Category Archives: science communication

Science Fuse: a STEM initiative for children in Pakistan and beyond

A June 3, 2022 article by Abdullahi Tsanni for Nature journal features an interview with Lalah Rukh, founder of Science Fuse, a non-governmental agency dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education for youth and which is located in Lahore, Pakistan, Note: Links have been removed,

My interest in science began when I was 12, after reading an article about personalized medicine in a children’s magazine published by a leading newspaper in Pakistan. I was fascinated by this idea, and I cut out the article and pasted it by my bedside so that I could see it every morning when I woke up.

In 2003, I moved back to Norway, where I was born, and studied molecular biology and biotechnology at university. But I realized that I didn’t enjoy doing science in the laboratory as much as I enjoyed engaging people with science. So, I joined Forskerfabrikken, a non-profit organization based in Oslo that encourages children to engage with science. We organized hands-on science programmes for schoolchildren. I worked there for five years as a science communicator, and I learnt about science engagement and social entrepreneurship. I discovered the core features that make for great small-scale school exhibits, and I saw how the organization established revenue streams and structures to expand its team and expertise across Norway. And I realized that science communication is where my passion truly lies.

In summer 2013, when I was in Pakistan to get married, I visited a small charity-run school for children living in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Karachi. I did a 3-hour science workshop for the children with fun demonstrations — from creating giant bubbles to making beads that change colour under sunlight, and chemical reactions that make water ‘pop’. There were big smiles on the children’s faces and the experiments sparked their curiosity. It felt more meaningful for me to do this kind of work in Pakistan. Since 2016, Science Fuse has reached more than 45,000 children, trained 650 teachers and nurtured a community of more than 200 science communicators. We have worked closely with about 250 schools and partner organizations to deliver world-class science education across the country.

In Pakistan, 44% of children are out of school, one of the highest percentages in the world — and the majority of those who do go to school attend low-income private or government schools. Many low-income families don’t have access to good-quality STEM education. …

Tsanni’s June 3, 2022 article is a short read that offers insight into STEM, youth, girls,and science in Pakistan, if you have the time.

Science Fuse creates posters featuring Pakistani women in science to break stereotypes and encourage children to follow their science passion.Credit: Sana Nasir, Maria Riaz & Sana Kirmani/Science Fuse [downloaded from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01566-6]

You can find Science Fuse here. At a guess, they, along with so many other groups, were affected by COVID and this interview in Nature is intended as a relaunch of their programmes. It’s good to see these initiatives coming back and, in the meantime, you can access their older (the most recent being from November 2020) ‘Incredible Questions of Science’ podcasts here or here at Anchor.fm.

H/t to Gary McFarlane (@GaryM) for his tweet about the interview.

Research communicated by puppets

Yes, there’s protein folding as explained by puppets,

An April 25, 2019 article by Madeleine O’Keefe for BU (Boston University) Today describes both the course “Thinking through Puppets and Performing Objects: Using Theatrical Tools to Communicate the Complex, the Abstract, and the Technical” and a then upcoming Puppet Slam performance (Note: Links have been removed),

Thinking through Puppets is the brainchild of Felice Amato, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of art education and a Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future faculty associate, and Anna Panszczyk (CAS’97), a College of Arts & Sciences Writing Program senior lecturer.

The course is part of the BU Cross-College Challenge (XCC), the Hub’s signature project-based, one-semester four-credit elective course open to juniors and seniors from all 10 undergraduate schools and colleges. It fulfills four Hub units: Creativity/Innovation, Oral Communication, Research and Information Literacy, and Teamwork/Collaboration.

Amato previously taught K-12 art in public schools and focused her doctoral work on puppetry. Panszczyk focuses on children’s literature and culture in her writing, and says she was interested in working with Amato to see how a puppet project could help students develop the aforementioned four Hub skills.

The course attracted six undergraduates, … . Suddenly, they were thrust into a world of cutting, crafting, sewing, gluing, shaping, and molding. They worked with fabric, wood, paper, everyday trash, and more—even M&Ms.

“It was definitely challenging,” Kasanaa [Vinamre Kasanaa. senior at BU] acknowledges. “Taking the leap from our passive classes, which are information-intensive—you get the information, you regurgitate it out on paper, you write, you debate—it’s all abstract.…Tapping your fingers on the screen is not a replacement for craftsmanship, where you’re using your hands. So that’s the one thing that we all were able to learn, because most of us made our own puppets and made these things by ourselves.”

