I love this lobster. In most photos, they’re food. This shows off the lobster as a living entity while showcasing its underbelly, which is what this story is all about. From an April 23, 2021 news item on phys.org (Note: A link has been removed),
A lobster’s underbelly is lined with a thin, translucent membrane that is both stretchy and surprisingly tough. This marine under-armor, as MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] engineers reported in 2019, is made from the toughest known hydrogel in nature, which also happens to be highly flexible. This combination of strength and stretch helps shield a lobster as it scrabbles across the seafloor, while also allowing it to flex back and forth to swim.
Now a separate MIT team has fabricated a hydrogel-based material that mimics the structure of the lobster’s underbelly. The researchers ran the material through a battery of stretch and impact tests, and showed that, similar to the lobster underbelly, the synthetic material is remarkably “fatigue-resistant,” able to withstand repeated stretches and strains without tearing.
If the fabrication process could be significantly scaled up, materials made from nanofibrous hydrogels could be used to make stretchy and strong replacement tissues such as artificial tendons and ligaments.
The team’s results are published in the journal Matter. The paper’s MIT co-authors include postdocs Jiahua Ni and Shaoting Lin; graduate students Xinyue Liu and Yuchen Sun; professor of aeronautics and astronautics Raul Radovitzky; professor of chemistry Keith Nelson; mechanical engineering professor Xuanhe Zhao; and former research scientist David Veysset Ph.D. ’16, now at Stanford University; along with Zhao Qin, assistant professor at Syracuse University, and Alex Hsieh of the Army Research Laboratory.
An April 23, 2021 MIT news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jennifer Chu, which originated the news item, offers an overview of the groundwork for this latest research along with technical detail about the latest work,
In 2019, Lin and other members of Zhao’s group developed a new kind of fatigue-resistant material made from hydrogel — a gelatin-like class of materials made primarily of water and cross-linked polymers. They fabricated the material from ultrathin fibers of hydrogel, which aligned like many strands of gathered straw when the material was repeatedly stretched. This workout also happened to increase the hydrogel’s fatigue resistance.
“At that moment, we had a feeling nanofibers in hydrogels were important, and hoped to manipulate the fibril structures so that we could optimize fatigue resistance,” says Lin.
In their new study, the researchers combined a number of techniques to create stronger hydrogel nanofibers. The process starts with electrospinning, a fiber production technique that uses electric charges to draw ultrathin threads out of polymer solutions. The team used high-voltage charges to spin nanofibers from a polymer solution, to form a flat film of nanofibers, each measuring about 800 nanometers — a fraction of the diameter of a human hair.
They placed the film in a high-humidity chamber to weld the individual fibers into a sturdy, interconnected network, and then set the film in an incubator to crystallize the individual nanofibers at high temperatures, further strengthening the material.
They tested the film’s fatigue-resistance by placing it in a machine that stretched it repeatedly over tens of thousands of cycles. They also made notches in some films and observed how the cracks propagated as the films were stretched repeatedly. From these tests, they calculated that the nanofibrous films were 50 times more fatigue-resistant than the conventional nanofibrous hydrogels.
Around this time, they read with interest a study by Ming Guo, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, who characterized the mechanical properties of a lobster’s underbelly. This protective membrane is made from thin sheets of chitin, a natural, fibrous material that is similar in makeup to the group’s hydrogel nanofibers.
Guo found that a cross-section of the lobster membrane revealed sheets of chitin stacked at 36-degree angles, similar to twisted plywood, or a spiral staircase. This rotating, layered configuration, known as a bouligand structure, enhanced the membrane’s properties of stretch and strength.
“We learned that this bouligand structure in the lobster underbelly has high mechanical performance, which motivated us to see if we could reproduce such structures in synthetic materials,” Lin says.
Ni, Lin, and members of Zhao’s group teamed up with Nelson’s lab and Radovitzky’s group in MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, and Qin’s lab at Syracuse University, to see if they could reproduce the lobster’s bouligand membrane structure using their synthetic, fatigue-resistant films.
“We prepared aligned nanofibers by electrospinning to mimic the chinic fibers existed in the lobster underbelly,” Ni says.
After electrospinning nanofibrous films, the researchers stacked each of five films in successive, 36-degree angles to form a single bouligand structure, which they then welded and crystallized to fortify the material. The final product measured 9 square centimeters and about 30 to 40 microns thick — about the size of a small piece of Scotch tape.
Stretch tests showed that the lobster-inspired material performed similarly to its natural counterpart, able to stretch repeatedly while resisting tears and cracks — a fatigue-resistance Lin attributes to the structure’s angled architecture.
“Intuitively, once a crack in the material propagates through one layer, it’s impeded by adjacent layers, where fibers are aligned at different angles,” Lin explains.
The team also subjected the material to microballistic impact tests with an experiment designed by Nelson’s group. They imaged the material as they shot it with microparticles at high velocity, and measured the particles’ speed before and after tearing through the material. The difference in velocity gave them a direct measurement of the material’s impact resistance, or the amount of energy it can absorb, which turned out to be a surprisingly tough 40 kilojoules per kilogram. This number is measured in the hydrated state.
“That means that a 5-millimeter steel ball launched at 200 meters per second would be arrested by 13 millimeters of the material,” Veysset says. “It is not as resistant as Kevlar, which would require 1 millimeter, but the material beats Kevlar in many other categories.”
It’s no surprise that the new material isn’t as tough as commercial antiballistic materials. It is, however, significantly sturdier than most other nanofibrous hydrogels such as gelatin and synthetic polymers like PVA. The material is also much stretchier than Kevlar. This combination of stretch and strength suggests that, if their fabrication can be sped up, and more films stacked in bouligand structures, nanofibrous hydrogels may serve as flexible and tough artificial tissues.
“For a hydrogel material to be a load-bearing artificial tissue, both strength and deformability are required,” Lin says. “Our material design could achieve these two properties.”
The Army of the future will involve humans and autonomous machines working together to accomplish the mission. According to Army researchers, this vision will only succeed if artificial intelligence is perceived to be ethical.
Researchers, based at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory, Northeastern University and the University of Southern California, expanded existing research to cover moral dilemmas and decision making that has not been pursued elsewhere.
This research, featured in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, tackles the fundamental challenge of developing ethical artificial intelligence, which, according to the researchers, is still mostly understudied.
“Autonomous machines, such as automated vehicles and robots, are poised to become pervasive in the Army,” said DEVCOM ARL researcher Dr. Celso de Melo, who is located at the laboratory’s ARL West regional site in Playa Vista, California. “These machines will inevitably face moral dilemmas where they must make decisions that could very well injure humans.”
For example, de Melo said, imagine that an automated vehicle is driving in a tunnel and suddenly five pedestrians cross the street; the vehicle must decide whether to continue moving forward injuring the pedestrians or swerve towards the wall risking the driver.
What should the automated vehicle do in this situation?
Prior work has framed these dilemmas in starkly simple terms, framing decisions as life and death, de Melo said, neglecting the influence of risk of injury to the involved parties on the outcome.
“By expanding the study of moral dilemmas to consider the risk profile of the situation, we significantly expanded the space of acceptable solutions for these dilemmas,” de Melo said. “In so doing, we contributed to the development of autonomous technology that abides to acceptable moral norms and thus is more likely to be adopted in practice and accepted by the general public.”
The researchers focused on this gap and presented experimental evidence that, in a moral dilemma with automated vehicles, the likelihood of making the utilitarian choice – which minimizes the overall injury risk to humans and, in this case, saves the pedestrians – was moderated by the perceived risk of injury to pedestrians and drivers.
In their study, participants were found more likely to make the utilitarian choice with decreasing risk to the driver and with increasing risk to the pedestrians. However, interestingly, most were willing to risk the driver (i.e., self-sacrifice), even if the risk to the pedestrians was lower than to the driver.
As a second contribution, the researchers also demonstrated that participants’ moral decisions were influenced by what other decision makers do – for instance, participants were less likely to make the utilitarian choice, if others often chose the non-utilitarian choice.
“This research advances the state-of-the-art in the study of moral dilemmas involving autonomous machines by shedding light on the role of risk on moral choices,” de Melo said. “Further, both of these mechanisms introduce opportunities to develop AI that will be perceived to make decisions that meet moral standards, as well as introduce an opportunity to use technology to shape human behavior and promote a more moral society.”
For the Army, this research is particularly relevant to Army modernization, de Melo said.
