Category Archives: environment

Deriving gold from electronic waste

Caption: The gold nugget obtained from computer motherboards in three parts. The largest of these parts is around five millimetres wide. Credit: (Photograph: ETH Zurich / Alan Kovacevic)

A March 1, 2024 ETH Zurich press release (also on EurekAlert but published February 29, 2024) by Fabio Bergamin describes research into reclaiming gold from electronic waste, Note: A link has been removed.

In brief

  • Protein fibril sponges made by ETH Zurich researchers are hugely effective at recovering gold from electronic waste.
  • From 20 old computer motherboards, the researchers retrieved a 22-​carat gold nugget weighing 450 milligrams.
  • Because the method utilises various waste and industry byproducts, it is not only sustainable but cost effective as well.

Transforming base materials into gold was one of the elusive goals of the alchemists of yore. Now Professor Raffaele Mezzenga from the Department of Health Sciences and Technology at ETH Zurich has accomplished something in that vein. He has not of course transformed another chemical element into gold, as the alchemists sought to do. But he has managed to recover gold from electronic waste using a byproduct of the cheesemaking process.

Electronic waste contains a variety of valuable metals, including copper, cobalt, and even significant amounts of gold. Recovering this gold from disused smartphones and computers is an attractive proposition in view of the rising demand for the precious metal. However, the recovery methods devised to date are energy-​intensive and often require the use of highly toxic chemicals. Now, a group led by ETH Professor Mezzenga has come up with a very efficient, cost-​effective, and above all far more sustainable method: with a sponge made from a protein matrix, the researchers have successfully extracted gold from electronic waste.

Selective gold adsorption

To manufacture the sponge, Mohammad Peydayesh, a senior scientist in Mezzenga’s Group, and his colleagues denatured whey proteins under acidic conditions and high temperatures, so that they aggregated into protein nanofibrils in a gel. The scientists then dried the gel, creating a sponge out of these protein fibrils.

To recover gold in the laboratory experiment, the team salvaged the electronic motherboards from 20 old computer motherboards and extracted the metal parts. They dissolved these parts in an acid bath so as to ionise the metals.

When they placed the protein fibre sponge in the metal ion solution, the gold ions adhered to the protein fibres. Other metal ions can also adhere to the fibres, but gold ions do so much more efficiently. The researchers demonstrated this in their paper, which they have published in the journal Advanced Materials.

As the next step, the researchers heated the sponge. This reduced the gold ions into flakes, which the scientists subsequently melted down into a gold nugget. In this way, they obtained a nugget of around 450 milligrams out of the 20 computer motherboards. The nugget was 91 percent gold (the remainder being copper), which corresponds to 22 carats.

Economically viable

The new technology is commercially viable, as Mezzenga’s calculations show: procurement costs for the source materials added to the energy costs for the entire process are 50 times lower than the value of the gold that can be recovered.

Next, the researchers want to develop the technology to ready it for the market. Although electronic waste is the most promising starting product from which they want to extract gold, there are other possible sources. These include industrial waste from microchip manufacturing or from gold-​plating processes. In addition, the scientists plan to investigate whether they can manufacture the protein fibril sponges out of other protein-​rich byproducts or waste products from the food industry.

“The fact I love the most is that we’re using a food industry byproduct to obtain gold from electronic waste,” Mezzenga says. In a very real sense, he observes, the method transforms two waste products into gold. “You can’t get much more sustainable than that!”

If you have a problem accessing either of the two previously provided links to the press release, you can try this February 29, 2024 news item on ScienceDaily.

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

Gold Recovery from E-Waste by Food-Waste Amyloid Aerogels by Mohammad Peydayesh, Enrico Boschi, Felix Donat, Raffaele Mezzenga. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202310642 First published online: 23 January 2024

This paper is open access.

Your gas stove may be emitting more polluting nanoparticles than your car exhaust

A February 27, 2024 news item on ScienceDaily describes the startling research results to anyone who’s listened to countless rhapsodize about the superiority of gas stoves over any other,

Cooking on your gas stove can emit more nano-sized particles into the air than vehicles that run on gas or diesel, possibly increasing your risk of developing asthma or other respiratory illnesses, a new Purdue University study has found.

“Combustion remains a source of air pollution across the world, both indoors and outdoors. We found that cooking on your gas stove produces large amounts of small nanoparticles that get into your respiratory system and deposit efficiently,” said Brandon Boor, an associate professor in Purdue’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering, who led this research.

Based on these findings, the researchers would encourage turning on a kitchen exhaust fan while cooking on a gas stove.

The study, published in the journal PNAS [Proceedngs of the National Academy of Sciences] Nexus, focused on tiny airborne nanoparticles that are only 1-3 nanometers in diameter, which is just the right size for reaching certain parts of the respiratory system and spreading to other organs.

A February 27, 2024 Purdue University news release by Kayla Albert (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the research, Note: Links have been removed,

Recent studies have found that children who live in homes with gas stoves are more likely to develop asthma. But not much is known about how particles smaller than 3 nanometers, called nanocluster aerosol, grow and spread indoors because they’re very difficult to measure.

“These super tiny nanoparticles are so small that you’re not able to see them. They’re not like dust particles that you would see floating in the air,” Boor said. “After observing such high concentrations of nanocluster aerosol during gas cooking, we can’t ignore these nano-sized particles anymore.”

Using state-of-the-art air quality instrumentation provided by the German company GRIMM AEROSOL TECHNIK, a member of the DURAG GROUP, Purdue researchers were able to measure these tiny particles down to a single nanometer while cooking on a gas stove in a “tiny house” lab. They collaborated with Gerhard Steiner, a senior scientist and product manager for nano measurement at GRIMM AEROSOL. 

Called the Purdue zero Energy Design Guidance for Engineers (zEDGE) lab, the tiny house has all the features of a typical home but is equipped with sensors for closely monitoring the impact of everyday activities on a home’s air quality. With this testing environment and the instrument from GRIMM AEROSOL, a high-resolution particle size magnifier—scanning mobility particle sizer (PSMPS), the team collected extensive data on indoor nanocluster aerosol particles during realistic cooking experiments.

This magnitude of high-quality data allowed the researchers to compare their findings with known outdoor air pollution levels, which are more regulated and understood than indoor air pollution. They found that as many as 10 quadrillion nanocluster aerosol particles could be emitted per kilogram of cooking fuel — matching or exceeding those produced from vehicles with internal combustion engines. 

This would mean that adults and children could be breathing in 10-100 times more nanocluster aerosol from cooking on a gas stove indoors than they would from car exhaust while standing on a busy street.

“You would not use a diesel engine exhaust pipe as an air supply to your kitchen,” said Nusrat Jung, a Purdue assistant professor of civil engineering who designed the tiny house lab with her students and co-led this study.

Purdue civil engineering PhD student Satya Patra made these findings by looking at data collected in the tiny house lab and modeling the various ways that nanocluster aerosol could transform indoors and deposit into a person’s respiratory system.

