Category Archives: science

Science during a time of war in Ukraine

The situation in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, has worsened since Stefan Weichert’s article “Professors at Bombed Kharkiv University Struggle to Continue Their Work” was published on June 2, 2022 in The Scientist.,

In professor Nikolay Mchedlov-Petrossyan’s office at V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University in eastern Ukraine, several windows are covered with wood, letting only a little sunlight in. It’s been this way since March 1 [2022], when a missile hit the nearby administrative center, blowing out the windows on several surrounding buildings. Another attack, this one on March 2, destroyed the university’s economic department. 

Kharkiv has been gravely damaged by Russian shelling, but while many professors were forced to flee the university, some have stayed behind. Mchedlov-Petrossyan, the head of the department of physical chemistry, is one of them. He recently returned to his office, where he teaches online and works on his research as best he can. 

In May [2022], Russian forces withdrew from the edge of Kharkiv, but they remain close by, carrying out daily shellings [sic] of the suburbs. Mchedlov-Petrossyan acknowledges that the risk of death persists, but says he doesn’t want to be controlled by fear. Like other faculty and administrators at the university, he is striving to continue his work and plan for the future amidst the war. 

“I had a PhD student from Iraq several years ago, and he showed me a photo of his native city, Mosul. It was completely destroyed. I hope that we will avoid this fate,” he says. 

V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University was founded in 1804 and is the second-oldest university in Ukraine. Three Nobel prize winners have attended the university over the years, including Élie Metchnikoff, who won the prize in physiology or medicine in 1908 for his discovery of immune cells that engulf pathogens. 

Now, rector Tetyana Kaganovska fears that the war will deal a massive blow to the university. Not all research can continue on campus, she says, noting that “there are fields of science like physics, chemistry, and biology where . . . scientists cannot do their research online. And now the main task is how to help them to prolong their work,” she says. 

…, in the astronomy department, professors conduct research at home, probing databases to analyze information gleaned from “astronomical satellites, NASA satellites, European satellites, Japanese satellites,” and the Indian Space Research Organisation, says Vadim Kaydash, who heads the department. The department’s large telescope is located outside Kharkiv in an area now controlled by the Russian troops, limiting their ability to collect their own data.

Kaydash adds that the department’s computer equipment has been moved to a basement for protection, similar to what was done during the Second World War. “Astronomers of that generation, our scientific—how to say—fathers and grandfathers, they did the same as I do now. They put all valuable equipment in the same shelter [as] when Germans were here,” he says, pointing out that this department is more than 200 years old and has survived a lot.

Shabanov [Dmytro Shabanov, the deputy dean for science and a biologist] says he’s especially worried that fleeing students and staff will not return. While men aged 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country, “right now, a lot of workers, especially women scientists, are just getting stolen from here to other universities abroad [emphases mine],” he says. “Personally, for them, it is nice because it gives them new perspectives. But if it is prolonged for us, it will be a total breakdown.”

There are 24 universities in Kharkiv, she [Kaganovska] notes, and she expects that some of them will need to close or merge because of the lack of students. Even if the war were to end tomorrow, she says she isn’t sure there would be any money to rebuild the university. So far, Kaganovska has written more than 200 letters to universities in the US asking for financial help and trying to attract attention to the struggle in Kharkiv. In addition to sending financial support, she hopes that American universities will consider the possibility of issuing double diplomas to students from her university who finish their educations [sic] elsewhere

If you have the time, Stefan Weichert’s June 2, 2022 article is well worth reading in its entirety.

Shabanov’s worries about a ‘brain drain’ aren’t unfounded as this May 29, 2022 article by Julia Wong for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news site hints,

When Iryna Ilienko escaped Ukraine with her daughters, she left behind her research and the 20-year career she had built as a cell biologist in Kyiv before the Russian invasion.

As the war rages on, there is growing concern about the long-lasting effect the conflict will have on the global scientific community — and of the lost opportunities for discovery in the fields of academia, medicine and science in Ukraine.

There are, however, scientists in Canada trying to help researchers displaced by the war establish themselves in a new country, at least for the time being. 

In Edmonton, the co-founder and CEO [Matt Anderson-Baron] of Future Fields, a biotechnology company, had posted online that the lab was interested in hiring Ukrainian researchers who fled due to the conflict.

And several weeks ago, Anderson-Baron hired Ilienko.

“I [was] afraid my science career could be stopped,” she told CBC News.

If you were in Ilienko’s position, what would you do? Try to continue your work or do nothing while you wait to go home? Is Anderson-Baron helping or taking advantage of the situation?

As to whether or not Canadian startups and universities are ‘stealing’ scientists from Ukraine that seems debatable. I don’t think there’s a simple answer and I’m not even sure I’ve asked the right questions.

Toronto’s ArtSci Salon in Vancouver (Canada) and Venice (Italy)

In addition to the June 22 – July 16, 2022 exhibition in Toronto (These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees) highlighted in my June 14, 2022 posting, the ArtSci Salon has sent a June 20, 2022 announcement (received via email) about two events taking place for the first time in venues outside of Toronto,

IN VANCOUVER

A LIGHT FOOTPRINT IN THE COSMOS

SYMPOSIUM, EXHIBITIONS, PERFORMANCES, AND SCREENINGS

JUNE 24 – 27, 2022 | IN-PERSON AND ONLINE
DJAVAD MOWAFAGHIAN WORLD ART CENTRE
SFU GOLDCORP CENTRE FOR ARTS,
149 W. HASTINGS ST., VANCOUVER AND OTHER VENUES

REGISTRATION ON A SLIDING FEE SCALE.
IN-PERSON REGISTRATION INCLUDES CATERED LUNCHES AND COFFEE BREAKS AND
ADMISSION TO PERFORMANCES AND SCREENINGS.