“As these vehicles become increasingly autonomous and operate in complex and dynamic environments, they are bound to face situations where injury to humans is unavoidable,” de Melo said. “This research informs how to navigate these moral dilemmas and make decisions that will be perceived as optimal given the circumstances; for example, minimizing overall risk to human life.”
Moving in to the future, researchers will study this type of risk-benefit analysis in Army moral dilemmas and articulate the corresponding practical implications for the development of AI systems.
“When deployed at scale, the decisions made by AI systems can be very consequential, in particular for situations involving risk to human life,” de Melo said. “It is critical that AI is able to make decisions that reflect society’s ethical standards to facilitate adoption by the Army and acceptance by the general public. This research contributes to realizing this vision by clarifying some of the key factors shaping these standards. This research is personally important because AI is expected to have considerable impact to the Army of the future; however, what kind of impact will be defined by the values reflected in that AI.”
The last time I had an item on a similar topic from the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) it was in a March 26, 2018 posting; scroll down to the subhead, US Army (about 50% of the way down),
“As machine agents become more sophisticated and independent, it is critical for their human counterparts to understand their intent, behaviors, reasoning process behind those behaviors, and expected outcomes so the humans can properly calibrate their trust [emphasis mine] in the systems and make appropriate decisions,” explained ARL’s Dr. Jessie Chen, senior research psychologist.
This latest work also revolves around the issue of trust according to the last sentence in the 2021 study paper (link and citation to follow),
… Overall, these questions emphasize the importance of the kind of experimental work presented here, as it has the potential to shed light on people’s preferences about moral behavior in machines, inform the design of autonomous machines people are likely to trust and adopt, and, perhaps, even introduce an opportunity to promote a more moral society. [emphases mine]
Kombucha tea, a trendy fermented beverage, inspired researchers to develop a new way to generate tough, functional materials using a mixture of bacteria and yeast similar to the kombucha mother used to ferment tea.
With Army funding, using this mixture, also called a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, engineers at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and Imperial College London produced cellulose embedded with enzymes that can perform a variety of functions, such as sensing environmental pollutants and self-healing materials.
The team also showed that they could incorporate yeast directly into the cellulose, creating living materials that could be used to purify water for Soldiers in the field or make smart packaging materials that can detect damage.
“This work provides insights into how synthetic biology approaches can harness the design of biotic-abiotic interfaces with biological organization over multiple length scales,” said Dr. Dawanne Poree, program manager, Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory. “This is important to the Army as this can lead to new materials with potential applications in microbial fuel cells, sense and respond systems, and self-reporting and self-repairing materials.”
The research, published in Nature Materials was funded by ARO [Army Research Office] and the Army’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies [ISN] at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The U.S. Army established the ISN in 2002 as an interdisciplinary research center devoted to dramatically improving the protection, survivability, and mission capabilities of the Soldier and Soldier-supporting platforms and systems.
“We foresee a future where diverse materials could be grown at home or in local production facilities, using biology rather than resource-intensive centralized manufacturing,” said Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering.
Researchers produced cellulose embedded with enzymes, creating living materials that could be used to purify water for Soldiers in the field or make smart packaging materials that can detect damage. These fermentation factories, which usually contain one species of bacteria and one or more yeast species, produce ethanol, cellulose, and acetic acid that gives kombucha tea its distinctive flavor.
Most of the wild yeast strains used for fermentation are difficult to genetically modify, so the researchers replaced them with a strain of laboratory yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. They combined the yeast with a type of bacteria called Komagataeibacter rhaeticus that their collaborators at Imperial College London had previously isolated from a kombucha mother. This species can produce large quantities of cellulose.
Because the researchers used a laboratory strain of yeast, they could engineer the cells to do any of the things that lab yeast can do, such as producing enzymes that glow in the dark, or sensing pollutants or pathogens in the environment. The yeast can also be programmed so that they can break down pollutants/pathogens after detecting them, which is highly relevant to Army for chem/bio defense applications.
“Our community believes that living materials could provide the most effective sensing of chem/bio warfare agents, especially those of unknown genetics and chemistry,” said Dr. Jim Burgess ISN program manager for ARO.
The bacteria in the culture produced large-scale quantities of tough cellulose that served as a scaffold. The researchers designed their system so that they can control whether the yeast themselves, or just the enzymes that they produce, are incorporated into the cellulose structure. It takes only a few days to grow the material, and if left long enough, it can thicken to occupy a space as large as a bathtub.
“We think this is a good system that is very cheap and very easy to make in very large quantities,” said MIT graduate student and the paper’s lead author, Tzu-Chieh Tang. To demonstrate the potential of their microbe culture, which they call Syn-SCOBY, the researchers created a material incorporating yeast that senses estradiol, which is sometimes found as an environmental pollutant. In another version, they used a strain of yeast that produces a glowing protein called luciferase when exposed to blue light. These yeasts could be swapped out for other strains that detect other pollutants, metals, or pathogens.
The researchers are now looking into using the Syn-SCOBY system for biomedical or food applications. For example, engineering the yeast cells to produce antimicrobials or proteins that could benefit human health.
This image is pretty and I’m pretty sure it’s an illustration and not a real photodetection system. Regardless, an Oct. 21, 2020 news item on Nanowerk describes the research into producing a real 3D hemispheric photodetector for biomedical imaging (Note: A link has been removed),
Purdue University innovators are taking cues from nature to develop 3D photodetectors for biomedical imaging.
The researchers used some architectural features from spider webs to develop the technology. Spider webs typically provide excellent mechanical adaptability and damage-tolerance against various mechanical loads such as storms.
“We employed the unique fractal design of a spider web for the development of deformable and reliable electronics that can seamlessly interface with any 3D curvilinear surface,” said Chi Hwan Lee, a Purdue assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering. “For example, we demonstrated a hemispherical, or dome-shaped, photodetector array that can detect both direction and intensity of incident light at the same time, like the vision system of arthropods such as insects and crustaceans.”
The Purdue technology uses the structural architecture of a spider web that exhibits a repeating pattern. This work is published in Advanced Materials (“Fractal Web Design of a Hemispherical Photodetector Array with Organic-Dye-Sensitized Graphene Hybrid Composites”).
Lee said this provides unique capabilities to distribute externally induced stress throughout the threads according to the effective ratio of spiral and radial dimensions and provides greater extensibility to better dissipate force under stretching. Lee said it also can tolerate minor cuts of the threads while maintaining overall strength and function of the entire web architecture.
“The resulting 3D optoelectronic architectures are particularly attractive for photodetection systems that require a large field of view and wide-angle antireflection, which will be useful for many biomedical and military imaging purposes,” said Muhammad Ashraful Alam, the Jai N. Gupta Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Alam said the work establishes a platform technology that can integrate a fractal web design with system-level hemispherical electronics and sensors, thereby offering several excellent mechanical adaptability and damage-tolerance against various mechanical loads.
“The assembly technique presented in this work enables deploying 2D deformable electronics in 3D architectures, which may foreshadow new opportunities to better advance the field of 3D electronic and optoelectronic devices,” Lee said.
Where explosions are concerned you might expect to see some army research and you would be right. A June 29, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily breaks the news,
Since World War I, the vast majority of American combat casualties has come not from gunshot wounds but from explosions. Today, most soldiers wear a heavy, bullet-proof vest to protect their torso but much of their body remains exposed to the indiscriminate aim of explosive fragments and shrapnel.
Designing equipment to protect extremities against the extreme temperatures and deadly projectiles that accompany an explosion has been difficult because of a fundamental property of materials. Materials that are strong enough to protect against ballistic threats can’t protect against extreme temperatures and vice versa. As a result, much of today’s protective equipment is composed of multiple layers of different materials, leading to bulky, heavy gear that, if worn on the arms and legs, would severely limit a soldier’s mobility.
Now, Harvard University researchers, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC) and West Point, have developed a lightweight, multifunctional nanofiber material that can protect wearers from both extreme temperatures and ballistic threats.
“When I was in combat in Afghanistan, I saw firsthand how body armor could save lives,” said senior author Kit Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve. “I also saw how heavy body armor could limit mobility. As soldiers on the battlefield, the three primary tasks are to move, shoot, and communicate. If you limit one of those, you decrease survivability and you endanger mission success.”
“Our goal was to design a multifunctional material that could protect someone working in an extreme environment, such as an astronaut, firefighter or soldier, from the many different threats they face,” said Grant M. Gonzalez, a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS and first author of the paper.
In order to achieve this practical goal, the researchers needed to explore the tradeoff between mechanical protection and thermal insulation, properties rooted in a material’s molecular structure and orientation.