An important aspect of the XCC courses is working on real-world projects with a variety of on-campus and community clients. As the culmination of Thinking through Puppets, Amato, Panszczyk, and their students produced puppet slams …

What exactly is a puppet slam? Amato defines it as “a series of short experimental pieces,” each typically about three minutes long. Puppet slams got their launch at Puppet Showplace Theater, but have become so popular that they now are held all over the world. Heather Henson, daughter of Jim Henson, the Emmy-winning creator of the Muppets, supports a national Puppet Slam Network.

Devyani Chhetri’s March 26, 2020 article for BU Hub updates the story with a description of the 2020 class’s Puppet Slam,

They say that actions speak louder than words. Nothing was more true when XCC students took the stage last Friday to reveal the anxieties of the world borne from issues such as climate change, sexual harassment and immigration— through puppets.

In …, “Puppets against Climate Change”, two puppets are seated in a car and driving around puppet city when they ignore a sign that said ‘no dumping’ and throw trash out of the car.

With Rindner’s [Alexis Rindner, BU student] exaggerated puppet voice leaving the audience in splits, the two puppets are struck soon after by a ‘trash’ comet that decimates the puppet planet.

The humor of the moment gives way to a grim montage of a destroyed planet when the ghosts of the puppets go over the years of excesses where deforestation and pollution in the name of progress led to global warming and the puppet planet’s eventual demise.

You can find the Puppet Slam Network here. The homepage includes a map of various Puppet Slam members.

There are three network members in Canada: Vancouver International Puppet Festival (VIPF) in British Columbia, Calgary Animated Objects Society (CAOS) in Alberta, and the Winnipeg Puppet Slam in Manitoba.

As far as I’m aware, none of the three Canadian members are focused on explicitly communicating research in the manner of the Boston University programme.

FLOATER: A Tool-Kit for Evaluating [Scientific] Claims

FLOATER toolkit [downloaded from http://thinkingispower.com/floater-a-tool-kit-for-evaluating-claims/]
FLOATER [downloaded from http://thinkingispower.com/floater-a-tool-kit-for-evaluating-claims/¸]

Thanks to Raymond Nakamura`s November 16, 2021 tweet (his website is here), I found this rather nifty tool and the Thinking is Power website.

Before moving on to the toolkit, here’s a little about the website’s creator (from the About page) Note: A link has been removed,

Thinking Is Power (TIP) was created by science educator and communicator Melanie Trecek-King to provide accessible critical thinking content to the general public through entertaining stories, approachable language, and shareable graphics.

TIP’s content is based on a general-education science course Trecek-King developed that’s designed to help students understand the process of science and how to use critical thinking to make informed decisions. The course was the result of years of teaching introductory biology students to (mostly) memorize facts and realizing they were going to forget everything…except how much they hated science. Trecek-King’s other goal with TIP is therefore to encourage other science educators to reflect on how we teach science, and even what it means to be science literate. Is it memorizing and regurgitating facts? Or understanding how the process of science acquires knowledge and why it’s reliable? 

Since its launch in January of 2021, Thinking Is Power has rapidly become a go-to resource in the area of science communication and critical thinking. …

As for the toolkit, here’s some of what I found particularly interesting (from the FLOATER webpage) Note: Links have been removed,

As a science educator, my primary goals are to teach students the essential skills of science literacy and critical thinking. Helping them understand the process of science and how to draw reasonable conclusions from the available evidence can empower them to make better decisions and protect them from being fooled or harmed.

Yet while nearly all educators would agree that these skills are important, the stubborn persistence of pseudoscientific and irrational beliefs demonstrates that we have plenty of room for improvement. To help address this problem, I developed a general-education science course which, instead of teaching science as a collection of facts to memorize, teaches students how to evaluate the evidence for claims to determine how we know something and to recognize the characteristics of good science by evaluating bad science, pseudoscience, and science denial.

In my experience, science literacy and critical thinking skills are difficult to master. Therefore, it helps to provide students with a structured toolkit to systematically evaluate claims and allow for ample opportunities to practice. …

The foundation of FLOATER is skepticism. While skepticism has taken on a variety of connotations, from cynicism to denialism, scientific skepticism is simply insisting on evidence before accepting a claim, and proportioning the strength of our belief to the strength and quality of the evidence.  