A Light Footprint in the Cosmos is a celebration of research methods
and intercultural dialogue elaborated by the Substantial Motion Research
Network (SMRN).

Inspired by 17th–century Persian process philosopher Sadr al-Dīn
al-Shīrāzī, Azadeh Emadi and Laura U. Marks founded SMRN in 2018
for scholars and practitioners interested in cross-cultural exploration
of digital media, art and philosophy. Sadra famously stated that  each
individual is “a multiplicity of continuous forms, unified by the
essential movement itself,” which describes how SMRN’s members inform
each other’s practice and how those practices weave across artistic
and scholarly work. Our collective method unfolds hidden connections:
researching histories of media in world cultures, tracing paths of
transmission, seeking models for media in world philosophies, studying
vernacular practices, cultivating cultural openness, developing hunches,
building imaginative and fabulative connections, and diagramming the
processes of unfolding and enfolding. We fold South, Central, and East
Asian, Persian, Arab, North and sub-Saharan African and African
diaspora, Eastern European, and global Indigenous practices into
contemporary media and thought. Our light footprint lies in seeking
appropriate technological solutions, often from non-Western and
traditional practices, to contemporary overbuilt digital
infrastructures.

Celebrating the substantial motion of thought and/as creative practice,
A Light Footprint in the Cosmos will feature presentations by 60
scholars and artists, delivered both online and in person, at the
acoustically sophisticated performance venue Djavad Mowafaghian World
Art Centre.

The exhibitions, performances, and curated film screenings are integral
to the event. We are delighted to present exhibitions of works of 17
artists, curated by Nina Czegledy and hosted by Vancouver contemporary
art venues Or Gallery and Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for
Contemporary Asian Art, and Studio T at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the
Arts. The artworks explore, via a wide variety of analogue and digital
media, the global circulation and connectivity of theories and
technologies, addressing both historical inspirations and contemporary
issues. They illuminate hidden connections and reveal diverse yet
complementary concepts and practices. The musical performances literally
draw breath from deep cultural sources. SMRN’s methods extend into the
curated screenings Cinema of Breath: Rapture, Rupture and Cosmological Diagrams.

A Light Footprint in the Cosmos affirms the substantial movement of
thought and practice by seeking to stage dialogues, provoke discussion
and spark new collaborations in order to decolonize media studies, art
history and aesthetics.

          IN VENICE (ITA)

Emergent [emphasis mine]

a post pandemic mobile gallery

Part 1

Megachile Alienus
Sala Camino
Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa
Venezia

June 22-25, 2022

Opening June 22, 18:30

Emergent is a mobile gallery featuring collaborations across the
sciences and the arts. Its goal is to better comprehend and cope with
the emergence, survival, and adaptation of life due to climate change
and global mobility, laboratory manipulations and world making.

Emergent is a porous object: it encourages reflections across different
experiences and sites of divergence through and with the arts; it may
reach new human and non-human audiences, and have a transformative
effect on the places it visits.

Emergent is a postpandemic gallery interrogating the role of exhibition
spaces today. What possible experiences, what new dialogues could a
redesign of the gallery as a living, breathing entity foster?

Emergent was
Designed and executed by
Roberta Buiani
Lorella Di Cintio
Ilze Briede [Kavi]

Fabrication:
Rick Quercia

Megachile Alienus is an Installation by
Cole Swanson

Scientific collaboration:
Laurence Packer

Fabrication for installation:
Jacob Sun

Thanks to:
Alessandro Marletta
Anna Lisa Manini

Steven Baris, Never the Same Space Twice D29 (oil on Mylar, 24 x 24 inches, 2022). [downloaded from https://www.sfu.ca/sca/events—news/events/a-light-footprint-in-the-cosmos.html?mc_cid=f826643d70&mc_eid=584e4ad9fa]

You can find more details and a registration link here at SFU’s “A Light Footprint in the Cosmos” event page.

[downloaded from https://artscisalon.com/post-p/]

You can find more details about Emergent in Venice here.

Compact and affordable brain-computer interface (BCI)

This device could help people with disabilities to regain control of their limbs or provide advance warnings of seizures to people with epilepsy and it’s all based on technology that is a century old.

A January 19, 2022 Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) press release (also on EurekAlert) provides details about the device (Note: A link has been removed),

Scientists from Skoltech, South Ural State University, and elsewhere have developed a device for recording brain activity that is more compact and affordable than the solutions currently on the market. With its high signal quality and customizable configuration, the device could help people with restricted mobility regain control of their limbs or provide advance warnings of an impending seizure to patients with epilepsy. The article presenting the device and testing results came out in Experimental Brain Research.

Researchers and medics, as well as engineers working on futuristic gadgets, need tools that measure brain activity. Among their scientific applications are research on sleep, decision-making, memory, and attention. In a clinical setting, these tools allow doctors to assess the extent of damage to an injured brain and monitor coma patients. Further down cyberpunk lane, brain signals can be translated into commands and sent to an external or implanted device, either to make up for lost functions in the body or for plain fun. The commands could range from moving the arm of an exoskeleton worn by a paralyzed person to turning on the TV.

Invented about a century ago, electroencephalographers are devices that read the electrical activity of the brain via small electrodes placed on the scalp. The recorded signals are then used for research, diagnostics, or gadgetry. The problem with the existing systems used in labs and hospitals is they are bulky and/or expensive. And even then, the number of electrodes is limited, resulting in moderate signal quality. Amateur devices tend to be more affordable, but with even poorer sensitivity.

