Monthly Archives: August 2009

Nanotechnology, risk, science literacy and feelings; Canada’s Science and Technology Week 2009

The Swiss-based Innovation Society has waded into the discussion about nanoparticles and sunscreens  in the wake of the Friends of the Earth (FOE) report (mentioned here yesterday August 20, 2009).

They point out something I forgot. Despite disagreeing on the “risk  profile,” both the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and FOE advise that nanomaterials should be labelled so that consumers can make informed choices,  (I’m not sure if I’ve seen the phrase risk profile or if I just coined it but I hope it makes sense in this context.) You can read about the Innovation Society’s perspective in their media release on Nanowerk News where they also offer links to the society’s August 2009 newsletter. You have to register to receive it and the form is in German as is the page which houses the public portion of the August 2009 newsletter. So, I’m not sure what language the newsletter is written in although most of what I saw on their site is in English.

As this last week has featured a published study about two women workers who died due to nanoparticle exposure and the FOE report, I’ve been reminded of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School (mentioned here on this blog last week). One of the conclusions in the paper I read about nanotechnology and risk is that people will make judgments about emerging technologies quickly, with little information, and in line with their feelings (affect), and cultural values. In the experimental investigation they found that increasing scientific literacy (i.e. giving the respondents more factual information about nanotechnology) did nothing or very little to alter someone’s opinion once it was formed.

I can agree with this conclusion as far as it goes. I’ve observed the same process of adhering to an opinion despite any evidence to the contrary in myself and others. I noted yesterday that the FOE report did not mention the EWG findings which, in my opinion, damages their credibility and bears out the conclusions made by the team at the Cultural Cognition Project.

There is one thing which niggles at me. Technologies have emerged before, e.g. electricity. At the time, during the 19th century, it was highly contested (do take a look at Carolyn Marvin’s book, When Old Technologies were New) . Very inflammatory language was used; all kinds of “experts” emerged; scientists engaged in lots of public outreach; there were deaths and injuries; and there were predictions that life on earth would end.  Seems familiar, doesn’t it? Still, electricity has become ubiquitous for much of the world. If cultural values and feelings trump science literacy, how did electricity become ubiquitous?

The Cultural Cognition Project team seemed to suggest in their paper that once opinions have been formed they are largely intractable. If that’s so, regardless of which group’s narrative gains dominance wouldn’t the other group continue to resist? (Note: the Amish opted out from using electricity.) History tells us otherwise.

I am getting ready for my presentation at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) so y9u may find that my posting schedule is interrupted. Happy weekend and here are a few final nuggets,

The Government of Canada, in the person of Rona Ambrose, Minister of Labour, has recognized Quantium Technologies (Edmonton, Alberta) for its innovation in the areas of “linking scientific research to commercialization, jobs and economic growth.” More can be found  in the media release on Nanowerk News.

Nanowerk News has also published a guide to the materials on their site, 10 things you should know about nanotechology. I highly recommend checking this out. Go here.

Canada’s 2009 Science and Technology Week will take place Oct. 16 – 25, 2009 (seems more like 10 days to me). You can check out the currently scheduled events (I’m sure this will be updated) for your province here,

There’s an interesting  story about the first copyright trial in 6th Century Ireland here on Techdirt.

Friends of the Earth and sunscreens; update on RUSNANO

In a bit of interesting timing given that it’s on the heels of the publication of a study about two tragic deaths which are being attributed to exposure to nanoparticles, the Friends of the Earth (FOE) organization has released a report titled Nano-Sunscreens: Not Worth the Risk.The media release can be found on Azonano or Nanowerk News.

I have read the report (very quickly) and noted that they do not cite or mention the recently released report on the same topic by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) which stated that after an extensive review of the literature, there was no evidence that the titanium dioxide or zinc oxide nanoparticles used in sunscreens were dangerous. (posting here).

Shortly after the EWG report’s release, a new study (which I mentioned here … if you are inclined, do read the comments as some additional points about reading research critically are brought out)  suggested concerns based on the work of researchers in Japan.  The new study from Japan is cited in the Friends of the Earth report.

