – Health sciences L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Canada, University of British Columbia
Dr. Maria MOLINA – Chemistry/Molecular biology
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Argentina, National University of Rio Cuart
Dr. Ana Sofia VARELA – Chemistry/Electrocatalysis
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Mexico, Institute of Chemistry, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Dr. Sherry AW – Neuroscience
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Singapore, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
Dr. Mika NOMOTO – Molecular biology / Plant pathology
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Singapore, University of Nagoya
Dr. Mary Jacquiline ROMERO – Quantum physics
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Australia, University of Queensland
Dr. Laura ELO – Bioinformatics
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Finland, University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University
Dr. Kirsten JENSEN – Material chemistry, structural analysis
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Denmark, University of Copenhagen
Dr. Biola María JAVIERRE MARTÍNEZ – Genomics
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Spain, Josep Carreras Leukaemia Research Institute
Dr. Urte NENISKYTE – Neuroscience
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Lithuania, University of Vilnius
Dr. Nurcan TUNCBAG – Bioinformatics
L’Oréal-UNESCO regional fellowship Turkey, Middle East Technical University
Congratulations to all!
“Investment in Women in Science for Inclusive Green Growth” (conference) 11 – 12 February 2019
This conference is taking place at UN (United Nations) headquarters in New York City. There is an agenda which includes the talks for February 12, 2019 and they feature a bit of a surprise,
[February 12, 2019] 10.00 – 12.30: High-Level Panel on:
Investment in Science Education for Shaping Society’s Future Scientists contribute greatly to the economic health and wealth of a nation. However, worldwide, the levels of participation in science and technology in school and in post-school education have fallen short of the expectations of policy-makers and the needs of business, industry, or government.
The continuing concern to find the reasons why young people decide not to study science and technology is a critical one if we are to solve the underlying problem. Furthermore, while science and technology play key roles in today’s global economy and leveling the playing field among various demographics, young people particularly girls are turning away from science subjects. Clearly, raising interest in science among young people is necessary for increasing the number of future science professionals, as well as, providing opportunities for all citizens of all countries to understand and use science in their daily lives.
To achieve sustainable development throughout the world, education policy makers need to allocate high priority and considerable resources to the teaching of science and technology in a manner that allows students to learn science in a way that is practiced and experienced in the real world by real scientists and engineers. Furthermore, to accomplish this goal, sustained support is needed to increase and improve teacher training and professional learning for STEM educators. By meeting these two needs, we can better accomplish the ultimate aim which is to educate the scientists, technologists, technicians, and leaders on whom future economic development is perceived to depend over a sustained period of time.
In line with the 2019 High-Level Political Forum, this session will discuss SDG [Sustainable development goal] 4 with special focus on Science Education.
Reforming the science curriculum to promote learning science the way it is practiced and experienced in the real world by real scientists and engineers.
Providing quality and prepared teachers for every child to include increasing the number of women and other underrepresented demographic role models for students.
Considering how science education provides us with a scientifically adept society, one ready to understand, critique and mold the future of research, as well as, serving as an integral part of feeding into the pipeline for future scientists.
Identifying factors influencing participation in science, engineering and technology as underrepresented populations including young girls make the transition from school to higher education
Parallel Panel 10.00 – 13.00:
Girls in Science for Sustainable Development: Vision to Action This Panel will be convened by young change-makers and passionate girls in science advocates from around the world to present their vision on how they can utilize science to achieve sustainable development goals. Further, girls in science will experience interacting and debating with UN Officials, Diplomates, women in science and corporate executives.
This Panel will strive to empower, educate and embolden the potential of every girl. The aim of this Panel is give girls the opportunity to gain core leadership skills, training in community-building and advocacy.
In line with the 2019 United Nations High-Level Political Forum, Girls in Science will focus around: SDG 4 aims to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. How can we improve science education around the world? What resources or opportunities would be effective in achieving this goal? And How can we use technology to improve science education and opportunities for students around the world?
Nearly ½ of the world population live in poverty. SDG 8 aims to promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. What is the importance of STEM for girls and women for economic growth and how do we encourage and implement this? What role does science and technology play in reducing poverty around the world?
SDG 10 aims to reduce inequalities around the world. What are some current inequalities that girls are facing and what can be done to ameliorate this?
Following the Paris Agreement a few years back, climate change has become an increasingly discussed topic; SDG 13 focuses on climate action. What is the significance of this Sustainable Development Goal today and what contribution does women and girls in science make on this issue?
What is being done in your communities to solve the SDGs in this respect? Has it been effective? Why or why not? Would it be effective in other countries? What are some issues you or people you know face in your country in relation to these concerns?