The models showed that nanocluster aerosol particles are very persistent in their journey from the gas stove to the rest of the house. Trillions of these particles were emitted within just 20 minutes of boiling water or making grilled cheese sandwiches or buttermilk pancakes on a gas stove.

Even though many particles rapidly diffused to other surfaces, the models indicated that approximately 10 billion to 1 trillion particles could deposit into an adult’s head airways and tracheobronchial region of the lungs. These doses would be even higher for children — the smaller the human, the more concentrated the dose.

The nanocluster aerosol coming from the gas combustion also could easily mix with larger particles entering the air from butter, oil or whatever else is cooking on the gas stove, resulting in new particles with their own unique behaviors.

A gas stove’s exhaust fan would likely redirect these nanoparticles away from your respiratory system, but that remains to be tested.

“Since most people don’t turn on their exhaust fan while cooking, having kitchen hoods that activate automatically would be a logical solution,” Boor said. “Moving forward, we need to think about how to reduce our exposure to all types of indoor air pollutants. Based on our new data, we’d advise that nanocluster aerosol be considered as a distinct air pollutant category.”

This study was supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER award to Boor. Additional financial support was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Chemistry of Indoor Environments program through an interdisciplinary collaboration with Philip Stevens, a professor in Indiana University’s Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Bloomington.

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

Dynamics of nanocluster aerosol in the indoor atmosphere during gas cooking by Satya S Patra, Jinglin Jiang, Xiaosu Ding, Chunxu Huang, Emily K Reidy, Vinay Kumar, Paige Price, Connor Keech, Gerhard Steiner, Philip Stevens, Nusrat Jung, Brandon E Boor. PNAS Nexus, Volume 3, Issue 2, February 2024, pgae044, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgae044 Published: 27 February 2024

This paper is open access.

Climate measurements as music

Given that it was Earth Day yesterday (April 22, 2024), this seems like a good second act. From an April 18, 2024 news item on phys.org,

A geo-environmental scientist from Japan has composed a string quartet using sonified climate data. The 6-minute-long composition—titled “String Quartet No. 1 “Polar Energy Budget”—is based on over 30 years of satellite-collected climate data from the Arctic and Antarctic and aims to garner attention on how climate is driven by the input and output of energy at the poles.

This is a little longer video than I usually like to embed here at 6 mins. 29 secs. and it is one of the more aesthetically pleasing I’ve heard,

An April 18, 2024 Cell Press press release, which originated the news item, describes the data sonification work and its application to art/science projects, Note: A link has been removed,

“I strongly hope that this manuscript marks a significant turning point, transitioning from an era where only scientists handle data to one where artists can freely leverage data to craft their works,” writes author and composer Hiroto Nagai, a geo-environmental scientist at Rissho University.

Scientist-composer Hiroto Nagai asserts that music, as opposed to sound, evokes an emotional response and posits that “musification” (as opposed to sonification) of data requires some intervention by the composer to build tension and add dynamics. For this reason, Nagai was more liberal in adding a “human touch” compared to previous data-based musical compositions, aiming to meld sonification with traditional music composition.

“As a fundamental principle in music composition, it is necessary to combine temporal sequences from tension-building to resolution in various scales, from harmonic progressions to entire movements,” Nagai writes. “So far, there haven’t been published attempts and open discussion on sonification-based music composition, nor attempts to demonstrate the methodology required to intentionally affect the audience’s emotions with an artistic piece.”

To do this, he first used a program to sonify environmental data by assigning sounds to different data values. The publicly available data was collected from four polar locations between 1982 and 2022: an ice-core drilling site in the Greenland ice sheet, a satellite station in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, and two Japanese-owned research stations in the Antarctic (Showa Station and Dome Fuji Station). For each of the sites, Nagai used data on monthly measurements of short- and longwave radiation, precipitation, surface temperature, and cloud thickness.

In the next step, he transformed this collection of sounds into a musical composition to be played by two violins, a viola, and a cello. This process involved many steps, including manipulating the pitch of different datapoints and assigning sections of data to the different instruments, overlaying passages created from different data, and introducing musical playing techniques such as pizzicato and staccato. Nagai also intervened in more artistic ways by introducing rhythm, deliberately removing certain sounds, and introducing handwritten (non-data derived) parts into the composition.

The quartet’s premiere live performance was shared at Waseda University in Tokyo in March 2023 followed by a panel discussion. A filmed performance of the piece by PRT Quartet, a Japanese professional string quartet, was also released on YouTube in March 2023.

“Upon listening, my initial reaction was like, ‘What is this?’ It felt like a typical contemporary piece,” said Haruka Sakuma, the professional violinist who performed 2nd violin. “The flow of the music was a bit hard to memorize quickly, and it was quite challenging at first.”

Nagai says that, in contrast to graphical representations of data, music elicits emotion before intellectual curiosity and suggests that using graphical and music representations of data in conjunction might be even more powerful.

“It grabs the audiences’ attention forcefully, while graphical representations require active and conscious recognition instead,” Nagai writes. “This reveals the potential for outreach in the Earth sciences through music.”

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

String Quartet No. 1 “Polar Energy Budget” – Music composition using Earth observation data of polar regions by Hiroto Nagai. iScience DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2024.109622 Published: April 18, 2024 Copyright © 2024 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. User license Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0)

As you may have guessed on seeing the Creative Commons licence, this is an open access paper,

New York City’s Guggenheim (art) Museum celebrates Earth Day on April 22, 2024 with poetry and more

The Guggenheim’s Earth Day celebrations feature artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña’s “The Quipu of Encounters” series. Here’s an example,

An Inca quipu, from the Larco Museum in Lima (Peru).Claus Ableiter nur hochgeladen aus enWiki – enWiki, hochgeladen von User Lyndsaruell [downloaded from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quipu] CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Inca Quipu.jpg Created: 29 October 2007 Uploaded: 28 October 2007

For anyone unfamiliar with a quipu, here’s a description from the Quipu Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

A quipu usually consisted of cotton or camelid fiber strings. The Inca people used quipu for collecting data and keeping records, for monitoring tax obligations, for collecting census records, for calendrical information, and for military organization.[2] The cords stored numeric and other values encoded as knots, often in a base-ten positional system. A quipu could have only a few or thousands of cords.[3] The configuration of the quipu has been “compared to string mops”.[4] Archaeological evidence has also shown the use of finely carved wood as a supplemental, and perhaps sturdier, base to which the color-coded cords could be attached.[5] A relatively small number have survived.

Recently (and relevantly to Vicuña’s project), I came across a suggestion that quipu weren’t used for numerical storage only, from Silvia Ferrara’s March 8, 2022 article “How The Inca Used Knots To Tell Stories” for LitHub,

Because quipu aren’t limited to numbers. A third of these knotted necklaces are narrative. It’s hard even to imagine that a story could be told using a series of colored knots that represent numbers, but it is so. Names, places, genealogies, songs—all are recited like so many zip codes, credit-card numbers, telephone numbers, yellow, green, and blue numbers. Because numbers, for the Inca, speak not only of quantity but of quality. I know, it’s not easy to grasp, but let your imagination run free a little.

