Category Archives: science

Measuring quantum gravity

It was about two years ago that a local (Vancouver, Canada) group of movers and shakers announced the launch of a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute at the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) in my July 26, 2022 posting where I also provided an overview of the doings in the Canadian quantum scene. (I can’t find an online presence for the institute but there is the Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society which organized the 2022 conference and the institute.)

All of this being the buildup to a quantum gravity announcement in a February 23, 2024 news item on Nanowerk,

Scientists are a step closer to unravelling the mysterious forces of the universe after working out how to measure gravity on a microscopic level.

Experts have never fully understood how the force which was discovered by Isaac Newton works in the tiny quantum world.

Even Einstein was baffled by quantum gravity and, in his theory of general relativity, said there is no realistic experiment which could show a quantum version of gravity.

But now physicists at the University of Southampton [UK], working with scientists in Europe, have successfully detected a weak gravitational pull on a tiny particle using a new technique.

They claim it could pave the way to finding the elusive quantum gravity theory.

A February 26, 2024 University of Southampton press release, also on EurekAlert but published on February 23, 2024, delves further into quantum gravity,

The experiment, published in the Science Advances journal, used levitating magnets to detect gravity on microscopic particles – small enough to boarder on the quantum realm.

Lead author Tim Fuchs, from the University of Southampton, said the results could help experts find the missing puzzle piece in our picture of reality.

He added: “For a century, scientists have tried and failed to understand how gravity and quantum mechanics work together.

“Now we have successfully measured gravitational signals at a smallest mass ever recorded, it means we are one step closer to finally realising how it works in tandem.

“From here we will start scaling the source down using this technique until we reach the quantum world on both sides.

“By understanding quantum gravity, we could solve some of the mysteries of our universe – like how it began, what happens inside black holes, or uniting all forces into one big theory.”

The rules of the quantum realm are still not fully understood by science – but it is believed that particles and forces at a microscopic scale interact differently than regular-sized objects.

Academics from Southampton conducted the experiment with scientists at Leiden University in the Netherlands and the Institute for Photonics and Nanotechnologies in Italy, with funding from the EU Horizon Europe EIC Pathfinder grant (QuCoM).

Their study used a sophisticated setup involving superconducting devices, known as traps, with magnetic fields, sensitive detectors and advanced vibration isolation.

It measured a weak pull, just 30aN, on a tiny particle 0.43mg in size by levitating it in freezing temperatures a hundredth of a degree above absolute zero – about minus-273 degrees Celsius.

The results open the door for future experiments between even smaller objects and forces, said Professor of Physics Hendrik Ulbricht also at the University of Southampton.

He added: “We are pushing the boundaries of science that could lead to new discoveries about gravity and the quantum world.

“Our new technique that uses extremely cold temperatures and devices to isolate vibration of the particle will likely prove the way forward for measuring quantum gravity.

“Unravelling these mysteries will help us unlock more secrets about the universe’s very fabric, from the tiniest particles to the grandest cosmic structures.”

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

Measuring gravity with milligram levitated masses by Tim M. Fuchs, Dennis G. Uitenbroek, Jaimy Plugge, Noud van Halteren, Jean-Paul van Soest, Andrea Vinante, Hendrik Ulbricht, and Tjerk H. Oosterkamp. Science Advances 23 Feb 2024 Vol 10, Issue 8 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adk2949

This paper is open access.

Maxwell’s demon at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada)

James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879), a Scottish physicist, is famous for many scientific breakthroughs (see Maxwell’s Wikipedia entry) and also for a thought experiment known as Maxwell’s demon. This graphical abstract illustrates a paper from three Simon Fraser University (SFU) physicists that advances the ‘demon’s’ possibiliteis,

Graphical Abstract: Energy flows in conventional and information engines used to displace a bead. Credit: Advances in Physics: X (2024). DOI: 10.1080/23746149.2024.2352112

A June 6, 2024 news item on phys.org describes Maxwell’s thought experiment and announces a possible breakthrough, Note: Links have been removed,

The molecules that make up the matter around us are in constant motion. What if we could harness that energy and put it to use?

Over 150 years ago, Maxwell theorized that if molecules’ motion could be measured accurately, this information could be used to power an engine. Until recently this was a thought experiment, but technological breakthroughs have made it possible to build working information engines in the lab.

SFU Physics professors John Bechhoefer and David Sivak teamed up to build an information engine and test its limits. Their work has greatly advanced our understanding of how these engines function, and a paper led by postdoctoral fellow Johan du Buisson and published recently in Advances in Physics: X summarizes the findings made during their collaboration.

A June 5, 2024 SFU news release (also on EurekAlert but published June 6, 2024) by Erin Brown-John, which originated the news item, describes the breakthrough in more detail,

“We live in a world full of extra unused energy that potentially could be used,” says Bechhoefer. Understanding how information engines function can not only help us put that energy to work, it can also suggest ways that existing engines could be redesigned to use energy more efficiently, and help us learn how biological motors work in organisms and the human body.

The team’s information engine consists of a tiny bead in a water bath that is held in place with an optical trap. When fluctuations in the water cause the bead to move in the desired direction, the trap can be adjusted to prevent the bead from returning to the place where it was before. By taking accurate measurements of the bead’s location and using that information to adjust the trap, the engine is able to convert the heat energy of the water into work.

To understand how fast and efficient the engine could be, the team tested multiple variables such as the mass of the bead and sampling frequency, and developed algorithms to reduce the uncertainty of their measurements.

“Stripped down to its simplest essence, we can systematically understand how things like temperature and the size of the system changes the things we can take advantage of,” Sivak says. “What are the strategies that work best? How do they change with all those different properties?”

The team was able to achieve the fastest speed recorded to date for an information engine, approximately ten times faster than the speed of E. coli, and comparable to the speed of motile bacteria found in marine environments.

Next, the team wanted to learn if an information engine could harvest more energy than it costs to run. “In equilibrium, that’s always a losing game,” Bechhoefer says. “The costs of gathering the information and processing it will always exceed what you’re getting out of it, but when you have an environment that has extra energy, [molecules doing] extra jiggling around, then that can change the balance if it’s strong enough.”

They found that in a non-equilibrium environment, where the engine was in a heat bath with a higher temperature than the measuring apparatus, it could output significantly more power than it cost to run.

All energy on Earth comes from the sun, and it eventually radiates out into space. That directional flow of energy manifests itself in many different ways, such as wind or ocean currents that can be harvested. Understanding the principles behind information engines can help us make better use of that energy.

“We’re coming at [energy harvesting] from a very different point of view, and we hope that this different perspective can lead to some different insights about how to be more efficient,” Bechhoefer says.