Materials with strong mechanical protection, such as metals and ceramics, have a highly ordered and aligned molecular structure. This structure allows them to withstand and distribute the energy of a direct blow. Insulating materials, on the other hand, have a much less ordered structure, which prevents the transmission of heat through the material.
Kevlar and Twaron are commercial products used extensively in protective equipment and can provide either ballistic or thermal protection, depending on how they are manufactured. Woven Kevlar, for example, has a highly aligned crystalline structure and is used in protective bulletproof vests. Porous Kevlar aerogels, on the other hand, have been shown to have high thermal insulation.
“Our idea was to use this Kevlar polymer to combine the woven, ordered structure of fibers with the porosity of aerogels to make long, continuous fibers with porous spacing in between,” said Gonzalez. “In this system, the long fibers could resist a mechanical impact while the pores would limit heat diffusion.”
The research team used immersion Rotary Jet-Spinning (iRJS), a technique developed by Parker’s Disease Biophysics Group, to manufacture the fibers. In this technique, a liquid polymer solution is loaded into a reservoir and pushed out through a tiny opening by centrifugal force as the device spins. When the polymer solution shoots out of the reservoir, it first passes through an area of open air, where the polymers elongate and the chains align. Then the solution hits a liquid bath that removes the solvent and precipitates the polymers to form solid fibers. Since the bath is also spinning — like water in a salad spinner — the nanofibers follow the stream of the vortex and wrap around a rotating collector at the base of the device.
By tuning the viscosity of the liquid polymer solution, the researchers were able to spin long, aligned nanofibers into porous sheets — providing enough order to protect against projectiles but enough disorder to protect against heat. In about 10 minutes, the team could spin sheets about 10 by 30 centimeters in size.
To test the sheets, the Harvard team turned to their collaborators to perform ballistic tests. Researchers at CCDC SC in Natick, Massachusetts simulated shrapnel impact by shooting large, BB-like projectiles at the sample. The team performed tests by sandwiching the nanofiber sheets between sheets of woven Twaron. They observed little difference in protection between a stack of all woven Twaron sheets and a combined stack of woven Twaron and spun nanofibers.
“The capabilities of the CCDC SC allow us to quantify the successes of our fibers from the perspective of protective equipment for warfighters, specifically,” said Gonzalez.
“Academic collaborations, especially those with distinguished local universities such as Harvard, provide CCDC SC the opportunity to leverage cutting-edge expertise and facilities to augment our own R&D capabilities,” said Kathleen Swana, a researcher at CCDC SC and one of the paper’s authors. “CCDC SC, in return, provides valuable scientific and soldier-centric expertise and testing capabilities to help drive the research forward.”
In testing for thermal protection, the researchers found that the nanofibers provided 20 times the heat insulation capability of commercial Twaron and Kevlar.
“While there are improvements that could be made, we have pushed the boundaries of what’s possible and started moving the field towards this kind of multifunctional material,” said Gonzalez.
“We’ve shown that you can develop highly protective textiles for people that work in harm’s way,” said Parker. “Our challenge now is to evolve the scientific advances to innovative products for my brothers and sisters in arms.”
Harvard’s Office of Technology Development has filed a patent application for the technology and is actively seeking commercialization opportunities.
Part 1 covered some of the more formal aspects science culture in Canada, such as science communication education programmes, mainstream media, children’s science magazines, music, etc. Part 2 covered science festivals, art/sci or sciart (depending on who’s talking, informal science get togethers such ‘Cafe Sccientifque’, etc.
This became a much bigger enterprise than I anticipated and so part 3 is stuffed with the do-it-yourself (DIY) biology movement in Canada, individual art/sci or lit/sci projects, a look at what the mathematicians have done and are doing, etc. But first there’s the comedy.
Comedy, humour, and science
Weirdly, Canadians like to mix their science fiction (scifi) movies with humour. (I will touch on more scifi later in this post but it’s too big a topic to cover inadequately, let alone adequately, in this review.) I post as my evidence of the popularity of comedy science fiction films, this from the Category: Canadian science fiction films Wikipedia webpage,
As you see, comedy science fiction is the second most populated category. Also, the Wikipedia time frame is much broader than mine but I did check one Canadian science fiction comedy film, Bang Bang Baby, a 2014 film, which, as it turns out, is also a musical.
Daniel Chai is a Vancouver-based writer, comedian, actor and podcaster. He is co-host of The Fear of Science podcast, which combines his love of learning with his love of being on a microphone. Daniel is also co-founder of The Fictionals Comedy Co and the creator of Improv Against Humanity, and teaches improv at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is very excited to be part of Vancouver Podcast Festival, and thanks everyone for listening!
Jeff is the producer and co-host of The Fear of Science. By day, he is a graphic designer/digital developer [according to his LinkedIn profile, he works at Science World], and by night he is a cosplayer, board gamer and full-time geek. Jeff is passionate about all things science, and has been working in science communication for over 4 years. He brings a general science knowledge point of view to The Fear of Science.
Here’s more about The Fear of Science from its homepage (where you will also find links to their podcasts),
A podcast that brings together experts and comedians for an unfiltered discussion about complicated and sometimes controversial science fears in a fun and respectful way.
This podcast seems to have taken life in August 2018.(Well, that’s as far back as the Archived episodes stretch on the website.)
This is Vancolour is a podcast hosted by Mo Amir and you will find this description on the website,
THIS IS A PODCAST ABOUT VANCOUVER AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THIS CITY COLOURFUL
Cartoonist, writer, and educator, Raymond Nakamura produces work for Telus Science World and the Science Borealis science aggregator. His website is known as Raymond’s Brain features this image,
Much has been happening on this front. First for anyone unfamiliar with do-it-yourself biology, here’s more from its Wikipedia entry,
Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology, DIY bio) is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY biology is primarily undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with little or no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavour for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.
A January 21, 2020 posting here listed the second Canadian DIY Biology Summit organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). It was possible to attend virtually from any part of Canada. The first meeting was in 2016 (you can see the agenda here). You’ll see in the agenda for the 2nd meeting in 2020 that there have been a few changes as groups rise into and fall out of existence.
From the 2020 agenda, here’s a list representing the players in Canada’s DIYbio scene,
Most of these organizations (e.g., Victoria Makerspace, Synbiota, Bricobio, etc.) seem to be relatively new (founded in 2009 or later) which is quite exciting to think about. This March 13, 2016 article in the Vancouver Observer gives you a pretty good overview of the DIY biology scene in Canada at the time while providing a preview of the then upcoming first DIY Biology summit.
*The Open Science Network in Vancouver was formerly known as DIYbio YVR. I’m not sure when the name change occurred but this July 17, 2018 article by Emily Ng for The Ubyssey (a University of British Columbia student newspaper) gives a little history,
In 2009, a group of UBC students and staff recognized these barriers and teamed up to democratize science, increase its accessibility and create an interdisciplinary platform for idea exchange. They created the Open Science Network (OSN).
The Open Science Network is a non-profit society that serves the science and maker community through education, outreach and the provision of space. Currently, they run an open community lab out of the MakerLabs space on East Cordova and Main street, which is a compact space housing microscopes, a freezer, basic lab equipment and an impressive amount of activity.
The lab is home to a community of citizen scientists, professional scientists, artists, designers and makers of all ages who are pursuing their own science projects.
Members who are interested in lab work can receive some training in “basic microbiology techniques like pipetting, growing bacteria, using the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine (PCR) [to amplify DNA] and running gels [through a gel ectrophoresis machine to separate DNA fragments by size] from Scott Pownall, a PhD graduate from UBC and the resident microbiologist,” said Wong [ Wes Wong, a staff member of UBC Botany and a founding member of OSN].
The group has also made further efforts to serve their members by offering more advanced synthetic biology classes and workshops at their lab.
There is another organization called ‘Open Science Network’ (an ethnobiology group and not part of the Vancouver organization). Here is a link to the Vancouver-based Open Science Network (a community science lab) where they provide further links to all their activities including a regular ‘meetup’.
I have poetry, a book, a television adaptation, three plays with mathematics and/or physics themes and more.
In 2012 there was a night of poetry readings in Vancouver. What made it special was that five poets had collaborated with five scientists (later amended to four scientists and a landscape architect) according to my December 4, 2012 posting. The whole thing was conceptualized and organized by Aileen Penner who went on to produce a chapbook of the poetry. She doesn’t have any copies available currently but you can contact her on her website’s art/science page if you are interested in obtaining a copy. She doesn’t seem to have organized any art/science projects since. For more about Aileen Penner who is a writer and poet, go to her website here.