The knots are 3D, so they have form, direction, relative position, color, thickness, multiple configurations. Each element carries a different meaning: far from the body, close to the body—these distances affect what quantity is recorded. A three-dimensional Sudoku. Multivalent, multi-referential, and yet at the same time precise. According to Spanish accounts from the mid-16th century, quipu were on par with the Old World’s most complex scripts. One Jesuit missionary tells of an Inca woman who brought him a quipu bearing her entire life story. In knots. Incredible.

Indeed, the details of how this could have been possible are lost to us, since we don’t have the legend that reveals the links among these elements (dimension, thickness, color, number, direction, etc.) and their precise meaning. We’re in need of a decoder, an Inca Rosetta stone to unveil the correlations. …

The Guggenheim and Earth Day 2024

The April 16, 2024 Guggenhein Museum announcement of City-wide activations for Earth Week (2024), also received via email, starts with a poetry event and continues with a listing of New York City partner events, Note: I suspect the links are time sensitive,

Academy of American Poets x Guggenheim

Monday, April 22 [2024]

On April 22, Earth Day, join us online for poetry in response to the climate crisis.

“entwine / the betwixt,” writes artist and activist Cecilia Vicuña in her poem “Three Fragments of Instan.” We are interconnected in our struggle for environmental justice. Together, we seek ways to convey the reality of our current global climate emergency. The Academy of American Poets invites a community of poets to write a new collaborative poem—a choral braid of voices—presented at Poets.org on Earth Day, along with a video recording of their contributions.

Here (on poets.org) is where you can find the video recording of the poets (Nickole Brown, J. P. Grasser, John James, and Ariel Francisco) responding to “time bending / tongue / entwine / the betwixt” for Earth Day 2024.

Before moving onto the list of partner Earth Day 2024 events, the stage is set, from the April 16, 2024 Guggenhein Museum announcement of City-wide activations for Earth Week (2024, Note: I suspect the links are time sensitive,

The Quipu of Encounters

Over the past six months, representatives from various arts and community organizations, along with artists, poets, writers, and musicians, participated in a series of workshops led by artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña at the Wassaic Project and the Guggenheim Museum. Conceived by Vicuña as part of her ongoing “Quipu of Encounters” series, the workshops used ritual and communion as a means to propose ways of being and acting, as individuals and within collectives, in response to the current climate crisis. Among the many themes that emerged were tools and strategies that the cultural sector might use to inspire action in others.

Explore below how our partners will be applying learnings from these workshops through public offerings with a focus on climate justice, sustainability, ecology, and Indigenous practices.

Around Town

Earth Month activities from our partners

Whitney Museum of American Art

Open Studio

   Saturday, April 20

   11 am

Families with kids of all ages are invited to make works of art using natural pigments found in soil and plants inspired by Whitney Biennial artist Dala Nasser. 

More info and register

Brooklyn Public Library

Various branches of the Brooklyn Public Library will present programming during Earth Month, offering opportunities for folks of all ages to connect across themes of environmentalism, crafting, storytelling, and community. 

Earth Day Crafts: Make a Recycled Notebook

   Brooklyn Heights Library, Craft Room

   Friday, April 19, 1 pm

Garden Storytime at Wycoff Bond Garden

   Wyckoff Bond Garden

   Saturday, April 20, 1 pm

15 Ways to Explore Nearby Nature

   Central Library, Info Commons Lab

   Saturday, April 20, 2 pm

Earth Day: Story and Craft

   Brownsville Library

   Monday, April 22, 3 pm

Brooklyn Public Library with the Fort Greene Park Conservancy: Earth Day Festival

   Fort Greene Park

   Saturday, April 27, 11 am

More info →

Dia Art Foundation

Saturday Studio on the Farm

   Saturday, April 27

   10:30 am

Join a practicing artist for an outdoor workshop of art making, material experimentation, and play, offered in partnership with Common Ground Farm in the Hudson Valley. Designed for all ages, Saturday Studio is a family-friendly program that is most suitable for children ages five and up.

More info and register →

GrowNYC

Join Our Climate and GrowNYC for a two-part series where we will come together to explore the boundless possibilities of a sustainable and equitable future for New York City through transformative policies, collective action, and joy.

More info and register →

GrowNYC

   Ongoing

Using techniques learned by the Beauty Turner Academy, a program hosted and facilitated by the National Public Housing Museum, GrowNYC’s Gardens at NYCHA program will engage various NYCHA residents in sharing their ethos for community work through Oral History as Art, highlighting environmental programming currently happening in their communities, and commemorating their stories for those seeking active and tangible change in NYCHA communities and beyond. The project will eventually result in a public film screening. GrowNYC is honored to uplift their collaborative partnership with photographer and writer J Owens, who uses words and images to explore the human experience and paint extraordinary pictures of ordinary places.

Watch the first iteration of Oral History as Art →

Learn more about GrowNYC’s Gardens at NYCHA →

Creative Time HQ

Visit the CTHQ website for a full list of activities and programs.

More info →

You can find out more about Earth Day here. If you scroll down there’s a worldwide map with Earth Day 2024 events marked on it. Yes, mostly featuring events in the US and Europe but other parts of the world are also represented.

Apply for 2024 summer school at Canada’s Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Nanotechnology (deadline: April 28, 2024)

This call is for Canadian undergraduate students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), from the University of Waterloo’s 2024 WIN Summer School on Sustainable Nanotechnology webpage,

WIN is pleased to host a Summer School on Sustainable Nanotechnology at UWaterloo on June 19 – 21, 2024.

This Summer School is open to Undergraduate Students in STEM across Canada .

The WIN Summer School will offer lab and facilities tours in the QNC, and in-class lectures by WIN members, senior PhD students and post-doctoral fellows.

Open to undergraduate students across Canada in STEM!

Topic areas:

* Smart & Functional Materials
* Connected Devices
* Next Generation Energy Systems
* Therapeutics & Theranostics

The WIN Summer School curriculum will be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

To learn more about last year’s summer school: https://uwaterloo.ca/institute-nanotechnology/news/wins-inaugural-summer-school-attracted-outstanding-students

Summer School Details

DatesJune 19 – 21, 2024
Application Due DateApril 28, 2024
LocationMike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre (QNC) University of Waterloo
200 University Avenue West,
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1
Notification of AcceptanceApril 2024
Application requirementsCanadian Ungeraduate Student in STEM Completed their first year of undergraduate studies
Application DetailsPlease fill out the Application form and include:  CV 1-page Research Statement Broad research interest in nanoscience and nanotechnology Alignment of your research interest with UN Sustainable Development Goals Your career goals to accomplish your research interests
Other DetailsSuccessful candidates will be provided: On-campus housing free of cost All meals  An honorarium of $500 to cover full/partial travel costs

Apply Now!

Check out the University of Waterloo’s 2024 WIN Summer School on Sustainable Nanotechnology webpage for a detailed daily agenda and more.

Finally, good luck!

