Category Archives: science

September 2023: Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand set to welcome women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)

An October 31, 2022 Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS) press release on EurekAlert announces a meeting for women in STEM being held in September 2023,

In September next year [2023], Aotearoa New Zealand will welcome women from across the globe to discuss how science, engineering and technology can help create a better, more equitable world.

The 19th International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES19) will take place in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest city, 3-6 September 2023. The conference theme – Shaping the Future – will offer examples of and insights for women studying and working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and their advocates, and showcase the potential of science and engineering to change the world for the better.

Women from around the world are invited to submit their work – from fundamental research projects to examples of how science and engineering is being applied in the real world – to be considered for the programme. Abstract submission is open until December 2022, with the full programme confirmed in early 2023.

Organisations are encouraged to support their teams’ personal and professional development by challenging their female staff to submit an abstract on a recent project or piece of research, and by providing opportunities for them to attend the conference in person.

The conference programme will focus on nine areas of STEM:

  • Protecting and restoring the natural environment
  • Enhancing liveability through urban transformation
  • Improving transportation by revolutionising mobility
  • Transitioning to clean energy
  • Improving health and healthcare
  • Providing food security
  • Advancing technology
  • Protecting people from natural hazards and other threats
  • Ensuring STEM diversity and equality.

The programme will also feature keynote speakers from Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world, panel discussions, interactive workshops, and opportunities for networking with like-minded individuals. Following the conference, attendees are invited to join field trips to see Aotearoa New Zealand STEM in action.

“Women are still under-represented in many areas of science and engineering, particularly at more senior levels,” says Emma Timewell, co-Chair of ICWES19 on behalf of the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS). “Being able to bring women together to discuss not only the amazing work that they do, but also to find ways to improve the global engagement of women in STEM, is a privilege.”

“Aotearoa New Zealand is a country built on innovation in science and engineering,” says Bryony Lane, co-Chair on behalf of Engineering New Zealand. “We’re excited to be able to showcase Aotearoa New Zealand to the rest of the world.”

ICWES is the flagship triennial conference of the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES). ICWES19 is being hosted by the New Zealand Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS) and Engineering New Zealand.

For more information on the conference, including details for abstract submission or sponsoring the conference, go to icwes19.com or follow @icwes19 on Facebook or Twitter.

In addition to the AWIS website here, there’s an AWIS New Zealand website.

The Call for Abstracts (from the ICWES 19 conference website), includes this,

Abstracts for all three formats (15 minute oral, 30 minute oral or electronic posters) must be clearly written in English and be a maximum of 300 words excluding the title and authors.

Title (maximum 30 words)

Which programme theme(s) best suits your abstract?

Author(s) FAMILY/SURNAMES should be in capitals, no qualifications, or titles. Note the presenting author(s) should be bold and underlined

Affiliations and city/town

Summary of your presentation

The exact length of oral presentations will be made clear to you at the time of acceptance and will depend upon the number of accepted oral presentations. Detailed instructions on how electronic posters should be presented will also be provided at the time of abstract acceptance.

Key dates

Submissions open: Thursday 1 September 2022

Submission closes: Friday 9 December 2022 [emphasis mine]

Notification of acceptance: Friday 31 March 2023

Good luck!

Philosophy and science in Tokyo, Japan from Dec. 1-2, 2022

I have not seen a more timely and à propos overview for a meeting/conference/congress that this one for Tokyo Forum 2022 (hosted by the University of Tokyo and South Korea’s Chey Institute for Advanced Studies),

Dialogue between Philosophy and Science: In a World Facing War, Pandemic, and Climate Change

In the face of war, a pandemic, and climate change, we cannot repeat the history of the last century, in which our ancestors headed down the road to division, global conflict, and environmental destruction.

How can we live more fully and how do we find a new common understanding about what our society should be? Tokyo Forum 2022 will tackle these questions through a series of in-depth dialogues between philosophy and science. The dialogues will weave together the latest findings and deep contemplation, and explore paths that could lead us to viable answers and solutions.

Philosophy of the 21st century must contribute to the construction of a new universality based on locality and diversity. It should be a universality that is open to co-existing with other non-human elements, such as ecosystems and nature, while severely criticizing the understanding of history that unreflectively identifies anthropocentrism with universality.

Science in the 21st century also needs to dispense with its overarching aura of supremacy and lack of self-criticism. There is a need for scientists to make efforts to demarcate their own limits. This also means reexamining what ethics means for science.

Tokyo Forum 2022 will offer multifaceted dialogues between philosophers, scientists, and scholars from various fields of study on the state and humanity in the 21st century, with a view to imagining and proposing a vision of the society we need.

Here are some details about the hybrid event from a November 4, 2022 University of Tokyo press release on EurekAlert,

The University of Tokyo and South Korea’s Chey Institute for Advanced Studies will host Tokyo Forum 2022 from Dec. 1-2, 2022. Under this year’s theme “Dialogue between Philosophy and Science,” the annual symposium will bring together philosophers, scientists and scholars in various fields from around the world for multifaceted dialogues on humanity and the state in the 21st century, while envisioning the society we need.

The event is free and open to the public, and will be held both on site at Yasuda Auditorium of the University of Tokyo and online via livestream. [emphases mine]

Keynote speakers lined up for the first day of the two-day symposium are former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos and Mariko Hasegawa, president of the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Japan.

Other featured speakers on the event’s opening day include renowned modern thinker and author Professor Markus Gabriel of the University of Bonn, and physicist Hirosi Ooguri, director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe at the University of Tokyo and professor at the California Institute of Technology, who are scheduled to participate in the high-level discussion on the dialogue between philosophy and science.

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs will take part in a panel discussion, also on Day 1, on tackling global environmental issues with stewardship of the global commons — the stable and resilient Earth system that sustains our lives — as a global common value.