To fill that gap, researchers from South Ural State University, North Carolina State University, and Brainflow — led by electronic research engineer Ildar Rakhmatulin and Skoltech neuroscientist Professor Mikhail Lebedev — created a device you can build for just $350, compared with the $1,000 or more you would need for currently available analogs. Besides being less expensive, the new electroencephalographer has as many as 24 electrodes or more. Importantly, it also provides research-grade signal quality. At half a centimeter in diameter (about 1/5 inches), the processing unit is compact enough to be worn throughout the day or during the night. The entire device weighs about 150 grams (about 5 ounces).

The researchers have made the instructions for building the device and the accompanying documentation and software openly available on GitHub. The team hopes this will attract more enthusiasts involved in brain-computer interface development, giving an impetus to support and rehabilitation system development, cognitive research, and pushing the geek community to come up with new futuristic gizmos.

“The more convenient and affordable such devices become, the more chances there are this would drive the home lab movement, with some of the research on brain-computer interfaces migrating from large science centers to small-scale amateur projects,” Lebedev said.

“Or we could see people with limited mobility using do-it-yourself interfaces to train, say, a smartphone-based system that would electrically stimulate a biceps to flex the arm at the elbow,” the researcher went on. “That works on someone who has lost control over their arm due to spinal cord trauma or a stroke, where the commands are still generated in the brain — they just don’t reach the limb, and that’s where our little brain-computer interfacing comes in.”

According to the team, such interfaces could also help patients with epilepsy by detecting tell-tale brain activity patterns that indicate when a seizure is imminent, so they can prepare by lying down comfortably in a safe space or attempting to suppress the seizure via electrical stimulation.

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

Low-cost brain computer interface for everyday use by Ildar Rakhmatulin, Andrey Parfenov, Zachary Traylor, Chang S. Nam & Mikhail Lebedev. Experimental Brain Research volume 239,Issue Date: December 2021, pages 3573–3583 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-021-06231-4 Published online: 29 September 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

You can find Brainflow here and this description on its homepage: “BrainFlow is a library intended to obtain, parse and analyze EEG, EMG, ECG and other kinds of data from biosensors.”

Art/Sci exhibit in Toronto, Canada: “These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees” June 22 – July 16, 2022

A “These are a few of Our Favourite Bees” upcoming exhibitions notice on the Campbell House Museum website (also received via email as a June 4, 2022 ArtSci Salon announcement) features a month long exhibit being co-presented with the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto,

Exhibition
Campbell House Museum
June 22 – July 16, 2022
160 Queen Street W.

Opening event
Campbell House,
Saturday July 2,
2 – 4 p.m. [ET]

Artists’ Talk & Webcast
The Canadian Music Centre,
20 St. Joseph Street Toronto
Thursday, July 7
7:30 – 9 p.m. [ET]
(doors open 7 pm)

These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees investigates wild, native bees and their ecology through playful dioramas, video, audio, relief print and poetry. Inspired by lambe lambe – South American miniature puppet stages for a single viewer – four distinct dioramas convey surreal yet enlightening worlds where bees lounge in cozy environs, animals watch educational films [emphasis mine] and ethereal sounds animate bowls of berries (having been pollinated by their diverse bee visitors). Displays reminiscent of natural history museums invite close inspection, revealing minutiae of these tiny, diverse animals, our native bees. From thumb-sized to extremely tiny, fuzzy to hairless, black, yellow, red or emerald green, each native bee tells a story while her actions create the fruits of pollination, reflecting the perpetual dance of animals, plants and planet. With a special appearance by Toronto’s official bee, the jewelled green sweat bee, Agapostemon virescens!

These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees Collective are: Sarah Peebles, Ele Willoughby, Rob Cruickshank & Stephen Humphrey

 The Works

These are a Few of Our Favourite Bees

Sarah Peebles, Ele Willoughby, Rob Cruickshank & Stephen Humphrey

Single-viewer box theatres, dioramas, sculpture, textile art, macro video, audio transducers, poetry, insect specimens, relief print, objects, electronics, colour-coded DNA barcodes.

Bees represented: rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis); jewelled green sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens); masked sweat bee (Hylaeus annulatus); leafcutter bee (Megachile relativa)

In the Landscape

Ele Willoughby & Sarah Peebles

paper, relief print, video projection, audio, audio cable, mixed media

Bee specimens & bee barcodes generously provided by Laurence Packer – Packer Lab, York University; Scott MacIvor – BUGS Lab, U-T [University of Toronto] Scarborough; Sam Droege – USGS [US Geological Survey]; Barcode of Life Data Systems; Antonia Guidotti, Department of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum

In addition to watching television, animals have been known to interact with touchscreen computers as mentioned in my June 24, 2016 posting, “Animal technology: a touchscreen for your dog, sonar lunch orders for dolphins, and more.”

The “These are a few of Our Favourite Bees” upcoming exhibitions notice features this artist statement for a third piece, “Without A Bee, It Would Not Be” by Tracey Lawko,

In May, my crabapple tree blooms. In August, I pick the ripe crabapples. In September, I make jelly. Then I have breakfast. This would not be without a bee.

It could not be without a bee. The fruit and vegetables I enjoy eating, as well as the roses I admire as centrepieces, all depend on pollination.

Our native pollinators and their habitat are threatened.  Insect populations are declining due to habitat loss, pesticide use, disease and climate change. 75% of flowering plants rely on pollinators to set seed and we humans get one-third of our food from flowering plants.

I invite you to enter this beautiful dining room and consider the importance of pollinators to the enjoyment of your next meal.

Bio

Tracey Lawko employs contemporary textile techniques to showcase changes in our environment. Building on a base of traditional hand-embroidery, free-motion longarm stitching and a love of drawing, her representational work is detailed and “drawn with thread”. Her nature studies draw attention to our native pollinators as she observes them around her studio in the Niagara Escarpment. Many are stitched using a centuries-old, three-dimensional technique called “Stumpwork”.