Chairs: Sthuthi Satish and Huaxuan Chen
Mentor: Andrew Muetze – International Educator, Switzerland
Remarks: HRH Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite
Ms. Chantal Line Carpentier
13.00 – 14.45: Lunch Break
15.00 – 16.30:
High-Level Session on: The Science of Fashion for Sustainable Development
Fashion embodies human pleasure, creativity, social codes and technologies that have enabled societies to prosper, laid burdens on the environment and caused competition for arable land. No single actor, action nor technology is sufficient to shift us away from the environmental and social challenges embedded in the fashion industry – nor to meet the demands for sustainable development of society at large. However, scientific and technological developments are important for progress towards sustainable fashion. This Panel aims to shed light on the role of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills for fashion and sustainability.
16.45 – 18.00: Closing Session Summary of Panels and Sessions by Chairs and Moderators
Introducing the International Framework and Action Plan for Member States to Approve and Adopt
Announcing the Global Fund for Women and Girls in Science
It’s good to see the UN look at fashion and sustainability. The ‘fashion’ session makes the endeavour seem a little less stuffy.
During this special event we will explore the heart, a spectacular organ, through art, dissection, illustration, and discussion with UBC professor Claudia Krebs, MD/graduate student Najah Adreak, associate professor Carol-Ann Courneya, and medical illustrator Paige Blumer.
Anatomy Nights started out in Hull, UK as a public outreach event to bring anatomy knowledge to the general public. During an anatomy night, an anatomist talks about a specific organ and then performs a live dissection of that organ – not human: in this case it will be a bovine heart. This year the event is expanding to a new frontier with a global anatomy night – this will be the beginning of the Canadian series of events.
About the event This event is open to all ages but minors must be accompanied by adults. Event venue is wheelchair accessible. Refreshments are available by donation. Proceeds will be used to cover the cost of running the event; profits will be donated to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
An October 3, 2018 announcement arrived from the Brain Talks folks (Vancouver, Canada) in my email box,
BrainTalks: Epigenetics and Early Life Experiences
Monday, October 22, 2018 from 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Join us on Monday, October 22nd for a talk on Epigenetics and Early Life Experiences. We are honoured to host three phenomenal presenters for the evening: Dr. Michael Kobor, Dr. Liisa Galea, and Dr. Adele Diamond.
Dr. Michael Koboris a senior scientist at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics and BC Children’s Hospital, and a Professor at UBC [University of British Columbia]. He studies social epigenetics and medical genetics, with a focus on studying how the environment shapes the human epigenome, and how this in turn might affect children’s susceptibilities to chronic disease and their mental health. He has received numerous awards for his research, and runs the Kobor Lab at UBC.
Dr. Liisa Galea is a Professor in the Department of Psychology, and Director of the Graduate program in Neuroscience at UBC. The vision for her research is to establish how sex hormones influence brain health and disease in both females and males. Her goal is to improve brain health for women and men by examining the influence of sex and sex hormones on normal and diseased brain states, and how this can effect offspring development. She has received numerous awards for her research, and runs the Galea Laboratory for Behavioural Neuroendocrinology.
Dr. Adele Diamond is a well known and respected expert in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, the way the developing young brain evolves in its ability to make intelligent sense of the world around it, and how it evolves in response to the surrounding environment. She will address the effect of early adverse experiences on the brain from a developmental perspective. She has spoken at TedTalks and runs her Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Lab associated with UBC.
Our event on Monday, October 22nd will start with presentations from each of the three speakers, and end with a panel discussion inspired by audience questions. For physicians, the event is CME accredited for a [sic] MOC credit of 1.5. After the talks, at 7:30 pm, we host a social gathering with a rich spread of catered healthy food and non-alcoholic drinks. We look forward to seeing you there!
You can get tickets here (no more free tickets, the ones that are left cost $10),
Is it STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) or is it STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics)?
It’s STEAM as least as far as Dr. Scott Sampson is concerned. In his July 6, 2018 Creative Mornings Vancouver talk in Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada) he mentioned a major science education/outreach initiative taking place in the province of British Columbia (BC) but intended for all of Canada, Symbiosis There was some momentary confusion as Sampson’s slide deck identified it as a STEM initiative. Sampson verbally added the ‘A’ for arts and henceforth described it as a STEAM initiative. (Part of the difficulty is that many institutions have used the term STEM and only recently come to the realization they might want to add ‘art’ leading to confusion in Canada and the US, if nowhere else, as old materials require updating. Actually, I vote for adding the humanities too so that we can have SHTEAM.)
You’ll notice, should you visit the Symbiosis website, that the STEM/STEAM confusion extends further than Sampson’s slide deck.
Sampson, “a dinosaur paleontologist, science communicator, and passionate advocate for reimagining cities as places where people and nature thrive, serves (since 2016) as president and CEO of Science World British Columbia” or as they’re known on their website: Science World at TELUS World of Science. Unwieldy, eh?