The Banff International Research Station (BIRS) it’s all about the mathematics) hosted a workshop for poets and mathematicians way back in 2011. I featured it (Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts) after the fact in my January 9, 2012 posting (scroll down about 30% of the way). If you have the time, do click on my link to Nassif Ghoussoub’s post on his blog (Piece of Mind) about mathematicians, poetry, and the arts. It’s especially interesting in retrospect as he is now the executive director for BIRS, which no longer seems to have workshops that meld any of the arts with mathematics, and science.
That sadly seems to be it for poetry and the sciences, including mathematics. If you know of any other poetry/science projects or readings, etc. in Canada during the 2010-9 decade, please let me know in the comments.
Karl Schroeder, a Canadian science fiction author, has written many books but of particular interest here are two futuristic novels for the Canadian military.The 2005 novel, Crisis in Zefra, doesn’t fit the time frame I’ve established for this review but the the 2014 novel, Crisis in Urla (scroll down) fits in nicely. His writing is considered ‘realistic’ science fiction in that it’s based on science research and his work is also associated with speculative realism (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),
Karl Schroeder (born September 4, 1962) is a Canadianscience fiction author. His novels present far-future speculations on topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality, and interstellar travel, and are deeply philosophical.
The other author I’m mentioning here is Margaret Atwood. The television adaptation of her book, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has turned a Canadian literary superstar into a supernova (an exploding star whose luminosity can be the equivalent of an entire galaxy). In 2019, she won the Booker Prize, for the second time for ‘The Testaments’ (a followup to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’), sharing it with Bernardine Evaristo and her book ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. Atwood has described her work (The Handmaid’s Tale, and others) as speculative fiction rather than science fiction. For me, she bases her speculation on the social sciences and humanities, specifically history (read her Wikipedia entry for more).
In 2017 with the television adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Atwood’s speculative fiction novel became a pop culture phenomenon. Originally published in 1985, the novel was also adapted for a film in 1990 and for an opera in 2000 before it came to television, according to its Wikipedia entry.
There’s a lot more out there, Schroeder and Atwood are just two I’ve stumbled across.
I have drama, musical comedy and acting items.
Pi Theatre’s (Vancouver) mathematically-inclined show, ‘Long Division‘, ran in April 2017 and was mentioned in my April 20, 2017 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way).
This theatrical performance of concepts in mathematics runs from April 26 – 30, 2017 (check here for the times as they vary) at the Annex at 823 Seymour St. From the Georgia Straight’s April 12, 2017 Arts notice,
“Mathematics is an art form in itself, as proven by Pi Theatre’s number-charged Long Division. This is a “refreshed remount” of Peter Dickinson’s ambitious work, one that circles around seven seemingly unrelated characters (including a high-school math teacher, a soccer-loving imam, and a lesbian bar owner) bound together by a single traumatic incident. Directed by Richard Wolfe, with choreography by Lesley Telford and musical score by Owen Belton, it’s a multimedia, movement-driven piece that has a strong cast. … “
You can read more about the production here. As far as I’m aware, there are no upcoming show dates.
There seems to be some sort of affinity between theatre and mathematics, I recently featured (January 3, 2020 posting) a theatrical piece by Hannah Moscovitch titled, ‘Infinity‘, about time, physics, math and more. It had its first production in Toronto in 2015.
John Mighton, a playwright and mathematician, wrote ‘The Little Years’ which has been produced in both Vancouver and Toronto. From a May 9, 2005 article by Kathleen Oliver for the Georgia Straight,
The Little Years is a little jewel of a play: small but multifaceted, and beautifully crafted.
John Mighton’s script gives us glimpses into different stages in the life of Kate, a woman whose early promise as a mathematician is cut short. At age 13, she’s a gifted student whose natural abilities are overlooked by 1950s society, which has difficulty conceiving of women as scientists. Instead, she’s sent to vocational school while her older brother, William, grows up to become one of the most widely praised poets of his generation.
John Mighton is a successful playwright and mathematician, yet at times in his life, he’s struggled with doubt. However, he also learned there was hope, and that’s the genesis of The Little Years, which opens at the Tarragon Theatre on Nov. 16 and runs to Dec. 16 .
In keeping (more or less) with this subsection’s theme ‘The Word’, Mighton has recently had a new book published, ‘All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World’, according to a January 24, 2020 article (online version) by Jamie Portman for Postmedia,
It’s more than two decades since Canadian mathematician and playwright John Mighton found himself playing a small role in the film, Good Will Hunting. What he didn’t expect when he took on the job was that he would end up making a vital contribution to a screenplay that would go on to win an Oscar for its writers, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
What happened on that occasion tells you a great deal about Mighton’s commitment to the belief that society grossly underestimates the intellectual capacity of human beings — a belief reiterated with quiet eloquence in his latest book, All Things Being Equal.
Mighton loved the experience but as shooting continued he became troubled over his involvement in a movie that played “heavily on the idea that geniuses like Will are born and not made.” This was anathema to his own beliefs as a mathematician and he finally summoned up the courage to ask Affleck and Damon if he could write a few extra lines for his character. This speech was the result: “Most people never get the chance to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers who believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”
At a time of growing controversy across Canada over the teaching of mathematics in school and continuing evidence of diminishing student results, Mighton continues to feel gratitude to the makers of Good Will Hunting for heeding his concerns. [I will be writing a post about the latest PISA scores where Canadian students have again slipped in their mathematics scores.]
Mighton is on the phone from from Toronto, his voice soft-spoken but still edged with fervour. He pursues two successful careers — as an award-winning Canadian playwright and as a renowned mathematician and philosopher who has devoted a lifetime to developing strategies that foster the intellectual potential of all children through learning math. But even as he talks about his 2001 founding of JUMP Math, a respected charity that offers a radical alternative to conventional teaching of the subject, he’s anxious to remind you that he’s a guy who almost failed calculus at university and who once struggled to overcome his “own massive math anxiety.”
You can find out more about John Mighton in his Wikipedia entry (mostly about his academic accomplishments) and on the JUMP Math website (better overall biography).
It’s called ‘Math Out Loud’ and was first mentioned here in a January 9, 2012 posting (the same post also featured the BIRS poetry workshop),
“When Mackenzie Gray talks about the way Paul McCartney used a recursive sequence to make the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” seem to last forever, you realize that part of the Beatles’ phenomenal success might have sprung from McCartney’s genius as a mathematician.
When Roger Kemp draws on a napkin to illustrate that you just have to change the way you think about numbers to come up with a binary code for pi (as in 3.14 ad infinitum), you get a sense that math can actually be a lot of fun.”
Produced by MITACS which in 2012 was known as ‘Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems’, a not-for-profit research organization, the musical went on tour in the Fall of 2012 (according to my September 7, 2012 posting). Unusually, I did not embed the promotional trailer for this 2012 musical so, here it is now,
Since 2012, Mitacs has gone through some sort of rebranding process and it’s now described as a nonprofit national research organization. For more you can read its Wikipedia entry or go to its website.
Acting and storytelling
It turns out there was an acting class (five sessions) for scientists at the University of Calgary in 2017. Here’s more from the course’s information sheet,
Act Your Science: Improve Your Communication Skills with Training in Improvisation 2 hours a session, 5 sessions, every Wednesday starting November 14  …
Dr. Jeff Dunn, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Graduate Students Association, the Canadian Science Writers Association [also known as Science Writers and Communicators of Canada] and the Loose Moose Theatre have teamed together to provide training in a skill which will be useful where ever your career takes you.
The goal of this project is to improve the science communication skills of graduate students in science fields. We will improve your communication through the art of training in improvisation. Training will help with speech and body awareness. Improvisation will provide life‐long skills in communication, in a fun interactive environment.
For many years, Alan Alda, a well-known actor (originally of the “MASH” television series fame), has applied his acting skills and improvisation training to help scientists improve their communication. He developed the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
The training will involve five 2hr improvisation workshop sessions led by one of Canada’s top professional improvisation trainers, Dennis Cahill, the Artistic Director from Loose Moose Theatre. Dennis has an international reputation for developing the theatrical style of improvisation. Training involves a lot of moving around (and possibly rolling on the floor!) so dress casually. Be prepared to release your inhibitions!
The information sheet includes a link to this University of Chicago video (posted on Youtube February 24, 2014) of actor Alan Alda discussing science communication,
Victoria Bouvier, a Michif-Metis woman, is of the Red River Settlement and Boggy Creek, Manitoba, and born and raised in Calgary. She is an Assistant professor in Indigenous Studies at Mount Royal University and a doctoral candidate in Educational Research [emphasis mine] at the University of Calgary. Her research is exploring how Michif/Métis people, born and raised in urban environments, practice and express their self-understandings, both individually and collectively through using an Indigenous oral system and visual media as methodology.