Noise pollution in the ocean and the Canadian military

A December 1, 2023 news item on phys.org highlights noise pollution research from Simon Fraser University (SFU) based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada,

A new study from Simon Fraser University researchers examines the Canadian military’s efforts to reduce the impacts of underwater noise pollution on species during training exercises in the Pacific Ocean but caveat that more can still be done.

Kieran Cox, Liber Ero and NSERC Fellow from Simon Fraser University, prepares to dive into kelp forests. Photo by Kiara Kattler

A December 11, 2023 SFU news release (also on EurekAlert but published December 1, 2023), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

The paper, published today [online December 1 or 11, 2023] in Marine Policy, takes aim at a report commissioned by the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) to reduce the effects of noise pollution from military small-arms munitions training within “Whiskey Hotel”, a 330-square-kilometre area in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the British Columbia coast.

The military commissioned the report after it committed to pausing exercises in the area for three years to examine the risk in-air and underwater training noises pose to marine mammals, such as the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

With the report complete, the military has indicated it plans to resume training activities in Whiskey Hotel and will implement measures to reduce the impact of noise pollution, such as mitigation avoidance zones, cease-fire procedures, and marine species awareness training.

While researchers acknowledge the report and the mitigation measures as a positive step forward, the SFU-led paper analyzing the original report found several limitations.

For example, the report only looked at the noise pollution created by small arms fire and didn’t consider the significant noise created by the military vessels themselves. The report also focused on marine mammals and didn’t take into account the impact noise pollution also has on local populations of fish, such as salmon, and invertebrates in the area.  

Researchers say more can be done in the future to protect fish and invertebrates from noise pollution, especially as the federal government continues to develop a national plan to manage and mitigate the impacts of underwater vessel noise on marine species and their ecosystems.

“It’s important to be clear: this report is a step in the right direction. The government is developing an ocean noise strategy, so legislation on this topic is currently lacking, and activities that pertain to national security will be largely exempt from regulations. Commissioning an investigation and implementing mitigation measures is a conservation success story, one that I’m keen to see this improved upon and used in the future,” says SFU biological sciences postdoctoral fellow Kieran Cox, the lead author of the study. 

“I am hopeful that this framework can be adapted to consider all marine life and sources of noise pollution noise, which is needed as we move towards an Ocean Noise Strategy that can inform the coming decades.”

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

Military training in the Canadian Pacific: Taking aim at critical habitat or sufficient mitigation of noise pollution impacts? by Kieran D. Cox, Audrey Looby, Hailey L. Davies, Kelsie A. Murchy, Brittnie Spriel, Aaron N. Rice, Francis Juanes, Isabelle M. Côté. Marine Policy Volume 160, February 2024, 105945 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2023.105945

This paper is behind a paywall.

March 6, 2024 Simon Fraser University (SFU) event “The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future” in Vancouver, Canada

*Unsurprisingly, this event has been cancelled. More details at the end of this posting.* This is not a free event; they’ve changed the information about fees/no fees and how the fees are being assessed enough times for me to lose track; check the eventbrite registration page for the latest. Also, there will not be a publicly available recording of the event. (For folks who can’t afford the fees, there’s a contact listed later in this posting.)

First, here’s the “The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future” event information (from a January 10, 2024 Simon Fraser University (SFU) Public Square notice received via email),

The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future

Wednesday, March 6 [2024] | 7:00pm | In-person | Free [Note: This was an error.]

Generative AI has dominated headlines in 2023, but these new technologies rely on a dramatic increase in the extraction of data, human labor, and natural resources. With increasing media manipulation, polarizing discourse, and deep fakes, regulators are struggling to manage new AI.

On March 6th [2024], join renowned author and digital scholar Kate Crawford, as she sits in conversation with SFU’s Wendy Hui Kyong Chun. Together, they will discuss the planetary politics of AI, how we got here, and where it might be going.

A January 11, 2024 SFU Public Square notice (received via email) updates the information about how this isn’t a free event and offers an option for folks who can’t afford the price of a ticket, Note Links have been removed,

The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future

Wednesday, March 6 | 7:00pm | In-person | Paid

Good morning,

We’ve been made aware that yesterday’s newsletter had a mistake, and we thank those who brought it to our attention. The March 6th [2024] event, The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future, is not a free event and has an admission fee for attendance. We apologize for the confusion.

Whenever possible, SFU Public Square’s events are free and open to all, to ensure that the event is as accessible as possible. For this event, there is a paid admission, with a General and Student/Senior Admission option. That being said, if the admission fees are a barrier to access, please email us at psqevent@sfu.ca. Exceptions can be made. [emphasis mine]

Thank you for your understanding!

“The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future” registration webpage on eventbrite offers more information about the speakers and logistics,

Date and time

Starts on Wed, Mar 6, 2024 7:00 PM PST

Location

Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema (SFU Vancouver — Woodward’s Building) 149 W Hastings Street Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7

[See registration page for link to map]

Refund Policy

Refunds up to 7 days before event

About the speakers

Kate Crawfordis a leading international scholar of the social implications of artificial intelligence. She is a Research Professor at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles, a Senior Principal Researcher at MSR in New York, an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney, and the inaugural Visiting Chair for AI and Justice at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Her latest book, Atlas of AI (Yale, 2021), won the Sally Hacker Prize from the Society for the History of Technology, the ASSI&T Best Information Science Book Award, and was named one of the best books in 2021 by New Scientist and the Financial Times.

Over her twenty-year research career, she has also produced groundbreaking creative collaborations and visual investigations. Her project Anatomy of an AI System with Vladan Joler is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the V&A in London, and was awarded with the Design of the Year Award in 2019 and included in the Design of the Decades by the Design Museum of London. Her collaboration with the artist Trevor Paglen, Excavating AI, won the Ayrton Prize from the British Society for the History of Science. She has advised policy makers in the United Nations, the White House, and the European Parliament, and she currently leads the Knowing Machines Project, an international research collaboration that investigates the foundations of machine learning. And in 2023, Kate Crawford was named on of the TIME100 list as one of the most influential people in AI.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is Simon Fraser University’s Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media, Professor in the School of Communication, and Director of the Digital Democracies Institute. At the Institute, she leads the Mellon-funded Data Fluencies Project, which combines the interpretative traditions of the arts and humanities with critical work in the data sciences to express, imagine, and create innovative engagements with (and resistances to) our data-filled world.

She has studied both Systems Design Engineering and English Literature, which she combines and mutates in her research on digital media. She is author many books, including: Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT, 2006), Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (MIT 2011), Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual New Media (MIT 2016), and Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition (2021, MIT Press). She has been Professor and Chair of the Department of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, where she worked for almost two decades and is currently a Visiting Professor. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and has also held fellowships from: the Guggenheim, ACLS, American Academy of Berlin, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.

I’m wondering if the speakers will be discussing how visual and other arts impact their views on AI and vice versa. Both academics have an interest in the arts as you can see in Crawford’s event bio. As for Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, in my April 23, 2021 posting where if you scroll down to her name, (about 30% of the way down), you’ll see she was involved with “Multimedia & Electronic Music Experiments (MEME),” History of Art and Architecture,” and “Theatre Arts and Performance Studies” at Brown University.