While the overall tone of the FOE report is fairly mild (they suggest precaution) they cite only a few studies supporting their concern and they damage their credibility (in my book) by ignoring a report from a well respected group that reluctantly admitted that there is no real cause for concern about nanoparticles in sunscreens based on the current evidence. FOE didn’t have to agree with the EWG’s conclusions but some counter-argument or discussion suggests that they don’t have a counter-argument or that they will ignore any opinions, and in the EWG case it’s based on evidence, contrary to their own.

More about this tomorrow when I tie it into science literacy, critical thinking, affect (feelings), and values.

Meanwhile, RUSNANO (Russian Corporation of Nanotechnologies) has announced $1.25B US  (40billion rubles) of investment will be approved this year. I blogged (here) about RUSNANO when their executives visited Canada with an eye to investing in Canadian nanotechnology companies. I will be eagerly waiting to find out if RUSNANO has followed up with investments in Canadian nanotechnology.

ISEA; more about nanoparticle hazards (China); Summer Dream Literary Arts Festival

I am presenting a paper at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts (ISEA) in Belfast next week. Yay! My paper is called, Nanotechnology, storytelling, sensing, and materiality and is being presented as part of the Posthumanism track. The symposium is quite an undertaking as it takes place in several locations; the main conference is in Belfast with events in Derry/Londonderry and Dublin between August 23 and Sept. 1, 2009. This means that my blogging pattern will change as a consequence of  attending the conference and events and if I do blog, I will be focusing on ISEA.

Very briefly, the article in the European Respiratory Journal about the deaths in China due to nanoparticle exposure (mentioned yesterday Aug. 18, 2009) has been published. More detailed information about the article can be found here on Nanowerk News. Dr. Andrew Maynard (Chief Science Advisor for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies) has commented extensively on his blogs (2020 Science and SAFENANO) about the study and he has  also posted thoughts from other experts. From 2020 Science,

Professor Gűnter Oberdőrster is considered by many to be the “father” of research into the toxicology of inhaled nanoparticles.  His group at the University of Rochester has led global research in this area for over two decades.

Professor Ken Donaldson, a toxicologist specializing in workplace lung diseases, Professor Donaldson is one of the world’s leading authorities on the health impacts of inhaling airborne nanoparticles.  His group at the University of Edinburgh has conducted extensive research into the potential health impacts of inhaling nanomaterials.

Professor Vicki Stone, editor of the journal Nanotoxicology and a professor of toxicology at Napier University in Edinburgh Professor Stone is a foremost expert on the mechanisms by which nanoparticles potentially interact with the body and cause harm.

Dr. Rob Aitken, dDirector of Strategic Consulting at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh and director of the SAFENANO initiative, Dr. Aitken has a wealth of experience addressing workplace safety and health.  He is a leading international expert in developing safe practices for working with engineered nanomaterials—including nanoparticles.

Dr. Kristen Kulinowski is Director of the International Council On Nanotechnology (ICON) at Rice University, and a global leader in developing safe and responsible nanotechnologies.  Under her direction, ICON has established the foremost on-line database of nanotechnology health and environmental impact research papers, and the GoodNanoGuide—an initiative to enable people share and develop the best possible practices for working safely with engineered nanomaterials.

Please do check out Nanowerk News which offers a summary and links to Andrew’s individual postings (I’ve linked to the front page of his blogs) and do check out Andrew’s postings as it is quite illuminating. I tend to prefer Andrew’s 2020 Science blog but I think that’s because I’m more familiar with it.

Heather Haley will be giving a literary performance of her poetry at the 2009 Summer Dream Literary Arts Festival (Vancouver, Canada) an event produced by Pandora’s Collective. The festival is on Saturday, August 22, 2009 from 12 pm to 7 pm at Lumberman’s Arch, Stanley Park. It’s a free event and Heather is scheduled for 5:10 pm to 5:30 pm. You can read more about the event here (scroll down).