Tracey’s extensive exhibition history includes solo exhibitions at leading commercial galleries and public museums. Her work has been selected for major North American and International exhibitions, including the Concours International des Mini-Textiles, Musée Jean Lurçat, France, and is held in the permanent collection of the US National Quilt Museum and in private collections in North America and Europe.

Bzzz!

The sound of the mushroom

A May 13, 2022 article by Philip Drost for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) As It Happens radio programme highlights the “From funky fungi to melodious mangos, this artist makes music out of nature” segment of the show, Note: Links have been removed,

At the intersection of biology and electronic music, you can find Tarun Nayar plugging his synthesizer equipment into mushrooms and other forms of plant life, hoping to capture their invisible bioelectric rhythms and build them into tranquil soundscapes. 

“What I’m really doing is trying to stimulate joy and wonder and create these little sketches or vignettes using the plants themselves, so I like to think of it as definitely a collaboration,” Nayar told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Nayar is an electronic musician and former biologist in Vancouver who uses his TikTok account and Youtube page, Modern Biology, to show off his serenading spores. And his videos have millions of views.

To make his fungi sing, Nayar uses little jumper cables to connect the vegetation with his synthesizer and measure their biological energy, or bioelectricity, which has an effect on the notes. 

“The mushroom is contributing the pitch changes and the rhythm, and the synthesizer, which I have the mushroom plugged into, is contributing the timbre or the quality of the sound,” Nayar said. 

You may be familiar with Nayar’s work (from a Creative Mornings Vancouver About The Speaker webpage for a talk given on July 3, 2020), Note: Links have been removed,

Tarun Nayar has built his world at intersections. Of east and west. Of music and business. Of science and art. Born to a white Canadian mother and an immigrant Indian father in French Canada, he has always lived in multiple worlds. He is comfortable in discomfort and fascinated with helping people find common ground, opening doors, and equalling the playing field. He is passionate about changing perceptions and championing unheard stories and talent.

rained formally in Indian Classical Music from the age of seven, Tarun’s involvement in Vancouver’s underground electronic music scene in his early 20s led to the formation of well-known Canadian band Delhi 2 Dublin [emphasis mine] in 2006. He has since led the band to Glastonbury (UK), Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (US), Woodford (AUS) and hundreds of other club and festival gigs around the world. Tarun is passionate about creating opportunities in the arts for people of colour. He is Executive Director of 5X Festival [emphasis mine], one of North America’s largest South Asian festivals. He is on the board of Vancouver’s New Forms Festival, the Canadian Live Music Association, and a member of BC’s Ministry of Education Advisory Committee, Vancouver’s Music City Task Force, and Vancouver’s 2018 Juno Host City Committee. Tarun manages emerging Pakistani-Canadian electronic artist Khanvict, and is the co-founder and owner of digital label Snakes x Ladders [emphasis mine] which focuses on the new wave of hybrid South Asian artists.

As best I can determine after looking at the Modern Biology YouTube channel and Tik Tok account, Nayar seems to have started his project or made it public about 10 months ago (August 2021?). There’s lots of mushroom music along with fruit music, and flower music in either location although Tik Tok seems have a more complete collection.

There’s also a Modern Biology page on linktree.ee where you can sign up for an email list. It also features a link to PlantWave, (Note: This is not a product endorsement),

$299.00 USD

Listen to the music of plants. Tune into Nature with PlantWave!

PlantWave allows you to wirelessly connect from your plant to your phone, making it easier than ever to listen to nature’s song.

Pre-orders will ship June of 2022. We sold out of our January run of devices before shipping. Thank you for your patience as we do our best to meet demand for this experience.

Package Includes:

Hardware

PlantWave Plant Music Device

Electrode leads

3 pairs of reusable sticky pads for leaves

Duck beak clips for smaller plants

USB C cable for charging / data transmission

Free iOS / Android App

….

Enjoy!

Getting the dirt on dirt: a podcast interview with soil biogeochemist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe

The podcast People I (Mostly) Admire isn’t technically speaking a science podcast but its host Steven Levitt, University of Chicago economist and co-author of the “Freakonomics” books, features quite a few scientists in his podcast series on the Freakonomics Radio Network.

One of Levitt’s latest episodes, No. 74 Getting our Hands Dirty on May 6, 2022 features,

Soil scientist Asmeret Asefaw Berhe could soon hold one of the most important jobs in science. She explains why the ground beneath our feet is one of our greatest resources — and, possibly, one of our deadliest threats.

Episode Transcript

My guest today Asmeret Asefaw Berhe is a leading soil scientist and President Biden’s nominee to be the director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. If confirmed, she will manage a $7 billion research budget.

ASEFAW BERHE: If you were to think about where the large global reservoirs of carbon are — beyond fossil fuel deposits, and the ocean — the next largest reservoir of carbon on the earth system is in soil.

Welcome to People I (Mostly) Admire, with Steve Levitt.

I got interested in soil science a few weeks back and I started doing a little bit of reading. And I stumbled onto Asmeret and her amazing story. Born and raised in civil-war ravaged Eritrea, she became a leading scientist and is poised to take over one of the most important jobs in science. I knew right away I needed to have her on this show.

LEVITT: Have you heard of a man named Sadhguru? He’s an Indian guru who’s currently riding a motorcycle across Europe and the Middle East to bring attention to soil degradation.

ASEFAW BERHE: I’ve seen some social media posts, and I also saw recently the interview he did with Trevor Noah.

LEVITT: Believe it or not, the idea for having you on this podcast came because his publicist somehow got in my inbox of my email. At first, I thought it was a joke, but then he was on Trevor Noah and I said, “Whoa, he must be doing something serious, but it’s not very scientific. I better learn something about the science.” And then I found you because you’re the first name that comes up if you look into soil science.