A February 12, 2024 SFU Public Square announcement (received via email), which includes a link to this Speaker’s Spotlight webpage (scroll down), suggests my speculation is incorrect,

For over two decades, Kate Crawford’s work has focused on understanding large scale data systems, machine learning and AI in the wider contexts of history, politics, labor, and the environment.

Her latest book,  Atlas of AI (2021) explores artificial intelligence as the extractive industry of the 21st century, relying on vast amounts of data, human labour, and natural resources. …

One more biographical note about Crawford, she was mentioned here in an April 17, 2015 posting, scroll down to the National Film Board of Canada subhead, then down to Episode 5 ‘Big Data and its Algorithms’ of the Do Not Track documentary; she is one of the interviewees. I’m not sure if that documentary is still accessible online.

Back to the event, to get more details and/or buy a ticket, go to: “The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future” registration webpage.

Or, SFU is hosting its free 2023 Nobel Prize-themed lecture at Science World on March 6, 2024 (see my January 16, 2024 posting and scroll down about 30% of the way for more details).

*March 4, 2024: I found a cancellation notice on the SFU’s The Planetary Politics of AI: Past, Present, and Future event page,,

Unfortunately, this event has been cancelled due to extenuating circumstances. If you have questions or concerns, please email us at psqevent@sfu.ca. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and we thank you for your understanding.

My guess? They didn’t sell enough tickets. My assessment? Poor organization (e.g., the confusion over pricing), and poor marketing (e.g., no compelling reason to buy a ticket, (e.g.,, neither participant is currently a celebrity or a hot property, the presentation was nothing unique or special, it was just a talk; the title was mildly interesting but not exciting or provocative, etc.).

A nanozyme that is organic, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, cost effective, and can detect the presence of glyphosate

An October 16, 2023 University of Illinois news release (also on EurekAlert), describes research into developing a tool to detect the presence of the agricultural herbicide, glyphosate, Note: Links have been removed,

Nanozymes are synthetic materials that mimic the properties of natural enzymes for applications in biomedicine and chemical engineering. They are generally considered too toxic and expensive for use in agriculture and food science. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a nanozyme that is organic, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and cost effective. In a newly published paper, they describe its features and its capacity to detect the presence of glyphosate, a common agricultural herbicide. Their goal is to eventually create a user-friendly test kit for consumers and agricultural producers.

“The word nanozyme is derived from nanomaterial and enzyme. Nanozymes were first developed about 15 years ago, when researchers found that iron oxide nanoparticles may perform catalytic activity similar to natural enzymes (peroxidase),” explained Dong Hoon Lee, a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE), part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and The Grainger College of Engineering at U. of I.

These nanozymes mimic the activity of peroxidase, an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of a substrate by using hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizing agent. They provide higher stability and lower cost than natural peroxidase, and they are widely used in biomedical research, including biosensors for detection of target molecules in disease diagnostics.

“Traditional nanozymes are created from inorganic, metal-based materials, making them too toxic and expensive to be directly applied on food and agriculture,” Lee said.

“Our research group is pioneering the development of fully organic compound-based nanozymes (OC nanozymes) which exhibit peroxidase-like activities. The OC nanozyme follows the catalytic activity of the natural enzyme but is predominantly based on agriculture-friendly organic compounds, such as urea acting as a chelating-like agent and polyvinyl alcohol as a particle stabilizer.”

The researchers also implemented a colorimetric sensing system integrated with the OC nanozyme for target molecule detection. Colorimetric assays, an optical sensing method, use color intensity to provide an estimated concentration of the presence of specific molecules in a substance, such that darker or lighter color indicates lower or higher quantity of target molecules. The organic-compound nanozyme performed on par with nanozymes typically used in biosensing applications within their kinetic profile with molecule detection performance.

“Traditional nanozymes come with a host of issues: toxicity, lengthy degradation, and a complex production process. In contrast, our nanozyme is quicker to produce, cost-effective, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly,” said Mohammed Kamruzzaman, assistant professor in ABE and co-author on the study.

Lee and Kamruzzaman applied the OC nanozyme-based, colorimetric sensing platform to detect the presence of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide in the agricultural industry. They performed colorimetric assays in solutions containing varying concentrations of glyphosate, finding the organic nanozyme was able to successfully detect glyphosate with adequate accuracy.

“There is an increasing demand for testing pesticide or herbicide presence in agricultural products to protect human and crop health. We want to develop an OC nanozyme-based, point-of-use testing platform for farmers or consumers that they can apply in the field or at home,” Kamruzzaman stated. “People would obtain a test kit with a substance to mix with their sample, then take a picture and use an app on their phone to identify the color intensity and interpret if there is any glyphosate present. The ultimate goal is to make the test portable and applicable anywhere.”

The researchers are also working on developing additional nanozymes, envisioning these environmental-friendly materials hold great potential for a wide range of applications.

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

Organic compound-based nanozymes for agricultural herbicide detection by Dong Hoon Lee and Mohammed Kamruzzaman. Nanoscale, 2023,15, 12954-12960 First published July 28, 2023

This paper is open access once you have created your free account.

Simon Fraser University’s (SFU; Vancouver, Canada) Café Scientifique Winter/Spring 2024 events + a 2023 Nobel-themed lecture

There are three upcoming Simon Fraser University (SFU) Café Scientifique events (Zoom) and one upcoming Nobel=themed lecture (in person) according to a January 15, 2024 notice (received via email), Note: All the events are free,

Hello SFU Cafe Scientifique friends!

We are back with a brand new line up for our Cafe Scientifique discussion series.  Zoom invites will be sent closer to the event dates [emphasis mine].  We hope you can join us.

All event information and registration links on this page: https://www.sfu.ca/science/community.html

Café Scientifique: Why Do Babies Get Sick? A Systems Biology Approach to Developing Diagnostics and Therapeutics for Neonatal Sepsis. 

Tuesday, January 30, 5:00-6:30pm over Zoom 

Around the world five newborn babies die each second from life-threatening infections. Unfortunately there is no fast or easy way to tell which microbes are involved. Molecular Biology and Biochemistry assistant professor Amy Lee will share how we can use genomics and machine learning approaches to tackle this challenge.
Register here. https://events.sfu.ca/event/38235-cafe-scientifique-january-why-do-babies-get-sick?