Before using this guide, clearly identify the claim and define any potentially ambiguous terms. And remember, the person making the claim bears the burden of proof and must provide enough positive evidence to establish the claim’s truth. 

I’m included one excerpt from the poster in the hope that it will encourage readers to visit the webpage and/or site for themselves (from the FLOATER webpage) , Note: Links have been removed,

It seems counterintuitive, but the first step in determining if a claim is true is to try to determine if you can prove it wrong. 

Falsifiable claims can be proven false with evidence. If a claim is false, the evidence will disprove it. If it’s true the evidence won’t be able to disprove it. 

Scientific claims must be falsifiable. Indeed, the process of science involves trying to disprove falsifiable claims. If the claim withstands attempts at disproof we are more justified in tentatively accepting it. 

Unfalsifiable claims cannot be proven false with evidence. They could be true, but since there is no way to use evidence to test the claim, any “evidence” that appears to support the claim is useless. Unfalsifiable claims are essentially immune to evidence. 

There are four types of claims that are unfalsifiable.

1. Subjective claims: Claims based on personal preferences, opinions, values, ethics, morals, feelings, and judgements. 

For example, I may believe that cats make the best pets and that healthcare is a basic human right, but neither of these beliefs are falsifiable, no matter how many facts or pieces of evidence I use to justify them.

2. Supernatural claims: Claims that invoke entities such as gods and spirits, vague energies and forces, and magical human abilities such as psychic powers.

By definition, the supernatural is above and beyond what is natural and observable and therefore isn’t falsifiable. This doesn’t mean these claims are necessarily false (or true!), but that there is no way to collect evidence to test them.

For example, so-called “energy medicine,” such as reiki and acupuncture, is based on the claim that illnesses are caused by out-of-balance energy fields which can be adjusted to restore health. However, these energy fields cannot be detected and do not correspond to any known forms of energy.

There are, however, cases where supernatural claims can be falsifiable. First, if a psychic claims to be able to impact the natural world in some way, such as moving/bending objects or reading minds, we can test their abilities under controlled conditions. And second, claims of supernatural events that leave physical evidence can be tested. For example, young earth creationists claim that the Grand Canyon was formed during Noah’s flood approximately 4,000 years ago. A global flood would leave behind geological evidence, such as massive erosional features and deposits of sediment. Unsurprisingly, the lack of such evidence disproves this claim. However, even if the evidence pointed to a global flood only a few thousand years ago, we still couldn’t falsify the claim that a god was the cause.

3. Vague claims: Claims that are undefined, indefinite, or unclear.

Your horoscope for today says, “Today is a good day to dream. Avoid making any important decisions. The energy of the day might bring new people into your life.”

Because this horoscope uses ambiguous and vague terms, such as “dream,” “important”, and “might”, it doesn’t make any specific, measurable predictions. Even more, because it’s open to interpretation, you could convince yourself that it matches what happened to you during the day, especially if you spent the day searching for “evidence.”

Due to legal restrictions, many alternative medicine claims are purposefully vague. For example, a supplement bottle says it “strengthens the immune system,” or a chiropractic advertisement claims it “reduces fatigue.” While these sweeping claims are essentially meaningless because of their ambiguity, consumers often misinterpret them and wrongly conclude that the products are efficacious.

4. Ad hoc excuses: These entail rationalizing and making excuses to explain away observations that might disprove the claim. 

While the three types of claims described thus far are inherently unfalsifiable, sometimes we protect false beliefs by finding ways to make them unfalsifiable. We do this by making excuses, moving the goalposts, discounting sources or denying evidence, or proclaim that it’s our “opinion.” 

For example, a psychic may dismiss an inaccurate reading by proclaiming her energy levels were low. Or, an acupuncturist might excuse an ineffective treatment by claiming the needles weren’t placed properly along the patient’s meridians. Conspiracy theorists are masters at immunizing their beliefs against falsification by claiming that supportive evidence was covered up and that contradictory evidence was planted.

The rule of falsifiability essentially boils down to this: Evidence matters. And never assume a claim is true because it can’t be proven wrong. 

Interesting, eh? There are another six to investigate on the FLOATER webpage.

One last thing, there’s also, “How to Read the News Like a Scientist; Overwhelmed by your news feed? Use tools from science to evaluate what’s true and what’s fake,” suggests researcher Emma Frans in a March 22, 2019 blog posting (made available by Pocket) by Daniella Balarezo and Daryl Chen for TED Ideas .