The four panel discussions slated for Day 2 will cover the role of world philosophy in addressing the problems of a globalized world; transformative change for a sustainable future by understanding the diverse values of nature and its contributions to people; the current and future impacts of autonomous robots on society; and finding collective solutions and universal values to pursue equitable and sustainable futures for humanity by looking at interconnections among various fields of inquiry.

Opening remarks will be delivered by University of Tokyo President Teruo Fujii and South Korea’s SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, on Day 1. Fujii and Chey Institute President Park In-kook will make closing remarks following the wrap-up session on the second and final day.

Tokyo Forum with its overarching theme “Shaping the Future” is held annually since 2019 to stimulate discussions on finding the best ideas for shaping the world and humanity in the face of complex situations where the conventional wisdom can no longer provide answers.

For more information about the program and speakers of Tokyo Forum 2022, visit the event website and social media accounts:

Website: https://www.tokyoforum.tc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/index.html

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UTokyo_forum

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UTokyo.tokyo.forum/

To register, fill out the registration form on the Tokyo Forum 2022 website (registration is free but required [emphasis mine] to attend the event): https://www.tokyo-forum-form.com/apply/audiences/en

I’m not sure how they are handling languages. I’m guessing that people are speaking in the language they choose and translations (subtitles or dubbing) are available. For anyone who may have difficulty attending due to timezone issues, there are archives for previous Tokyo Forums. Presumably 2022 will be added at some point in the future.

The physics of the multiverse of madness

The Dr. Strange movie (Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness released May 6, 2022) has inspired an essay on physics. From a May 9, 2022 news item on phys.org

If you’re a fan of science fiction films, you’ll likely be familiar with the idea of alternate universes—hypothetical planes of existence with different versions of ourselves. As far from reality as it sounds, it is a question that scientists have contemplated. So just how well does the fiction stack up with the science?

The many-worlds interpretation is one idea in physics that supports the concept of multiple universes existing. It stems from the way we comprehend quantum mechanics, which defy the rules of our regular world. While it’s impossible to test and is considered an interpretation rather than a scientific theory, many physicists think it could be possible.

“When you look at the regular world, things are measurable and predictable—if you drop a ball off a roof, it will fall to the ground. But when you look on a very small scale in quantum mechanics, the rules stop applying. Instead of being predictable, it becomes about probabilities,” says Sarah Martell, Associate Professor at the School of Physics, UNSW Science.

A May 9, 2022 University of New South Wales (UNSW; Australia) press release originated the news item,

The fundamental quantum equation – called a wave function – shows a particle inhabiting many possible positions, with different probabilities assigned to each. If you were to attempt to observe the particle to determine its position – known in physics as ‘collapsing’ the wave function – you’ll find it in just one place. But the particle actually inhabits all the positions allowed by the wave function.

This interpretation of quantum mechanics is important, as it helps explain some of the quantum paradoxes that logic can’t answer, like why a particle can be in two places at once. While it might seem impossible to us, since we experience time and space as fixed, mathematically it adds up.

“When you make a measurement in quantum physics, you’re only measuring one of the possibilities. We can work with that mathematically, but it’s philosophically uncomfortable that the world stops being predictable,” A/Prof. Martell says.

“If you don’t get hung up on the philosophy, you simply move on with your physics. But what if the other possibility were true? That’s where this idea of the multiverse comes in.”

The quantum multiverse

Like it is depicted in many science fiction films, the many-worlds interpretation suggests our reality is just one of many. The universe supposedly splits or branches into other universes any time we take action – whether it’s a molecule moving, what you decide to eat or your choice of career. 

In physics, this is best explained through the thought experiment of Schrodinger’s cat. In the many-worlds interpretation, when the box is opened, the observer and the possibly alive cat split into an observer looking at a box with a deceased cat and one looking at a box with a live cat.

“A version of you measures one result, and a version of you measures the other result. That way, you don’t have to explain why a particular probability resulted. It’s just everything that could happen, does happen, somewhere,” A/Prof. Martell says.

“This is the logic often depicted in science fiction, like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where five different Spider-Man exist in different universes based on the idea there was a different event that set up each one’s progress and timeline.”

This interpretation suggests that our decisions in this universe have implications for other versions of ourselves living in parallel worlds. But what about the possibility of interacting with these hypothetical alternate universes?

According to the many-worlds interpretation, humans wouldn’t be able to interact with parallel universes as they do in films – although science fiction has creative licence to do so.

“It’s a device used all the time in comic books, but it’s not something that physics would have anything to say about,” A/Prof. Martell says. “But I love science fiction for the creativity and the way that little science facts can become the motivation for a character or the essential crisis in a story with characters like Doctor Strange.”

“If for nothing else, science fiction can help make science more accessible, and the more we get people talking about science, the better,” A/Prof. Martell says.

“I think we do ourselves a lot of good by putting hooks out there that people can grab. So, if we can get people interested in science through popular culture, they’ll be more interested in the science we do.” 

The university also offers a course as this October 6, 2020 UNSW press release reveals,

From the morality plays in Star Trek, to the grim futures in Black Mirror, fiction can help explore our hopes – and fears – of the role science might play in our futures.

But sci-fi can be more than just a source of entertainment. When fiction gets the science right (or right enough), sci-fi can also be used to make science accessible to broader audiences. 

“Sci-fi can help relate science and technology to the lived human experience,” says Dr Maria Cunningham, a radio astronomer and senior lecturer in UNSW Science’s School of Physics. 

“Storytelling can make complex theories easier to visualise, understand and remember.”

Dr Cunningham – a sci-fi fan herself – convenes ‘Brave New World’: a course on science fact and fiction aimed at students from a non-scientific background. The course explores the relationship between literature, science, and society, using case studies like Futurama and MacGyver.

She says her own interest in sci-fi long predates her career in science.

“Fiction can help get people interested in science – sometimes without them even knowing it,” says Dr Cunningham.

“Sci-fi has the potential to increase the science literacy of the general population.”