The STEM/STEAM announcement
None of us in the Creative Mornings crowd had heard of Symbiosis or Scott Sampson for that matter (apparently, he’s a huge star among the preschool set due to his work on the PBS [US Public Broadcasting Service] children’s show ‘Dinosaur Train’). Regardless, it was good to hear of this effort although my efforts to learn more about it have been a bit frustrated.
Science World Introduces Symbiosis A First-of Its-Kind [sic] Learning Ecosystem forCanada
We live in a time of unprecedented change. High-tech innovations are rapidly transforming 21st century societies and the Canadian marketplace is increasingly dominated by novel, knowledge-based jobs requiring high levels of literacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Failing to prepare the next generation to be STEM literate threatens the health of our youth, the economy and the places we live. STEM literacy needs to be integrated into the broader context of what it means to be a 21st century citizen. Also important is inclusion of an extra letter, “A,” for art and design, resulting in STEAM. The idea behind Symbiosis is to make STEAM learning accessible across Canada.
Every major Canadian city hosts dozens to hundreds of organizations that engage children and youth in STEAM learning. Yet, for the most part, these organizations operate in isolation. The result is that a huge proportion of Canadian youth, particularly in First Nations and other underserved communities, are not receiving quality STEAM learning opportunities.
In order to address this pressing need, Science World British Columbia (scienceworld.ca) is spearheading the creation of Symbiosis, a deeply collaborative STEAM learning ecosystem. Driven by a diverse network of cross-sector partners, Symbiosis will become a vibrant model for scaling the kinds of learning and careers needed in a knowledge-based economy.
Today [May 25, 2017], Science World is proud to announce that Symbiosis has been selected by STEM Learning Ecosystems, a US-based organization, to formally join a growing movement. In just two years, the STEM Learning Ecosystems initiative has become a thriving network of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, joined in regional partnerships with the objective of collaborating in new and creative ways to increase equity, quality, and STEM learning outcomes for all youth. Symbiosis will be the first member of this initiative outside the United States.
Symbiosis was selected to become part of the STEM Learning Ecosystem initiative because of a demonstrated [emphasis mine] commitment to cross-sector collaborations in schools and beyond the classroom. As STEM Ecosystems evolve, students will be able to connect what they’ve learned, in and out of school, with real-world, community-based opportunities.
I wonder how Symbiosis demonstrated their commitment. Their website doesn’t seem to have existed prior to 2018 and there’s no information there about any prior activities.
A very Canadian sigh
I checked the STEM Learning Ecosystems website for its Press Room and found a couple of illuminating press releases. Here’s how the addition of Symbiosis was described in the May 25, 2017 press release,
The 17 incoming ecosystem communities were selected because they demonstrate a commitment to cross-sector collaborations in schools and beyond the classroom—in afterschool and summer programs, at home, with local business and industry partners, and in science centers, libraries and other places both virtual and physical. As STEM Ecosystems evolve, students will be able to connect what is learned in and out of school with real-world opportunities.
“It makes complete sense to collaborate with like-minded regions and organizations,” said Matthew Felan of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance STEM Initiative, one of the founding Ecosystems. “STEM Ecosystems provides technical assistance and infrastructure support so that we are able to tailor quality STEM learning opportunities to the specific needs of our region in Michigan while leveraging the experience of similar alliances across the nation.”
The following ecosystem communities were selected to become part of this [US} national STEM Learning Ecosystem:
Arizona: Flagstaff STEM Learning Ecosystem
California: Region 5 STEAM in Expanded Learning Ecosystem (San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey Counties)
New STEM Learning Ecosystems in the United States are:
California: East Bay STEM Network
Georgia: Atlanta STEAM Learning Ecosystem
Hawaii: Hawai’iloa ecosySTEM Cabinet
Illinois: South Suburban STEAM Network
Kentucky: Southeastern Kentucky STEM Ecosystem
Massachusetts: MetroWest STEM Education Network
New York: Greater Southern Tier STEM Learning Network
North Carolina: STEM SENC (Southeastern North Carolina)
North Dakota: North Dakota STEM Ecosystem
Texas: SA/Bexar STEM/STEAM Ecosystem
The growing global Community of Practice has added: [emphasis mine]
Kenya: Kenya National STEM Learning Ecosystem
México: Alianza Para Promover la Educación en STEM (APP STEM)
Are Americans still having fantasies about ‘manifest destiny’? For those unfamiliar with the ‘doctrine’,
In the 19th century, manifest destiny was a widely held belief in the United States that its settlers were destined to expand across North America. …
They seem to have given up on Mexico but the dream of acquiring Canadian territory rears its head from time to time. Specifically, it happens when Quebec holds a referendum (the last one was in 1995) on whether or not it wishes to remain part of the Canadian confederation. After the last referendum, I’d hoped that was the end of ‘manifest destiny’ but it seems these 21st Century-oriented STEM Learning Ecosystems people have yet to give up a 19th century fantasy. (sigh)
What is Symbiosis?