Here’s a selection of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) episodes (from a May 9, 2022 announcement received via email about the People I [Mostly] Admire podcast series),

While People I (Mostly) Admire hosts guests from all walks of life, Levitt’s conversations with scientists have been some of the most illuminating episodes. If you’re not familiar with the show, here’s a short guide to some of the STEM episodes:

  • We Can Play God Now (Ep. 67, 3/18/22) Gene-editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna worries that humanity might not be ready for the technology she helped develop.
  • The Professor Who Said “No” to Tenure (Ep. 66, 3/11/22) Columbia astrophysicist David Helfand is an academic who does things his own way — from turning down job security to helping found a radically unconventional university.
  • A Rockstar Chemist and Her Cancer-Attacking “Lawn Mower” (Ep. 65, 3/4/22) Stanford professor Carolyn Bertozzi’s imaginative ideas for treating disease have led to ten start-ups. She talks with Steve about the new generation of immune therapy she’s created, and why she might rather be a musician.
  • Cassandra Quave Thinks the Way Antibiotics Are Developed Might Kill Us (Ep. 60, 1/28/22) By mid-century, 10 million people a year are projected to die from untreatable infections. Can Cassandra, an ethnobotanist at Emory University convince Steve that herbs and ancient healing are key to our medical future?
  • Why Aren’t All Drugs Legal? (Ep. 28, Replay 1/14/22) The Columbia neuroscientist and psychology professor Carl Hart believes that recreational drug use, even heroin, methamphetamines, and cocaine, is an inalienable right. Can he convince Steve?
  • Max Tegmark on Why Superhuman Artificial Intelligence Won’t be Our Slave (Part 2) (Ep. 52, 11/19/21) He’s an M.I.T. cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert, and once upon a time, almost an economist. Max and Steve continue their conversation about the existential threats facing humanity, and what Max is doing to mitigate our risk. The co-founder of the Future of Life Institute thinks that artificial intelligence can be the greatest thing to ever happen to humanity — if we don’t screw it up.
  • Max Tegmark on Why Treating Humanity Like a Child Will Save Us All (Ep. 51, 11/5/21) How likely is it that this conversation is happening in more than one universe? Should we worry more about Covid or about nuclear war? Is economics a form of “intellectual prostitution?” Steve discusses these questions, and more, with Max, an M.I.T cosmologist, physicist, and machine-learning expert — who was once almost an economist. He also tells Steve why we should be optimistic about the future of humanity (assuming we move Earth to a larger orbit before the sun evaporates our oceans).
  • Mathematician Sarah Hart on Why Numbers are Music to Our Ears (Ep. 49, 10/29/21) Playing notes on her piano, she demonstrates for Steve why whole numbers sound pleasing, why octaves are mathematically imperfect, and how math underlies musical composition. Sarah, a professor at the University of London and Gresham College, also talks with Steve about the gender gap in mathematics and why being interested in everything can be a problem.

While I’m at it, here’s a couple of my postings on soil,

There’s a lot more should you choose to search ‘soil’.

Getting back to Freakonomics, it’s been quite a while since I’ve come across that term. You can find out more about the community from the freakonomics.com About page,

Freakonomics began as a book, which led to a blog, a documentary film, more books, a pair of pants, and in 2010, a podcast called Freakonomics Radio. Hosted by Stephen J. Dubner,it became and remains one of the most popular podcasts in the world, with a reputation for storytelling that is both rigorous and entertaining. Its archive of more than 400 episodes is available, for free, on any podcast app, and the show airs weekly on NPR stations. Freakonomics Radio is now the flagship show of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which includes the podcasts No Stupid Questions (est. 2020), People I (Mostly) Admire (2020), Freakonomics, M.D. (2021), and a variety of special series. To keep up with everything, you can get our newsletter, read the FAQs, or send inquiries to radio@freakonomics.com.

Oddly, I too have heard from Sadhguru (mentioned early in the interview with Asmeret Asefaw Berhe).

Celebrate World Quantum Day (April 14, 2022) with Conversations at the Perimeter

Canada’s Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) is launching a podcast, Conversations from the Perimeter, on World Quantum Day (April 14, 2022).

Here are some details from an April 7, 2022 PI news release (a shortened version was received via email),

Get to know some of the brilliant minds trying to solve nature’s deepest mysteries.

In 2020, our long-running public lecture series evolved to deliver the same cutting-edge physics talks in a virtual webcast format. Now, we’re excited to launch the next evolution in the series.

Starting next week, [April 14, 2022] Conversations at the Perimeter will take you into the depths of dark matter, black holes, and beyond as we introduce you to researchers working at the forefront of science.

The series is co-hosted by quantum physicist and lecturer Lauren Hayward and journalist-turned-science communicator Colin Hunter. In each episode, they chat with a guest scientist about their research, their motivations, the challenges they encounter, and the drive that keeps them searching for answers. 

Conversations at the Perimeter is the next evolution in Perimeter Institute’s long-running public lecture series, which changed in 2020 (like so much else) when in-person lectures became impossible. The new format allows Perimeter to showcase brilliant scientists and their ideas in a way that is interactive, lively, and safe. 

As always, the talks will be freely available on Perimeter’s YouTube channel – and, for the first time, they’ll be available via podcast, on all the major podcast channels. 

The first season will consist of 10 episodes, released every Thursday beginning on April 14 [2022] (World Quantum Day). Season one guests include loop quantum gravity founder Carlo Rovelli, theoretical cosmologist (and social media star) Katie Mack, quantum information scientist Raymond Laflamme, and more!

Happy world Quantum Day!