Here, Dr Cunningham shares three tricky physics concepts best explained through science fiction (spoilers ahead).

Cunningham goes on to discuss the Universal Speed Limit, Time Dilation, and, yes, the Many Worlds Interpretation.

The course, “Brave New World: Science Fiction, Science Fact and the Future – GENS4015” is still offered but do check the link to make sure it takes you to the latest version (I found 2023). One more thing, it is offered wholly on the internet.

2022 Nobel Prize for Physics winners proved the existence of quantum entanglement

In early October 2022, Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger were jointly awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for work each scientist performed independently of the others.

Here’s more about the scientists and their works from an October 4, 2022 Nobel Prize press release,

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2022 to

Alain Aspect
Institut d’Optique Graduate School – Université Paris-
Saclay and École Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France

John F. Clauser
J.F. Clauser & Assoc., Walnut Creek, CA, USA

Anton Zeilinger
University of Vienna, Austria

“for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science”

Entangled states – from theory to technology

Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger have each conducted groundbreaking experiments using entangled quantum states, where two particles behave like a single unit even when they are separated. Their results have cleared the way for new technology based upon quantum information.

The ineffable effects of quantum mechanics are starting to find applications. There is now a large field of research that includes quantum computers, quantum networks and secure quantum encrypted communication.

One key factor in this development is how quantum mechanics allows two or more particles to exist in what is called an entangled state. What happens to one of the particles in an entangled pair determines what happens to the other particle, even if they are far apart.

For a long time, the question was whether the correlation was because the particles in an entangled pair contained hidden variables, instructions that tell them which result they should give in an experiment. In the 1960s, John Stewart Bell developed the mathematical inequality that is named after him. This states that if there are hidden variables, the correlation between the results of a large number of measurements will never exceed a certain value. However, quantum mechanics predicts that a certain type of experiment will violate Bell’s inequality, thus resulting in a stronger correlation than would otherwise be possible.

John Clauser developed John Bell’s ideas, leading to a practical experiment. When he took the measurements, they supported quantum mechanics by clearly violating a Bell inequality. This means that quantum mechanics cannot be replaced by a theory that uses hidden variables.

Some loopholes remained after John Clauser’s experiment. Alain Aspect developed the setup, using it in a way that closed an important loophole. He was able to switch the measurement settings after an entangled pair had left its source, so the setting that existed when they were emitted could not affect the result.

Using refined tools and long series of experiments, Anton Zeilinger started to use entangled quantum states. Among other things, his research group has demonstrated a phenomenon called quantum teleportation, which makes it possible to move a quantum state from one particle to one at a distance.

“It has become increasingly clear that a new kind of quantum technology is emerging. We can see that the laureates’ work with entangled states is of great importance, even beyond the fundamental questions about the interpretation of quantum mechanics,”says Anders Irbäck, Chair of the Nobel Committee for Physics.

There are some practical applications for their work on establishing quantum entanglement as Dr. Nicholas Peters, University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), explains in his October 7, 2022 essay for The Conversation,

Unhackable communications devices, high-precision GPS and high-resolution medical imaging all have something in common. These technologies—some under development and some already on the market all rely on the non-intuitive quantum phenomenon of entanglement.

Two quantum particles, like pairs of atoms or photons, can become entangled. That means a property of one particle is linked to a property of the other, and a change to one particle instantly affects the other particle, regardless of how far apart they are. This correlation is a key resource in quantum information technologies.

For the most part, quantum entanglement is still a subject of physics research, but it’s also a component of commercially available technologies, and it plays a starring role in the emerging quantum information processing industry.

Quantum entanglement is a critical element of quantum information processing, and photonic entanglement of the type pioneered by the Nobel laureates is crucial for transmitting quantum information. Quantum entanglement can be used to build large-scale quantum communications networks.

On a path toward long-distance quantum networks, Jian-Wei Pan, one of Zeilinger’s former students, and colleagues demonstrated entanglement distribution to two locations separated by 764 miles (1,203 km) on Earth via satellite transmission. However, direct transmission rates of quantum information are limited due to loss, meaning too many photons get absorbed by matter in transit so not enough reach the destination.

Entanglement is critical for solving this roadblock, through the nascent technology of quantum repeaters. An important milestone for early quantum repeaters, called entanglement swapping, was demonstrated by Zeilinger and colleagues in 1998. Entanglement swapping links one each of two pairs of entangled photons, thereby entangling the two initially independent photons, which can be far apart from each other.

Perhaps the most well known quantum communications application is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), which allows someone to securely distribute encryption keys. If those keys are stored properly, they will be secure, even from future powerful, code-breaking quantum computers.

I don’t usually embed videos that are longer than 5 mins. but this one has a good explanation of cryptography (both classical and quantum),

The video host, Physics Girl (website), is also known as Dianna Cowern.

If you have the time, do read Peters’s October 7, 2022 essay, which can also be found as an October 10, 2022 news item on phys.org.

I wonder if there’s going to be a rush to fund and commercialize more quantum physics projects. There’s certainly an upsurge in activity locally and in Canada (I assume the same is true elsewhere) as my July 26, 2022 posting “Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more” makes clear.

Ancient Namibian gemstone could be key to new light-based quantum computers

Researchers in Scotland, the US, Australia, and Denmark have a found a solution to a problem with creating light-based computers according to an April 15, 2022 news item on phys.org,

A special form of light made using an ancient Namibian gemstone could be the key to new light-based quantum computers, which could solve long-held scientific mysteries, according to new research led by the University of St Andrews.

The research, conducted in collaboration with scientists at Harvard University in the US, Macquarie University in Australia and Aarhus University in Denmark and published in Nature Materials, used a naturally mined cuprous oxide (Cu2O) gemstone from Namibia to produce Rydberg polaritons, the largest hybrid particles of light and matter ever created.