For anyone interested in the definition of the word, from Wordnik,
from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
n. Biology A close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member.
n. A relationship of mutual benefit or dependence.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
n. A relationship of mutual benefit.
n. A close, prolonged association between two or more organisms of different species, regardless of benefit to the members.
n. The state of people living together in community.
As for this BC-based organization, Symbiosis, which they hope will influence Canadian STEAM efforts and learning as a whole, I don’t have much. From the Symbiosis About Us webpage,
A learning ecosystem is an interconnected web of learning opportunities that encompasses formal education to community settings such as out-of-school care, summer programs, science centres and museums, and experiences at home.
In May 2017, Symbiosis was selected by STEM Learning Ecosystems, a US-based organization, to formally join a growing movement. As the first member of this initiative outside the United States, Symbiosis has demonstrated a commitment to cross-sector collaborations in schools and beyond the classroom. As Symbiosis evolves, students will be able to connect what they’ve learned, in and out of school, with real-world, community-based opportunities.
We live in a time of unprecedented change. High-tech innovations are rapidly transforming 21st century societies and the Canadian marketplace is increasingly dominated by novel, knowledge-based jobs requiring high levels of literacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Failing to prepare the next generation to be STEM literate threatens the health of our youth, the economy, and the places we live. STEM literacy needs to be integrated into the broader context of what it means to be a 21st century citizen. Also important is inclusion of an extra letter, “A,” for art and design, resulting in STEAM.
In order to address this pressing need, Science World British Columbia is spearheading the creation of Symbiosis, a deeply collaborative STEAM learning ecosystem. Driven by a diverse network of cross-sector partners, Symbiosis will become a vibrant model for scaling the kinds of learning and careers needed in a knowledge-based economy.
Acknowledges the holistic connections among arts, science and nature
Is inclusive and equitable
Fosters curiosity and life-long learning
Is relevant—should reflect the community
Honours diverse perspectives, including Indigenous worldviews
Is partnerships, collaboration, and mentorship
Is a sustainable, thriving community, with resilience and flexibility
Is research-based, data-driven
Shares stories of success—stories of people/role models using STEAM and critical thinking to make a difference
Provides a variety of access points that are available to all learners
I was looking for more concrete information such as:
… Increasingly, the Canadian marketplace is dominated by novel, knowledge-based jobs requiring high levels of literacy in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Here in B.C., the tech sector now employs over 100,000 people, about 5 percent of the province’s total workforce. As the knowledge economy grows, these numbers will rise dramatically.
Yet technology-driven businesses are already struggling to fill many roles that require literacy in STEM. …
Today, STEM education in North America and elsewhere is struggling. One study found that 60 percent of students who enter high school interested in STEM fields change their minds by graduation. Lacking mentoring, students, especially girls, tend to lose interest in STEM. [emphasis mine]Today, only 22 percent of Canadian STEM jobs are held by women. Failing to prepare the next generation to be STEM-literate threatens the prospects of our youth, our economy and the places we live.
More and more, education is no longer confined to classrooms. … To kickstart this future, a “STEM learning ecosystem” movement has emerged in the United States, grounded in deeply collaborative, cross-sector networks of learning opportunities.
Symbiosis will concentrate on a trio of impacts:
1) Dramatically increasing the number of qualified STEM mentors in B.C.—from teachers and scientists to technologists and entrepreneurs;
2) Connecting this diversity of mentors with children and youth through networked opportunities, from classroom visits and on-site shadowing to volunteering and internships; and
3) Creating a digital hub that interweaves communities, hosts a library of resources and extends learning through virtual offerings. [emphases mine]
Science World British Columbia is spearheading Symbiosis, and organizations from many sectors have expressed strong interest in collaborating—among them K-12 education, higher education, industry, government and non-profits. Several of these organizations are founding members of the BC Science Charter, which formed in 2013.
Symbiosis will launch in fall of 2018 with two pilot communities: East Vancouver and Prince George. …
As for why students tend to lose interest in STEM, there’s a rather interesting longitudinal study taking place in the UK which attempts to answer at least some of that question. I first wrote about the ASPIRES study in a January 31, 2012 posting: Science attitude kicks in by 10 years old. This was based on preliminary data and it seemed to be confirmed by an unrelated US study of high school students also mentioned in that posting (scroll down about 40% of the way).