The pair is looking forward to working together on other projects in the future. “We were lucky to get a joint grant together. That really helped with the collaboration,” says Bechhoefer.

Sivak, a theorist, and Bechhoefer, an experimentalist, bring complementary approaches to their work, and they have been able to attract trainees who want to work with both. “We have different styles in terms of how we go about mentoring and leading a group,” says Sivak. “Our students and post-docs can benefit from both approaches.”

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

Performance limits of information engines by Johan du Buisson, David A. Sivak, & John Bechhoefer. Advances in Physics: X Volume 9, 2024 – Issue 1 Article: 2352112 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/23746149.2024.2352112 Published online: 21 May 2024

This paper is open access.

University of Waterloo researchers get one step closer to secure quantum communication on a global scale

A March 25, 2024 news item on phys.org announcds Canadian research into quantum communication, Note: Links have been removed,

Researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) have brought together two Nobel prize-winning research concepts to advance the field of quantum communication.

Scientists can now efficiently produce nearly perfect entangled photon pairs from quantum dot sources. The research, “Oscillating photonic Bell state from a semiconductor quantum dot for quantum key distribution,” was published in Communications Physics

A March 25, 2024 University of Waterloo news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the topic of quantum physics and communication,

Entangled photons are particles of light that remain connected, even across large distances, and the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics recognized experiments on this topic. Combining entanglement with quantum dots, a technology recognized with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2023, the IQC research team aimed to optimize the process for creating entangled photons, which have a wide variety of applications, including secure communications.

“The combination of a high degree of entanglement and high efficiency is needed for exciting applications such as quantum key distribution or quantum repeaters, which are envisioned to extend the distance of secure quantum communication to a global scale or link remote quantum computers,” said Dr. Michael Reimer, professor at IQC and Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Previous experiments only measured either near-perfect entanglement or high efficiency, but we’re the first to achieve both requirements with a quantum dot.”

By embedding semiconductor quantum dots into a nanowire, the researchers created a source that creates near-perfect entangled photons 65 times more efficiently than previous work. This new source, developed in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa, can be excited with lasers to generate entangled pairs on command. The researchers then used high-resolution single photon detectors provided by Single Quantum in The Netherlands to boost the degree of entanglement.

“Historically, quantum dot systems were plagued with a problem called fine structure splitting, which causes an entangled state to oscillate over time. This meant that measurements taken with a slow detection system would prevent the entanglement from being measured,” said Matteo Pennacchietti, a PhD student at IQC and Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We overcame this by combining our quantum dots with a very fast and precise detection system. We can basically take a timestamp of what the entangled state looks like at each point during the oscillations, and that’s where we have the perfect entanglement.”

To showcase future communications applications, Reimer and Pennacchietti worked with Dr. Norbert Lütkenhaus and Dr. Thomas Jennewein, both IQC faculty members and professors in Waterloo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, and their teams. Using their new quantum dot entanglement source, the researchers simulated a secure communications method known as quantum key distribution, proving that the quantum dot source holds significant promise in the future of secure quantum communications.

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

Oscillating photonic Bell state from a semiconductor quantum dot for quantum key distribution by Matteo Pennacchietti, Brady Cunard, Shlok Nahar, Mohd Zeeshan, Sayan Gangopadhyay, Philip J. Poole, Dan Dalacu, Andreas Fognini, Klaus D. Jöns, Val Zwiller, Thomas Jennewein, Norbert Lütkenhaus & Michael E. Reimer. Communications Physics volume 7, Article number: 62 (2024)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s42005-024-01547-3 Published: 24 February 2024

This paper is open access.

Colossal Biosciences (a de-extinction company), creates induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) from elephant skin cells for Woolly Mammoth Project

De-extinction (also known as resurrection biology) has been mentioned here before (my January 18, 2019 posting). It’s essentially a ‘Jurassic Park’ fantasy that some people want to turn into reality and it seems they are now one step closer where woolly mammoths are concerned.

The breakthrough has to do with Asian elephant stem cells,

Asian elephant iPSC colonies
Caption: Asian elephant iPSC colonies stained for pluripotency factors OCT4 (Magenta) and SOX2(green), nuclear DNA Hoechst (blue) and cytoskeletal protein actin (red) Credit: Colossal Biosciences

Bob Yirka’s March 7, 2024 article for phys.org offers a succinct summary, Note: Links have been removed,

A team of bioengineers at de-extinction company Colossal Biosciences has announced that they created induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) from elephant skin cells. In speaking with the press, officials with the team reported that they are still in the process of writing a paper describing their efforts and plan to post it on the bioRxiv preprint server. Ewen Callaway has published a News article in Nature about the announcement.

Aside: Colossal Biosciences was co-founded by George Church (Colossal profile) mentioned here many times in regard to gene editing and in the January 18, 2019 posting about de-extinction.

A March 6, 2024 Colossal Biosciences news release on EurekAlert provides more detail about the latest research,

Colossal Biosciences(“Colossal”), the world’s first de-extinction company, announces today that their Woolly Mammoth team has achieved a global-first iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cells) breakthrough. This milestone advancement was one of the primary early goals of the mammoth project, and supports the feasibility of future multiplex ex utero mammoth gestation.

iPSC cells represent a single cell source that can propagate indefinitely and give rise to every other type of cell in a body. As such, the progress with elephant iPSCs extends far beyond this de-extinction project holding tremendous potential for studying cell development, cell therapy, drug screening, synthetic embryos, in vitro gametogenesis, and the use of iPSCs for nuclear transfer across all species. Invaluable for Colossal’s Woolly Mammoths, these cells can be multiplex-edited and differentiated to study cold adaptation traits like woolly hair growth and fat storage in cellular and organoid models.  

“In the past, a multitude of attempts to generate elephant iPSCs have not been fruitful. Elephants are a very special species, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of their fundamental biology,” shared Eriona Hysolli, Head of Biological Sciences at Colossal Biosciences. “My early work in Dr. George Church’s laboratory had been partially successful with iPSC-like cells that led to the foundation of the cells we have currently developed. And now, using a multi-pronged approach to reprogramming we have the most successful efforts to date. The Colossal mammoth team persisted quite successfully as this progress is invaluable for the future of elephant assisted reproductive technologies, as well as advanced cellular modeling of mammoth phenotypes.”

The derivation of mouse iPSCs pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka in 2006 paved the way for using a  4-factor protocol to derive human, horse, pig, cattle, rabbit, monkey, ape, big cats, rhino and even avian species iPSCs among many more. While the medium where the cells grew required some tweaking depending on the species, it was surprising to observe how close to universal the reprogramming protocol was across species. Yet, elephant iPSCs still remained elusive.