Cuprous oxide – the mined crystal from Namibia used for making Rydberg polaritons. Courtesy: University of St. Andrews

An April 15, 2022 University of St. Andrews press release, which originated the news item, describes Rydberg polaritons and explains why they could be the key to light-based quantum computing,

Rydberg polaritons switch continually from light to matter and back again. In Rydberg polaritons, light and matter are like two sides of a coin, and the matter side is what makes polaritons interact with each other.

This interaction is crucial because this is what allows the creation of quantum simulators, a special type of quantum computer, where information is stored in quantum bits. These quantum bits [qubits], unlike the binary bits in classical computers that can only be 0 or 1, can take any value between 0 and 1. They can therefore store much more information and perform several processes simultaneously.

This capability could allow quantum simulators to solve important mysteries of physics, chemistry and biology, for example, how to make high-temperature superconductors for highspeed trains, how cheaper fertilisers could be made potentially solving global hunger, or how proteins fold making it easier to produce more effective drugs.

Project lead Dr Hamid Ohadi, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, said: “Making a quantum simulator with light is the holy grail of science. We have taken a huge leap towards this by creating Rydberg polaritons, the key ingredient of it.”

To create Rydberg polaritons, the researchers trapped light between two highly reflective mirrors. A cuprous oxide crystal from a stone mined in Namibia was then thinned and polished to a 30-micrometer thick slab (thinner than a strand of human hair) and sandwiched between the two mirrors to make Rydberg polaritons 100 times larger than ever demonstrated before.

One of the leading authors Dr Sai Kiran Rajendran, of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of St Andrews, said: “Purchasing the stone on eBay was easy. The challenge was to make Rydberg polaritons that exist in an extremely narrow colour range.”

The team is currently further refining these methods in order to explore the possibility of making quantum circuits, which are the next ingredient for quantum simulators.

The research was funded by UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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

Rydberg exciton–polaritons in a Cu2O microcavity by Konstantinos Orfanakis, Sai Kiran Rajendran, Valentin Walther, Thomas Volz, Thomas Pohl & Hamid Ohadi. Nature Materials (2022) DOI: DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-022-01230-4 Published: 14 April 2022

This paper is behind a paywall.

Art and science, Salk Institute and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), to study museum visitor behaviour

The Salk Institute wouldn’t have been my first guess for the science partner in this art and science project, which will be examining museum visitor behaviour. From the September 28, 2022 Salk Institute news release (also on EurekAlert and a copy received via email) announcing the project grant,

Clay vessels of innumerable shapes and sizes come to life as they illuminate a rich history of symbolic meanings and identity. Some museum visitors may lean in to get a better view, while others converse with their friends over the rich hues. Exhibition designers have long wondered how the human brain senses, perceives, and learns in the rich environment of a museum gallery.

In a synthesis of science and art, Salk scientists have teamed up with curators and design experts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to study how nearly 100,000 museum visitors respond to exhibition design. The goal of the project, funded by a $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, is to better understand how people perceive, make choices in, interact with, and learn from a complex environment, and to further enhance the educational mission of museums through evidence-based design strategies.   

The Salk team is led by Professor Thomas Albright, Salk Fellow Talmo Pereira, and Staff Scientist Sergei Gepshtein.

The experimental exhibition at LACMA—called “Conversing in Clay: Ceramics from the LACMA Collection”—is open until May 21, 2023.

“LACMA is one of the world’s greatest art museums, so it is wonderful to be able to combine its expertise with our knowledge of brain function and behavior,” says Albright, director of Salk’s Vision Center Laboratory and Conrad T. Prebys Chair in Vision Research. “The beauty of this project is that it extends our laboratory research on perception, memory, and decision-making into the real world.”

Albright and Gepshtein study the visual system and how it informs decisions and behaviors. A major focus of their work is uncovering how perception guides movement in space. Pereira’s expertise lies in measuring and quantifying behaviors. He invented a deep learning technique called SLEAP [Social LEAP Estimates Animal Poses (SLEAP)], which precisely captures the movements of organisms, from single cells to whales, using conventional videography. This technology has enabled scientists to describe behaviors with unprecedented precision.

For this project, the scientists have placed 10 video cameras throughout a LACMA gallery. The researchers will record how the museum environment shapes behaviors as visitors move through the space, including preferred viewing locations, paths and rates of movement, postures, social interactions, gestures, and expressions. Those behaviors will, in turn, provide novel insights into the underlying perceptual and cognitive processes that guide our engagement with works of art. The scientists will also test strategic modifications to gallery design to produce the most rewarding experience.

“We plan to capture every behavior that every person does while visiting the exhibit,” Pereira says. “For example, how long they stand in front an object, whether they’re talking to a friend or even scratching their head. Then we can use this data to predict how the visitor will act next, such as if they will visit another object in the exhibit or if they leave instead.”

Results from the study will help inform future exhibit design and visitor experience and provide an unprecedented quantitative look at how human systems for perception and memory lead to predictable decisions and actions in a rich sensory environment.

“As a museum that has a long history of melding art with science and technology, we are thrilled to partner with the Salk Institute for this study,” says Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg director. “LACMA is always striving to create accessible, engaging gallery environments for all visitors. We look forward to applying what we learn to our approach to gallery design and to enhance visitor experience.” 

Next, the scientists plan to employ this experimental approach to gain a better understanding of how the design of environments for people with specific needs, like school-age children or patients with dementia, might improve cognitive processes and behaviors.

Several members of the research team are also members of the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, which seeks to promote and advance knowledge that links neuroscience research to a growing understanding of human responses to the built environment.

Gepshtein is also a member of Salk’s Center for the Neurobiology of Vision and director of the Collaboratory for Adaptive Sensory Technologies. Additionally, he serves as the director of the Center for Spatial Perception & Concrete Experience at the University of Southern California.