The geography of US nanotechnology institutions and enterprises; nanoparticle hazards

Every state (and the District of Columbia) in the US has been “nanoteched.” The Project on Emerging Nanotechnology (PEN) has just released information that they have listed over 1200 (an increase of 50% since the last data gathering project 2 years ago) universities, government laboratories, and businesses that are involved in nanotechnology research, development, and commercialization. They have also produced an interactive map to display the information. (media release on Azonano and also on Nanowerk News where they include an editorial note that their directory has over 1600 nanotechnology agencies listed)

Sadly, later this week the European Respiratory Journal will be publishing a paper that examines the deaths of two female workers in China who worked with and were exposed to nanoparticles over a period of 13 months. Azonano has posted what I suspect is a media advisory that Dr. Kristen Kulinowski of Rice University and director of the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) is available to answer for questions about the paper. Kulinowski and ICON have been instrumental in the development of the GoodNanoGuide (still in beta), a wiki featuring safe handling procedures for nanomaterials. From Azonano,

The paper to be published by the European Respiratory Journal this week examines the case of seven female workers, ages 18-47, who were exposed for up to 13 months to nanoparticles in a polyacrylate material air-sprayed onto polystyrene. All suffered shortness of breath and pleural effusions, an excess of fluid in the pleural cavity that surrounds the lungs, and were admitted to hospitals where examinations revealed nanoparticles in chest fluid and lodged in cells. The women who died were 19 and 29.

According to Kulinowski, a “conventional chemical hygiene plan” could have afforded protection to the workers.

Waldo and robot hands circa. 2009; innovation in Canada, John Manley, and the university community

Shades of Robert Heinlein’s 1943 short story, Waldo, and Richard Feynman’s 1959 talk, There’s plenty of room at the bottom, to the American Physical Society!  Both of these texts feature the development of ‘smaller and smaller robotic hands to manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular levels’ and both of these have been cited as the birth of nanotechnology. The NanoHand Project (funded by the European Union) has developed microrobots designed to handle carbon nanotubes, according to the media release on Nanowerk News.  From the media release,

The robots, about two centimetres in size, work inside a scanning electron microscope where their activities can be followed by an observer. “The whole set-up is integrated into the vacuum chamber of the microscope,” [Volkmar] Eichhorn [of the University of Oldenberg] explains. “There is a glass plate where these mobile microrobots can walk around.”

Each robot has a ‘microgripper’ that can make precise and delicate movements. It works on an electrothermal principle to open and close the jaws, much like a pair of tweezers. The jaws open to about 2 micrometres and can pick up objects less than 100 nanometres in size. “[It is] really able to grip micro or even nano objects,”

Eichhorn says. “We have handled objects down to tens of nanometres.”

If you go to Nanowerk News, you will be able to see a video of the microrobots in action or you can go to the NanoHand site here for more information.

“I don’t think you could say that innovation is deeply in the DNA of our Canadian business enterprises,” [John Manley] said, “We have built prosperity, up to and including this decade, on a fairly basic paradigm: we are rich in natural resources.” (from the article, Innovation isn’t in Canada’s DNA by Paul Wells in MacLean’s magazine here.) I agree more closely with Manley’s quote than I do with the article’s headline writer who seems to be implying that Canadians are not genetically disposed to innovation. Manley very specifically fingers business enterprises and not people. (I briefly mentioned the article in my July 31, 2009 posting in the context of a discussion[also in MacLean’s] by the big 5 Canadian universities about funding and innovation.)

Military robots, the latest models; Quantum computing at Univ of Toronto; Cultural Cognition Project at Yale; Carla Bruni and Stephen Hawking

There was an industry trade show of military robots  this week which caught my eye since I’ve been mentioning robots, military and otherwise, in my postings lately. Apparently military enthusiasm for robots continues unabated.  From the media release on,

“I think we’re at the beginning of an unmanned revolution,” Gary Kessler, who oversees unmanned aviation programs for the US Navy and Marines, told AFP.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on unmanned systems.”