“Elephants might get the “hardest to reprogram” prize, but learning how to do it anyway will help many other studies, especially on endangered species. This milestone gives us insights into developmental biology and the balance between senescence and cancer. It opens the door for obtaining gametes and other cell types without surgery on precious animals. It opens the door to establishing connections between genes and traits for both modern and extinct relatives – including resistance to environmental extremes and pathogens.  This collaboration has been a true pleasure and a colossal accelerant for our challenging project,” shared Colossal co-founder and renowned Harvard geneticist Dr. George Church [emphasis mine].

Using chemical-based induction media first, followed by addition of transcription factors  Oct4, Sox2, Klf4, Myc +/- Nanog and Lin28, and p53 pathway suppression, the team has achieved the most successful reprogramming of elephant iPSCs yet. The approach differs from other more standard reprogramming protocols for other species due in part  to the complexities of the TP53 pathway in elephants as their genome contains up to 19 copies of TP53 retrogenes. TP53 is a core gene utilized by the cell to carefully regulate its growth so as not to become cancerous. Additionally, reprogramming, which in itself is quite long and inefficient for higher mammal species, takes longer for elephants. But, the successful iPSC cells now express multiple core pluripotency factors and are able to differentiate into the three germ layers that have the potential to give rise to each cell type in the body.

These newly reprogrammed iPSC cells have been validated through immunostaining, PCR of pluripotency and differentiation markers, transcriptomics analysis, embryoid bodies and teratoma formation. This work will be published in Bioarxiv with a peer-reviewed article in a scientific journal in progress. It is not the end of the elephant reprogramming journey, but this announcement marks the first successful steps. The mammoth stem cell team with team lead Evan Appleton are now focused on further maturing these cells, and pursuing additional iPSC generation strategies that have so far also been successful. This work will be shared in follow-up publications.

“We are most excited to use the cells we have developed to grow elephant gametes in a dish. While elephants have been a challenging species, this has been an incredibly unique opportunity with so much to learn and share now and in the near future,” shared team lead Evan Appleton.

“We knew when we set out on the Woolly Mammoth de-extinction project that it would be challenging but we’ve always had the best team on the planet focused on the task at hand,” stated co-founder and CEO of Colossal, Ben Lamm. “This is a momentous step, with numerous applications, that we are proud to share with the scientific community. Each step brings us closer to our long term goals of bringing back this iconic species.”

The team is also working to establish a mechanism that can explain why elephant cell reprogramming has been challenging. Doing so is critical to deriving iPSCs faster, achieving more advanced tri-lineage differentiation, particularly in vitro gametogenesis, which is crucial to test the full potential of the iPSCs. Once the iPSCs can be used to establish a model for synthetic elephant embryos, it will also be integral to understanding the long and complex elephant (and by association mammoth) development and gestation cycle.  This will be critical to Colossals’ re-wilding efforts which rely heavily on leveraging ex utero development for species preservation and restoration. All of these scientific developments hold extension possibilities across the field of developmental biology which have ramifications far beyond the current Colossal projects.

ABOUT COLOSSAL

Colossal was founded by emerging technology and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and world-renowned geneticist and serial biotech entrepreneur George Church, Ph.D., and is the first to apply CRISPR technology for the purposes of species de-extinction. Colossal creates innovative technologies for species restoration, critically endangered species protection and the repopulation of critical ecosystems that support the continuation of life on Earth. Colossal is accepting humanity’s duty to restore Earth to a healthier state, while also solving for the future economies and biological necessities of the human condition through cutting-edge science and technologies.

In trying to find out why someone would want to bring back an animal adapted to the cold to a planet that is warming up, I found a couple of articles. There’s this ebullient Nicholas St. Fleur April 4, 2024 article “What ‘de-extinction’ of woolly mammoths can teach us: a Q&A with evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro” for Stat News. The article was occasioned when Shapiro was named chief scientific officer for Colossal Biosciences. For a more critical analysis of de-extinction, there’s this September 15, 2021 article “Don’t count on resurrected woolly mammoths to combat climate change” by Justine Calma for The Verge.

Venice Biennale 2024 (April 20 – November 24, 2024)

Every once in a while I get an email from a lawyer (Gale P. Eston) in New York City who specializes in the art and business communities. How I got on her list is a mystery to me but her missives are always interesting. The latest one was a little difficult to understand until I looked at the Venice Biennale website and saw the theme for this year’s exhibition,

Courtesy: Venice Biennale [downloaded from https://www.labiennale.org/en/news/biennale-arte-2024-stranieri-ovunque-foreigners-everywhere]

Biennale Arte 2024: Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere

The 60th International Art Exhibition, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, will be open from Saturday 20 April to Sunday 24 November at the Giardini and Arsenale venues.

The 60th International Art Exhibition, titled Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, will open to the public from Saturday April 20 to Sunday November 24, 2024, at the Giardini and the Arsenale; it will be curated by Adriano Pedrosa and organised by La Biennale di Venezia. The pre-opening will take place on April 17, 18 and 19; the awards ceremony and inauguration will be held on 20 April 2024.

Since 2021, La Biennale di Venezia launched a plan to reconsider all of its activities in light of recognized and consolidated principles of environmental sustainability. For the year 2024, the goal is to extend the achievement of “carbon neutrality” certification, which was obtained in 2023 for La Biennale’s scheduled activities: the 80th Venice International Film Festival, the Theatre, Music and Dance Festivals and, in particular, the 18th International Architecture Exhibition which was the first major Exhibition in this discipline to test in the field a tangible process for achieving carbon neutrality – while furthermore itself reflecting upon the themes of decolonisation and decarbonisation

The Exhibition will take place in the Central Pavilion (Giardini) and in the Arsenale, and it will present two sections: the Nucleo Contemporaneo and the Nucleo Storico.

As a guiding principle, the Biennale Arte 2024 has favored artists who have never participated in the International Exhibition—though a number of them may have been featured in a National Pavilion, a Collateral Event, or in a past edition of the International Exhibition. Special attention is being given to outdoor projects, both in the Arsenale and in the Giardini, where a performance program is being planned with events during the pre-opening and closing weekend of the 60th Exhibition.

Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, the title of the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, is drawn from a series of works started in 2004 by the Paris-born and Palermo-based Claire Fontaine collective. The works consist of neon sculptures in different colours that render in a growing number of languages the words “Foreigners Everywhere”. The phrase comes, in turn, from the name of a Turin collective who fought racism and xenophobia in Italy in the early 2000s.