About the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of more than 149,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe. Committed to showcasing a multitude of art histories, LACMA exhibits and interprets works of art from new and unexpected points of view that are informed by the region’s rich cultural heritage and diverse population. LACMA’s spirit of experimentation is reflected in its work with artists, technologists, and thought leaders as well as in its regional, national, and global partnerships to share collections and programs, create pioneering initiatives, and engage new audiences.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

Every cure has a starting point. The Salk Institute embodies Jonas Salk’s mission to dare to make dreams into reality. Its internationally renowned and award-winning scientists explore the very foundations of life, seeking new understandings in neuroscience, genetics, immunology, plant biology, and more. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark: small by choice, intimate by nature, and fearless in the face of any challenge. Be it cancer or Alzheimer’s, aging or diabetes, Salk is where cures begin. Learn more at: salk.edu.

I find this image quite intriguing,

Caption: Motion capture technology is used to classify human behavior in an art exhibition. Credit: Salk Institute

I’m trying to figure out how they’ll do this. Will each visitor be ‘tagged’ as they enter the LACMA gallery so they can be ‘followed’ individually as they respond (or don’t respond) to the exhibits? Will they be notified that they are participating in a study?

I was tracked without my knowledge or consent at the Vancouver (Canada) Art Gallery’s (VAG) exhibition, “The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” (March 5, 2022 – October 23, 2022). It was disconcerting to find out that my ‘tracks’ had become part of a real time installation. (The result of my trip to the VAG was a two-part commentary: “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver [Canada] Art Gallery [1 of 2]: The Objects” and “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know? Artificial Intelligence at the Vancouver [Canada] Art Gallery [2 of 2]: Meditations”. My response to the experience can be found under the ‘Eeek’ subhead of part 2: Meditations. For the curious, part 1: The Objects is here.)

We have math neurons and singing neurons?

According to the two items I have here, the answer is: yes, we have neurons that are specific to math and to the sound of singing.

Math neurons

A February 14, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily explains how specific the math neurons are,

The brain has neurons that fire specifically during certain mathematical operations. This is shown by a recent study conducted by the Universities of Tübingen and Bonn [both in Germany]. The findings indicate that some of the neurons detected are active exclusively during additions, while others are active during subtractions. They do not care whether the calculation instruction is written down as a word or a symbol. The results have now been published in the journal Current Biology.

Using ultrafine electrodes – implanted in the temporal lobes of epilepsy patients, researchers can visualize the activity of brain regions. © Photo: Christian Burkert/Volkswagen-Stiftung/University of Bonn

A February 14, 2022 University of Bonn press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further,

Most elementary school children probably already know that three apples plus two apples add up to five apples. However, what happens in the brain during such calculations is still largely unknown. The current study by the Universities of Bonn and Tübingen now sheds light on this issue.

The researchers benefited from a special feature of the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital Bonn. It specializes in surgical procedures on the brains of people with epilepsy. In some patients, seizures always originate from the same area of the brain. In order to precisely localize this defective area, the doctors implant several electrodes into the patients. The probes can be used to precisely determine the origin of the spasm. In addition, the activity of individual neurons can be measured via the wiring.

Some neurons fire only when summing up

Five women and four men participated in the current study. They had electrodes implanted in the so-called temporal lobe of the brain to record the activity of nerve cells. Meanwhile, the participants had to perform simple arithmetic tasks. “We found that different neurons fired during additions than during subtractions,” explains Prof. Florian Mormann from the Department of Epileptology at the University Hospital Bonn.

It was not the case that some neurons responded only to a “+” sign and others only to a “-” sign: “Even when we replaced the mathematical symbols with words, the effect remained the same,” explains Esther Kutter, who is doing her doctorate in Prof. Mormann’s research group. “For example, when subjects were asked to calculate ‘5 and 3’, their addition neurons sprang back into action; whereas for ‘7 less 4,’ their subtraction neurons did.”

This shows that the cells discovered actually encode a mathematical instruction for action. The brain activity thus showed with great accuracy what kind of tasks the test subjects were currently calculating: The researchers fed the cells’ activity patterns into a self-learning computer program. At the same time, they told the software whether the subjects were currently calculating a sum or a difference. When the algorithm was confronted with new activity data after this training phase, it was able to accurately identify during which computational operation it had been recorded.

Prof. Andreas Nieder from the University of Tübingen supervised the study together with Prof. Mormann. “We know from experiments with monkeys that neurons specific to certain computational rules also exist in their brains,” he says. “In humans, however, there is hardly any data in this regard.” During their analysis, the two working groups came across an interesting phenomenon: One of the brain regions studied was the so-called parahippocampal cortex. There, too, the researchers found nerve cells that fired specifically during addition or subtraction. However, when summing up, different addition neurons became alternately active during one and the same arithmetic task. Figuratively speaking, it is as if the plus key on the calculator were constantly changing its location. It was the same with subtraction. Researchers also refer to this as “dynamic coding.”

“This study marks an important step towards a better understanding of one of our most important symbolic abilities, namely calculating with numbers,” stresses Mormann. The two teams from Bonn and Tübingen now want to investigate exactly what role the nerve cells found play in this.

Funding:

The study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Volkswagen Foundation.

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

Neuronal codes for arithmetic rule processing in the human brain by Esther F. Kutter, Jan Boström, Christian E. Elger, Andreas Nieder, Florian Mormann. Current Biology, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.01.054 Published February 14, 2022

This paper appears to be open access.

Neurons for the sounds of singing

This work from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) according to a February 22, 2022 news item on ScienceDaily,

For the first time, MIT neuroscientists have identified a population of neurons in the human brain that lights up when we hear singing, but not other types of music.

Pretty nifty, eh? As is the news release headline with its nod to a classic Hollywood musical and song, from a February 22, 2022 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert),

Singing in the brain

These neurons, found in the auditory cortex, appear to respond to the specific combination of voice and music, but not to either regular speech or instrumental music. Exactly what they are doing is unknown and will require more work to uncover, the researchers say.