There’s more,

In 2003, the US military had almost no robots in its arsenal but now has 7,000 unmanned aircraft and at least 10,000 ground vehicles.

The US Air Force, which initially resisted the idea of pilotless planes, said it trains more operators for unmanned aircraft than pilots for its fighter jets and bombers.

Interestingly, iRobot which sells robot vacuum cleaners (Roomba) to consumers also sells a “Wall-E lookalike robot” which searches enemy terrain and buildings to find and dismantle explosives.

This all reminds me of an article on BBC News (Call for debate on killer robots) which I posted about here when I was looking at the possibility (courtesy of an article by Jamais Cascio) of systems that are both unmanned and without operators, i.e. autonomous, intelligent systems/robots.

The University of Toronto (Canada) is hosting a conference on quantum information and control. From the media release on Azonano,

Quantum Information is a revolutionary approach to computing and communication which exploits the phenomena of quantum mechanics – the fundamental theory of nature at is most basic, sub-atomic level – to vastly enhance the capabilities of today’s computers and internet communication.

The conference is being held from August 24 – 27, 2009.

In yesterday’s posting about Andrew Maynard’s review of a book on science illiteracy I mentioned that I had a hesitation about one of the recommendations he made for further reading. Specifically, I have some reservations about the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School’s work on nanotechnology. To be absolutely fair, I’ve read only an earlier version of a paper (then titled) Affect, Values, and Nanotechnology Risk Perceptions: An Experimental Investigation.

I did try to read the latest version and the other papers on nanotechnology produced by the group but they’re behind paywalls (click on Download paper if you like but I just tested them and not one was accessible). So, I’m working off the copy that I could freely download at the time.

First, they are using the word cultural in a fashion that many of us are unfamiliar with. Culture in this paper is used in the context of risk perception and the specific theoretical underpinning comes from anthropologist, Mary Douglas. From the paper I downloaded,

Drawing heavily on the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, one conception of the cultural cognition of risk divides cultural outlooks along two cross-cutting dimensions. The first, “hierarchy-egalitarianism” characterizes the relative preferences of persons for a society in which resources, opportunities, privileges and duties are distributed along fixed and differentiated (of gender, race, religion, and class, for example) versus one in which those goods are distributed without regard to such differences. The other, “individualism-communitarianism,” characterizes the relative preference of persons for a society in which individuals secure the conditions for their own flourishing without collective interference versus one in which the collective is charged with securing its members’ basic needs and in which individual interests are subordinated to collective ones.

This looks like a very politicized approach. Roughly speaking, you have the Horatio Alger/anybody can become president of the US success myth laced with Henry David Thoreau and his self-sufficient utopia cast against collective action (American Revolution, “power to the people”) and communism.

The authors found that people tended to shape their views about technology according to their values and the authors worried in their conclusion that nanotechnology could be the subject of intransigent attitudes on all sides. From the paper,

Nanotechnology, on this view, could go the route of nuclear power and other controversial technologies, becoming a focal point of culturally infused political conflict.

For my taste there’s just too much agenda underlying this work. Again, from the paper,

Those in a position to educate the public–from government officials to scientists to members of industry–must also intelligently frame that information in ways that make it possible for persons of diverse cultural orientation to reconcile it with their values.

Note that there is no hint that the discussion could go both ways and there’s the implication that if the information is framed “intelligently” that there will be acceptance.

If you can get your hands on the material, it is an interesting and useful read but proceed with caution.

As it’s Friday, I want to finish off with something a little lighter. Raincoaster has two amusing postings, one about Stephen Hawking and the debate on US health care reform. The other posting features a video of Carla Bruni, Mme Sarkozy and wife of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, singing. (She’s pretty good.) Have a nice weekend!

ETA (Aug.14, 2009 at 12 pm PST) I forgot to mention that the article concludes that how much you learn about nanotechnology (i.e. your scientific literacy) does not markedly affect your perception of the risks. From the paper,

One might suppose that as members of the public learn more about nanotechnology their assessment of its risk and benefits should converge. Our results suggest that exactly the opposite is likely to happen.