Cafe Scientifique: From data to dollars: A journey through financial modelling
Tuesday, February 27, 5:00-6:30 pm over Zoom 

Financial modelling involves using mathematical and statistical techniques to understand future financial scenarios, helping individuals and businesses make informed decisions about their investments. Join Dr. Jean-François Bégin as he explores how these models can empower us to navigate the complexities of financial markets.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/763521010897

Cafe Scientifique: Overtraining and the Everyday Athlete
Tuesday, April 30, 5:00-6:30 pm over Zoom 

What happens when we train too hard, don’t take enough time to recover, or underfuel while exercising, and how that applies to both elite athletes and just your “everyday athlete.” Join Dr. Alexandra Coates from our Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology Department in this interesting discussion.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/763521010897

Missed our last Café Scientifique talk [Decoding how life senses and responds to carbon dioxide gas] with Dustin King? [SFU Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Assistant Professor Dustin King’s Indigenous background is central to his work and relationship with the biochemical research he conducts. He brings Indigenous ways of knowing and a two-eye seeing approach to critical questions about humanity’s impact upon the natural world …] Watch it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCHTSbF3RVs&list=PLTMt9gbqLurAMfSHQqVAHu7YbyOFq81Ix&index=10

The ‘2023 Nobel Prize Lectures’ being presented by SFU do not feature the 2023 winners but rather, SFU experts in the relevant field, from the January 15, 2024 SFU Café Scientifique notice (received via email),

BACK IN-PERSON AT THE SCIENCE WORLD THEATRE!

Location: Science World Theatre 1455 Quebec Street Vancouver, BC V6A 3Z7

NOBEL PRIZE LECTURES  

Wednesday, March 6, 2024 

6:30-7:30 pm Refreshments, 7:30-9:30 pm Lectures 

Celebrate the 2023 Nobel awardees in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine!

SFU experts will explain Nobel laureates’ award-winning research and its significance to our everyday lives. 

Featured presenters are

*Mark Brockman from Molecular Biology and Biochemistry for the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology;

*Byron Gates from Chemistry for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry; and

*Shawn Sederberg from the School of Engineering Science for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Register here: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/nobel-prize-lectures-tickets-773387301237

For anyone who has trouble remembering who and why the winners were awarded a 2023 Nobel Prize, here’s a nobleprize.org webpage devoted to the 2023 winners.

FrogHeart’s 2023 comes to an end as 2024 comes into view

My personal theme for this last year (2023) and for the coming year was and is: catching up. On the plus side, my 2023 backlog (roughly six months) to be published was whittled down considerably. On the minus side, I start 2024 with a backlog of two to three months.

2023 on this blog had a lot in common with 2022 (see my December 31, 2022 posting), which may be due to what’s going on in the world of emerging science and technology or to my personal interests or possibly a bit of both. On to 2023 and a further blurring of boundaries:

Energy, computing and the environment

The argument against paper is that it uses up resources, it’s polluting, it’s affecting the environment, etc. Somehow the part where electricity which underpins so much of our ‘smart’ society does the same thing is left out of the discussion.

Neuromorphic (brainlike) computing and lower energy

Before launching into the stories about lowering energy usage, here’s an October 16, 2023 posting “The cost of building ChatGPT” that gives you some idea of the consequences of our insatiable desire for more computing and more ‘smart’ devices,

In its latest environmental report, Microsoft disclosed that its global water consumption spiked 34% from 2021 to 2022 (to nearly 1.7 billion gallons , or more than 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools), a sharp increase compared to previous years that outside researchers tie to its AI research. [emphases mine]

“It’s fair to say the majority of the growth is due to AI,” including “its heavy investment in generative AI and partnership with OpenAI,” said Shaolei Ren, [emphasis mine] a researcher at the University of California, Riverside who has been trying to calculate the environmental impact of generative AI products such as ChatGPT.

Why it matters: Microsoft’s five WDM [West Des Moines in Iowa] data centers — the “epicenter for advancing AI” — represent more than $5 billion in investments in the last 15 years.

Yes, but: They consumed as much as 11.5 million gallons of water a month for cooling, or about 6% of WDM’s total usage during peak summer usage during the last two years, according to information from West Des Moines Water Works.

The focus is AI but it doesn’t take long to realize that all computing has energy and environmental costs. I have more about Ren’s work and about water shortages in the “The cost of building ChatGPT” posting.

This next posting would usually be included with my other art/sci postings but it touches on the issues. My October 13, 2023 posting about Toronto’s Art/Sci Salon events, in particular, there’s the Streaming Carbon Footprint event (just scroll down to the appropriate subhead). For the interested, I also found this 2022 paper “The Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media:; Problems, Calculations, Solutions” co-authored by one of the artist/researchers (Laura U. Marks, philosopher and scholar of new media and film at Simon Fraser University) who presented at the Toronto event.

I’m late to the party; Thomas Daigle posted a January 2, 2020 article about energy use and our appetite for computing and ‘smart’ devices for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s online news,

For those of us binge-watching TV shows, installing new smartphone apps or sharing family photos on social media over the holidays, it may seem like an abstract predicament.

The gigabytes of data we’re using — although invisible — come at a significant cost to the environment. Some experts say it rivals that of the airline industry. 

And as more smart devices rely on data to operate (think internet-connected refrigerators or self-driving cars), their electricity demands are set to skyrocket.

“We are using an immense amount of energy to drive this data revolution,” said Jane Kearns, an environment and technology expert at MaRS Discovery District, an innovation hub in Toronto.

“It has real implications for our climate.”

Some good news

Researchers are working on ways to lower the energy and environmental costs, here’s a sampling of 2023 posts with an emphasis on brainlike computing that attest to it,

If there’s an industry that can make neuromorphic computing and energy savings sexy, it’s the automotive indusry,

On the energy front,

Most people are familiar with nuclear fission and some its attendant issues. There is an alternative nuclear energy, fusion, which is considered ‘green’ or greener anyway. General Fusion is a local (Vancouver area) company focused on developing fusion energy, alongside competitors from all over the planet.

Part of what makes fusion energy attractive is that salt water or sea water can be used in its production and, according to that December posting, there are other applications for salt water power,

More encouraging developments in environmental science

Again, this is a selection. You’ll find a number of nano cellulose research projects and a couple of seaweed projects (seaweed research seems to be of increasing interest).

All by myself (neuromorphic engineering)

Neuromorphic computing is a subset of neuromorphic engineering and I stumbled across an article that outlines the similarities and differences. My ‘summary’ of the main points and a link to the original article can be found here,

Oops! I did it again. More AI panic

I included an overview of the various ‘recent’ panics (in my May 25, 2023 posting below) along with a few other posts about concerning developments but it’s not all doom and gloom..

Governments have realized that regulation might be a good idea. The European Union has a n AI act, the UK held an AI Safety Summit in November 2023, the US has been discussing AI regulation with its various hearings, and there’s impending legislation in Canada (see professor and lawyer Michael Geist’s blog for more).

A long time coming, a nanomedicine comeuppance

Paolo Macchiarini is now infamous for his untested, dangerous approach to medicine. Like a lot of people, I was fooled too as you can see in my August 2, 2011 posting, “Body parts nano style,”

In early July 2011, there were reports of a new kind of transplant involving a body part made of a biocomposite. Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene underwent a trachea transplant that required an artificial windpipe crafted by UK experts then flown to Sweden where Beyene’s stem cells were used to coat the windpipe before being transplanted into his body.

It is an extraordinary story not least because Beyene, a patient in a Swedish hospital planning to return to Eritrea after his PhD studies in Iceland, illustrates the international cooperation that made the transplant possible.

