Monthly Archives: April 2011

Canada Election 2011, science writers, and an update on Peer Review Radio Candidate Interviews

Emily Chung (CBC News online) wrote up an April 26, 2011 article highlighting an open letter that the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) have sent during this election 2011 campaign season to Conservative leader, Steven Harper; Green party leader, Elizabeth May; Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff; and NDP leader, Jack Layton about the ‘muzzle’ place on federal scientists (from the article),

A group representing 500 science journalists and communicators across Canada sent an open letter Tuesday to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May documenting recent instances where they say federal scientists have been barred from talking about research funded by taxpayers.

“We urge you to free the scientists to speak,” the letter said. “Take off the muzzles and eliminate the script writers and allow scientists — they do have PhDs after all — to speak for themselves.”

Kathryn O’Hara, president of the association, said openness and transparency are issues that haven’t come up much in the election campaign, and her group felt it was important to ask about them.

The federal government spends billions each year on scientific research, and taxpayers must be able to examine the results, she said, otherwise, “how can you get a real sense of … value in money going toward science?”

The public also needs to be able to see whether government policy is based on evidence uncovered using taxpayer money, she added.

It’s good to see science writers getting the topic of science into the election coverage. I’m a little puzzled that the science policy centre folks (Canadian Science Policy Centre) don’t seem to have organized an ‘ask your candidates about science campaign’ or composed questions and sent their own open letter to the federal parties or devised some other tactic to highlight science and science policy in this election campaign.

One more bit about science and the Canada 2011 federal election, Peer Review Radio has now posted two interviews with candidates answering questions about science policy and their respective parties. The interviews with Scott Bradley, running for the Liberal Party in Ottawa-Centre and Emma Hogbin running for the Green Party in Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound are each about 22 minutes long. The show producer and host, Adrian J. Ebsary promises to post the interviews with me, Marie-Claire Shanahan, and other interested science policy observers soon. Unfortunately, he was not able to broadcast the interviews as he hoped.

UNESCO and nanotechnology/nanoscience

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) has awarded another of its medals for nanoscience and nanotechnologies (I first wrote about this medal in my November 11, 2010 posting when it was awarded to “Russian Academician Zhores Ivanovich Alferov, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics; and Chunli Bai, Professor of Chemistry at the Laboratory of Molecular Nanostructure and Nanotechnology in Beijing and Executive Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.”

This time the award has gone to Victor Bykov. From the April 12, 2011 news item on Azonano,

Director General of NT-MDT Co. Victor Bykov has been awarded by the UNESCO medal and a diploma for “Contribution to development of nanoscience and nanotechnologies”.

The UNESCO medal “Contribution to development of nanoscience and nanotechnologies” was established on the 1st of March 2010 in the framework of the theme “Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies” in the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS) published by UNESCO and EOLSS Publishers.

The medal is awarded by UNESCO Director General to representatives of nanoscience and nanotechnologies and scientific and public agencies, as well as politicians that contributed to the development of the above mentioned institutions in the spirit UNESCO’s priorities.

There sure seems to a strong Russian connection (from my Nov.11, 2010 posting),

The Medal was established at the initiative of the International Commission responsible for developing the Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies theme for the Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS)* published by UNESCO and EOLSS Publishers. This initiative was supported by the Russian Federation’s Permanent Delegation to UNESCO. The EOLSS constitutes one of the world’s biggest web-based archives as a trans-disciplinary science base for sustainable development.

It’s early days, not even six months since the launch for this award, so it’s a little difficult to do much more than to note an interesting coincidence.

While UNESCO gives out medals, it’s also holding meetings like this one, Meeting of the COMEST (World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology) Working Group on the Ethics of Nanotechnologies, which was held on April 27 and 28, 2011. Excerpted from the April 28, 2011 news article by Narab Khan for the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA),

The Working Group on the Ethics of Nanotechnologies which is part of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) is meeting in Brussels Wednesday and Thursday to examine the ethical dimension of Nanotechnolgies.

Alain Pompidou, President of COMEST, told a press conference here Wednesday that the body is composed of 18 members from all over the world representing different disciplines.

However, [the first concern is that] the rapid pace of development in Nanotechnolgoies is creating difficulties in the identification of and response to potential impacts, especially long term impacts.

Secondly, the science and technology are being driven by the wrong kind of interests, not in interest of humanity but in particular military interests, noted Crowley.

The military is the main supporters of nano research in many parts of the world especially in the US.