Gerhard Herzberg , the University of Saskatchewan, and the 1971 Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Half a century ago, a scientist won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work he’d done at the University of Saskatchewan and, later, at a National Research Council of Canada laboratory. The Nobel Prize was an unlikely event for more than one reason.

The history description I like the best is also the clunkiest (due to links and citations). From the essay by Denisa Popa for the Defining Moments Canada website (Note 1: I have removed the links; Note 2: NSERC is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada),

Gerhard Herzberg was born in Hamburg, Germany on December 25th, 1904. From an early age Herzberg developed a keen interest in the sciences, particularly astronomy, physics and chemistry (Stoicheff, 2002). … Herzberg initially considered a career in astronomy, but lacked the funds to pursue it any further (NSERC). In 1924, he ultimately decided to pursue engineering physics and enrolled in the Technical University at Darmstadt (NSERC). By the time he was 24 years old, he was well established in his field, publishing a number of academic papers on the topics of atomic and molecular physics, as well as obtaining a Doctorate in Engineering Physics in 1928 (NSERC).

Following his graduation, he entered a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Göttingen (University of Saskatchewan). Following that, Herzberg returned to Darmstadt where he spent five years conducting research on spectroscopy (University of Saskatchewan).  Spectroscopy is used to analyze the ability of molecules and compounds to emit and absorb different wavelengths of light and electromagnetic radiation (Herschbach, 1999). Through understanding the properties of the light/radiation that is emitted (or absorbed) scientists can learn more about the characteristics of molecules and compounds, including their structure and the types of chemical bonds they contain (Herschbach, 1999). 

While completing his postdoctoral fellowship, Herzberg met Luise Hedwig Oettinger, a university student also focusing on spectroscopic research (Stoicheff, 2002). The pair grew close and eventually married on December 30th, 1929 (Stoicheff, 2002). Over the years Luise, who received her Ph.D from the University of Frankfurt in 1933, co-authored a number of scientific papers with her husband (Stoicheff, 2002). The Herzbergs’ academic life in Germany would soon end in 1934 when the Nazi regime rose to power and began implementing new restrictions against Jewish scholars in academic institutions (Stoicheff, 2002). Herzberg received notice that he would no longer be permitted to teach at Darmstadt because of Luise’s Jewish heritage (Stoicheff, 2002; University of Saskatchewan). With the help of John W. T. Spinks (a chemist who visited and became closely acquainted with Herzberg in Darmstadt) and Walter C. Murray at the University of Saskatchewan, as well as funding from the Carnegie Foundation (as the university’s budget was limited during the depression era), the Herzbergs moved to Saskatoon that following year (NSERC). 

From 1935 to 1945 Herzberg established himself at the University of Saskatchewan, where he continued his research on molecular and atomic spectroscopy, publishing three new books (NSERC). He then spent the following three years at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory investigating “the absorption spectra of many molecules of astrophysical interest.” (NSERC) In 1948, the Herzbergs relocated back to Canada when Herzberg was invited to “establish a laboratory for fundamental research in spectroscopy” at the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. (NSERC) It was during his time at the NRC that one of his key discoveries was made–the observation of the spectra of methylene radical (CH2) (Stoicheff, 2002). Scientists describe free radicals as chemical species that have an unpaired electron in the outer valence shell (Winnewisser, 2004). Free radicals can be found as intermediates in a variety of chemical reactions (Herschbach, 1999). It was Herzberg’s contribution to the understanding of free radicals that contributed to his Nobel Prize win in 1971 (NSERC). Dr. Gerhard Herzberg had two children and passed away on March 3rd, 1999 at the age of 94 (Herschbach, 1999). 

Kathryn Warden’s Saskatechwan-forward article was first published in August 2021 in the University of Saskatchewan’s Green & White magazine (Note: A link has been removed),

When Gerhard Herzberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry 50 years ago for ground-breaking discoveries in a lifelong exploration of the structure of matter, he publicly thanked the University of Saskatchewan.

“It is obvious that the work that has earned me the Nobel Prize was not done without a great deal of help,” Herzberg said in his acceptance speech, acknowledging “the full and understanding support” of successive USask presidents and faculty who “did their utmost to make it possible for me to proceed with my scientific work.”

Herzberg’s brilliance in studying the spectra of atoms and molecules to understand their physical properties significantly advanced astronomy, chemistry and physics—enhancing knowledge of the atmospheres of stars and planets and determining the existence of some molecules never before imagined.

“He was certainly a pioneer,” said USask PhD student Natasha Vetter, winner of both the 2014 Herzberg Scholarship and the 2018 Herzberg Fellowship. “Without his work, the fundamental tools we use as chemists and biochemists wouldn’t exist. I feel pretty honoured to be part of that legacy and to have received those awards.”

While at USask from 1935 to 1945, Herzberg made discoveries that laid the groundwork for his work at Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory and then at the National Research Council (NRC), culminating in his celebrated work on free radicals—highly unstable, short-lived molecules that are everywhere: in our bodies, in materials and in space. They help important reactions take place but an imbalance can cause damage such as cancer or age-related illness. Knowledge of their structure is now used to make pharmaceuticals, medical radiation tests, light sensors, and a wide range of innovative materials.

“This was the beginning of molecular spectroscopy, and it was an exciting time because it was all so new,” said Alexander Moewes, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science with Synchrotron Radiation.

“Herzberg was unravelling the structure of molecules, specifically free radicals. Many of today’s drugs and human biochemistry processes are governed by these molecules. So much that we have developed today would not have been discovered if Herzberg hadn’t done this fundamental research. This can’t be overstated.”

In honour of Herzberg, the University of Saskatchewan is naming both a hall and a lecture theatre at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada’s synchrotron facility, after Herzberg, from a November 10, 2021 University of Saskatchewan news release,

As part of a national initiative to mark the 50th anniversary of Gerhard Herzberg’s Nobel Prize, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) is naming the main experimental hall of the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and a prominent physics lecture theatre on campus after the renowned scientist.