The scaffolding material for the artificial windpipe was developed by Professor Alex Seifalian at the University College London in a landmark piece of nanotechnology-enabled tissue engineering. …

Five years later I stumbled across problems with Macchiarini’s work as outlined in my April 19, 2016 posting, “Macchiarini controversy and synthetic trachea transplants (part 1 of 2)” and my other April 19, 2016 posting, “Macchiarini controversy and synthetic trachea transplants (part 2 of 2)“.

This year, Gretchen Vogel (whose work was featured in my 2016 posts) has written a June 21, 2023 update about the Macchiarini affair for Science magazine, Note: Links have been removed,

Surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who was once hailed as a pioneer of stem cell medicine, was found guilty of gross assault against three of his patients today and sentenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison by an appeals court in Stockholm. The ruling comes a year after a Swedish district court found Macchiarini guilty of bodily harm in two of the cases and gave him a suspended sentence. After both the prosecution and Macchiarini appealed that ruling, the Svea Court of Appeal heard the case in April and May. Today’s ruling from the five-judge panel is largely a win for the prosecution—it had asked for a 5-year sentence whereas Macchiarini’s lawyer urged the appeals court to acquit him of all charges.

Macchiarini performed experimental surgeries on the three patients in 2011 and 2012 while working at the renowned Karolinska Institute. He implanted synthetic windpipes seeded with stem cells from the patients’ own bone marrow, with the hope the cells would multiply over time and provide an enduring replacement. All three patients died when the implants failed. One patient died suddenly when the implant caused massive bleeding just 4 months after it was implanted; the two others survived for 2.5 and nearly 5 years, respectively, but suffered painful and debilitating complications before their deaths.

In the ruling released today, the appeals judges disagreed with the district court’s decision that the first two patients were treated under “emergency” conditions. Both patients could have survived for a significant length of time without the surgeries, they said. The third case was an “emergency,” the court ruled, but the treatment was still indefensible because by then Macchiarini was well aware of the problems with the technique. (One patient had already died and the other had suffered severe complications.)

A fictionalized tv series ( part of the Dr. Death anthology series) based on Macchiarini’s deceptions and a Dr. Death documentary are being broadcast/streamed in the US during January 2024. These come on the heels of a November 2023 Macchiarini documentary also broadcast/streamed on US television.

Dr. Death (anthology), based on the previews I’ve seen, is heavily US-centric, which is to be expected since Adam Ciralsky is involved in the production. Ciralsky wrote an exposé about Macchiarini for Vanity Fair published in 2016 (also featured in my 2016 postings). From a December 20, 2023 article by Julie Miller for Vanity Fair, Note: A link has been removed,

Seven years ago [2016], world-renowned surgeon Paolo Macchiarini was the subject of an ongoing Vanity Fair investigation. He had seduced award-winning NBC producer Benita Alexander while she was making a special about him, proposed, and promised her a wedding officiated by Pope Francis and attended by political A-listers. It was only after her designer wedding gown was made that Alexander learned Macchiarini was still married to his wife, and seemingly had no association with the famous names on their guest list.

Vanity Fair contributor Adam Ciralsky was in the midst of reporting the story for this magazine in the fall of 2015 when he turned to Dr. Ronald Schouten, a Harvard psychiatry professor. Ciralsky sought expert insight into the kind of fabulist who would invent and engage in such an audacious lie.

“I laid out the story to him, and he said, ‘Anybody who does this in their private life engages in the same conduct in their professional life,” recalls Ciralsky, in a phone call with Vanity Fair. “I think you ought to take a hard look at his CVs.”

That was the turning point in the story for Ciralsky, a former CIA lawyer who soon learned that Macchiarini was more dangerous as a surgeon than a suitor. …

Here’s a link to Ciralsky’s original article, which I described this way, from my April 19, 2016 posting (part 2 of the Macchiarini controversy),

For some bizarre frosting on this disturbing cake (see part 1 of the Macchiarini controversy and synthetic trachea transplants for the medical science aspects), a January 5, 2016 Vanity Fair article by Adam Ciralsky documents Macchiarini’s courtship of an NBC ([US] National Broadcasting Corporation) news producer who was preparing a documentary about him and his work.

[from Ciralsky’s article]

“Macchiarini, 57, is a magnet for superlatives. He is commonly referred to as “world-renowned” and a “super-surgeon.” He is credited with medical miracles, including the world’s first synthetic organ transplant, which involved fashioning a trachea, or windpipe, out of plastic and then coating it with a patient’s own stem cells. That feat, in 2011, appeared to solve two of medicine’s more intractable problems—organ rejection and the lack of donor organs—and brought with it major media exposure for Macchiarini and his employer, Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, home of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Macchiarini was now planning another first: a synthetic-trachea transplant on a child, a two-year-old Korean-Canadian girl named Hannah Warren, who had spent her entire life in a Seoul hospital. … “

Other players in the Macchiarini story

Pierre Delaere, a trachea expert and professor of head and neck surgery at KU Leuven (a university in Belgium) was one of the first to draw attention to Macchiarini’s dangerous and unethical practices. To give you an idea of how difficult it was to get attention for this issue, there’s a September 1, 2017 article by John Rasko and Carl Power for the Guardian illustrating the issue. Here’s what they had to say about Delaere and other early critics of the work, Note: Links have been removed,

Delaere was one of the earliest and harshest critics of Macchiarini’s engineered airways. Reports of their success always seemed like “hot air” to him. He could see no real evidence that the windpipe scaffolds were becoming living, functioning airways – in which case, they were destined to fail. The only question was how long it would take – weeks, months or a few years.

Delaere’s damning criticisms appeared in major medical journals, including the Lancet, but weren’t taken seriously by Karolinska’s leadership. Nor did they impress the institute’s ethics council when Delaere lodged a formal complaint. [emphases mine]

Support for Macchiarini remained strong, even as his patients began to die. In part, this is because the field of windpipe repair is a niche area. Few people at Karolinska, especially among those in power, knew enough about it to appreciate Delaere’s claims. Also, in such a highly competitive environment, people are keen to show allegiance to their superiors and wary of criticising them. The official report into the matter dubbed this the “bandwagon effect”.

With Macchiarini’s exploits endorsed by management and breathlessly reported in the media, it was all too easy to jump on that bandwagon.

And difficult to jump off. In early 2014, four Karolinska doctors defied the reigning culture of silence [emphasis mine] by complaining about Macchiarini. In their view, he was grossly misrepresenting his results and the health of his patients. An independent investigator agreed. But the vice-chancellor of Karolinska Institute, Anders Hamsten, wasn’t bound by this judgement. He officially cleared Macchiarini of scientific misconduct, allowing merely that he’d sometimes acted “without due care”.

For their efforts, the whistleblowers were punished. [emphasis mine] When Macchiarini accused one of them, Karl-Henrik Grinnemo, of stealing his work in a grant application, Hamsten found him guilty. As Grinnemo recalls, it nearly destroyed his career: “I didn’t receive any new grants. No one wanted to collaborate with me. We were doing good research, but it didn’t matter … I thought I was going to lose my lab, my staff – everything.”