“There is a concern that the scientific research might be distorted by the search for specific military applications that might serve as a distraction from the focus of achieving the Millennium Development goals and putting science to work for the benefit of humankind as a whole,” warned the UNESCO official.

The third concern is that developing countries might be left behind by rapid new developments in science which might be regarded from the ethical point of view as unacceptable.

The fourth concern is risk-management of using nano-materials. They are in the shops and one might buy them without knowing it.

(It seems the Kuwait News Agency is the only one to report on this meeting.) This item served to pique my interest in UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology and so I’m providing this link so you can read more about them here. I’ve also found the agenda for the April 27 – 28, 2011 meeting of the Working Group on the Ethics of Nanotechnologies.

Alberta researchers at the National Institute of Nanotechnology create nano coating for stainless steel implants in bid to trick body’s immune system

A research team in Alberta has found a way to coat stainless steel with glass silica and carbohydrates so the metal (already in general use) can be more effective in implanted biomedical devices. From the April 27, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Implanted biomedical devices, such as cardiac stents, are implanted in over 2 million people every year, with the majority made from stainless steel. Stainless steel has many benefits – strength, generally stability, and the ability to maintain the required shape long after it has been implanted. But, it can also cause severe problems, including blood clotting if implanted in an artery, or an allergenic response due to release of metal ions such as nickel ions.

This particular initiative, devising a means to trick the body’s immune system into better acceptance of implants, is part of a larger project where the goal is,

… to allow cross-blood type organ transplants, meaning that blood types would not necessarily need to be matched between donor and recipient when an organ becomes available for transplantation.

In the meantime, the team has found a means that they hope will make the stainless steel implants easier for the immune system to accept,

… sophisticated carbohydrate (sugar) molecules needed to be attached to the stainless steel surface to bring about the necessary interaction with the body’s immune system. Its inherent stainless characteristic makes stainless steel a difficult material to augment with new functions, particularly with the controlled and close-to-perfect coverage needed for biomedical implants. The Edmonton-based team found that by first coating the surface of the stainless steel with a very thin layer (60 atoms deep) of glass silica using a technique available at the National Institute for Nanotechnology, called Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), they could overcome the inherent non-reactivity of the stainless steel. The silica provide a well-defined “chemical handle” through which the carbohydrate molecules, prepared in the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Carbohydrate Science, could be attached. Once the stainless steel had been controlled, the researchers demonstrated that the carbohydrate molecules covered the stainless steel in a highly controlled way, and in the correct orientation to interact with the immune system.

In trying to find out a little more about this project, I found a presentation* from 2008 (or earlier) made by Todd Lowary, Jillian Buriak, and Lori West, presumably for investment purposes, about another initiative associated with this project titled, Infant Heart Transplants and Nanotechnology. Here’s the hypothesis from slide 3 of the presentation,

Hypothesis: Exposing a newborn to ABO antigens attached to a nanoparticle or stent will induce tolerance during immune development and in turn allow transplants across the blood-group barrier.

Since a baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed at birth, exposing a child in need of a cardiac transplant to a suitably nanoparticle-coated stent would theoretically allow the child to develop tolerance for blood group types other than its own thereby allowing a cross-blood type organ transplant. Towards the end of the presentation (which isn’t dated), they have a timeline which includes filing for various patents and a proposed date of 2013 for human clinical trials.

*The presentation is on the Alberta Centre for Advanced Microsystems and Nanotechnology Products (ACAMP). According to their About page,

ACAMP (Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products) is a not for profit organization that provides specialized services to micro nano technology clients.

ACAMP’s services encompass key areas identified as critical for the commercialization of MNT products – Marketing & Business Development, Product Development, Packaging and Assembly, Test and Characterization.

That’s it for today.

ETA July 4, 2011: There’s a May 16, 2011 news item by Cameron Chai on Azonano about this team which offers additional information.

More thoughts on science policy and the Canada 2011 federal election and Peer Review Radio end-of-season broadcast

Working on the Peer Review Radio end-of-season broadcast (April 26, 2011 at 12 noon EST or 9 am PST, listen live here on CHUO, fm 89.1) with Adrian J. Ebsary has been great and given me an opportunity to examine the science policy aspect of the current election campaign a little more closely since I first wrote my post (April 18, 2011) on the subject.

I found another commentary on science policy and election 2011 platforms at exposure/effect blog. (The writer, a scientist, chooses to remain anonymous.) I found this passage from the posting a little curious,

There isn’t a whole lot relating to science or science education in the party platforms, which is perhaps not surprising given the focus on the economy at the moment. The NDP probably have the strongest and most specific plans in this area, while the Green Party appear to have almost nothing; the Conservatives and Liberals fall somewhere in between.