In short, both studies suggested that children are quite to open to science but when it comes time to think about careers, they tend to ‘aspire’ to what they see amongst family and friends. I don’t see that kind of thinking reflected in any of the information I’ve been able to find about Symbiosis and it was not present in Sampson’s, Creative Mornings talk.
However, I noted during Sampson’s talk that he mentioned his father, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and how he had based his career expectations on his father’s career. (Sampson is from Vancouver originally.) Sampson, like his father, was at one point a professor of ‘science’ at a university.
Perhaps one day someone from Symbiosis will look into the ASPIRE studies or even read my blog 🙂
You can find the latest about what is now called the ASPIRES 2 study here. (I will try to post my own update to the ASPIRES projects in the near future).
I am happy to see Symbiosis arrive on the scene and I wish all the best for the initiative. I am less concerned than the BC Business folks about supplying employers with the kind of employees they want to hire and hopeful that Symbiosis will attract not just the students, educators, mentors, and scientists to whom they are appealing but will cast a wider net to include philosophers, car mechanics, hairdressers, poets, visual artists, farmers, chefs, and others in a ‘pursuit of wonder’.
Aside: I was introduced to the phrase ‘pursuit of wonder’ by a friend who sent me a link to José Teodoro’s May 29, 2018 interview with Canadian filmmaker, Peter Mettler for the Brick. Mettler discusses his film about the Northern Lights and the technical challenges he met along the way.
I have two science opportunities one for students (grades six and seven) who would like to submit a science project for the CBC Vancouver Science Fair and another for people who can’t get enough science policy and British Columbia politics. Coincidentally, it’s the inaugural year for both events.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Vancouver science fair
Calling all grades six and seven students! CBC Vancouver is holding its first-ever Science Fair on Sunday, May 27th, 2018, and we are looking for your creative submissions.
If you love science fairs and are passionate about environment and technology, we would love to hear from YOU.
In order to apply, submit a short 100-word hypothesis about your concept for the science fair project, along with key application information below. You have until April 15th, 2018 at 11:59 p.m. PST to submit. All entries will be judged on creativity and originality, incorporation of the themes of environment and/or technology, realistic possibility of execution, and if entries meet all other criteria.
CBC Vancouver staff will select the top 30 submissions to participate in the science fair on Sunday, May 27th, 2018, held at CBC Vancouver, 700 Hamilton Street, Vancouver, B.C. These 30 entries will be judged by a panel including CBC Vancouver senior meteorologist and seismologist Johanna Wagstaffe and Science World’s Manager of Partnership Development & Science Promotion Magda Byma.
The grand prize
• A special CBC Vancouver Science Fair trophy
• $750 gift card from Best Buy for all your future STEM projects
• A spot in one of Simon Fraser University’s Science Al!ve Summer Camps
• And Johanna Wagstaffe will feature the winning project on her CBC TV segment Science Smart
I have found the rules (a seven-age PDF) and am including Eligibility here as that’s usually my first question,
Contest is open to all Canadian residents who a re full time students in grades 6 and 7 who areenrolled at an educational institute in Canada.
For any contestant who has not reached the age of majority in their province (a “minor”) parentor guardian consent is necessary to enter the Contest and participate in the prize.
Parent/guardian will be responsible for minor’s participation in the prize. Where appropriate,
the terms “contestant” and “winner” mean parent or guardian of the minor.
If a minor contestant has not received consent to enter the Con test or a minor winner do es noth ave parental/guardian consent to participate in the prize, or, where applicable, does not havea parent/guardian to accompany them in the prize, the prize shall be forfeited and a newpotential winner may be selected by CBC in its sole discretion.
Employees of CBC, Prize Provider and their respective affiliates, as well as such persons
immediate family (father/mother, brother/sister, son/daughter) or persons living under the
same roof are not eligible to enter this Contest.
CBC Law Department July 2017
British Columbia Science and Policy Conference
Some of the text seems a little overblown but I’ll get to that in a minute. British Columbia’s first (I believe it’s the very first ever) science policy conference is coming up on May 11, 2018 from 12 pm to 5 pm somewhere on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus (presumablythe Vancouver campus). You can find more on the 2018 BC Science and Policy Conference webpage.
Impressively, they have 10 speakers lined up (from the Speakers page,
Terry Lake is the Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for Hydropothecary Corporation, a licensed producer of medical cannabis in Gatineau Quebec. Before returning to the private sector, Terry served as a member of the BC Legislature for Kamloops with appointments as Environment Minister and Health Minister. He was Mayor of Kamloops and an instructor of Animal Health Technology at Thompson Rivers University. Prior to his career as a veterinarian, Terry was a broadcast journalist in Alberta working for Broadcast News, a division of Canadian Press. Lake was awarded Canada’s Public Health Hero Award by the Canadian Public Health Association for his ground breaking harm reduction initiatives launched in the face of BC’s opioid epidemic. He maintains a keen interest in public health and is an advocate of exploring the use of cannabis as a substitute for opioids and other substances.