«The expression Stranieri Ovunque – explains Adriano Pedrosa – has several meanings. First of all, that wherever you go and wherever you are you will always encounter foreigners— they/we are everywhere. Secondly, that no matter where you find yourself, you are always truly, and deep down inside, a foreigner.»

«The Italian straniero, the Portuguese estrangeiro, the French étranger, and the Spanish extranjero, are all etymologically connected to the strano, the estranho, the étrange, the extraño, respectively, which is precisely the stranger. Sigmund Freud’s Das Unheimliche comes to mind—The Uncanny in English, which in Portuguese has indeed been translated as “o estranho”– the strange that is also familiar, within, deep down side. According to the American Heritage and the Oxford Dictionaries, the first meaning of the word “queer” is precisely “strange”, and thus the Exhibition unfolds and focuses on the production of other related subjects: the queer artist, who has moved within different sexualities and genders, often being persecuted or outlawed; the outsider artist, who is located at the margins of the art world, much like the self-taught artist, the folk artist and the artista popular; the indigenous artist, frequently treated as a foreigner in his or her own land. The productions of these four subjects are the interest of this Biennale, constituting the Nucleo Contemporaneo

«Indigenous artists have an emblematic presence and their work greets the public in the Central Pavilion, where the Mahku collective from Brazil will paint a monumental mural on the building’s façade, and in the Corderie, where the Maataho collective from Aotearoa/New Zealand will present a large-scale installation in the first room. Queer artists appear throughout the exhibition, and are also the subject of a large section in the Corderie, and one devoted to queer abstraction in the Central Pavilion.»

The Nucleo Contemporaneo will feature a special section in the Corderie devoted to the Disobedience Archive, a project by Marco Scotini, which since 2005 has been developing a video archive focusing on the relationships between artistic practices and activism. In the Exhibition, the presentation of the Disobedience Archive is designed by Juliana Ziebell, who also worked in the exhibition architecture of the entire International Exhibition. This section is divided into two main parts especially conceived for our framework: Diaspora activism and Gender Disobedience. The Disobedience Archive will include works by 39 artists and collectives made between 1975 and 2023.»

«The Nucleo Storico gathering works from 20th century Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Much has been written about global modernisms and modernisms in the Global South, and a number of rooms will feature works from these territories, much like an essay, a draft, a speculative curatorial exercise that seeks to question the boundaries and definitions of modernism. We are all too familiar with the histories of modernism in Euroamerica, yet the modernisms in the Global South remain largely unknown. […]. European modernism itself travelled far beyond Europe throughout the 20th century, often intertwined with colonialism, and many artists in the Global South traveled to Europe to be exposed to it […].»

In the Central Pavilion three rooms are planned for the Nucleo Storico: one room is titled Portraits, one Abstractions and the third one is devoted to the the worldwide Italian artistic diaspora in the 20th century.

«The double-room named Portraits, includes works from 112 artists, mostly paintings but also works on paper and sculpture, spanning the years of 1905 and 1990. […] The theme of the human figure has been explored in countless different ways by artists in the Global South, reflecting on the crisis of representation around the that very figure that marked much of the art in 20th century art. In the Global South, many artists were in touch with European modernism, through travels, studies or books, yet they bring in their own highly personal and powerful reflections and contributions to their works […]. The room devoted to Abstractions includes 37 artists: most of them are being exhibited together for the first time, and we will learn from these unforeseen juxtapositions in the flesh, which will then hopefully point towards new connections, associations, and parallels much beyond the rather straightforward categories that I have proposed. […]»

Artists from Singapore and Korea have been brought into this section, given that at the time they were part of the so-called Third World. In a similar manner, Selwyn Wilson and Sandy Adsett, from Aotearoa/New Zealand, have been brought into this Nucleo Storico as they are historical Maori artists.

«[…] A third room in the Nucleo Storico is dedicated to the worldwide Italian artistic diaspora in the 20th century: Italian artists who travelled and moved abroad developing their careers in Africa, Asia, Latin America, as well as in the rest of Europe and the United States, becoming embedded in local cultures—and who often played significant roles in the development of the narratives of modernism beyond Italy. This room will feature works by 40 artists who are first or second generations Italians, exhibited in Lina Bo Bardi’s glass easel display system (Bo Bardi herself an Italian who moved to Brazil, and who won the 2021 Biennale Architettura’s Special Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Memoriam).»

«Two quite different but related elements have emerged – underlines Pedrosa – rather organically in the research and have been developed, appearing as leitmotivs throughout the International Exhibition. The first one is textiles, which have been explored by many artists in the show in multiple, from key historical figures in the Nucleo Storico, to many artists in the Nucleo Contemporaneo. […] These works reveal an interest in craft, tradition, and the handmade, and in techniques that were at times considered other or foreign, outsider or strange in the larger field of fine arts. […] A second motif is artists—artists related by blood, many of them Indigenous. […] Again tradition plays an important role here: the transmission of knowledge and practices from father or mother to son or daughter or among siblings and relatives.»

There’s a lot more about this huge art exhibition on the Venice Biennale website but this is enough to give you a sense of the size and scope and how the work Eston describes fits into the 2024 exhibition theme.

Gale P. Eston‘s April 12, 2024 email announced an exhibition she curated and which is being held on site during the 2024 Venice Biennale (Note 1: I’ve published too late for the opening reception but there’s more to Eston’s curation than a reception; Note 2: There is an art/science aspect to the work from artist China Blue),

Hospitality in the Pluriverse, curated by Gale Elston during the 60th edition of the Venice Biennial from April 16 to May 4, 2024.

The Opening Reception will be held April 16th, 2024 from 5-7 pm

HOSPITALITY IN THE PLURIVERSE

JEREMY DENNIS

ANITA GLESTA

ANN MCCOY

WARREN NEIDICH

ILONA RICH

Corte de Ca’ Sarasina, Castello 1199, Venezia, IT, 30122

April 16 to May 4, 2024

OPENING RECEPTION: April 16, 5 to 7 PM

Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 PM

Performances by CHINA BLUE curated by Elga Wimmer

April 16, 18 and 19 at 6 PM

RAINER GANAHL, Requiem, performed April 17 at 6 PM

This exhibition includes five artists who explore the political, historical, aesthetical, physical, and epistemological dimensions of hospitality and its’ conflicts. Based upon the analysis of Jacques Derrida, in his Of Hospitality, this exhibition scrutinizes the reaction of the host to alterity or otherness.

Each artist examines various questions surrounding the encounter of a foreigner and their host sovereign using a variety of media such as painting, photography, sculpture, and animation.