I found the NDP platform to be the least detailed or informative both generally and about science. By the way, the PDF is 28 pages and a surprising number of those pages are filled with images. The Green platform lists 130 pages in its PDF with the Conservative platform at 67 pages and the Liberal platform at 98 pages. ETA April 27, 2011: I stand corrected. Ashartus (pseudonym for blogger at exposure/effect) points out (in the comments) that the Green Party platform is 12 pages and the document I was referencing is their Vision Green document. Within that 12 pages, the Green Party does, as Ashartus notes, offer the least detail about science policy of any party in the 2011 federal election.

Pascal Lapointe of Agence Science Presses/Je vote pour la science has been working to bring science policy into the political discourse for years. For this election campaign, the latest podcast he has prepared is titled, Est-ce que quelqu’un a prononcé le mot « science »? He will also be publishing answers to nine science policy questions that he and various science organizations prepared and asked of the candidates from various political parties. (Pascal has been tireless, he’s also published an April 15, 2011 article, La science des partis, co-written with Rob Annan of the Don’t leave Canada Behind blog (see my blog roll for the link). For more about the issues from Pascal please check the links as you’ll definitely find more about the 2011 election and science policy.)

Now for a very different way of looking at the party platforms, a visual representation of them using wordle. Thanks to Michael Gerskup at Skeptic North for taking the time to create these visualizations of the Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green, and Bloc Québécois platforms by feeding the text into Wordle. Here’s the 2011 platform visualization for the Conservative party,

Conservative Party Platform for Canada 2011 election (Michael Gerskup/Skeptic North, April 11, 2011 posting)

I don’t see any science in this one or in the others, for that matter. You can find the rest of the visualizations here.

As for what I discovered while working with Adrian on the broadcast, there’s an absence in all of the platforms: emerging technologies. (It seems strange that I missed it initially given my area of interest but I did.) Do any of the candidates (and, for some, future members of parliament) in these political parties have any sense of changes that may be needed in policies and regulations as products of emerging technologies hit the marketplace? What will the social impact be? Will these changes affect education? etc., etc., etc.

I’m not suggesting that any of parties should have a full plan just that there be awareness of emerging technologies. There is awareness in other countries.

#SciLxn41; Peer Review Radio’s end of season broadcast on April 26, 2011

Tomorrow, April 26, 2011, at 9 am PST (12 noon EST) Peer Review Radio will be broadcasting its last show of the season (scroll down and over to the right for your choice of listening to it live or, later, as a podcast), a programme on science policy in the 2011 Canadian Federal Election.

Adrian J. Ebsary is producing and hosting the show, which will feature interviews with me, Marie-Claire Shanahan, science education professor at the University of Alberta and blogger at Boundary Vision, amongst others discussing science policy, science education, and more as they relate to the platforms of the Bloc Québécois, Conservative, Green, Liberal, and NDP federal parties in this 2011 election season.

Unfortunately, we were not able to get candidates from each of the federal parties to talk to us about their party’s 2011 election platform and science policy. Two candidates did agree to discuss it but due to CRTC rules, all the parties must be given equal broadcast time, so Adrian is not able to include them in the broadcast. Consequently, interviews with Scott Bradley, Liberal party candidate running in Ottawa Centre, and Emma Hobgin, Green party candidate in Owen Sound and the party’s shadow Science Minister, will be distributed after the programme has aired via Youtube. That’s the current plan, if anything changes, I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there’s an April 24, 2011 article in the Times-Colonist (a Victoria, BC newspaper) by Postmedia News reporter, Mike De Souza about Australian scientist Tim Flannery’s bafflement over the lack of discussion about science issues such as the environment and climate change in the federal election campaigns. From the article,

A best-selling Australian author who is known as the “rock star” of modern science is baffled to see Canada’s election campaign side-stepping around climate change and environmental issues.

In an interview with Postmedia News, Tim Flannery, recently appointed as chief commisioner of the Australian government’s climate commission, says the environment is one of the top issues everywhere he travels.

But after arriving in North America earlier this month to promote his new book, Here on Earth, he noted from the recent federal leaders debates that Canada’s political climate was different than what he saw during a visit three years ago.

“I watched (the debates) with great interest but I was mystified to see that the environment just didn’t rank at all,” said Flannery, who leads the commission that engages the Australian public in discussions about climate change.