“The work provides evidence for relatively fine-grained segregation of function within the auditory cortex, in a way that aligns with an intuitive distinction within music,” says Sam Norman-Haignere, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The work builds on a 2015 study in which the same research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify a population of neurons in the brain’s auditory cortex that responds specifically to music. In the new work, the researchers used recordings of electrical activity taken at the surface of the brain, which gave them much more precise information than fMRI.

“There’s one population of neurons that responds to singing, and then very nearby is another population of neurons that responds broadly to lots of music. At the scale of fMRI, they’re so close that you can’t disentangle them, but with intracranial recordings, we get additional resolution, and that’s what we believe allowed us to pick them apart,” says Norman-Haignere.

Norman-Haignere is the lead author of the study, which appears today in the journal Current Biology. Josh McDermott, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and Nancy Kanwisher, the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, both members of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and Center for Brains, Minds and Machines (CBMM), are the senior authors of the study.

Neural recordings

In their 2015 study, the researchers used fMRI to scan the brains of participants as they listened to a collection of 165 sounds, including different types of speech and music, as well as everyday sounds such as finger tapping or a dog barking. For that study, the researchers devised a novel method of analyzing the fMRI data, which allowed them to identify six neural populations with different response patterns, including the music-selective population and another population that responds selectively to speech.

In the new study, the researchers hoped to obtain higher-resolution data using a technique known as electrocorticography (ECoG), which allows electrical activity to be recorded by electrodes placed inside the skull. This offers a much more precise picture of electrical activity in the brain compared to fMRI, which measures blood flow in the brain as a proxy of neuron activity.

“With most of the methods in human cognitive neuroscience, you can’t see the neural representations,” Kanwisher says. “Most of the kind of data we can collect can tell us that here’s a piece of brain that does something, but that’s pretty limited. We want to know what’s represented in there.”

Electrocorticography cannot be typically be performed in humans because it is an invasive procedure, but it is often used to monitor patients with epilepsy who are about to undergo surgery to treat their seizures. Patients are monitored over several days so that doctors can determine where their seizures are originating before operating. During that time, if patients agree, they can participate in studies that involve measuring their brain activity while performing certain tasks. For this study, the MIT team was able to gather data from 15 participants over several years.

For those participants, the researchers played the same set of 165 sounds that they used in the earlier fMRI study. The location of each patient’s electrodes was determined by their surgeons, so some did not pick up any responses to auditory input, but many did. Using a novel statistical analysis that they developed, the researchers were able to infer the types of neural populations that produced the data that were recorded by each electrode.

“When we applied this method to this data set, this neural response pattern popped out that only responded to singing,” Norman-Haignere says. “This was a finding we really didn’t expect, so it very much justifies the whole point of the approach, which is to reveal potentially novel things you might not think to look for.”

That song-specific population of neurons had very weak responses to either speech or instrumental music, and therefore is distinct from the music- and speech-selective populations identified in their 2015 study.

Music in the brain

In the second part of their study, the researchers devised a mathematical method to combine the data from the intracranial recordings with the fMRI data from their 2015 study. Because fMRI can cover a much larger portion of the brain, this allowed them to determine more precisely the locations of the neural populations that respond to singing.

“This way of combining ECoG and fMRI is a significant methodological advance,” McDermott says. “A lot of people have been doing ECoG over the past 10 or 15 years, but it’s always been limited by this issue of the sparsity of the recordings. Sam is really the first person who figured out how to combine the improved resolution of the electrode recordings with fMRI data to get better localization of the overall responses.”

The song-specific hotspot that they found is located at the top of the temporal lobe, near regions that are selective for language and music. That location suggests that the song-specific population may be responding to features such as the perceived pitch, or the interaction between words and perceived pitch, before sending information to other parts of the brain for further processing, the researchers say.

The researchers now hope to learn more about what aspects of singing drive the responses of these neurons. They are also working with MIT Professor Rebecca Saxe’s lab to study whether infants have music-selective areas, in hopes of learning more about when and how these brain regions develop.

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

A neural population selective for song in human auditory cortex by Sam V. Norman-Haignere, Jenelle Feather, Dana Boebinger, Peter Brunner, Anthony Ritaccio, Josh H. Mcdermott, Gerwin Schalk, Nancy Kanwisher. Current Biology, 2022 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2022.01.069 Published February 22, 2022.

This paper appears to be open access.

I couldn’t resist,

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest
mysteries


Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively
soon.”

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,

Tickets:

  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30

Date:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)

Schedule:

  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Program:

9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors. *ETA December 6, 2022: I just looked at the conference page again and D-Wave is now listed as a sponsor.*

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

When poetry feels like colour, posture or birdsong plus some particle fiction

A June 10, 2022 Tallinn University (Estonia) press release (also on EurekAlert but published on June 16, 2022 on behalf of the Estonian Research Council) provides information on a fascinating PhD thesis examining poetry in a very new way,

In addition to searching for the meaning of poems, they can also often be described through the emotions that the reader feels while reading them. Kristiine Kikas, a doctoral student at the School of Humanities of Tallinn University, studied which other sensations arise whilst reading poetry and how they affect the understanding of poems.

The aim of the doctoral thesis was to study the palpability of language [emphasis mine], i.e. sensory saturation, which has not found sufficient analysis and application so far. “In my research, I see reading as an impersonal process, meaning the sensations that arise do not seem to belong to either the reader or the poetry, but to both at the same time,” Kikas describes the perspective of her thesis.