In discussion with Adriano Pedrosa’s exhibition Foreigners Everywhere, the exhibition Hospitality in the Pluriverse understands the complexity of immigration and begs the question of what hospitality is and when and how should it be extended to the stranger, the foreigner, the “other”.

On the one hand the devastating effects of global inequality, climate change (climate refugees) and the political pressures created have led to mass migration and political and chaos. In opposition, the richness of the contributions of the other in the form of cultural and epistemological multiplicity is invaluable.

Jeremy Dennis, First Nation artist and Tribal Member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, NY, uses staging and computer assisted techniques to create unusual color photographs which portray indigenous identity, culture, and assimilation. His photographs challenge how indigenous people have been presented in film in America Westerns as well as empowering them through the use of a haunting Zombie trope establishing the power of ancestral knowledge as a means of resistance.

Ann McCoy, a New York-based sculptor, painter, and art critic, and Editor-at- Large for the Brooklyn Rail includes a new drawing from her recent Guggenheim Fellowship exploring the fairy tale of a wolf in her father’s silver, gold and tungsten mill. The fairy tale is based on an historic site of many Irish immigrant workers’ deaths and expresses the tragedy using Jungian and alchemical references.

Warren Neidich’s work Pluriverse* engages with the concept of cognitive justice. As Bonaventure de Sousa Santos has said there can be no social justice without cognitive justice. Cognitive which includes the right of different traditions of knowledge and the cultural practices they are engaged with to co-exist without duress. Especially relevant for us here are those forms of knowledge that have evolved in the so-called enlightened global North, Indigenous Knowledges and those in the subaltern global South and Asia. Pluriverse is an expression that is inclusive of these diverse epistemologies. We don’t want to live in a normative, homogeneous Universe but rather a heterogeneous and multiplicitous Pluriverse.*

Anita Glesta, depicts the non-human foreigner (a corona virus moving through the body like a bug or a butterfly) set to a soundtrack from Hildegard von Bingen, the abbess and composer from the medieval ages. Glesta’s video was developed on a Fellowship with The ARC Laureate Felt Experience & Empathy Lab to research how anxiety affects our nervous system. As an extension of the pandemic series her animations invite the viewer to experience how humans process fear and anxiety in their bodies.

Spanish artist Ilona Rich work continues the theme of what it is to be a foreigner on a psychological level. Her colorful sculptures describe a dystopian view of the commonplace and the everyday.

Her work shows us a person who feels like a stranger in their own skin, anxious, precarious, not normative. Her dogs have two heads and the many feet of a centipede. Her sculpture Wheel of Fortune will be displayed which posits that fate is contingent on chance and our roles as host or foreigner are subject to rapid unexpected change.

The exhibition offers a dizzying study of alterity, on the biological (Glesta), the social (Dennis), the historical (McCoy), cognitive (Neidich) and personal levels (Rich).The viewer will come away with an expanded and enriched view of what it means to be a foreigner and asks what contingencies, if any, should accompany hospitality.

— Gale Elston

China Blue, Saturn Walk: Embodying Listening during the 2024 Venice Biennial with (Re)Create [emphasis mine]

Project Space Venice, curated by Elga Wimmer.

US/Canadian artist China Blue creates art performances that give a physical expression to sound based on her interest in connecting through art and science.

For her 2024 Venice exhibition, Saturn Walk: Embodying Listening by China Blue, performers and visitors walk in a labyrinth to a composition created by her and Lance Massey. This is a work based on the sonics in Saturn’s rings that China Blue and Dr. Seth Horowitz discovered as a result of a grant from NASA to explore Saturn’s rings.

In Saturn Walk: Embodying Listening for the (Re)Create Project Space Venice, the artist invites viewers to experience the sound walk following the dance performance. The dancers include Andrea Nann and Jennifer Dahl, Canada, and Laura Coloman, UK. A trace of China Blue’s performance, an artwork, Celestial Pearls, based on 16 of Saturn’s 100+ moons, will remain on view at (Re)Create Project Space Venice.

Austrian artist Rainer Ganahl performs his work, Requiem in memoriam for Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.

It seems like you might need the full seven months to fully appreciate the work on display at the 2024 Venice Biennale.

Archaeomagnetism, anomalies in space, and 3,000-year-old Babylonian bricks

While i don’t usually cover the topic of magnetic fields, this fascinating research required a combination of science and the humanities, a topic of some interest to me. First, there’s the news and then excerpts from Rae Hodge’s December 25, 2023 commentary “How 3,000-year-old Babylonian tablets help scientists unravel one of the weirdest mysteries in space” for Salon.

A December 19, 2023 University College London (UCL; also on EurekAlert but published December 18, 2023) explains how Babylonian artefacts led to a discovery about earth’s magnetic fields,

Ancient bricks inscribed with the names of Mesopotamian kings have yielded important insights into a mysterious anomaly in Earth’s magnetic field 3,000 years ago, according to a new study involving UCL researchers.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), describes how changes in the Earth’s magnetic field imprinted on iron oxide grains within ancient clay bricks, and how scientists were able to reconstruct these changes from the names of the kings inscribed on the bricks.

The team hopes that using this “archaeomagnetism,” which looks for signatures of the Earth’s magnetic field in archaeological items, will improve the history of Earth’s magnetic field, and can help better date artefacts that they previously couldn’t.

Co-author Professor Mark Altaweel (UCL Institute of Archaeology) said: “We often depend on dating methods such as radiocarbon dates to get a sense of chronology in ancient Mesopotamia. However, some of the most common cultural remains, such as bricks and ceramics, cannot typically be easily dated because they don’t contain organic material. This work now helps create an important dating baseline that allows others to benefit from absolute dating using archaeomagnetism.”

The Earth’s magnetic field weakens and strengthens over time, changes which imprint a distinct signature on hot minerals that are sensitive to the magnetic field. The team analysed the latent magnetic signature in grains of iron oxide minerals embedded in 32 clay bricks originating from archaeological sites throughout Mesopotamia, which now overlaps with modern day Iraq. The strength of the planet’s magnetic field was imprinted upon the minerals when they were first fired by the brickmakers thousands of years ago.

At the time they were made, each brick was inscribed with the name of the reigning king which archaeologists have dated to a range of likely timespans. Together, the imprinted name and the measured magnetic strength of the iron oxide grains offered a historical map of the changes to the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field.

The researchers were able to confirm the existence of the “Levantine Iron Age geomagnetic Anomaly,” a period when Earth’s magnetic field was unusually strong around modern Iraq between about 1050 to 550 BCE for unclear reasons. Evidence of the anomaly has been detected as far away as China, Bulgaria and the Azores, but data from within the southern part of the Middle East itself had been sparse.