Classical music makes protein songs easier listening

Caption: This audio is oxytocin receptor protein music using the Fantasy Impromptu guided algorithm. Credit: Chen et al. / Heliyon

A September 29, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily describes new research into music as a means of communicating science,

In recent years, scientists have created music based on the structure of proteins as a creative way to better popularize science to the general public, but the resulting songs haven’t always been pleasant to the ear. In a study appearing September 29 [2021] in the journal Heliyon, researchers use the style of existing music genres to guide the structure of protein song to make it more musical. Using the style of Frédéric Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu and other classical pieces as a guide, the researchers succeeded in converting proteins into song with greater musicality.

Scientists (Peng Zhang, Postdoctoral Researcher in Computational Biology at The Rockefeller University, and Yuzong Chen, Professor of Pharmacy at National University of Singapore [NUS]) wrote a September 29, 2021 essay for The Conversation about their protein songs (Note: Links have been removed),

There are many surprising analogies between proteins, the basic building blocks of life, and musical notation. These analogies can be used not only to help advance research, but also to make the complexity of proteins accessible to the public.

We’re computational biologists who believe that hearing the sound of life at the molecular level could help inspire people to learn more about biology and the computational sciences. While creating music based on proteins isn’t new, different musical styles and composition algorithms had yet to be explored. So we led a team of high school students and other scholars to figure out how to create classical music from proteins.

The musical analogies of proteins

Proteins are structured like folded chains. These chains are composed of small units of 20 possible amino acids, each labeled by a letter of the alphabet.

A protein chain can be represented as a string of these alphabetic letters, very much like a string of music notes in alphabetical notation.

Protein chains can also fold into wavy and curved patterns with ups, downs, turns and loops. Likewise, music consists of sound waves of higher and lower pitches, with changing tempos and repeating motifs.

Protein-to-music algorithms can thus map the structural and physiochemical features of a string of amino acids onto the musical features of a string of notes.

Enhancing the musicality of protein mapping

Protein-to-music mapping can be fine-tuned by basing it on the features of a specific music style. This enhances musicality, or the melodiousness of the song, when converting amino acid properties, such as sequence patterns and variations, into analogous musical properties, like pitch, note lengths and chords.

For our study, we specifically selected 19th-century Romantic period classical piano music, which includes composers like Chopin and Schubert, as a guide because it typically spans a wide range of notes with more complex features such as chromaticism, like playing both white and black keys on a piano in order of pitch, and chords. Music from this period also tends to have lighter and more graceful and emotive melodies. Songs are usually homophonic, meaning they follow a central melody with accompaniment. These features allowed us to test out a greater range of notes in our protein-to-music mapping algorithm. In this case, we chose to analyze features of Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu” to guide our development of the program.

If you have the time, I recommend reading the essay in its entirety and listening to the embedded audio files.

The September 29, 2021 Cell Press news release on EurekAlert repeats some of the same material but is worth reading on its own merits,

In recent years, scientists have created music based on the structure of proteins as a creative way to better popularize science to the general public, but the resulting songs haven’t always been pleasant to the ear. In a study appearing September 29 [2021] in the journal Heliyon, researchers use the style of existing music genres to guide the structure of protein song to make it more musical. Using the style of Frédéric Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu and other classical pieces as a guide, the researchers succeeded in converting proteins into song with greater musicality.

Creating unique melodies from proteins is achieved by using a protein-to-music algorithm. This algorithm incorporates specific elements of proteins—like the size and position of amino acids—and maps them to various musical elements to create an auditory “blueprint” of the proteins’ structure.

“Existing protein music has mostly been designed by simple mapping of certain amino acid patterns to fundamental musical features such as pitches and note lengths, but they do not map well to more complex musical features such as rhythm and harmony,” says senior author Yu Zong Chen, a professor in the Department of Pharmacy at National University of Singapore. “By focusing on a music style, we can guide more complex mappings of combinations of amino acid patterns with various musical features.”

For their experiment, researchers analyzed the pitch, length, octaves, chords, dynamics, and main theme of four pieces from the mid-1800s Romantic era of classical music. These pieces, including Fantasie-Impromptu from Chopin and Wanderer Fantasy from Franz Schubert, were selected to represent the notable Fantasy-Impromptu genre that emerged during that time.