Dr. Wendy Palen is an Associate Professor in Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser where her research focuses on the ecology of aquatic communities in the Pacific Northwest. Her passion for aquatic conservation has led her to serve as Board Chair of Evidence for Democracy, an organization that advocates for science and smart decision making in Canada. She is also committed to training the next generation of scientists to resolve ecological and conservation problems through her work as a co-founder of Earth to Ocean Research Group and as an Associate Director of the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellows program in applied conservation.
Sam Sullivan is a twice-elected Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia for the riding of Vancouver False Creek and served as Mayor of Vancouver from 2005-2008. He is a member of the Order of Canada and is the only non-medical doctor in the country to be made an Honorary Member of the 22,000-member College of Family Physicians of Canada. His work champions evidence-based policy development with respect to urban densification and drug prohibition alternatives that address social challenges.
Kei is a Visiting Scholar in science policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) where he explores ways to bring science, the public, and policy together. Previously, he served as Assistant Director for Federal Research and Development and Senior Advisor to the Director for the National Science and Technology Council at the White House Office of Science and Technology during the Obama-Biden administration. Kei is a leading authority on federal support for research and development, and coordinating federal policy in collaboration with White House staff, Federal agencies, Congress, and the science and technology community.
Dan Reist leads a team within the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria that focuses on communicating current evidence in a way that supports the evolution of effective policy and practice. With a background in continental philosophy and hermeneutics, Dan is quick to acknowledge that evidence is far more than statistics about patterns of use and harm and includes attention to the ways we as human beings experience and talk about drugs and drug use in our cultures and communities.
Amani Saini is the President and Founder of Adverse Drug Reaction Canada, an organization committed to preventing the 4th leading cause of death for Canadians: adverse drug reactions. Her efforts are motivated by her sister’s near death experience from an adverse drug reaction to a common over the counter ibuprofen drug. They do so by bringing together patients, families, policy-makers, scientists, researchers, health care providers and academics to advocate, develop policy solutions and advance research. She holds a Master of Public Administration from Dalhousie University and a BA in Political Science from UBC. She is also the 2016 recipient of the Canadian Science Policy Award of Excellence.
Maxwell A. Cameron
Maxwell A. Cameron (Ph.D., California, Berkeley, 1989) directs the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at UBC and founded the Summer Institute for Future Legislators. His research focuses on comparative democratization in Latin America, constitutions, and the role of wisdom and judgment in politics. His publications include Democracy and Authoritarianism in Peru, The Political Economy of North American Free Trade, and To Walk Without Fear: The Global Movement to Ban Landmines. Cameron created the Andean Democracy Research Network to monitor and report on the state of democracy in the Andean region, with funding from the Glyn Berry Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada, the Ford Foundation, and IDRC. His forthcoming book, Political Institutions and Practical Wisdom will be published by Oxford University Press later this year.
Laurel L. Schafer
Dr. Schafer fulfills her role as the Canada Research Chair in Catalyst Development by researching chemical catalysts that allow for safe, waste-free, and environmentally friendly methods of producing chemicals. Her work impacts the chemical, pharmaceutical, agrochemical, and petrochemical industries – everything from the preparation of compostable plastics to potential treatments for chronic pain. She has published over 80 research papers and received several prestigious awards for both her research and teaching, including the UBC Sustainability Fellowship (2011), the Killam Award for Excellence in Mentoring (2013), and the Clara Benson Award (2015). She is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Otto is a Professor in Zoology at the University of British Columbia, Director of the Centre for Biodiversity Research, and a recipient of numerous awards including the coveted MacArthur Fellowship. Her research aims to understand how evolutionary processes have generated the wondrous diversity of biological features observed in the natural world. She addresses this fundamental topic using a combination of mathematical theory, statistical inference, and evolutionary experiments. In addition, she encourages scientists to engage in public policy through her work launching and directing the Liber Ero Fellowship Program and as initiator and advisor of the Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowships.
Maria is a Mitacs Science Policy Fellow and Behavioural Scientist with the Behavioural Insights Group in the BC Public Service. As a public service scientist, Maria uses experimental research methodologies and knowledge of how humans behave in the real world to guide public policy challenges and to improve citizen services. Maria holds a PhD in Psychology and Neuroscience, and has formerly worked as a science policy researcher at the Council of Canadian Academies, as a consultant with Dialectic Solutions, and as a course instructor at the University of Guelph.
Tickets are $79 for general admission or $20 if you’re a trainee.