Lead author Professor Matthew Howland of Wichita State University said: “By comparing ancient artefacts to what we know about ancient conditions of the magnetic field, we can estimate the dates of any artifacts that were heated up in ancient times.”

To measure the iron oxide grains, the team carefully chipped tiny fragments from broken faces of the bricks and used a magnetometer to precisely measure the fragments.

By mapping out the changes in Earth’s magnetic field over time, this data also offers archaeologists a new tool to help date some ancient artefacts. The magnetic strength of iron oxide grains embedded within fired items can be measured and then matched up to the known strengths of Earth’s historic magnetic field. The reigns of kings lasted from years to decades, which offers better resolution than radiocarbon dating which only pinpoints an artefact’s date to within a few hundred years.

An additional benefit of the archaeomagnetic dating of the artefacts is it can help historians more precisely pinpoint the reigns of some of the ancient kings that have been somewhat ambiguous. Though the length and order of their reigns is well known, there has been disagreement within the archaeological community about the precise years they took the throne resulting from incomplete historical records. The researchers found that their technique lined up with an understanding of the kings’ reigns known to archaeologists as the “Low Chronology”.

The team also found that in five of their samples, taken during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II from 604 to 562 BCE, the Earth’s magnetic field seemed to change dramatically over a relatively short period of time, adding evidence to the hypothesis that rapid spikes in intensity are possible.

Co-author Professor Lisa Tauxe of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (US) said: “The geomagnetic field is one of the most enigmatic phenomena in earth sciences. The well-dated archaeological remains of the rich Mesopotamian cultures, especially bricks inscribed with names of specific kings, provide an unprecedented opportunity to study changes in the field strength in high time resolution, tracking changes that occurred over several decades or even less.”

The research was carried out with funding from the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundatio

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

Exploring geomagnetic variations in ancient Mesopotamia: Archaeomagnetic study of inscribed bricks from the 3rd–1st millennia BCE by Matthew D. Howland, Lisa Tauxe, Shai Gordin, and Erez Ben-Yosef. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) December 18, 2023 120 (52) e2313361120 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2313361120

This paper is behind a paywall.

The Humanities and their importance to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)

Rae Hodge’s December 25, 2023 commentary explains why magnetic fields might be of interest to a member of the general public (that’s me) and more about the interdisciplinarity, which drove the project, Note 1: This is a US-centric view but the situation in Canada (and I suspect elsewhere) is similar. Note 2: Links have been removed,

Among the most enigmatic mysteries of modern science are the strange anomalies which appear from time to time in the earth’s geomagnetic field. It can seem like the laws of physics behave differently in some places, with unnerving and bizarre results — spacecraft become glitchy, the Hubble Space Telescope can’t capture observations and satellite communications go on the fritz. Some astronauts orbiting past the anomalies report blinding flashes of light and sudden silence. They call one of these massive, growing anomalies the Bermuda Triangle of space — and even NASA [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] is now tracking it. 

With all the precisely tuned prowess of modern tech turning its eye toward these geomagnetic oddities, you might not expect that some key scientific insights about them could be locked inside a batch of 3,000-year-old Babylonian cuneiform tablets. But that’s exactly what a recently published study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests. 

This newly discovered connection between ancient Mesopotamian writing and modern physics is more than an amusing academic fluke. It highlights just how much is at stake for 21st-century scientific progress when budget-slashing lawmakers, university administrators and private industry investors shovel funding into STEM field development while neglecting — and in some case, actively destroying — the humanities.

… Despite advances in the past five years or so, archaeomagnetism is still methodologically complex and often tedious work, often cautious data sifting to arrive at accurate interpretations. The more accurate of which come from analyzing layers upon layers of strata. 

But when combined with the expertise of the humanities — from historians and linguists, to religious scholars and anthropologists? Archaeomagnetism opens up new worlds of study across all disciplines. 

In fact, the team’s results show that the strength of the magnetic field in Mesopotamia was more than one and a half times stronger than it is in the area today, with a massive spike happening sometimes between 604 B.C. and 562 B.C. By combining the results of archaeomagnetic tests and the transcriptions of ancient languages on the bricks, the team was able to confirm this spike likely occurred during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II.

Hand in hand with the sciences, the LIAA [Levantine Iron Age Anomaly] trail was illuminated by historical accounts of descriptively similar events, recorded from ancient authors as far west as the Iberian peninsula and well into Asia. Archaeomagnetism has now allowed researchers to not only confirm the presence of the LIAA in ancient Mesopotamia from 1050 to 550 B.C. — itself a first for science — but offers cultural historians a new way to verify and apply context to a vast tide of early scientific information.

Hodge further explores the importance of interdisciplinary work, December 25, 2023 commentary, Note: Links have been removed,

The symbiotic interdependence between the humanities and sciences deepens further in the thicket of time when one considers that the original locations of the team’s fragments likely include the earliest known centers of astrology and mathematics in Sumeria, such as Nineveh near modern-day Mosul, Iraq. At the ancient city’s royal library of the Assyrian Empire, a site dating back to around 650 B.C., a trove of thousands of tablets were excavated in the mid-1800s containing precise astronomical data surpassing that found in any previous discovery.

Among those, the “The Plough Star” tablets bear inscriptions dating to 687 B.C. and are the first known instances of humans tracking lunar and planetary orbits through both the solar ecliptic and 17 constellations. The same trove yielded the awe-striking collection known as the Astronomical Diaries, currently held in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, originating from near modern-day Baghdad. The oldest of which dates to 652 B.C. The latest, 61 B.C.

Hermann Hunger and David Pingree, the foremost historians on their excavation, minced no words on their value to to modern science. 

“That someone in the middle of the eighth century BC conceived of such a scientific program and obtained support for it is truly astonishing; that it was designed so well is incredible; and that it was faithfully carried out for 700 years is miraculous,” they wrote.  

In his 2021 book, “A Scheme of Heaven,” data scientist Alexander Boxer cites the two historians and observes that the “enormity of this achievement” lay in the diaries’ preservation of a snapshot of celestial knowledge of the age which — paired with accounts of weather patterns, river water tables, grain prices and even political news — allow us to pinpoint historical events from thousands of years ago, in time-windows as narrow as just a day or two.

“Rivaled only by the extraordinary astronomical records from ancient China, the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries are one of, if not the longest continuous research program ever undertaken,” writes Boxer. 