Baba Brinkman launches his new Lit Fuse record label website and a Vancouver debut performance of his Chaucer/Gilgamesh/Beowulf adaptation

Tonight, April 25, 2011, you can attend the launch of Baba Brinkman’s (Vancouver-based rapper) new record label website, Lit Fuse Records, from the Home page,

Explosively intelligent music. Explosively contagious music.

Founded by Baba Brinkman in 2007, Lit Fuse Records is currently home to five solo acts or groups, and has released a dozen albums and counting. Our songs have appeared in feature films and on US Network television, and our artists tour the world and make music with a social impact.

The poster for the event at Baba’s blog, states that the launch will feature Baba Brinkman, Smoky Tiger, and Aaron Nazrul & the Boom Booms. It also states that the doors open at 8 pm ($5 at the door) with a music performance at 9 m at the Library Square Pub, 300 West Georgia (Vancouver, Canada). However, I also checked the Library Square Pub’s website and if you click on the event poster there, the times are listed as 10 pm to 2 am ($5 at the door).

Baba’s second Vancouver event is on Thursday, May 5, 2011, 9:30 pm ($10 at the door) at the Rio Theatre (1660 East Broadway). It’s a performance of Rapconteur, his Chaucer/Gilgamesh/Beowulf adaptation (scroll down the page to find the event poster).

Catch him before he leaves for the UK and the May 25, 2011 launch of his Rap Guide to Evolution DVD at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square (London) and an Off-Broadway run starting June 17, 2011 at the Soho Playhouse for live performances of his Rap Guide to Evolution. Baba has other events on his schedule as well, including TED East and the Science Festival in New York. It could be a long time before he’s back in Vancouver.

Beyond eating Easter creme eggs, University of Nottingham chemists show the way

The University of Nottingham’s Chemistry Department has produced a video titled, Chemistry of Creme Eggs. It’s part of a series, Periodic Table of Videos, that they’ve produced. From the Home page,

Tables charting the chemical elements have been around since the 19th century – but this modern version has a short video about each one.

We’ve done all 118 – but our job’s not finished. Now we’re updating all the videos with new stories, better samples and bigger experiments.

Plus we’re making films about other areas of chemistry, latest news and occasional adventures away from the lab.

We’ve also started a new series – The Molecular Videos – featuring our favourite molecules and compounds.

All these videos are created by video journalist Brady Haran, featuring real working chemists from the University of Notttingham.

I gather the video about the creme eggs is one of their forays into areas of chemistry that lie beyond the periodic table of elements. Here’s the video (Note: Keep an eye out for a scientist with a head of hair that make’s Einstein’s look restrained.),

Happy Easter!

(Thanks to Grrl Scientist’s April 20, 2011 blog posting where I first saw the creme egg experiments. There is another video, featuring physics experiments and crreme eggs, in her posting.)

US NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety) nano consultation mystery

I am mystified by the NIOSH public consultation on its nanotechnology strategic plan (Approaches to Safe Nanotechnology; Managing the Health and Safety Concerns Associated with Engineered Nanomaterials).

Here are the clues in the order in which I found them:

(a) An April 14, 2011 posting on (Apparently these people are lawyers so my attempt to cut and paste the first paragraph of their posting resulted in a notice that I don’t have permission. I gather the text these lawyers have provided about the announcement and NIOSH’s history regarding its nanotechnology plans is considered proprietary. Accordingly, I’ve removed the paragraph and, in an excess of caution, I have removed the link I would have provided to their site. I trust it’s acceptable to refer to the website by name.) According to this posting, NIOSH announced their nanotechnology public consultation on March 7, 2011. (Note: This consultation is separate from the NIOSH consultation on carbon nanotubes and nanofibers mentioned in my Dec. 9, 2010 posting.)

(b) It took me a while to get to the notice as I had to click down a couple levels into the NIOSH site to find the March 7, 2011 notice of the public consultation on the US Federal Register. From the notice,

SUMMARY: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seeks comment on the types of hazard identification and risk management research that should be considered for updating the NIOSH 2009 nanotechnology strategic plan.
Public Comment Period: Comments must be received by April 15, 2011.

It seems like a relatively short period to allow for responses but, more puzzlingly, the notice doesn’t seem to have been well publicized. I can’t find mention of it on the Nanowerk website (my usual source for this kind of thing), the University of Michigan’s Risk Science Blog, or on Andrew Maynard’s 2020 Science Blog. (Note: Andrew is also involved with the Risk Science Blog but he is not its sole author.)

(c) I found the public consultation docket about what is now referred to as the NRTC Strategic Plan on the NIOSH website and, as they promise, the responses to the consultation are available for viewing. All two of them, that is.