In general, the language of poetry is studied metaphorically, in order to try to understand what a word means either directly or figuratively. A different perspective called “affective perspective” usually studies the effects of pre-linguistic impulses or impulses not related to the meaning of the word on the reader. However, Kikas viewed language as a simultaneous proposition and flow of consciousness, i.e. a discussion moving from one statement to another as well as connections that seem to occur intuitively while reading. She sought to identify ways to approach verbal language, that is considered to trigger analytical thinking in particular, in a way that would help open up sensory saturation and put their observation in poetic analysis at the forefront along with other modes of studying poetry. To achieve her goals, Kikas applied Gilles Deleuze’s method of radical empiricism and compared several other approaches with it: semiotics, biology, anthropology, modern psychoanalysis and cognitive sciences. [emphases mine]

Kikas describes reading in her doctoral thesis as a constant presence in verbal language, which is sometimes more and sometimes less pronounced. This type of presence can be felt like colour, posture or birdsong [emphasis mine]. “Following the neuroscientific origins of metaphors, I used the human organism’s tendency to perceive language at the sensory-motor level in my close reading to help replay it using body memory. This trait allows us to physically experience the words we read,” explains Kikas. According to her, the sensations stored in the body evoked by words can be considered the oneness of the reader and the words, or the reader’s becoming the words. Kikas emphasises that this can only happen if the multiplicity of sensations and meanings that arise during reading are recognised.

“Although the study showed that the saturations associated with verbal language cannot be linked to a broader literary discourse without representational and analytical thinking, the conclusion is that noticing and acknowledging them is important in both experiencing and interpreting the poem,” summarises Kikas her doctoral thesis. As her research was only the first attempt in examining sensations in poetry, Kikas hopes to provide material for further discussion. Above all, she encourages readers in their attempts to understand poetry to notice and trust even the slightest sensations and impulses triggered while reading, as these are the beginning of even the most abstract meaning.

I was able to track down the thesis ‘Uncommonness in the Commonplace: Reading for Senseation in Poetry‘ to here where the title is in English but the rest of the entry is in Estonian. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to download the thesis, which I believe is written in English.

Particle fiction

This is a somewhat older thesis and is only loosely related in that it is about literary matters and there’s a science aspect to it too. Tania Hershman, “poet, writer, teacher and editor based in Manchester, UK,” adds this from the about page on her eponymous website, Note: I have moved the paragraphs into a different order,

… After making a living for 13 years as a science journalist, writing for publications such as WIRED and NewScientist, I gave it all up to write fiction, later also poetry and hybrid pieces, and am now based in Manchester in the north of England. I have a first degree in Maths and Physics, a diploma in journalism, an MSc in Philosophy of Science, an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing.

My hybrid book, And What If We Were All Allowed to Disappear, was published in a limited edition by Guillemot Press in March 2020. It is now sold out but can be read in electronic form as part of my PhD in Creative Writing, ‘Particle fictions: an experimental approach to creative writing and reading informed by particle physics’, available to be downloaded from Bath Spa University here: http://researchspace.bathspa.ac.uk/10693/.

You can download her PhD thesis (Particle fictions: an experimental approach to creative writing and reading informed by particle physics). This abstract offers a few highlights,

This two-part document comprises the work submitted for Tania Hershman’s practice-based PhD in Creative Writing in answer to her primary research question: Can particle fiction and particle physics interrogate each other? Her secondary research question examined the larger question of wholeness and wholes versus parts. The first of the two elements of the PhD is a book-length creative work of what Hershman has defined as “particle fiction” – a book made of parts which works as a whole – entitled ‘And What If We Were All Allowed to Disappear’: an experimental, hybrid work comprised of prose, poetry, elements that morph between the two forms, and images, and takes concepts from particle physics as inspiration. The second element of this PhD, the contextualising research, entitled ‘And What If We Were All Allowed To Separate And Come Together’, which is written in the style of fictocriticism, provides an overview of particle physics and the many other topics relating to wholeness and wholes versus parts – from philosophy to postmodernism and archaeology – that Hershman investigated in the course of her project. This essay also details the “experiments” Hershman carried out on works which she defined as particle fictions, in order to examine whether it was possible to generalise and formulate a “Standard Model of Particle Fiction” inspired by a the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and to inform the creation of her own work of particle fiction.

Enjoy!

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) brings life to the global hit television series “The Walking Dead” and a Canadian AI initiative for women and diversity

I stumbled across this June 8, 2022 AMC Networks news release in the last place I was expecting (i.e., a self-described global entertainment company’s website) to see a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) announcement,

AMC NETWORKS CONTENT ROOM TEAMS WITH THE AD COUNCIL TO EMPOWER GIRLS IN STEM, FEATURING “THE WALKING DEAD”

AMC Networks Content Room and the Ad Council, a non-profit and leading producer of social impact campaigns for 80 years, announced today a series of new public service advertisements (PSAs) that will highlight the power of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) against the backdrop of the global hit series “The Walking Dead.”  In the spots, behind-the-scenes talent of the popular franchise, including Director Aisha Tyler, Costume Designer Vera Chow and Art Director Jasmine Garnet, showcase how STEM is used to bring the post-apocalyptic world of “The Walking Dead” to life on screen.  Created by AMC Networks Content Room, the PSAs are part of the Ad Council’s national She Can STEM campaign, which encourages girls, trans youth and non-binary youth around the country to get excited about and interested in STEM.

The new creative consists of TV spots and custom videos created specifically for TikTok and Instagram.  The spots also feature Gitanjali Rao, a 16-year-old scientist, inventor and activist, interviewing Tyler, Chow and Garnet discussing how they and their teams use STEM in the production of “The Walking Dead.”  Using before and after visuals, each piece highlights the unique and unexpected uses of STEM in the making of the series.  In addition to being part of the larger Ad Council campaign, the spots will be available on “The Walking Dead’s” social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube pages, and across AMC Networks linear channels and digital platforms.