“We chose the specific music style of a Fantasy-Impromptu as it is characterized by freedom of expression, which we felt would complement how proteins regulate much of our bodily functions, including our moods,” says co-author Peng Zhang (@zhangpeng1202), a post-doctoral fellow at the Rockefeller University

Likewise, several of the proteins in the study were chosen for their similarities to the key attributes of the Fantasy-Impromptu style. Most of the 18 proteins tested regulate functions including human emotion, cognition, sensation, or performance which the authors say connect to the emotional and expressive of the genre.

Then, they mapped 104 structural, physicochemical, and binding amino acid properties of those proteins to the six musical features. “We screened the quantitative profile of each amino acid property against the quantized values of the different musical features to find the optimal mapped pairings. For example, we mapped the size of amino acid to note length, so that having a larger amino acid size corresponds to a shorter note length,” says Chen.

Across all the proteins tested, the researchers found that the musicality of the proteins was significantly improved. In particular, the protein receptor for oxytocin (OXTR) was judged to have one of the greatest increases in musicality when using the genre-guided algorithm, compared to an earlier version of the protein-to-music algorithm.

“The oxytocin receptor protein generated our favorite song,” says Zhang. “This protein sequence produced an identifiable main theme that repeats in rhythm throughout the piece, as well as some interesting motifs and patterns that recur independent of our algorithm. There were also some pleasant harmonic progressions; for example, many of the seventh chords naturally resolve.”

The authors do note, however, that while the guided algorithm increased the overall musicality of the protein songs, there is still much progress to be made before it resembles true human music.

“We believe a next step is to explore more music styles and more complex combinations of amino acid properties for enhanced musicality and novel music pieces. Another next step, a very important step, is to apply artificial intelligence to jointly learn complex amino acid properties and their combinations with respect to the features of various music styles for creating protein music of enhanced musicality,” says Chen.

###

Research supported by the National Key R&D Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and Singapore Academic Funds.

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

Protein Music of Enhanced Musicality by Music Style Guided Exploration of Diverse Amino Acid Properties by Nicole WanNi Tay, Fanxi Liu, Chaoxin Wang, Hui Zhang, Peng Zhang, Yu Zong Chen. Heliyon, 2021 DOI: https:// doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e07933 Published; September 29, 2021

This paper appears to be open access.

Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies (a February 17, 2022 livestreamed debate from 05:00 PM − 06:30 PM EST)

I have high hopes for this debate on gene edited babies. Intelligence Squared US convenes good debates. (I watched their ‘de-extinction’ debate back in 2019, which coincidentally, featured George Church, one of the debaters in this event.) Not ‘good’ in that I necessarily agree or am interested in the topics but good as in thoughtful. Here’s more from the organization’s mission on their What is IQ2US? webpage,

A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, Intelligence Squared U.S. addresses a fundamental problem in America: the extreme polarization of our nation and our politics.

Our mission is to restore critical thinking, facts, reason, and civility to American public discourse.

More about the upcoming debate can be found on the Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies event page,

Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies
Hosted By John Donvan

Thursday, February 17, 2022
05:00 PM − 06:30 PM EST

A genetic disease runs in your family. Your doctor tells you that, should you wish to have a child, that child is likely to also carry the disease. But a new gene-editing technology could change your fate. It could ensure that your baby is — and remains — healthy. Even more, it could potentially make sure your grandchildren are also free of the disease. What do you do? Now, imagine it’s not a rare genetic disorder, but general illness, or eye color, or cognitive ability, or athleticism. Do you opt into this new world of genetically edited humans? And what if it’s not just you. What your friends, neighbors, and colleagues are also embracing this genetic revolution? Right now, science doesn’t give you that choice. But huge advancements in CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] technology are making human gene editing a reality. In fact, in 2018, a Chinese scientist announced the first genetically modified babies; twin girls made to resist HIV, smallpox, and malaria. The promise of this technology is clear. But gene editing is not without its perils. Its critics say the technology is destined to exacerbate inequality, pressure all parents (and nations) into editing their children to stay competitive, and meddling with the most basic aspect of our humanity. In this context, we ask the question: Should we use gene editing to make better babies?

Main Points

The use of gene editing allows for couples to have children when they might otherwise have that option unavailable for them. It also allows for less to be left to chance during the pregnancy.