Theme 1 – Lightning Talks
How does science research currently affect policy development in BC? Amani Saini, Conny Lin
1:20 – 1:40
1:40 – 2:30
Theme 2 – Panel Discussion
What is the relationship between the scientific community and public policy makers? Laurel Schafer, Lynn Raymond, Sally Otto
2:30 – 2:40
2:40 – 3:00
Mitacs Canadian Science Policy Fellowship Program
3:00 – 3:45
Keynote Address Terry Lake & Wendy Palen
3:45 – 4:45
Theme 3 – Audience Discussion
What is BC’s science policy strategy and how can it be improved? Dan Reist
4:45 – 5:00
*Program is tentative and times may be subject to change
I was not able to find any information about the organizers but at least some information can be inferred from the About webpage,
The expectation that government decision-making be built on a foundation of credible evidence has become a growing demand of the Canadian public. [emphasis mine] Access to information, availability of appropriate resources, and strong relationships with researchers are just a few of the many factors required to ensure government can obtain the best available data. While both researchers and government can agree that an evidence-based approach to policy-making is critical, the relationships between these sectors are not so clearly established and defined. Thus, to better support government efforts towards evidence-based decision making, it is worthwhile to keep strengthening the channels that bridge these gaps.
Canada’s current federal government reaffirmed its commitment to evidence-based decision making through the creation of a Ministry of Science and the re-appointment of a Chief Science Advisor, to name a few examples. Moreover, the commissioning of the Fundamental Science Review (also known as The Naylor Report) has brought much needed attention towards the critical role fundamental research plays in the growth of Canadian society. With increasing support towards science for policy at the federal level comes an opportunity for governments to capitalize on this momentum at the provincial level. Many domains fall under the jurisdiction of provincial governments, including health, education, natural resources, and social services. Moreover, provinces are the primary funders of Universities, and are therefore linked to Canada’s scientific efforts.
Following in the footsteps of the “Bridging the Gap between Life Sciences and Politics” conference series at the University of British Columbia, the 2018 British Columbia Science & Policy Conference aims to open up a discussion about the current status on the use of science for policy in British Columbia. Our goal will be to not only bring forward ideas on how we can better facilitate the communication and mobilization of scientific knowledge in policy development, but to drive motivation for change among both researchers and government to better support the sustained integration of science into everyday government decision making.
Was there some sort of general populist movement in BC or any other part of Canada demanding that government-decision-making be based on evidence? Certainly, experts have made those kinds of demands but as far as I’m can tell the demise of the penny aroused more passion from ‘average’ people. Which Canadian public made the demand? At a guess, someone got carried away by their own rhetoric.
After glancing at the speakers’ bios., it’s no surprise to see that a series of ‘life science and politics’ meetings birthed this conference.
Substance abuse and drug use seem to be of particular interest with political science and the environment rounding out the range of sciences represented by the speakers.
Should you be interested in attending, they are still looking speakers for their Lightning Talks and, if you have financial concerns but would like to attend, the organizers encourage you to contact them: email@example.com
I’ve written a couple times about Greg Gage and his Backyard Brains, first, in a March 28, 2012 posting (scroll down about 40% of the way for the mention of the first [?] ‘SpikerBox’) and, most recently, in a June 26, 2013 posting (scroll down about 25% of the way for the mention of a RoboRoach Kickstater project from Backyard Brains) which also featured the launch of a new educational product and a TED [technology education design] talk.
Here’s the latest from an Oct. 10, 2017 news release (received via email),
Backyard Brains Releases Plant SpikerBox, unlocking the Secret Electrical Language used in Plants
The first consumer device to investigate how plants create behaviors through electrophysiology and to enable interspecies plant to plant communication.
ANN ARBOR, MI, OCTOBER 10, 2017–Today Backyard Brains launched the Plant SpikerBox, the first ever science kit designed to reveal the wonderful nature behind plant behavior through electrophysiology experiments done at home or in the classroom. The new SpikerBox launched alongside three new experiments, enabling users to explore Venus Flytrap and Sensitive Mimosa signals and to perform a jaw-dropping Interspecies Plant-Plant-Communicator experiment. The Plant SpikerBox and all three experiments are featured in a live talk from TED2017 given by Backyard Brains CEO and cofounder Dr. Greg Gage which was released today on https://ted.com.
Backyard Brains received viral attention for their previous videos, TED talks, and for their mission to create hands-on neuroscience experiments for everyone. The company (run by professional neuroscientists) produces consumer-friendly versions of expensive graduate lab equipment used at top research universities around the world. The new plant experiments and device facilitate the growing movement of DIY [do it yourself] scientists, made up of passionate amateurs, students, parents, and teachers.
