Monthly Archives: August 2020

Workshop programme announced for ISEA (International Symposium on Electronic Arts) 2020: Why Sentience?

From an August 28, 2020 ISEA 2020 notice (received via email),


Montreal, August 28 — Montreal Digital Spring (Printemps numérique) unveils the workshop programme for ISEA‘s 26th edition, featuring a range of exciting workshops happening on October 17th and 18th. Facilitated by practitioners, artists and researchers who will focus on the themes and techniques related to their practices and expertise, the workshops will adopt hands-on approaches, experimentations, and discussions on themes raging from data gloves, to artificial intelligence, and bacterial growth.


Part1. October 17 – 8:00am – 3:00pm
Part2. October 18 – 8:00am – 10:00am

This workshop offers a unique blend of sensor systems lab exercises from neuroscience, media arts and design to context ideas. Participants must apply in pairs to physically work together on their sensory perception projects. The pairs will meet virtually with the other workshop members to facilitate and attend presentations, and compare results.

With Jill Scott and Marille Hahne


Part1. October 17 – 8:30am – 4:30pm
Part2. October 18 – 8:30am – 4:30pm 

In this workshop, participants will manufacture their very own pair of “Data Gloves,” economic and open-source alternatives for advanced and detailed interaction of VR environments. Participants will have access to all the designs and codes necessary to operate the “Data Gloves” and will be taught how they are built.

With Hugo Vargas


October 17 – 9:00am – 12:00pm

This workshop looks at the relationship between machine subjectivity and human subjectivity expressed temporally through artistic media, and features a series of short presentations, experiments and discussions.

With Alexandre Saunier, David Howes, Christopher Salter, and Joseph Thibodeau.


Part 1. October 17 – 9:30am – 12:00pm
Part 2. October 18 – 1:00pm – 2:30pm

This workshop focuses on data and representation, and will present a step-by-step approach to identify significant patterns in datasets and to explore innovative methods to make insights visible and tangible. Water will be the central theme for this edition.

With Andrea Sosa, Everardo Reyes, and Homero Pellicer.


October 17 – 10:00am – 3:00pm

This workshop traces the edges and boundaries of the preservation of both analogue and digital networked art practice. Participants will collectively identify questions addressing digital preservation (including ‘preventative conservation’ and record-keeping) and work in groups to develop novel approaches, leading towards a greater understanding of the networked conservation concerns of a diverse range of work.

With Roddy Hunter and Sarah Cook. Joined by guest practitioners.


October 17 – 10:30am – 2:30pm

The city operates on different scales: bikes, people, houses on street level; traffic and communities on neighbourhood level; infrastructure on the city level. This workshop playfully investigates transformations and frictions that occur when instruments that help to make sense of higher scale phenomena are introduced.

With Viktor Bedö and Ida Toft.


Round#1. October 17 – 11:00am – 1:00pm / Round#2. October 18 – 11:00am – 1:00pm

The workshop is aimed at participants looking for a middle-ground approach towards online life. We offer a toolkit to those who wish to neither disconnect nor let habit-forming technologies run their lives. We believe we can “deprogram” these technologies in a way that empowers us.

with Carmel Barnea Brezner Jonas and Gabriel S Moses


October 17 – 11:30am – 1:00pm

This workshop invites participants to take creative leaps through experimentation in telematic, embodied learning to break outside the box of traditional pedagogy and electronic art, because extraordinary times and complex problems call for extraordinary vision and groundbreaking solutions.

With Diana Ayton-Shenker and Xin Wei Sha


October 17 – 1:00pm – 3:30pm

This is a hands-on participatory tutorial, where you will create deep-fake videos using your own materials, and play with various options of becoming an online avatar.

With Eyal Gruss


October 17 – 1:30pm – 4:00pm

This workshop will allow participants to experience the cutaneous microbiome (micro-organisms that live on and in our skin) in a haptic -visual/olfactive- and intellectual reflection about our ubiquitous relationships of hate/love with this part of ourselves.