The cuneiform tablets studied by the UCL team extend this interdisciplinary legacy of the sciences and humanities beautifully by allowing us to read not only the celestially relevant data of geomagnetic history, but by reaffirming the importance of early cultural studies. One fragment, for instance, is dedicated by Nebuchadnezzar II to a temple in Larsa. The site was devoted to carrying out astrological divination traditions, and it’s where we get our earliest clue about the authorship of the Astronomical Diaries. 

Charmingly, that clue appears in the court testimony of a temple official who gets scolded for sounding a false-alarm about an eclipse, embarrassing the temple scholars in front of the whole city.

These Neo-Assyrian and Old Babylonian astrologers gave us more than antics, though. In further records at Nineveh, they would ultimately help researchers at the University of Tsukuba [Japan] — some 2,700 years later — track what were likely massive solar magnetic storms in the area, enabled by geomagnetic disruptions that may be yet linked to the LIAA.

In their dutifully recorded daily observations, one astrologer records a “red cloud” while another tablet-writer observes that “red covers the sky” in Babylon.

“These were probably manifestations of what we call today stable auroral red arcs, consisting of light emitted by electrons in atmospheric oxygen atoms after being excited by intense magnetic fields,” the authors said. “These findings allow us to recreate the history of solar activity a century earlier than previously available records…This research can assist in our ability to predict future solar magnetic storms, which may damage satellites and other spacecraft.”

Hodge ends with an observation, from her December 25, 2023 commentary,

When universities short sell the arts and humanities, we humanities students might lose our poetry, but we can write more. The science folk, on the other hand, might cost themselves another 75 years of research and $70 billion in grants trying to re-invent the Babylonian wheel because the destruction of its historical blueprint was “an arts problem.”

If you have time, do read Hodge’s December 25, 2023 commentary.

How can ballet performances become more accessible? Put a sensor suit on the dancers*

Take a look,

While this December 20, 2023 news item on phys.org is oriented to Christmas, it applies to much more,

Throughout the festive season, countless individuals delight in the enchantment of ballet spectacles such as “The Nutcracker.” Though the stories of timeless performances are widely known, general audiences often miss the subtle narratives and emotions dancers seek to convey through body movements—and they miss even more when the narratives are not based on well-known stories.

This prompts the question: how can dance performances become more accessible for people who are not specialists? [emphasis mine]

Researchers think they have the answer, which involves putting dancers in sensor suits.

Putting dancers into sensor suits would not have been my first answer to that question.

A December 20, 2023 Loughborough University (UK) press release, which originated the news item, describes the international research project, the Kinesemiotic Body, and its sensor suits Note: A link has been removed,

Loughborough University academics are working with the English National Ballet and the University of Bremen [Germany] to develop software that will allow people to understand the deeper meanings of performances by watching annotated CGI [computer-generated imagery] videos of different dances.

Leading this endeavour is former professional ballerina Dr Arianna Maiorani, an expert in ‘Kinesemiotics – the study of meaning conveyed through movement – and the creator of the ‘Functional Grammar of Dance’ (FGD), a model that deciphers meaning from dance movements.

Dr Maiorani believes the FGD – which is informed by linguistics and semiotics (the study of sign-based communication) theories – can help create visualisations of ‘projections’ happening during dance performances to help people understand what the dance means.

“Projections are like speech bubbles made by movement”, explains Dr Maiorani, “They are used by dancers to convey messages and involve extending body parts towards significant areas within the performance space.

“For example, a dancer is moving towards a lake, painted on the backdrop of a stage. They extend an arm forward towards the lake and a leg backwards towards a stage prop representing a shed. The extended arm means they are going to lake, while the leg means they are coming from shed.

“Using the Functional Grammar of Dance, we can annotate dances –filling the projection speech bubbles with meaning that people can understand without having background knowledge of dance.”

Dr Maiorani and a team of computer science and technology experts – including Loughborough’s Professor Massimiliano Zecca, Dr Russell Lock, and Dr Chun Liu – have been creating CGI videos of English National Ballet dancers to use with the FGD.

This involved getting dancers – including First Soloist Junor Souza and First Artist Rebecca Blenkinsop – to perform individual movements and phrases while wearing sensors on their head, torso, and limbs.

Using the FGD, they decoded the conveyed meanings behind different movements and annotated the CGI videos accordingly.

The researchers are now investigating how these videos can facilitate engagement for audiences with varying levels of dance familiarity, aiming to eventually transform this research into software for the general public.

Of the ultimate goal for the research, Dr Maiorani said: “We hope that our work will improve our understanding of how we all communicate with our body movement, and that this will bring more people closer to the art of ballet.”

The Loughborough team worked with experts from the University of Bremen including Professor John Bateman and Ms Dayana Markhabayeva, and experts from English National Ballet. The research was funded by the AHRC-DFG and supported by the LU Institute of Advanced Studies.

They are also looking at how the FDG can be used in performance and circus studies, as well as analysing character movements within video games to determine any gender biases.

You can find the Kinesemiotic Body here, where you’ll find this academic project description, Note: Links have been removed,

The Kinesemiotic Body is a joint research project funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and  Arts & Humanities Research Council  (AHRC) in cooperation with the English National Ballet (ENB). The project brings together an interdisciplinary group of researchers with the aim of evaluating whether a description of dance discourse informed by multimodal discourse analysis and visualised through enriched videos can capture the way dance communicates through a flow of choreographed sequences in space, and whether this description can support the interpretative process of nonexpert audiences. The theoretical framework of the research project is based on an extended dynamic theory called segmented discourse representation theory (SDRT) and on the Functional Grammar of Dance Movement created by Project Investigator Maiorani. Project’s long-term goal is to develop an interdisciplinary area of research focusing on movement-based communication that can extend beyond the study of dance to other movement-based forms of communication and performance and foster the creation of partnerships between the academia and the institutions that host and promote such disciplines.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a piece that touches on multimodal discourse.

*March 20, 2024 1630: Head changed from “How can ballet performances become more accessible? Put on a sensor suit on the dancers*” to “How can ballet performances become more accessible? Put a sensor suit on the dancers”

Chatbot with expertise in nanomaterials

This December 1, 2023 news item on phys.org starts with a story,

A researcher has just finished writing a scientific paper. She knows her work could benefit from another perspective. Did she overlook something? Or perhaps there’s an application of her research she hadn’t thought of. A second set of eyes would be great, but even the friendliest of collaborators might not be able to spare the time to read all the required background publications to catch up.

Kevin Yager—leader of the electronic nanomaterials group at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—has imagined how recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) could aid scientific brainstorming and ideation. To accomplish this, he has developed a chatbot with knowledge in the kinds of science he’s been engaged in.