This went on for three years until, just recently [2017], Grinnemo was cleared of all wrongdoing.

It is fitting that Macchiarini’s career unravelled at the Karolinska Institute. As the home of the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, one of its ambitions is to create scientific celebrities. Every year, it gives science a show-business makeover, picking out from the mass of medical researchers those individuals deserving of superstardom. The idea is that scientific progress is driven by the genius of a few.

It’s a problematic idea with unfortunate side effects. A genius is a revolutionary by definition, a risk-taker and a law-breaker. Wasn’t something of this idea behind the special treatment Karolinska gave Macchiarini? Surely, he got away with so much because he was considered an exception to the rules with more than a whiff of the Nobel about him. At any rate, some of his most powerful friends were themselves Nobel judges until, with his fall from grace, they fell too.

The September 1, 2017 article by Rasko and Power is worth the read if you have the interest and the time. And, Delaere has written up a comprehensive analysis, which includes basic information about tracheas and more, “The Biggest Lie in Medical History” 2020, PDF, 164 pp., Creative Commons Licence).

I also want to mention Leonid Schneider, science journalist and molecular cell biologist, whose work the Macchiarini scandal on his ‘For Better Science’ website was also featured in my 2016 pieces. Schneider’s site has a page titled, ‘Macchiarini’s trachea transplant patients: the full list‘ started in 2017 and which he continues to update with new information about the patients. The latest update was made on December 20, 2023.

Promising nanomedicine research but no promises and a caveat

Most of the research mentioned here is still in the laboratory. i don’t often come across work that has made its way to clinical trials since the focus of this blog is emerging science and technology,

*If you’re interested in the business of neurotechnology, the July 17, 2023 posting highlights a very good UNESCO report on the topic.

Funky music (sound and noise)

I have couple of stories about using sound for wound healing, bioinspiration for soundproofing applications, detecting seismic activity, more data sonification, etc.

Same old, same old CRISPR

2023 was relatively quiet (no panics) where CRISPR developments are concerned but still quite active.

Art/Sci: a pretty active year

I didn’t realize how active the year was art/sciwise including events and other projects until I reviewed this year’s postings. This is a selection from 2023 but there’s a lot more on the blog, just use the search term, “art/sci,” or “art/science,” or “sciart.”

While I often feature events and projects from these groups (e.g., June 2, 2023 posting, “Metacreation Lab’s greatest hits of Summer 2023“), it’s possible for me to miss a few. So, you can check out Toronto’s Art/Sci Salon’s website (strong focus on visual art) and Simon Fraser University’s Metacreation Lab for Creative Artificial Intelligence website (strong focus on music).

My selection of this year’s postings is more heavily weighted to the ‘writing’ end of things.

Boundaries: life/nonlife

Last year I subtitled this section, ‘Aliens on earth: machinic biology and/or biological machinery?” Here’s this year’s selection,

Canada’s 2023 budget … military

2023 featured an unusual budget where military expenditures were going to be increased, something which could have implications for our science and technology research.

Then things changed as Murray Brewster’s November 21, 2023 article for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) news online website comments, Note: A link has been removed,

There was a revelatory moment on the weekend as Defence Minister Bill Blair attempted to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality in the Liberal government’s spending plans for his department and the Canadian military.

Asked about an anticipated (and long overdue) update to the country’s defence policy (supposedly made urgent two years ago by Russia’s full-on invasion of Ukraine), Blair acknowledged that the reset is now being viewed through a fiscal lens.

“We said we’re going to bring forward a new defence policy update. We’ve been working through that,” Blair told CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.

“The current fiscal environment that the country faces itself does require (that) that defence policy update … recognize (the) fiscal challenges. And so it’ll be part of … our future budget processes.”

One policy goal of the existing defence plan, Strong, Secure and Engaged, was to require that the military be able to concurrently deliver “two sustained deployments of 500 [to] 1,500 personnel in two different theaters of operation, including one as a lead nation.”

In a footnote, the recent estimates said the Canadian military is “currently unable to conduct multiple operations concurrently per the requirements laid out in the 2017 Defence Policy. Readiness of CAF force elements has continued to decrease over the course of the last year, aggravated by decreasing number of personnel and issues with equipment and vehicles.”

Some analysts say they believe that even if the federal government hits its overall budget reduction targets, what has been taken away from defence — and what’s about to be taken away — won’t be coming back, the minister’s public assurances notwithstanding.

10 years: Graphene Flagship Project and Human Brain Project

Graphene and Human Brain Project win biggest research award in history (& this is the 2000th post)” on January 28, 2013 was how I announced the results of what had been a a European Union (EU) competition that stretched out over several years and many stages as projects were evaluated and fell to the wayside or were allowed onto the next stage. The two finalists received €1B each to be paid out over ten years.

Future or not

As you can see, there was plenty of interesting stuff going on in 2023 but no watershed moments in the areas I follow. (Please do let me know in the Comments should you disagree with this or any other part of this posting.) Nanotechnology seems less and less an emerging science/technology in itself and more like a foundational element of our science and technology sectors. On that note, you may find my upcoming (in 2024) post about a report concerning the economic impact of its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) from 2002 to 2022 of interest.

Following on the commercialization theme, I have noticed an increase of interest in commercializing brain and brainlike engineering technologies, as well as, more discussion about ethics.

Colonizing the brain?

UNESCO held events such as, this noted in my July 17, 2023 posting, “Unveiling the Neurotechnology Landscape: Scientific Advancements, Innovations and Major Trends—a UNESCO report” and this noted in my July 7, 2023 posting “Global dialogue on the ethics of neurotechnology on July 13, 2023 led by UNESCO.” An August 21, 2023 posting, “Ethical nanobiotechnology” adds to the discussion.

Meanwhile, Australia has been producing some very interesting mind/robot research, my June 13, 2023 posting, “Mind-controlled robots based on graphene: an Australian research story.” I have more of this kind of research (mind control or mind reading) from Australia to be published in early 2024. The Australians are not alone, there’s also this April 12, 2023 posting, “Mind-reading prosthetic limbs” from Germany.

My May 12, 2023 posting, “Virtual panel discussion: Canadian Strategies for Responsible Neurotechnology Innovation on May 16, 2023” shows Canada is entering the discussion. Unfortunately, the Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC), which held the event, has not posted a video online even though they have a youtube channel featuring other of their events.

As for neurmorphic engineering, China has produced a roadmap for its research in this area as noted in my March 20, 2023 posting, “A nontraditional artificial synaptic device and roadmap for Chinese research into neuromorphic devices.”

Quantum anybody?

I haven’t singled it out in this end-of-year posting but there is a great deal of interest in quantum computer both here in Canada and elsewhere. There is a 2023 report from the Council of Canadian Academies on the topic of quantum computing in Canada, which I hope to comment on soon.

Final words

I have a shout out for the Canadian Science Policy Centre, which celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2023. Congratulations!

For everyone, I wish peace on earth and all the best for you and yours in 2024!