With Nathalie Dubois Calero


October 17 – 2:30pm – 4:30pm

This workshop looks at how knowledge is shared through gestures and feelings by family members. It is informed by an ongoing project that collects recipes from Canadian immigrants and refugees, each touching on acknowledgment and formation of transnational identities within North America.

With Immony Mèn and Patricio Dávil


October 18 – 3:00pm – 7:00pm

This half-day workshop extends empirical methods and engages a broader arts and machine learning community to collaboratively define quantitative metrics assessing the creativity of algorithms and machines. This workshop is a first attempt to establish evaluation metrics for the area of creative AI.

With Eunsu Kang, Jean Oh, and Robert Twomey.

Should you be considering the purchase of a pass (from the August 28, 2020 notice),

Important :
These workshops are only available to holders of an ISEA2020 FULL Pass

is available only until September 1


The ISEA 2020 hosts, Printemps numérique (Montreal Digital Spring) have included some information about their own upcoming programmes (from the Aug. 28, 2020 ISEA 2020 notice),

Major events of Printemps numérique


You can find out more about ISEA 2020: Why Sentience? here.

Arc’teryx performance apparel and University of British Columbia (Canada) scientists stay green and dry

As rainy season approaches in the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US, there’s some good news about a sustainable water- and oil-repellent fabric. Sadly, it won’t be available this year but it’s something to look forward to.

An August 10, 2020 news item on announces the news from the University of British Columbia (UBC) about a greener, water-repellent fabric,

A sustainable, non-toxic and high-performance water-repellent fabric has long been the holy grail of outdoor enthusiasts and clothing companies alike. New research from UBC Okanagan and outdoor apparel giant Arc’teryx is making that goal one step closer to reality with one of the world’s first non-toxic oil and water-repellent performance textile finishes.

An August 10, 2020 UBC Okanagan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Outdoor fabrics are typically treated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) to repel oil and water. But according to Sadaf Shabanian, doctoral student at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering and study lead author, PFCs come with a number of problems.

“PFCs have long been the standard for stain repellents, from clothing to non-stick frying pans, but we know these chemicals have a detrimental impact on human health and the environment,” explains Shabanian. “They pose a persistent, long-term risk to health and the environment because they take hundreds of years to breakdown and linger both in the environment and our bodies.”

According to Mary Glasper, materials developer at Arc’teryx and collaborator on the project, these lasting impacts are one of the major motivations for clothing companies to seek out new methods to achieve the same or better repellent properties in their products.

To solve the problem, Shabanian and the research team added a nanoscopic layer of silicone to each fibre in a woven fabric, creating an oil-repellent jacket fabric that repels water, sweat and oils.

By understanding how the textile weave and fibre roughness affect the liquid interactions, Shabanian says she was able to design a fabric finish that did not use any PFCs.

“The best part of the new design is that the fabric finish can be made from biodegradable materials and can be recyclable,” she says. “It addresses many of the issues related to PFC-based repellent products and remains highly suitable for the kind of technical apparel consumers and manufacturers are looking for.”

Arc’teryx is excited about the potential of this solution.

“An oil- and water-repellent finish that doesn’t rely on PFCs is enormously important in the world of textiles and is something the whole outdoor apparel industry has been working on for years,” says Glasper. “Now that we have a proof-of-concept, we’ll look to expand its application to other DWR-treated textiles used in our products and to improve the durability of the treatment.”

“Working to lessen material impacts on the environment is crucial for Arc’teryx to meet our goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 65 per cent in intensity by 2030,” she adds.

Kevin Golovin, principal investigator of the Okanagan Polymer Engineering Research & Applications Lab where the research was done, says the new research is important because it opens up a new area of green textile manufacturing.

He explains that while the new technology has immense potential, there are still several more years of development and testing needed before people will see fabrics with this treatment in stores.

“Demonstrating oil repellency without the use of PFCs is a critical first step towards a truly sustainable fabric finish,” says Golovin. “And it’s something previously thought impossible.”

The research is funded through a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), with support from Arc’teryx Equipment Inc.