Janus particle breakthrough; science knowledge or illiteracy?

It’s a two-faced particle named after the Roman god, Janus (love the reference to Roman mythology) and complete control has been achieved. The Janus particle is made up of at least two different substances according to this 2005 news item on From the 2005 new item,

A Janus particle is composed of two fused hemispheres, each made from a different substance than the other. This means Janus particles could, for instance, carry two different and complementary medicines.

For instance, one side could hold compounds that bind to molecules specific to a certain tissue or disease, while the opposite side would carry the appropriate drug.

There are other potential applications as researchers at Duke University note in their media release posted on on Aug. 12, 2009. The Duke researchers have achieved control over the particle’s movements. From the media release on,

Duke University engineers say they can for the first time control all the degrees of the particle’s motion, opening up broad possibilities for nanotechnology and device applications. Their unique technology should make it more likely that Janus particles can be used as the building blocks for a myriad of applications, including such new technologies as and self-propelling micromachines.

There are more details and a Janus particle video here. I did get a little confused with this description,

“Past experiments have only been able to achieve four degrees of control using a combination of magnetic and optical techniques,” said Nathan Jenness, a graduate student who completed his studies this year from Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. He and co-author Randall Erb, also a graduate student, were first authors of a paper appearing online in the journal Advanced Materials. “We have created a novel Janus particle that can be manipulated or constrained with six degrees of freedom.”

I looked at the video where the range of motion appeared to be much broader than the 6 degrees that the researcher mentions. Perhaps the phrase “of freedom” is of more significance than I know. This brings me to Andrew Maynard’s discussion (on his blog 2020 Science) of a book on science illiteracy. Titled Unscientific Americans: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, the book’s authors (Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum) caught my attention with their recent essay (based in part on their book) on where they elucidate their position.They make a compelling argument and one I find emotionally satisfying unfortunately it’s a little problematic as Maynard points out here.

It’s more than just amusing when Maynard (a scientist by training) notes that he could be described as scientifically illiterate since there are scientific terms that he doesn’t understand and that “Math makes my head ache.” If you take the comment to its logical conclusion,you can infer that all scientists are scientifically illiterate since none of them can know everything about science. Maynard notes that he enjoyed the book but has some major issues with the term “scientific illiteracy” as promotes and “us vs them” mentality and the book’s intellectual depth. He also offers some recommendations for reading about science and society.  I do have some hesitation about one of his recommendations but more about that tomorrow.

Cool science; where are the women?; biology discovers graphical notations

Popular Science’s Future of .., a programme [developed in response to a question “What’s missing from science programming?” posed by Debbie Myers, {US} Science Channel general manager] , was launched last night (Aug. 11, 2009). From the Fast Company posting by Lynne D. Johnston,

The overall response from the 50-plus room full of mostly New York digerati, was resoundingly, “a show that was both entertaining and smart–not dumbed down.”

Their host, Baratunde Thurston, offers an interesting combination of skills as he is a comedian, political pundit, and author. If you go to the posting, you can find the trailer. (It’s gorgeous and, I suspect, quite expensive due to the effects, and as you’d expect from a teaser, it’s short on science content.)

It does seem as if there’s some sort of campaign to make science ‘cool’ in the US. I say campaign because there was also, a few months ago, the World Science Festival in New York (mentioned in my June 12, 2009 posting). Thanks to Darren Barefoot’s blog I see they have posted some highlights and videos from the festival. Barefoot features one of musician Bobby McFerrin’s presentations here.

Barefoot comments on the oddity of having a musician presenting at a science event. The clip doesn’t clarify why McFerrin would be on the panel but neuroscientists have been expressing a lot of interest in musician’s brains and I noticed that there was at least one neuroscientist on the panel. Still, it would have been nice to have understood the thinking behind the panel composition. If you’re interested in more clips and information about the World Science Festival, go here.