“Canada and the University of Saskatchewan welcomed Herzberg and his wife when no other country or university did,” said Stoicheff [USask President Peter Stoicheff]. “His legacy is evident today in so many ways, including at our Canadian Light Source where scientists from across Canada and around the world continue to unravel the mysteries of atomic structure.”

The Herzberg Experimental Hall is at the heart of the CLS, “the brightest light in Canada.” The enormous hall the size of a football field houses the synchrotron which supplies light to the many beamlines where wide-ranging experiments are conducted. The naming was endorsed by both the CLS board of directors and the CLS Users’ Executive Committee, and subsequently approved by the President’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Assets.

“As the father of modern spectroscopy, Herzberg conducted experiments that fundamentally changed scientific understanding of how molecules absorb and emit light,” said CLS board chair Pierre Lapointe.

“So it is very fitting that we honour his legacy at the Canadian Light Source where scientists from across Canada and around the world carry on the important work of using light to investigate the structure of matter—work that is leading to discoveries in fields as diverse as health, environment and new materials.” 

In his 2020 co-authored book on the history of the CLS, former CLS director Michael Bancroft said Herzberg’s fundamental research program in spectroscopy at USask in the 1930s paved the way for Canada’s only synchrotron.  He states that the close friendship that developed between USask chemistry researcher John Spinks and Herzberg in 1933 and 1934 in Germany, along with Herzberg’s subsequent hiring by USask President Walter Murray in 1935, “were the most important events in eventually landing the Canadian Light Source over 60 years later.” 

As Herzberg was a member of the USask physics department for a decade, the Physics 107 Lecture Theatre, across from a display dedicated to Herzberg, will be named the Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Lecture Theatre.

Chris Putnam’s December 10, 2021 article for the University of Saskatchewan highlights Herzberg’s other interests such as music and humanitarian work.

Finally, Herzberg gave an interview to Mary Christine King on May 5, 1986 (audio file and text) for the Science History Institute. Here’s a little more about Ms. King who died months after the interview,

“… born in China and educated in Ireland. She obtained a BSc degree in chemistry from the University of London in 1968, which was followed by an MSc in polymer and fiber science (1970) and a PhD for a thesis on the hydrodynamic properties of paraffins in solution (1973), both from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. After working with Joseph Needham at Cambridge, she received a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from the Open University (1980) and thereafter worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Ottawa, … King died in an automobile accident in late 1987 …”

The interview is an oral history as recounted by Herzberg.

Sonifying the protein folding process

A sonification and animation of a state machine based on a simple lattice model used by Martin Gruebele to teach concepts of protein-folding dynamics. First posted January 25, 2022 on YouTube.

A February 17, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily announces the work featured in the animation above,

Musicians are helping scientists analyze data, teach protein folding and make new discoveries through sound.

A team of researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is using sonification — the use of sound to convey information — to depict biochemical processes and better understand how they happen.

Music professor and composer Stephen Andrew Taylor; chemistry professor and biophysicist Martin Gruebele; and Illinois music and computer science alumna, composer and software designer Carla Scaletti formed the Biophysics Sonification Group, which has been meeting weekly on Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. The group has experimented with using sonification in Gruebele’s research into the physical mechanisms of protein folding, and its work recently allowed Gruebele to make a new discovery about the ways a protein can fold.

A February 17, 2022 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes how the group sonifies and animates the protein folding process (Note: Links have been removed),

Taylor’s musical compositions have long been influenced by science, and recent works represent scientific data and biological processes. Gruebele also is a musician who built his own pipe organ that he plays and uses to compose music. The idea of working together on sonification struck a chord with them, and they’ve been collaborating for several years. Through her company, Symbolic Sound Corp., Scaletti develops a digital audio software and hardware sound design system called Kyma that is used by many musicians and researchers, including Taylor.

Scaletti created an animated visualization paired with sound that illustrated a simplified protein-folding process, and Gruebele and Taylor used it to introduce key concepts of the process to students and gauge whether it helped with their understanding. They found that sonification complemented and reinforced the visualizations and that, even for experts, it helped increase intuition for how proteins fold and misfold over time. The Biophysics Sonification Group – which also includes chemistry professor Taras Pogorelov, former chemistry graduate student (now alumna) Meredith Rickard, composer and pipe organist Franz Danksagmüller of the Lübeck Academy of Music in Germany, and Illinois electrical and computer engineering alumnus Kurt Hebel of Symbolic Sound – described using sonification in teaching in the Journal of Chemical Education.

Gruebele and his research team use supercomputers to run simulations of proteins folding into a specific structure, a process that relies on a complex pattern of many interactions. The simulation reveals the multiple pathways the proteins take as they fold, and also shows when they misfold or get stuck in the wrong shape – something thought to be related to a number of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The researchers use the simulation data to gain insight into the process. Nearly all data analysis is done visually, Gruebele said, but massive amounts of data generated by the computer simulations – representing hundreds of thousands of variables and millions of moments in time – can be very difficult to visualize.

“In digital audio, everything is a stream of numbers, so actually it’s quite natural to take a stream of numbers and listen to it as if it’s a digital recording,” Scaletti said. “You can hear things that you wouldn’t see if you looked at a list of numbers and you also wouldn’t see if you looked at an animation. There’s so much going on that there could be something that’s hidden, but you could bring it out with sound.”

For example, when the protein folds, it is surrounded by water molecules that are critical to the process. Gruebele said he wants to know when a water molecule touches and solvates a protein, but “there are 50,000 water molecules moving around, and only one or two are doing a critical thing. It’s impossible to see.” However, if a splashy sound occurred every time a water molecule touched a specific amino acid, that would be easy to hear.