In a technology-laden society, people are capturing millions of photographs and videos that document their lived experiences, followed by uploading them to social media sites. As mass amounts of media is being shared each day, the question becomes: are we utilizing photos and videos to derive meaning from our everyday lived experiences, while settling in to a deeper sense of our self-in-relation?
This session will explore how photos and videos, positioned within an Indigenous oral system, are viewed and interacted with as a third perspective in the role of storytelling.
Finally, h/t to Jennifer Bon Bernard’s April 19, 2017 article (reposted Dec. 11, 2019) about Act Your Science for the Science Writers and Communicators blog. The original date doesn’t look right to me but perhaps she participated in a pilot project.
Neuroscience, science policy, and science advice
The end of this part is almost in sight
Knitting in Toronto and drawings in Vancouver (neuroscience)
In 2017, Toronto hosted a neuroscience event which combined storytelling and knitting (from my October 12, 2017 posting (Note: the portion below is an excerpt from an ArtSci Salon announcement),
With NARRATING NEUROSCIENCE we plan to initiate a discussion on the role and the use of storytelling and art (both in verbal and visual forms) to communicate abstract and complex concepts in neuroscience to very different audiences, ranging from fellow scientists, clinicians and patients, to social scientists and the general public. We invited four guests to share their research through case studies and experiences stemming directly from their research or from other practices they have adopted and incorporated into their research, where storytelling and the arts have played a crucial role not only in communicating cutting edge research in neuroscience, but also in developing and advancing it.
The ArtSci Salon folks also announced this (from the Sept. 25, 2017 ArtSci Salon announcement; received via email),
ATTENTION ARTSCI SALONISTAS AND FANS OF ART AND SCIENCE!! CALL FOR KNITTING AND CROCHET LOVERS!
In addition to being a PhD student at the University of Toronto, Tahani Baakdhah is a prolific knitter and crocheter and has been the motor behind two successful Knit-a-Neuron Toronto initiatives. We invite all Knitters and Crocheters among our ArtSci Salonistas to pick a pattern (link below) and knit a neuron (or 2! Or as many as you want!!)
BRING THEM TO OUR OCTOBER 20 ARTSCI SALON! Come to the ArtSci Salon and knit there!
That link to the patterns is still working.
Called “The Beautiful Brain” and held in the same time frame as Toronto’s neuro event, Vancouver hosted an exhibition of Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s drawings from September 5 to December 3, 2017. In concert with the exhibition, the local ‘neuro’ community held a number of outreach events. Here’s what I had in my September 11, 2017 posting where I quoted from the promotional material for the exhibition,
The Beautiful Brain is the first North American museum exhibition to present the extraordinary drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist renowned for his discovery of neuron cells and their structure, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. Known as the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal was also an exceptional artist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce arresting drawings with extraordinary scientific and aesthetic qualities.
A century after their completion, Cajal’s drawings are still used in contemporary medical publications to illustrate important neuroscience principles, and continue to fascinate artists and visual art audiences. …
Pictured: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, injured Purkinje neurons, 1914, ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC).
From Vancouver, the exhibition traveled to a gallery in New York City and then onto the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Mehrdad Hariri has done a an extraordinary job as its founder and chief executive officer. The CSPC has developed from a single annual conference to an organization that hosts different events throughout the year and publishes articles and opinion pieces on Canadian science policy and has been instrumental in the development of a Canadian science policy community.
The magnitude of Hariri’s accomplishment becomes clear when reading J.w. Grove’s [sic] article, Science Policy, in The Canadian Encyclopedia and seeing that the most recent reports on a national science policy seem to be the Science Council’s (now defunct) 4th report in 1968, Towards a National Science Policy in Canada, the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) 1969 Review of [Canada’s] Science Policy, and 3 reports from the Senate’s Lamontagne Committee (Special Committee on Science Policy). Grove’s article takes us only to 1988 but I have been unable to find any more recent reports focused on a national science policy for Canada. (If you have any information about a more recent report, please do let me know in the comments.)
A November 5, 2019 piece (#VoteScience: lessons learned and building science advocacy beyond the election cycle) on the CSPC website further illustrates how the Canadian science policy community has gained ground (Note: Links have been removed),
… on August 8, 2019, a coalition of Canadian science organizations and student groups came together to launch the #VoteScience campaign: a national, non-partisan effort to advocate for science in the federal elections, and make science an election issue.
Specifically, we — aka Evidence for Democracy, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE), and the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) [emphases mine] — built a collection of tools and resources to empower Canadian scientists and science supporters to engage with their local candidates on science issues and the importance of evidence-informed decision-making. Our goal was to make it easy for as many Canadians as possible to engage with their candidates — and they did.
Over the past three months, our #VoteScience portal received over 3,600 visitors, including 600 visitors who used our email form to reach out directly to their local candidates. Collectively, we took #VoteScience selfies, distributed postcards to supporters across Canada, and even wrote postcards to every sitting Member of Parliament (in addition to candidates from all parties in each of our own ridings). Also of note, we distributed a science policy questionnaire to the federal parties, to help better inform Canadians about where the federal parties stand on relevant science issues, and received responses from all but one party. We’ve also advocated for science through various media outlets, including commenting for articles appearing in The Narwhal and Nature News, and penning op-eds for outlets such as the National Observer, University Affairs, Le Devoir, and Découvrir.
Prior to SPIN, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA; more about them in part 4), issued a 2017 report titled, Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments. The report was the outcome of a 2016 CCA workshop originally titled, Towards a Science Policy in Alberta. I gather the scope broadened.
Interesting trajectory, yes?
Chief Science advisors/scientists
In September 2017, the Canadian federal government announced that a Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, had been appointed. I have more about the position and Dr. Nemer in my September 26, 2017 posting. (Prior to Dr. Nemer’s appointment a previous government had discontinued a National Science Advisor position that existed from 2004 to 2008.)
The Office of the Chief Science Advisor released it first annual report in 2019 and was covered here in a March 19, 2019 posting.
Québec is the only province (as far as I know) to have a Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion who was appointed in 2011.
Onto Part 4 where you’ll find we’ve gone to the birds and more.
*The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) section was written sometime in February 2020. I believe they are planning to publish an editorial piece I submitted to them on April 20, 202 (in other words, before this post was published) in response to their call for submissions (see my April 1, 2020 post for details about the call). In short, I did not praise the organization with any intention of having my work published by them. (sigh) Awkward timing.
In an effort to make robots more effective and versatile teammates for Soldiers in combat, Army researchers are on a mission to understand the value of the molecular living functionality of muscle, and the fundamental mechanics that would need to be replicated in order to artificially achieve the capabilities arising from the proteins responsible for muscle contraction.
Bionanomotors, like myosins that move along actin networks, are responsible for most methods of motion in all life forms. Thus, the development of artificial nanomotors could be game-changing in the field of robotics research.
Researchers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s [CCDC] Army Research Laboratory [ARL] have been looking to identify a design that would allow the artificial nanomotor to take advantage of Brownian motion, the property of particles to agitatedly move simply because they are warm.
The CCDC ARL researchers believe understanding and developing these fundamental mechanics are a necessary foundational step toward making informed decisions on the viability of new directions in robotics involving the blending of synthetic biology, robotics, and dynamics and controls engineering.
“By controlling the stiffness of different geometrical features of a simple lever-arm design, we found that we could use Brownian motion to make the nanomotor more capable of reaching desirable positions for creating linear motion,” said Dean Culver, a researcher in CCDC ARL’s Vehicle Technology Directorate. “This nano-scale feature translates to more energetically efficient actuation at a macro scale, meaning robots that can do more for the warfighter over a longer amount of time.”
According to Culver, the descriptions of protein interactions in muscle contraction are typically fairly high-level. More specifically, rather than describing the forces that act on an individual protein to seek its counterpart, prescribed or empirical rate functions that dictate the conditions under which a binding or a release event occurs have been used by the research community to replicate this biomechanical process.
“These widely accepted muscle contraction models are akin to a black-box understanding of a car engine,” Culver said. “More gas, more power. It weighs this much and takes up this much space. Combustion is involved. But, you can’t design a car engine with that kind of surface-level information. You need to understand how the pistons work, and how finely injection needs to be tuned. That’s a component-level understanding of the engine. We dive into the component-level mechanics of the built-up protein system and show the design and control value of living functionality as well as a clearer understanding of design parameters that would be key to synthetically reproducing such living functionality.”