Back to my thoughts on the ‘cool’ science campaign, there have been other initiatives including the ‘Dancing with scientists’ video contest put on by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the nanotechnology video contests put on by the American Chemical Society. All of these initiatives have taken place this year. By contrast, nothing of a similar nature appears to be taking place in Canada. (If you know of a ‘cool science’ project in Canada, please do contact me as I’d be happy to feature it here.)

On the subject of putting together panels, there’s an interesting blog posting by Allyson Kapin (Fast Company) on the dearth of women on technology and/or social media panels. She points out that the problem has many aspects and requires more than one tactic for viable solutions.

She starts by talking about the lack of diversity and she very quickly shifts her primary focus to women. (I’ve seen this before in other writing and I think it happens because the diversity topic is huge so writers want to acknowledge the breadth but have time and expertise to discuss only a small piece of it.) On another tack altogether, I’ve been in the position of assembling a panel and trying to get a diverse group of people can be incredibly difficult. That said, I think more work needs to be done to make sure that panels are as diverse as possible.

Following on my interest in multimodal discourse and new ways of communicating science, a new set of standards for graphically representing biology has been announced. From,

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and their colleagues in 30 labs worldwide have released a new set of standards for graphically representing biological information – the biology equivalent of the circuit diagram in electronics. This visual language should make it easier to exchange complex information, so that models are accurate, efficient and readily understandable. The new standard, called the Systems Biology Graphical Notation (SBGN), is published today (August 11, 2009) in Nature Biotechnology.

There’s more here and the article in Nature Biotechnology is here (keep scrolling).

Nanotechnology and HIV prevention; flying frogs; nanotech regulation conference

It seems to me that whenever researchers announce a nanotechnology application they always estimate that it will take five years before reaching the commercial market. Well, the researchers at the University at Utah are estimating five to seven years before their gel-based anti-HIV condom for women comes to market. From the media release on Azonano,

University of Utah bioengineer Patrick Kiser analyzes polymers used to develop a new kind of AIDS-preventing vaginal gel for eventual use by women in Africa and other impoverished areas. The newly invented gel would be inserted a few hours before sex. During intercourse, polymers — long, chain-like molecules — within the gel become “crosslinked,” forming a microscopic mesh that, in lab experiments, physically trapped HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) particles.

The crosslinked polymers form a mesh that is smaller than microscopic, and instead is nanoscopic – on the scale of atoms and molecules – with a mesh size of a mere 30 to 50 nanometers – or 30 to 50 billionths of a meter. (A meter is about 39 inches.)

By comparison, an HIV particle is about 100 nanometers wide, sperm measure about 5 to 10 microns (5,000 to 10,000 nanometers) in cross section, and the width of a human hair is roughly 100 microns (100,000 nanometers)

I’m not sure why there is such an emphasis on women in the continent of Africa as I’m sure if this product is successful, it could be used in many environments and by many women regardless of their geography.

From 1998 to 2008, researchers found a flying frog in the Eastern Himalayas along with 350 other new species, according to the World Wildlife Federation. From the media release on,

A decade of research carried out by scientists in remote mountain areas endangered by rising global temperatures brought exciting discoveries such as a bright green frog that uses its red and long webbed feet to glide in the air.

A frog that flies -- new species found in Eastern Himalayas

A frog that flies -- new species found in Eastern Himalayas

More details can be found in the media release.

In September, there will be two meetings, one held in London and another in Washington, DC, to discuss a collaborative research project, Regulating Nanotechnologies in the EU and US.  I mentioned the meetings and registration information in an earlier posting here and there’s more information on Nanowerk News here.

I mentioned an event that Raincoaster was organizing, a 3-day novel workshop on the upcoming Labour Day weekend. Unfortunately, it’s been canceled due to one of the downsides of being a freelancer (when you get sick there’s nobody to fill in for you) and arrangements for the lodge/resort couldn’t be finalized in time.