Gene editing will allow for babies to be born with reduced or eliminated chances of inheriting and passing on genes linked to diseases. We have a moral imperative to use technology that will improve the quality of life.

It is only a matter of time before gene editing becomes a widespread technology, potentially used by competitors and rivals on the international stage. If we have the technology, we should use it to our advantage to remain competitive.

The use of gene editing to create “better” outcomes in children will inherently create social stratification based on any gene editing, likely reflecting existing socioeconomic status. Additionally, the term ‘better’ is arbitrary and potentially short-sighted and dangerous.

Currently, there exist reasonable alternatives to gene editing for every condition for which gene editing can be used. 

The technology is still developing, and the long-term effects of any gene-editing could be potentially dangerous with consequences echoing throughout the gene environment. 

A February 8, 2022 Intelligence Squared U.S. news release about the upcoming debate (received via email) provides details about the debaters,

FOR THE MOTION – BIOS

* George Church, Geneticist & Founder, Personal Genome Project 
George Church is one of the nation’s leading geneticists and scholars. He is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and MIT. In 1984, he developed the first direct genomic sequencing method, which resulted in the first genome sequence. He also helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984 and the Personal Genome Project in 2005. Church also serves as the director of the National Institutes of Health Center of Excellence in Genomic Science.  

* Amy Webb, Futurist & Author, “The Genesis Machine”  
Amy Webb is an award-winning author and futurist. She is the founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute and was named one of five women changing the world by Forbes. Her new book, “The Genesis Machine,” explores the future of synthetic biology, including human gene editing. Webb is a professor of strategic foresight at New York University’s Stern School of Business and has been elected a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  

AGAINST THE MOTION – BIOS

* Marcy Darnovsky, Policy Advocate & Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society 
Marcy Darnovsky is a policy advocate and one of the most prominent voices on the politics of human biotechnology. As executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, Darnovsky is focused on the social justice and public interest implications of gene editing. This work is informed by her background as an organizer and advocate in a range of environmental and progressive political movements.    

* Françoise Baylis, Philosopher & Author, “Altered Inheritance”  
Françoise Baylis is a philosopher whose innovative work in bioethics, at the intersection of policy and practice, has stretched the very boundaries of the field. She is the author of “Altered Inheritance: CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing,” which explores the scientific, ethical, and political implications of human genome editing. Baylis is a research professor at Dalhousie University and a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. In 2017, she was awarded the Canadian Bioethics Society Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Getting back to the Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies event page, there are a few options,

Request a Ticket

Have a question? Ask us

There’s also an option to Vote For or Against the Motion but you’ll have to go to the Use Gene Editing to Make Better Babies event page.

Two of the debaters have been mentioned on this blog before, George Church and Françoise Baylis. There are several references to Church including this mention with regard to Dr. He Jiankui and his CRISPR twins (July 28, 2020 posting). Françoise Baylis features in four 2019 postings with the most recent being this October 17, 2019 piece.

For anyone curious about the ‘de-extinction’ debate, it was described here in a January 18, 2019 posting prior to the event.

Simon Fraser University (SFU; Vancouver, Canada): Nobel Lectures and Café Scientifique February and March events

I got a February 4, 2022 notice via email that three SFU Science events are planned over the next several weeks.

Nobel Lectures

From the February 4, 2022 SFU Science notice,

Nobel Lectures

Wednesday February 16, 2022, 5:00-7:00 pm [PST] via live stream

Celebrate the 2021 Nobel awardees with us as our faculty members present the awardees’ work as it relates to their own research. Rob Britton from Chemistry, Edgar Young from Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Kirsten Zickfeld from Geography [likely acting as the host/interviewer] will present at this year’s event.

Register here.

I found some information about the SFU presenters and the work being recognized on the SFU Nobel Prize Lectures 2022 eventbrite webpage,

Dr. Robert Britton completed his PhD at UBC with Professors Edward Piers and Raymond Anderson in 2002 studying natural product isolation and synthesis, and was then an NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada] Postdoctoral Fellow in Cambridge working with Professor Ian Paterson on the synthesis of structurally complex marine natural products. He then joined the Merck Process Chemistry Group in Montreal before beginning his independent research career at Simon Fraser University in 2005. He is currently a Professor at SFU and his research program focuses on reaction discovery, natural product synthesis, medicinal chemistry and radiopharmaceutical chemistry.