Culver stated that the capacity for Brownian motion to kick a tethered particle from a disadvantageous elastic position to an advantageous one, in terms of energy production for a molecular motor, has been illustrated by ARL at a component level, a crucial step in the design of artificial nanomotors that offer the same performance capabilities as biological ones.
“This research adds a key piece of the puzzle for fast, versatile robots that can perform autonomous tactical maneuver and reconnaissance functions,” Culver said. “These models will be integral to the design of distributed actuators that are silent, low thermal signature and efficient – features that will make these robots more impactful in the field.”
Culver noted that they are silent because the muscles don’t make a lot of noise when they actuate, especially compared to motors or servos, cold because the amount of heat generation in a muscle is far less than a comparable motor, and efficient because of the advantages of the distributed chemical energy model and potential escape via Brownian motion.
According to Culver, the breadth of applications for actuators inspired by the biomolecular machines in animal muscles is still unknown, but many of the existing application spaces have clear Army applications such as bio-inspired robotics, nanomachines and energy harvesting.
“Fundamental and exploratory research in this area is therefore a wise investment for our future warfighter capabilities,” Culver said.
Moving forward, there are two primary extensions of this research.
“First, we need to better understand how molecules, like the tethered particle discussed in our paper, interact with each other in more complicated environments,” Culver said. “In the paper, we see how a tethered particle can usefully harness Brownian motion to benefit the contraction of the muscle overall, but the particle in this first model is in an idealized environment. In our bodies, it’s submerged in a fluid carrying many different ions and energy-bearing molecules in solution. That’s the last piece of the puzzle for the single-motor, nano-scale models of molecular motors.”
The second extension, stated Culver, is to repeat this study with a full 3-D model, paving the way to scaling up to practical designs.
Also notable is the fact that because this research is so young, ARL researchers used this project to establish relationships with other investigators in the academic community.
“Leaning on their expertise will be critical in the years to come, and we’ve done a great job of reaching out to faculty members and researchers from places like the University of Washington, Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University,” Culver said.
According to Culver, taking this research project into the next steps with help from collaborative partners will lead to tremendous capabilities for future Soldiers in combat, a critical requirement considering the nature of the ever-changing battlefield.
The age-old technique of dressing in layers is a tried and tested way to protect from the elements. Now thanks to $1.5 million in new funding for UBC’s Okanagan campus, researchers are pushing the practice to new limits by creating a high-tech body armour solution with multiple layers of protection against diverse threats.
“Layers are great for regulating body heat, protecting us from inclement weather and helping us to survive in extreme conditions,” says Keith Culver, director of UBC’s Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative, which is supporting the network of researchers who will be working together over the next three years. “The idea is to design and integrate some of the most advanced fabrics and materials into garments that are comfortable, practical and can even stop a bullet.”
The research network working to develop these new Comfort-Optimized Materials For Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivability (COMFORTS) aims to create a futuristic new body armour solution by combining an intelligent, moisture-wicking base layer that has insulating properties with a layer of lightweight, ballistic-resistant material using cross-linker technology. It will also integrate a water, dust and gas repellent outer layer and will be equipped with comfort sensors to monitor the wearer’s response to extreme conditions.
“Although the basic idea seems simple, binding all these different materials and technologies together into a smart armour solution that is durable, reliable and comfortable is incredibly complex,” says Kevin Golovin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UBCO and principal investigator of the COMFORTS research network. “We’re putting into practice years of research and expertise in materials science to turn the concept into reality.”
The COMFORTS network is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria and is supported by a number of industrial partners. The network has received a $1.5M contribution agreement from the Department of National Defence through its Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program, designed to support innovation in defence and security.
“The safety and security threats faced by our military are ever-changing,” says Culver. “Hazards extend beyond security threats from foreign forces to natural disasters now occurring more frequently than ever before. Almost every year we’re seeing natural disasters, forest fires and floods that put not just ordinary Canadians at risk but also the personnel that respond directly to those threats. Our goal is to better protect those who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us.”
While the initial COMFORTS technologies developed will be for defence and security applications, Culver says the potential extends well beyond the military.
“Imagine a garment that could keep its users comfortable and safe as they explore the tundra of the Canadian arctic, fight a raging forest fire or respond to a corrosive chemical spill,” says Culver. “I imagine everyone from first responders to soldiers to extreme athletes being impacted by this kind of innovation in protective clothing.”
The research will be ongoing with eight projects planned over the next three years. Some of the protective materials testing will take place at UBC’s STAR Impact Research Facility (SIRF), located just north of UBC’s Okanagan campus. The ballistic and blast simulation facility is the only one of its kind in Canada—it supports research and testing of ballistic and blast-resistant armour, ceramic and other composite materials, as well as helmets and other protective gear.
“I anticipate we will see some exciting new, field-tested technologies developed within the next few years,” says Culver. “I look forward to seeing where this collaboration will lead us.”
Western Canada primed to be defense and security research hotspot
World-class vineyards and sunny lakeside resorts have long been the reputation for BC’s Okanagan Valley. That reputation has expanded with Kelowna’s growth as a tech hub, according to Professor Keith Culver, director of UBC’s Survive and Thrive Research (STAR) initiative, but core expertise in defense and security research has also been rapidly expanding since UBC launched the STAR initiative five years ago.
Culver is a professor, legal theorist, self-described convener and coach with proven expertise assembling multi-disciplinary research teams working at the vanguard of innovation. One of these teams, led by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Kevin Golovin, was recently awarded a $1.5 million contract by the Department of National Defense to develop next-generation, high-performance body armour that increases the safety and comfort of Canadian soldiers.
What is UBC’s STAR initiative?
UBC STAR is a group of researchers and partners working together to solve human performance challenges. We know that solving complex problems requires a multi-disciplinary approach, so we build teams with specialized expertise from across both our campuses and other Western Canadian universities. Then we blend that expertise with the know-how and production capabilities of private and public sector partners to put solutions into practice. Above all, STAR helps university researchers and partners to work together in new, more productive ways.
You recently received considerable new funding from the Department of National Defence. Can you tell us about that research
A team of researchers from UBC, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria have established a research network to invent and test new materials for the protection of humans operating in extreme environments – in this case, soldiers doing their jobs on foot. Assistant Professor Kevin Golovin of UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering is leading the network with support from UBC STAR. The network brings together three leading Western Canadian universities to work together with industry to develop new technologies for the defence and security sector.
The network is developing several kinds of protective materials and hazard sensors for use in protective armour for soldiers and first responders. The name of the network captures its focus nicely: Comfort-Optimized Materials For Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivabilty (COMFORTS). Researchers in engineering, chemistry and other disciplines are developing new textile technologies and smart armour solutions that will be rigorously tested for thermal resistance to increase soldier comfort. We’re fortunate to be working with a great group of companies ready to turn our research into solutions ready for use. We’ll help to solve the challenges facing Canadian first responders and soldiers while enabling Canadian companies to sell those solutions to international markets.
What does the safety and security landscape look like in Western Canada?
I think there’s a perception out there that this kind of research is only happening in places like Halifax, Toronto or Waterloo. Western Canadian expertise is sometimes overlooked by Ottawa and Toronto, but there’s incredible expertise and cutting-edge research happening here in the west, and we are fortunate to have a strong private sector partner community that understands safety and security problems in military contexts, and in forestry, mining and wildfire and flood response. Our understanding of hazardous environments gives us a head start in putting technologies and strategies to work safely in extreme conditions, and we’re coming to realize that our creative solutions can both help Canadians and others around the world.
Why do companies want to work with UBC STAR and its Western Canadian partners?
We have great researchers and great facilities – our blast simulator and ballistics range are second to none – but we offer much more than expertise and equipment. UBC STAR is fundamentally about making the most of collaboration. We work together with our partners to understand the nature of problems and what could contribute to a solution. We readily draw on expertise from multiple universities and firms to assemble the right team. And we know that we are in the middle of a great living lab for testing solutions –with rural and urban areas of varying sizes, climates and terrains. We’re situated in an ideal place to work through technology development, while identifying the strategies and standards needed to put innovative technology to good use.
How do you expect this sector to develop over the next decade?