Hearing like a dolphin and seeing like a cat; videopoetry; GI Joe’s nanotechnology; Casimir force research

As I’ve been exploring ideas around multimodal discourse and sensing, this article, Tech gives humans animal senses, caught my eye. Animals see and/or hear more than humans do unless the human had access to a virtual reality display at the SIGGRAPH09 conference (August 3 – 7, 2009) in New Orleans. From the article by Jason Palmer on BBC News,

The virtual reality scene is based loosely on Cocos Island, west of Costa Rica, and visitors to the exhibit can wander through the island’s forests or swim in its tropical waters, navigating with the aid of a modified Nintendo Wii game controller.

They can switch between ranges of sounds or sights that they might see.

An ultraviolet setting paints a picture rich with both normal colour and reflections we can’t normally see. Visualisation expert Fred Parke has designed the system such that it corrects for perspective as users navigate the space. The programme allows visitors to hear the infrasound vocalisations of whales or the ultrasound clicks of tiger moths.

(There’s more here including a video [prefaced by a Blackberry ad featuring U2] of visitors enjoying the display.) The article goes on to mention that animals have senses that we don’t, for example, “sharks’ ability to sense electric fields.” It’s true true you don’t have that sense unless you’re a body hacker,  “a subculture of people who embed magnetic chips into their bodies so they can sense magnetic and electromagnetic fields thereby giving themselves a sixth sense.” (I posted about body hackers here in my exploratory series about robotics and human enhancement) I’m not coming to any conclusions; I’m exploring possible connections and in that context, the interest in extending senses beyond their ‘normal’ range or adding senses come from various sectors seems significant.

On another note, it seems like a good time to mention Heather Haley’s videopoetry event which will take place in Vancouver at Pacific Cinémathèque (usually) in November. Right now she’s asking for submissions,

SEE THE VOICE: Visible Verse 2009

Call For Entries

Nearing 10 years of screenings! Please help spread the word. Thanks!

Pacific Cinémathèque and curator Heather Haley are seeking videopoem submissions from around the world for the annual Visible Verse screening and performance poetry celebration. SEE THE VOICE: Visible Verse is North America’s sustaining venue for the presentation of new and artistically significant poetry video and film.

Official guidelines:

* Visible Verse seeks videopoems, with a 15 minutes maximum duration.
* Either official language of Canada is acceptable, though if the video is in French, an English-dubbed or-subtitled version is required for consideration. Videos may originate in any part of the world, however.
* Works will be judged on true literary merit. The ideal videopoem is a wedding of word and image, the voice seen as well as heard.
* Please, do not send documentaries, as they are outside the featured genre.
* Videopoem producers should provide a brief bio, full name, and contact information in a cover letter. There is no official application form nor entry fee.

Send, at your own risk, videopoems and poetry films/preview copies (which cannot be returned) in DVD NTSC format to: VISIBLE VERSE c/o Pacific Cinémathèque, 200–1131 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2L7, Canada. Selected artists will be notified and receive a screening fee.

DEADLINE: Sept. 1, 2009

For more information contact Heather Haley at:

You can also check out her website here.

Moving from the artsy to the commercial, the movie GI Joe opened this weekend with a villain determined to take over the world by using nanotechnology weapons. Yes, nanobots or, for this movie, nanomites. Unfortunately, the critics are more interested in excoriating the film than in explaining the ‘technology’ and my eardrums are not up to the task of watching the film but it does seem that this is another variation of K. Eric Drexler’s nanoassemblers eating up the world scenario from his book, Engines of Creation. In contrast, scientists continue their every day nanotechnology research, (from the media release on

Today’s advances in nanofabrication include the manufacture of micro- and nano-machines with moving parts separated by distances less than a micron (a micron is a millionth of a meter; a single strand of hair is approximately 100 microns). Because the distances are extremely small, the Casimir force needs to be considered in the design and function of the micro/nano-machines for efficient operation.

“The Casimir force, which is usually attractive, is also large at short separation distances between objects,” explained Mohideen, a professor of physics and the principal investigator of the grant.