Topic: The catalysis of chemical reactions has historically relied on expensive and often low-abundance metals such as gold, palladium and platinum. The discovery that inexpensive and naturally occurring organic molecules can catalyze the same reactions has caused a paradigm shift that has led to more environmentally friendly and economic processes, and served as an enabling tool for scientific discoveries.

Dr. Edgar Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology & Biochemistry at SFU. His research lab investigates ion channel proteins that switch their structure in response to electrical and chemical signals, producing complex behaviour in the cardiac and nervous systems.

Topic: The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, for their discovery of key molecules in our nervous system that enable our sense of touch. In this talk, we’ll see how these molecules called ion channels work as electrical switches to convey sensations of pressure, pain, heat and cold — and we’ll explore the prospects for medical benefit.

From Nobel Prize Lectures 2021:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 was awarded “for groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of complex systems” with one half jointly to Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming” and the other half to Giorgio Parisi “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales.”

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/2021/summary/

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021 was awarded jointly to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.”

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2021/summary/

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2021 was awarded jointly to Benjamin List and David W.C. MacMillan “for the development of asymmetric organocatalysis.”

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2021/summary/

SFU Café Scientifique for February and March 2022

From the February 4, 2022 SFU Science notice,

February 17 & March 24 via Zoom

Engage with award-winning researchers from SFU Science for a series of informal discussions connecting research to important issues of interest to the community.

Aging actively: Why choose to move?

Thursday February 17, 2022, 5:00-6:30 pm

Dr. Dawn Mackey, SFU Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology

Discover the benefits of regular movement for older adults, explore what they want out of physical activity and find out how to create sustainable habits.

Register here.

[from the eventbrite registration page,

Choosing to move can be as simple as moving more, and moving more often – it doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. In this interactive cafe, Dr. Dawn Mackey from SFU’s Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology Department will explain the benefits of regular physical activity for older adults, as well as some risks of not being active enough. We will also explore what older adults want to get out of physical activity, and ways to make physical activity a sustainable habit.]

From the South Pole to the edge of the universe, and back to the coast of British Columbia

Thursday March 24, 2022, 5:00-6:30 pm

Dr. Matthias Danninger, SFU Physics

Learn about neutrinos and how British Columbia may soon hold a dominant role in neutrino astronomy.

[from the eventbrite registration page:

What is a neutrino? What can we learn from neutrinos about the Universe? Dr. Matthias Danninger from the Department of Physics will discuss answers to these questions and how British Columbia could play a dominant role for neutrino astronomy in the near future.]

Register here.

Hmmm

I have some comments about both SFU Café Scientifique presentations.

With regard to the “Aging actively: Why choose to move?” event in February 2022, it seems to be oriented to students, i.e., future gerontologists and other professionals focused on geriatrics. I can’t help but notice that the presenter (assuming this photo is relatively recent) is not any danger of being described as aged or as a senior,

Dr. Dawn Mackey [downloaded from https://balancefalls.ubc.ca/people/dawn-mackey]

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a youngish professional share work focused on seniors. The problem lies in the fact that presenters for events/talks/conferences/etc. on older folks are almost always young or youngish. I expect that as these professionals age they will find they are no longer participants in the conversation but the objects of the conversation.

As for “From the South Pole to the edge of the universe, and back to the coast of British Columbia,” this claim seems a little optimistic, “… British Columbia may soon hold a dominant role in neutrino astronomy.”

The centre for neutrino and dark matter physics in Canada is the SNOLAB. (There was a talk about the work at the lab in my June 6, 2019 posting Whispering in the Dark: Updates from Underground Science a June 12, 2019 talk in Vancouver …, another mention of the lab in May 12, 2021 posting about a former SNOLAB executive director, TRIUMF [Canada’s national particle accelerator centre] welcomes Nigel Smith as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on May 17, 2021and …, and, most recently, a September 6, 2021 posting about an art/science exhibit where SNOLAB was a partner, ‘Drift: Art and Dark Matter’ at Vancouver’s … .)

British Columbia will soon be dominant? There was this in 2015 (from the SNOLAB’s Awards and Recognition webpage),

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics
2015-10-06
Arthur B. McDonald was co-awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics with Takaaki Kajita for the contributions of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Collaboration and Super-Kamiokande Collaboration for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass. The discovery changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and proves crucial to our view of the universe.

While I have doubts about the stated goal of being dominant soon, I look forward to being proved wrong. If that happens.