PSA:   https://youtu.be/V20HO-tUO18

Social: https://youtu.be/LnDwmZrx6lI

Said Kim Granito, EVP of AMC Networks Content Room: “We are thrilled to partner with the Ad Council to inspire young girls in STEM through the unexpected backdrop of ‘The Walking Dead.’  Over the last 11 years, this universe has been created by an array of insanely talented women that utilize STEM every day in their roles.  This campaign will broaden perceptions of STEM beyond the stereotypes of lab coats and beakers, and hopefully inspire the next generation of talented women in STEM.  Aisha Tyler, Vera Chow and Jasmine Garnet were a dream to work with and their shared enthusiasm for this mission is inspiring.”

“Careers in STEM are varied and can touch all aspects of our lives. We are proud to partner with AMC Networks Content Room on this latest work for the She Can STEM campaign. With it, we hope to inspire young girls, non-binary youth, and trans youth to recognize that their passion for STEM can impact countless industries – including the entertainment industry,” said Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer, Ad Council.

Women make up nearly half of the total college-educated workforce in the U.S., but they only constitute 27% of the STEM workforce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Research shows that many girls lose interest in STEM as early as middle school, and this path continues through high school and college, ultimately leading to an underrepresentation of women in STEM careers.  She Can STEM aims to dismantle the intimidating perceived barrier of STEM fields by showing girls, non-binary youth, and trans youth how fun, messy, diverse and accessible STEM can be, encouraging them to dive in, no matter where they are in their STEM journey.

Since the launch of She Can STEM in September 2018, the campaign has been supported by a variety of corporate, non-profit and media partners. The current funder of the campaign is IF/THEN, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies.  Non-profit partners include Black Girls Code, ChickTech, Girl Scouts of the USA, Girls Inc., Girls Who Code, National Center for Women & Information Technology, The New York Academy of Sciences and Society of Women Engineers.

About AMC Networks Inc.

AMC Networks (Nasdaq: AMCX) is a global entertainment company known for its popular and critically-acclaimed content. Its brands include targeted streaming services AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, ALLBLK, and the newest addition to its targeted streaming portfolio, the anime-focused HIDIVE streaming service, in addition to AMC, BBC AMERICA (operated through a joint venture with BBC Studios), IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and IFC Films. AMC Studios, the Company’s in-house studio, production and distribution operation, is behind some of the biggest titles and brands known to a global audience, including The Walking Dead, the Anne Rice catalog and the Agatha Christie library.  The Company also operates AMC Networks International, its international programming business, and 25/7 Media, its production services business.

About Content Room

Content Room is AMC Networks’ award-winning branded entertainment studio that collaborates with advertising partners to build brand stories and create bespoke experiences across an expanding range of digital, social, and linear platforms. Content Room enables brands to fully tap into the company’s premium programming, distinct IP, deep talent roster and filmmaking roots through an array of creative partnership opportunities— from premium branded content and integrations— to franchise and gaming extensions.

Content Room is also home to the award-winning digital content studio which produces dozens of original series annually, which expands popular AMC Networks scripted programming for both fans and advertising partners by leveraging the built-in massive series and talent fandoms.

The Ad Council
The Ad Council is where creativity and causes converge. The non-profit organization brings together the most creative minds in advertising, media, technology and marketing to address many of the nation’s most important causes. The Ad Council has created many of the most iconic campaigns in advertising history. Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk. Smokey Bear. Love Has No Labels.

The Ad Council’s innovative social good campaigns raise awareness, inspire action and save lives. To learn more, visit AdCouncil.org, follow the Ad Council’s communities on Facebook and Twitter, and view the creative on YouTube.

You can find the ‘She Can Stem’ Ad Council initiative here.

Canadian women and the AI4Good Lab

A June 9, 2022 posting on the Borealis AI website describes an artificial intelligence (AI) initiative designed to encourage women to enter the field,

The AI4Good Lab is one of those programs that creates exponential opportunities. As the leading Canadian AI-training initiative for women-identified STEM students, the lab helps encourage diversity in the field of AI. Participants work together to use AI to solve a social problem, delivering untold benefits to their local communities. And they work shoulder-to-shoulder with other leaders in the field of AI, building their networks and expanding the ecosystem.

At this year’s [2022] AI4Good Lab Industry Night, program partners – like Borealis AI, RBC [Royal Bank of Canada], DeepMind, Ivado and Google – had an opportunity to (virtually) meet the nearly 90  participants of this year’s program. Many of the program’s alumni were also in attendance. So, too, were representatives from CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research], one of Canada’s leading global research organizations.

Industry participants – including Dr. Eirene Seiradaki, Director of Research Partnerships at Borealis AI, Carey Mende-Gibson, RBC’s Location Intelligence ambassador, and Lucy Liu, Director of Data Science at RBC – talked with attendees about their experiences in the AI industry, discussed career opportunities and explored various career paths that the participants could take in the industry. For the entire two hours, our three tables  and our virtually cozy couches were filled to capacity. It was only after the end of the event that we had the chance to exchange visits to the tables of our partners from CIFAR and AMII [Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute]. Eirene did not miss the opportunity to catch up with our good friend, Warren Johnston, and hear first-hand the news from AMII’s recent AI Week 2022.

Borealis AI is funded by the Royal Bank of Canada. Somebody wrote this for the homepage (presumably tongue in cheek),

All you can bank on.

The AI4Good Lab can be found here,

The AI4Good Lab is a 7-week program that equips women and people of marginalized genders with the skills to build their own machine learning projects. We emphasize mentorship and curiosity-driven learning to prepare our participants for a career in AI.

The program is designed to open doors for those who have historically been underrepresented in the AI industry. Together, we are building a more inclusive and diverse tech culture in Canada while inspiring the next generation of leaders to use AI as a tool for social good.

A most recent programme ran (May 3 – June 21, 2022) in Montréal, Toronto, and Edmonton.

There are a number of AI for Good initiatives including this one from the International Telecommunications Union (a United Nations Agency).

For the curious, I have a May 10, 2018 post “The Royal Bank of Canada reports ‘Humans wanted’ and some thoughts on the future of work, robots, and artificial intelligence” where I ‘examine’ RBC and its AI initiatives.