Taylor and Scaletti use various audio-mapping techniques to link aspects of proteins to sound parameters such as pitch, timbre, loudness and pan position. For example, Taylor’s work uses different pitches and instruments to represent each unique amino acid, as well as their hydrophobic or hydrophilic qualities.

“I’ve been trying to draw on our instinctive responses to sound as much as possible,” Taylor said. “Beethoven said, ‘The deeper the stream, the deeper the tone.’ We expect an elephant to make a low sound because it’s big, and we expect a sparrow to make a high sound because it’s small. Certain kinds of mappings are built into us. As much as possible, we can take advantage of those and that helps to communicate more effectively.”

The highly developed instincts of musicians help in creating the best tool to use sound to convey information, Taylor said.

“It’s a new way of showing how music and sound can help us understand the world. Musicians have an important role to play,” he said. “It’s helped me become a better musician, in thinking about sound in different ways and thinking how sound can link to the world in different ways, even the world of the very small.”

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

Sonification-Enhanced Lattice Model Animations for Teaching the Protein Folding Reaction by Carla Scaletti, Meredith M. Rickard, Kurt J. Hebel, Taras V. Pogorelov, Stephen A. Taylor, and Martin Gruebele. J. Chem. Educ. 2022, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.1c00857 Publication Date:February 16, 2022 © 2022 American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.

This paper is behind a paywall.

For more about sonification and proteins, there’s my March 31, 2022 posting, Classical music makes protein songs easier listening.

Secure quantum communication network with 15 users

Things are moving quickly where quantum communication networks are concerned. Back in April 2021, Dutch scientists announced the first multi-node quantum network connecting three processors (see my July 8, 2021 posting with the news and an embedded video).

Less than six months later, Chinese scientists announced work on a 15-user quantum network. From a September 23, 2021 news item on phys.org,

Quantum secure direct communication (QSDC) based on entanglement can directly transmit confidential information. Scientist [sic] in China explored a QSDC network based on time-energy entanglement and sum-frequency generation. The results show that when any two users are performing QSDC over 40 kilometers of optical fiber, and the rate of information transmission can be maintained at 1Kbp/s. Our result lays the foundation for the realization of satellite-based long-distance and global QSDC in the future.

A September 23, 2021 Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) press release on EurekAlert, which seems to have originated the news item, provides additional detail,

Quantum communication has presented a revolutionary step in secure communication due to its high security of the quantum information, and many communication protocols have been proposed, such as the quantum secure direct communication (QSDC) protocol. QSDC based on entanglement can directly transmit confidential information. Any attack of QSDC results to only random number, and cannot obtain any useful information from it. Therefore, QSDC has simple communication steps and reduces potential security loopholes, and offers high security guarantees, which guarantees the security and the value propositions of quantum communications in general. However, the inability to simultaneously distinguish the four sets of encoded orthogonal entangled states in entanglement-based QSDC protocols limits its practical application. Furthermore, it is important to construct quantum network in order to make wide applications of quantum secure direct communication. Experimental demonstration of QSDC is badly required.

In a new paper published in Light Science & Application, a team of scientists, led by Professor Xianfeng Chen from State Key Laboratory of Advanced Optical Communication Systems and Networks, School of Physics and Astronomy, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China and Professor Yuanhua Li from Department of Physics, Jiangxi Normal University, China have explored a QSDC network based on time-energy entanglement and sum-frequency generation (SFG). They present a fully connected entanglement-based QSDC network including five subnets, with 15 users. Using the frequency correlations of the fifteen photon pairs via time division multiplexing and dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), they perform a 40-kilometer fiber QSDC experiment by implying two-step transmission between each user. In this process, the network processor divides the spectrum of the single-photon source into 30 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) channels. With these channels, there will be a coincidence event between each user by performing a Bell-state measurement based on the SFG. This allows the four sets of encoded entangled states to be identified simultaneously without post-selection.

It is well known that the security and reliability of the information transmission for QSDC is an essential part in the quantum network. Therefore, they implemented block transmission and step-by-step transmission methods in QSDC with estimating the secrecy capacity of the quantum channel. After confirming the security of the quantum channel, the legitimate user performs encoding or decoding operations within these schemes reliably.

These scientists summarize the experiment results of their network scheme:

“The results show that when any two users are performing QSDC over 40 kilometers of optical fiber, the fidelity of the entangled state shared by them is still greater than 95%, and the rate of information transmission can be maintained at 1 Kbp/s. Our result demonstrates the feasibility of a proposed QSDC network, and hence lays the foundation for the realization of satellite-based long-distance and global QSDC in the future.”

“With this scheme, each user interconnects with any others through shared pairs of entangled photons in different wavelength. Moreover, it is possible to improve the information transmission rate greater than 100 Kbp/s in the case of the high-performance detectors, as well as high-speed control in modulator being used” they added.

“It is worth noting the present-work, which offers long-distance point-to-point QSDC connection, combined with the recently proposed secure-repeater quantum network of QSDC, which offers secure end-to-end communication throughout the quantum Internet, will enable the construction of secure quantum network using present-day technology, realizing the great potential of QSDC in future communication.” the scientists forecast.

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

A 15-user quantum secure direct communication network by Zhantong Qi, Yuanhua Li, Yiwen Huang, Juan Feng, Yuanlin Zheng & Xianfeng Chen. Light: Science & Applications volume 10, Article number: 183 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41377-021-00634-2 Published: 14 September 2021

This paper is open access.

For the profoundly curious, there is an earlier version of this paper on arXiv.org, the site run by Cornell University where it was posted after moderation but prior to peer-review for publication in a journal.