Like previous inventions, the Plant SpikerBox is extremely easy to use, making it accessible for students as young as middle school. The device works by recording the electrical activity responsible for different plant behaviors. For example, the Venus Flytrap uses an electrical signal to determine if prey has landed in its trap; the SpikerBox reveals these invisible messages and allows you to visualize them on your mobile device. For the first time ever, you can peer into the fascinating world of plant signaling and plant behaviors.
The new SpikerBox features an “Interspecies Plant-Plant-Communicator” which demonstrates the ubiquitous nature of electrical signaling seen in humans, insects, and plants. With this device, one can capture the electrical message (called an action potential) from one plant’s behavior, and send it to a different plant to activate another behavior.
Co-founder and CEO Greg Gage explains, “Itis surprising to many people that plants use electrical messages similar to those used by the neurons in our brains. I was shocked to hear that. Many neuroscientists are. But if you think about it, it [sic] does make sense. Our nervous system evolved to react quickly. Electricity is fast. The plants we are studying also need to react quickly, so it makes sense they would develop a similar system. To be clear: No, plants don’t have brains, but they do exhibit behaviors and they do use electric messages called ‘Action Potentials’ like we do to send information. The benefit of these plant experiments then is twofold: First, we can simply demonstrate fundamental neuroscience principles, and second, we can spread the wonder of understanding how living creatures work and hopefully encourage others to make a career in life sciences!”
The Plant SpikerBox is a trailblazer, bringing plant electrophysiology to the public for the first time ever. It is designed to work with the Backyard Brains SpikeRecorder software which is available to download for free on their website or in mobile app stores. The three plant experiments are just a few of the dozens of free experiments available on the Backyard Brains website. The Plant SpikerBox is available now for $149.99.
About Backyard Brains
A staggering 1 in 5 people will develop a neurological disorder in their lifetime, making the need for neuroscience studies urgent. Backyard Brains passionately responds with their motto “Neuroscience for Everyone,” providing exposure, education, and experiment kits to students of all ages. Founded in 2010 in Ann Arbor, MI by University of Michigan Neuroscience graduate students Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, Backyard Brains have been dubbed Champions of Change at an Obama White House ceremony and have won prestigious awards from the National Institutes of Health and the Society for Neuroscience. To learn more, visit BackyardBrains.com
You can find an embedded video of Greg Gage’s TED talk and Plant SpikerBox launch along with links to experiments you could run with it on Backyard Brains’ Plant SpikerBox product page.
Your nervous system allows you to sense and respond quickly to the environment around you. You have a nervous system, animals have nervous systems, but plants do not. But not having a nervous system does not mean you cannot sense and respond to the world. Plants can certainly sense the environment around them and move. You have seen your plants slowly turn their leaves towards sunlight by the window over a week, open their flowers in the day, and close their flowers during the night. Some plants can move in much more dramatic fashion, such as the Venus Flytrap and the Sensitive Mimosa.
The Venus Flytrap comes from the swamps of North Carolina, USA, and lives in very nutrient-poor, water-logged soil. It photosynthesizes like other plants, but it can’t always rely on the sunlight for food. To supplement its food supply it traps and eats insects, extracting from them the nitrogen and phosphorous needed to form plant food (amino acids, nucleic acids, and other molecules).
If you look closely at the Venus Flytrap, you will notice it has very tiny “Trigger Hairs” inside its trap leaves.
If a wayward, unsuspecting insect touches a trigger hair, an Action Potential occurs in the leaves. This is a different Action Potential than what we are used to seeing in neurons, as it’s based on the movement of calcium, potassium, and chloride ions (vs. movement of potassium and sodium as in the Action Potentials of neurons and muscles), and it is muuuuuuuuucccchhhhhh longer than anything we’ve seen before.
If the trigger hair is touched twice within 20 seconds (firing two Action Potentials within 20 seconds), the trap closes. The trap is not closing due to muscular action (plants do not have muscles), but rather due to an osmotic, rapid change in the shape of curvature of the trap leaves. Interestingly, the firing of Action Potentials is not always reliable, depending on time of year, temperature, health of plant, and/or other factors. Quite different from we humans, Action Potential failure is not devastating to a Venus Flytrap.
We can observe this plant Action Potential using our Plant SpikerBox. Welcome to the Brave New World of Plant Electrophysiology.
Before you begin, make sure you have the Backyard Brains SpikeRecorder. The Backyard Brains SpikeRecorder program allows you to visualize and save data on your computer when doing experiments.
I did feel a bit sorry for the Venus Flytrap in Greg Gage’s TED talk which was fooled into closing its trap. According to Gage, the Venus Flytrap has limited number of times it can close its trap and after the last time, it dies. On the other hand, I eat meat and use leather goods so there is not pedestal for me to perch on.
For anyone who caught the Brittany Spears reference in the headline in this posting,
From exploring outer space with Brittany Spears to exploring plant communication and neuroscience in your back yard, science can be found in many different places.