I see a boom coming in this sector. In Canada, and around the world, we are witnessing a rise in natural disasters that put first responders and others at risk, and our research can help improve their safety. At the same time, we are seeing a rise in global political tensions calling for Canadian military deployment in peacekeeping and other support roles. Our military needs help protecting its members so they can do their jobs in dangerous places. And, of course, when we develop protective materials for first responders and soldiers, the same solutions can be easily adapted for use in sport and health – such as protecting children playing contact sports or our aging population from slip and fall injuries. I think I speak for everyone involved in this research when I say that it’s incredibly rewarding to see how solutions found addressing one question often have far broader benefits for Canadians in every walk of life.
UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.
A surprising number of every day products, including items such as microwave ovens, penicillin, nylon, and more have come to us courtesy of military science. While we remember our fallen soldiers today (Remembrance Day 2019) in Canada and elsewhere throughout the Commonwealth countries, I thought it might be interesting to consider contemporary Canadian military science.
I’ve often wondered whether or not we have an equivalent to the US Army’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and their other military research laboratories. We do! Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) or Recherche et développement pour la défense Canada (RDDC). Here’s more from its Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
[…] is an agency of the Department of National Defence (DND), whose purpose is to provide the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), other government departments, and public safety and national security communities with knowledge and technology.
DRDC has approximately 1,400 employees across eight research centres within Canada.
Over the years, researchers at DRDC, sometimes in partnership with the NRC [National Research Council of Canada] and others, have been responsible for numerous innovations and inventions of practical application in the civilian world. These include the G-suit, motorized wheelchair, the Alouette 1 satellite, Black Brant rocket, improvements to the carbon dioxide laser, flight data recorder, the Ballard fuel cell membrane, and the Bombsniffer (using gas chromatomography and ion mobility spectrometry).
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) must be ready to deploy on short notice, in any climate and for prolonged periods. The CAF presently relies on Relocatable Temporary Camps (RTCs) for its deployments that sustain personnel through demanding operational and environmental conditions.
The Department of National Defence’s (DND) Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) Program is calling innovators on to propose and develop solutions that provide integrated energy, water and waste management systems for the CAF’s RTCs deployed in national and international operations.
The “Pop up City” Contest is a multi-phased contest for innovators to propose and develop reliable, energy efficient, integrated and scalable energy, water and waste management systems for RTCs. Contests are a competitive means of finding innovative solutions and awarding prizes to the best solutions derived from the innovation community. Specifically, this Contest is seeking solutions designed to manage the energy, water and waste needs of a 150 to 1,500-person RTC, operating in a temperate climate zone.
To standardize the required performance capacity for system designs, contestants will be supplied with per capita data for energy and water consumption, and waste production, along with representative annual climate data, including wind and solar patterns. Contestants will be asked to provide scalable solutions that can supply the requirements of RTCs over a 12-month period in this climate zone. System designs which would also allow for the occasional deployment to extreme hot and/or frigid climatic zones are strongly encouraged.
Can a Contestant submit a solution for more than one technical domain (i.e. energy, water or waste) in Round 1 of the Contest? Yes, Contestants can submit more than one proposal to the Contest. However, each solution must be submitted with its own complete application package. Contestants may not submit more than one solution proposal per technical domain. Can I submit a proposal describing a solution that already exists? Yes, Contestants may submit proposals describing solutions that are already at a high solution readiness level, with the caveat that Contestants must hold the Intellectual Property (IP) rights or have the necessary authorization from the owner of the IP rights to submit an application for the purpose of this Contest for any existing technologies submitted. How do I apply for this Contest? You must apply online through a Canada Post epost Connect™ service account. Before submitting your application materials (including a completed Application Form and a Declaration Form, and with documentation to demonstrate your eligibility), you must have a Canada Post epost Connect™ service account. It will take some time to register for an account, so it is strongly recommended that you initiate the registration process at least 2 weeks before you plan to submit your application materials. Instructions for creating an account are provided in Section 2.12 of the Contest Program guide. What type of monetary awards will be given to contestants who are screened into Round 1 and Round 2 of the Contest? If a Contestant is successful in Round 1, they will receive an award of $10, 000. If a Contestant is successful in Round 2, they will receive an award of $50,000. Is the Contest a call for proposal process that will be awarding contracts to fund work based on project milestones? No, there is no procurement related activity or contracting process associated with this Contest. Proposals submitted by Contestants may be awarded a monetary prize based on the overall ranking of their technical proposal and eligibility to participate within a specific Round of the Contest. DND will not be entering into a contract for work undertaken by Contestants should they be selected to advance within each Round of the Contest. However should a Contestant be offered a Contribution Agreement to build a prototype in Round 3 they will be reimbursed for eligible costs as stipulated in the Contribution Agreement based on project milestones. If a Contestant has been selected to receive awards in Round 1 or 2, how will the money be disbursed? Contestants will receive their award in a single payment via a grant agreement. If a contestant has been selected to build their prototype in Round 3, how will funding be disbursed? Should a Contestant be offered a Contribution Agreement (CA) to build their prototype, the CA will have clearly defined parameters based on milestone deliverables that will be used to reimburse eligible expenditures. If milestone deliverables demonstrate that progress in building and testing the prototype are not being met as per the CA, funding for the next stage of the project will not be approved and the CA will be terminated. Contestants will be removed from the Contest in these cases. How will milestone deliverables be determined? The milestone deliverables will be specified by the Contestant should they be selected to enter into a CA with DND in Round 3 of the Contest. Do Contestants need to be a legal entity in Canada to participate in the Contest? Yes, Contestants need to constitute an eligible recipient as listed in the Contest Program Guide, and be located in Canada to receive a grant payment or enter into a CA with DND on behalf of the Crown. I am an Academic Institution located in Quebec. Must I abide by the M-30 law? What do I need to do to ensure that I am able to receive funds from the Government of Canada if I am selected in any Round within this Contest? The Contest Program Guide (Annex C) provides some instructions and a form that must be completed by entities located in Quebec, to whom M-30 applies, and signed by the appropriate authority. You will not be able to receive any prize money or funding from the Government of Canada through this Contest until the appropriate authorization has been received by the IDEaS Program Office. Will the winner of the Grand Prize of the Contest ($2.0M) be awarded a contract? A grant agreement, not a contract, will be awarded to the Grand Prize winner at the end of this Contest. Are there any terms and conditions associated with the Grand Prize? It is expected that the Contestant who wins the $2.0M Grand Prize in Round 4 will use it to further develop the winning solution along the path to commercialization. Additional requirements will be stipulated in a grant agreement which will be used to disburse funding. Who will sit on DND’s Technical Review Committee (TRC)? The TRC will consist of Department of National Defence (DND) scientific personnel as well as members of the Canadian Armed Forces. In addition, select subject matter experts from other Government Departments may be invited to support activities associated with the TRC. Who will sit on DND Senior Management Funding Oversite Committee? The Senior Management Funding Oversight Committee (SMFOC), is comprised of the Director General responsible for the IDEaS Program, and the Directors General responsible for DND and/or Canadian Armed Forces organization(s) associated with the Contest. How will submissions be selected to move on from Rounds 1, 2, 3 and 4 and who will select the Grand prize winner? The TRC, along with the SMFOC will assess Round 1, 2, 3 and 4 submissions including the Grand Prize winner. What can the $1.5M in Contribution Agreement for Round 3 winners be used for? The Contribution Agreement will support the development of a prototype system proposed in Round 2. A list of eligible costs will be provided to Contestants. Recipients may be required to leverage additional funding to build their prototype depending on the cost of their proposal. What will the Department of National Defence use the information from the prototype for? This information will help inform the state of the current capabilities of the innovation community in these domains. Can Contestants submit solutions that have already been integrated in 2 or 3 technical domains in Round 1 of the Contest? Yes, however each solution must be submitted individually for assessment to determine if it will be screened into Round 2 of the Contest.
Questions from Information Session The following questions were posed in the English information session held September 11, 2019 for the Pop up City contest. If you did not receive a response to your question, please contact the program directly at: IDEaSContests.IDEeSConcours@forces.gc.ca.
Waste What’s in scope for solid waste? Food waste? Human waste? Non-organic waste? Does ‘solid waste’ include non-organic solid waste? Can a solution address organic waste only, as opposed to organic and non-organic waste? Answer: Human waste is included in the black water volumes provided. Wet waste can be assumed to be organic kitchen waste. Dry waste is a mixture of various materials “shipping, office, plastic, metal and textile” in origin. Assumptions on composition of dry solid waste can be made based on total energy content provided of 15 MJ/kg. Organic and inorganic waste can be managed separately, however all solid waste output from the RTC will be measured. Are solid waste generation numbers segregated from gray water and black water effluents? Answer: Yes. Per capita volumes of grey and black water are provided and do not overlap with per capita weights of dry and wet solid waste provided. Do waste management systems need to handle both solid and liquid waste, or just one stream such as grey or black water? Answer: Solutions must propose management for both solid and liquid waste. Would grey water be acceptable for reuse in some capacity? Answer: Yes, strategies for grey water recycling can be proposed. ….