A December 1, 2023 DOE/Brookhaven National Laboratory news release by Denise Yazak (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes a research project with a chatbot that has nanomaterial-specific knowledge, Note: Links have been removed,

Rapid advances in AI and ML have given way to programs that can generate creative text and useful software code. These general-purpose chatbots have recently captured the public imagination. Existing chatbots—based on large, diverse language models—lack detailed knowledge of scientific sub-domains. By leveraging a document-retrieval method, Yager’s bot is knowledgeable in areas of nanomaterial science that other bots are not. The details of this project and how other scientists can leverage this AI colleague for their own work have recently been published in Digital Discovery.

Rise of the Robots

“CFN has been looking into new ways to leverage AI/ML to accelerate nanomaterial discovery for a long time. Currently, it’s helping us quickly identify, catalog, and choose samples, automate experiments, control equipment, and discover new materials. Esther Tsai, a scientist in the electronic nanomaterials group at CFN, is developing an AI companion to help speed up materials research experiments at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II).” NSLS-II is another DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven Lab.

At CFN, there has been a lot of work on AI/ML that can help drive experiments through the use of automation, controls, robotics, and analysis, but having a program that was adept with scientific text was something that researchers hadn’t explored as deeply. Being able to quickly document, understand, and convey information about an experiment can help in a number of ways—from breaking down language barriers to saving time by summarizing larger pieces of work.

Watching Your Language

To build a specialized chatbot, the program required domain-specific text—language taken from areas the bot is intended to focus on. In this case, the text is scientific publications. Domain-specific text helps the AI model understand new terminology and definitions and introduces it to frontier scientific concepts. Most importantly, this curated set of documents enables the AI model to ground its reasoning using trusted facts.

To emulate natural human language, AI models are trained on existing text, enabling them to learn the structure of language, memorize various facts, and develop a primitive sort of reasoning. Rather than laboriously retrain the AI model on nanoscience text, Yager gave it the ability to look up relevant information in a curated set of publications. Providing it with a library of relevant data was only half of the battle. To use this text accurately and effectively, the bot would need a way to decipher the correct context.

“A challenge that’s common with language models is that sometimes they ‘hallucinate’ plausible sounding but untrue things,” explained Yager. “This has been a core issue to resolve for a chatbot used in research as opposed to one doing something like writing poetry. We don’t want it to fabricate facts or citations. This needed to be addressed. The solution for this was something we call ‘embedding,’ a way of categorizing and linking information quickly behind the scenes.”

Embedding is a process that transforms words and phrases into numerical values. The resulting “embedding vector” quantifies the meaning of the text. When a user asks the chatbot a question, it’s also sent to the ML embedding model to calculate its vector value. This vector is used to search through a pre-computed database of text chunks from scientific papers that were similarly embedded. The bot then uses text snippets it finds that are semantically related to the question to get a more complete understanding of the context.

The user’s query and the text snippets are combined into a “prompt” that is sent to a large language model, an expansive program that creates text modeled on natural human language, that generates the final response. The embedding ensures that the text being pulled is relevant in the context of the user’s question. By providing text chunks from the body of trusted documents, the chatbot generates answers that are factual and sourced.

“The program needs to be like a reference librarian,” said Yager. “It needs to heavily rely on the documents to provide sourced answers. It needs to be able to accurately interpret what people are asking and be able to effectively piece together the context of those questions to retrieve the most relevant information. While the responses may not be perfect yet, it’s already able to answer challenging questions and trigger some interesting thoughts while planning new projects and research.”

Bots Empowering Humans

CFN is developing AI/ML systems as tools that can liberate human researchers to work on more challenging and interesting problems and to get more out of their limited time while computers automate repetitive tasks in the background. There are still many unknowns about this new way of working, but these questions are the start of important discussions scientists are having right now to ensure AI/ML use is safe and ethical.

“There are a number of tasks that a domain-specific chatbot like this could clear from a scientist’s workload. Classifying and organizing documents, summarizing publications, pointing out relevant info, and getting up to speed in a new topical area are just a few potential applications,” remarked Yager. “I’m excited to see where all of this will go, though. We never could have imagined where we are now three years ago, and I’m looking forward to where we’ll be three years from now.”

For researchers interested in trying this software out for themselves, the source code for CFN’s chatbot and associated tools can be found in this github repository.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.

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

Domain-specific chatbots for science using embeddings by Kevin G. Yager.
Digital Discovery, 2023,2, 1850-1861 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1039/D3DD00112A
First published 10 Oct 2023

This paper appears to be open access.

Health/science journalists/editors: deadline is March 22, 2024 for media boot camp in Boston, Massachusetts

A February 14, 2023 Broad Institute news release presents an exciting opportunity for health/science journalists and editors,

The Broad Institute of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Harvard is now accepting applications for its 2024 Media Boot Camp.

This annual program connects health/science journalists and editors with faculty from the Broad Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Harvard’s teaching hospitals for a two-day event exploring the latest advances in genomics and biomedicine. Journalists will explore possible future storylines, gain fundamental background knowledge, and build relationships with researchers. The program format includes presentations, discussions, and lab tours.

The 2024 Media Boot Camp will take place in person at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA on Thursday, May 16 and Friday, May 17 (with an evening welcome reception on Wednesday, May 15).

APPLICATION DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, MARCH 22 (5:00 PM US EASTERN TIME).

2024 Boot Camp topics include:

  • Gene editing
  • New approaches for therapeutic delivery  
  • Cancer biology, drug development
  • Data sciences, machine learning
  • Neurobiology (stem cell models of psychiatric disorders)
  • Antibiotic resistance, microbial biology
  • Medical and population genetics, genomic medicine

Current speakers include: Mimi Bandopadhayay, Clare Bernard,Roby Bhattacharyya, Todd Golub, Laura Kiessling, Eric Lander,David Liu, Ralda Nehme,Heidi Rehm, William Sellers, Feng Zhang, with potentially more to come.

This Media Boot Camp is an educational offering. All presentations are on-background.

Hotel accommodations and meals during the program will be provided by the Broad Institute. Attendees must cover travel costs to and from Boston.

Application Process

By Friday, March 22 [2024] (5:00 PM US Eastern time [2 pm PT]), please send at least one paragraph describing your interest in the program and how you hope it will benefit your reporting, as well as three recent news clips, to David Cameron, Director of External Communications, dcameron@broadinstitute.org

Please contact David at dcameron@broadinstitute.org, or 617-714-7184 with any questions.

I couldn’t find details about eligibility, that said, I wish you good luck with your ‘paragraph and three recent clips’ submission.