It seems to me this kind of pop up city waster and energy management solution could be very useful in disaster relief.
In any event and not to lose sight of the purpose for this day, I leave you to your remembrances of those who fought and died or were injured in the various wars and military actions where we have participated. Lest we forget.
I think this is the first time I’ve seen one of these projects not being funded by the military, which explains why the researchers are more interested in using these hummingbird robots for observing wildlife and for rescue efforts in emergency situations. Still, they do acknowledge theses robots could also be used in covert operations.
What can fly like a bird and hover like an insect?
Your friendly neighborhood hummingbirds. If drones had this combo, they would be able to maneuver better through collapsed buildings and other cluttered spaces to find trapped victims.
Purdue University researchers have engineered flying robots that behave like hummingbirds, trained by machine learning algorithms based on various techniques the bird uses naturally every day.
This means that after learning from a simulation, the robot “knows” how to move around on its own like a hummingbird would, such as discerning when to perform an escape maneuver.
Artificial intelligence, combined with flexible flapping wings, also allows the robot to teach itself new tricks. Even though the robot can’t see yet, for example, it senses by touching surfaces. Each touch alters an electrical current, which the researchers realized they could track.
“The robot can essentially create a map without seeing its surroundings. This could be helpful in a situation when the robot might be searching for victims in a dark place — and it means one less sensor to add when we do give the robot the ability to see,” said Xinyan Deng, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue.
Drones can’t be made infinitely smaller, due to the way conventional aerodynamics work. They wouldn’t be able to generate enough lift to support their weight.
But hummingbirds don’t use conventional aerodynamics – and their wings are resilient. “The physics is simply different; the aerodynamics is inherently unsteady, with high angles of attack and high lift. This makes it possible for smaller, flying animals to exist, and also possible for us to scale down flapping wing robots,” Deng said.
Researchers have been trying for years to decode hummingbird flight so that robots can fly where larger aircraft can’t. In 2011, the company AeroVironment, commissioned by DARPA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Defense, built a robotic hummingbird that was heavier than a real one but not as fast, with helicopter-like flight controls and limited maneuverability. It required a human to be behind a remote control at all times.
Deng’s group and her collaborators studied hummingbirds themselves for multiple summers in Montana. They documented key hummingbird maneuvers, such as making a rapid 180-degree turn, and translated them to computer algorithms that the robot could learn from when hooked up to a simulation.
Further study on the physics of insects and hummingbirds allowed Purdue researchers to build robots smaller than hummingbirds – and even as small as insects – without compromising the way they fly. The smaller the size, the greater the wing flapping frequency, and the more efficiently they fly, Deng says.
The robots have 3D-printed bodies, wings made of carbon fiber and laser-cut membranes. The researchers have built one hummingbird robot weighing 12 grams – the weight of the average adult Magnificent Hummingbird – and another insect-sized robot weighing 1 gram. The hummingbird robot can lift more than its own weight, up to 27 grams.
Designing their robots with higher lift gives the researchers more wiggle room to eventually add a battery and sensing technology, such as a camera or GPS. Currently, the robot needs to be tethered to an energy source while it flies – but that won’t be for much longer, the researchers say.
The robots could fly silently just as a real hummingbird does, making them more ideal for covert operations. And they stay steady through turbulence, which the researchers demonstrated by testing the dynamically scaled wings in an oil tank.
The robot requires only two motors and can control each wing independently of the other, which is how flying animals perform highly agile maneuvers in nature.
“An actual hummingbird has multiple groups of muscles to do power and steering strokes, but a robot should be as light as possible, so that you have maximum performance on minimal weight,” Deng said.
Robotic hummingbirds wouldn’t only help with search-and-rescue missions, but also allow biologists to more reliably study hummingbirds in their natural environment through the senses of a realistic robot.
“We learned from biology to build the robot, and now biological discoveries can happen with extra help from robots,” Deng said. Simulations of the technology are available open-source at https://github.com/ purdue-biorobotics/flappy.
Early stages of the work, including the Montana hummingbird experiments in collaboration with Bret Tobalske’s group at the University of Montana, were financially supported by the National Science Foundation.
The researchers have three paper on arxiv.org for open access peer review,
Learning Extreme Hummingbird Maneuvers on Flapping Wing Robots Fan Fei, Zhan Tu, Jian Zhang, and Xinyan Deng Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA https://arxiv.org/abs/1902.0962
Biological studies show that hummingbirds can perform extreme aerobatic maneuvers during fast escape. Given a sudden looming visual stimulus at hover, a hummingbird initiates a fast backward translation coupled with a 180-degree yaw turn, which is followed by instant posture stabilization in just under 10 wingbeats. Consider the wingbeat frequency of 40Hz, this aggressive maneuver is carried out in just 0.2 seconds. Inspired by the hummingbirds’ near-maximal performance during such extreme maneuvers, we developed a flight control strategy and experimentally demonstrated that such maneuverability can be achieved by an at-scale 12- gram hummingbird robot equipped with just two actuators. The proposed hybrid control policy combines model-based nonlinear control with model-free reinforcement learning. We use model-based nonlinear control for nominal flight control, as the dynamic model is relatively accurate for these conditions. However, during extreme maneuver, the modeling error becomes unmanageable. A model-free reinforcement learning policy trained in simulation was optimized to ‘destabilize’ the system and maximize the performance during maneuvering. The hybrid policy manifests a maneuver that is close to that observed in hummingbirds. Direct simulation-to-real transfer is achieved, demonstrating the hummingbird-like fast evasive maneuvers on the at-scale hummingbird robot.
Acting is Seeing: Navigating Tight Space Using Flapping Wings Zhan Tu, Fan Fei, Jian Zhang, and Xinyan Deng Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA https://arxiv.org/abs/1902.0868
Wings of flying animals can not only generate lift and control torques but also can sense their surroundings. Such dual functions of sensing and actuation coupled in one element are particularly useful for small sized bio-inspired robotic flyers, whose weight, size, and power are under stringent constraint. In this work, we present the first flapping-wing robot using its flapping wings for environmental perception and navigation in tight space, without the need for any visual feedback. As the test platform, we introduce the Purdue Hummingbird, a flapping-wing robot with 17cm wingspan and 12 grams weight, with a pair of 30-40Hz flapping wings driven by only two actuators. By interpreting the wing loading feedback and its variations, the vehicle can detect the presence of environmental changes such as grounds, walls, stairs, obstacles and wind gust. The instantaneous wing loading can be obtained through the measurements and interpretation of the current feedback by the motors that actuate the wings. The effectiveness of the proposed approach is experimentally demonstrated on several challenging flight tasks without vision: terrain following, wall following and going through a narrow corridor. To ensure flight stability, a robust controller was designed for handling unforeseen disturbances during the flight. Sensing and navigating one’s environment through actuator loading is a promising method for mobile robots, and it can serve as an alternative or complementary method to visual perception.
Flappy Hummingbird: An Open Source Dynamic Simulation of Flapping Wing Robots and Animals Fan Fei, Zhan Tu, Yilun Yang, Jian Zhang, and Xinyan Deng Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA https://arxiv.org/abs/1902.0962
Insects and hummingbirds exhibit extraordinary flight capabilities and can simultaneously master seemingly conflicting goals: stable hovering and aggressive maneuvering, unmatched by small scale man-made vehicles. Flapping Wing Micro Air Vehicles (FWMAVs) hold great promise for closing this performance gap. However, design and control of such systems remain challenging due to various constraints. Here, we present an open source high fidelity dynamic simulation for FWMAVs to serve as a testbed for the design, optimization and flight control of FWMAVs. For simulation validation, we recreated the hummingbird-scale robot developed in our lab in the simulation. System identification was performed to obtain the model parameters. The force generation, open- loop and closed-loop dynamic response between simulated and experimental flights were compared and validated. The unsteady aerodynamics and the highly nonlinear flight dynamics present challenging control problems for conventional and learning control algorithms such as Reinforcement Learning. The interface of the simulation is fully compatible with OpenAI Gym environment. As a benchmark study, we present a linear controller for hovering stabilization and a Deep Reinforcement Learning control policy for goal-directed maneuvering. Finally, we demonstrate direct simulation-to-real transfer of both control policies onto the physical robot, further demonstrating the fidelity of the simulation.