Arc’teryx is based in North Vancouver (Canada).

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

Rational design of perfluorocarbon-free oleophobic textiles by Sadaf Shabanian, Behrooz Khatir, Ambreen Nisar & Kevin Golovin. Nature Sustainability (2020) DOI: Published: 10 August 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Ingenium increases Canada’s Museum of Science and Technology’s virtual outreach?

Something hopeful was in my email box this morning (August 27, 2020), it’s a survey from Ingenium, the portmanteau for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Have you ever asked yourself how the Canada Science and Technology Museum might improve its outreach to those of us outside Ottawa and the southern regions of Ontario and Québec? (To be fair, they do have an online presence with some activities and information.)

Well, it seems that now COVID-19 has constrained their attendance numbers, the folks at the museum are looking at livestreaming some of their Curiosity on Stage presentations and making them available for viewing afterwards.

The survey I saw this morning (August 27, 2020) is designed to gauge interest. Here’s more from the August 26, 2020 Ingenium notice,

Calling all museum lovers!

Would you have 3 minutes to help the Canada Science and Technology Museum develop activities, events, and experiences for young and old? You just need to complete a short set of questions in our online survey conducted with Quorus Consulting.

To complete this short survey please click on the following link (if the link is inactive, please copy and paste the URL into your browser to access the survey): Take the Survey

Please complete your survey by August 30, 2020.  

If you have any technical difficulties with the survey, please contact the team at Quorus at If you would like to contact someone at Ingenium regarding this study, you can reach Lisa Leblanc by email at:

We appreciate your assistance.  


Christina Tessier
President and CEO of Ingenium

P.S. As a reminder, your participation is voluntary. All your answers will remain completely confidential and anonymous; no individual respondents will be identified as part of the analysis and, in accordance with the Privacy Act, no one will contact you as a result of your answers to this survey without your express consent


Appel aux amateurs de musées!

Auriez-vous trois minutes pour aider le Musée des sciences et de la technologie du Canada à développer des activités, des événements et des expériences pour petits et grands? Vous n’aurez qu’à répondre aux quelques questions de notre sondage en ligne réalisé conjointement avec le groupe-conseil Quorus.

Pour remplir ce court sondage, veuillez cliquer sur le lien suivant (si le lien est inactif, veuillez copier et coller l’URL dans votre navigateur pour accéder au sondage): Participer à l’enquête

Veuillez remplir le sondage d’ici le 30 août 2020

Si vous éprouvez des difficultés techniques avec le sondage, veuillez communiquer avec l’équipe de Quorus à Si vous souhaitez parler à quelqu’un chez Ingenium concernant cette étude, vous pouvez communiquer avec Lisa Leblanc par courriel à

Votre aide nous est précieuse


Christina Tessier
Présidente et chef de la direction d’Ingenium

P.S. Nous souhaitons vous rappeler que, votre participation se fait sur une base volontaire. Vos réponses seront entièrement confidentielles et anonymes. Aucune personne interrogée ne sera identifiée dans le cadre de l’analyse et, conformément à la Loi sur la protection des renseignements personnels, personne ne communiquera avec vous à la suite de ce sondage, et ce, sans votre consentement explicite

For anyone not familiar with ‘Curiosity on Stage’, here’s a description of a couple of the presentations and what they’re hoping to do (from the survey, which really did take me about 3 minutes),

email survey

During the 2019-2020 season, the Canada Science and Technology Museum hosted Curiosity on Stage, live evenings of talks and discussions with scientific leaders from private industry, academia and government. Topics were aimed at the future of innovation in science and technology and its applications for building a better society. 

Titles of previous events include:

  • “Can Artificial Intelligence Tackle Climate Change: exploring the potential of AI to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help Canada lead in the clean tech economy”, and
  • “When Your City is Smarter than You: exploring the future of cities in an increasingly algorithmic world”.

Given the challenges of hosting live events during COVID-19, Curiosity on Stage will have a different format this fall, as follows:

  • Digital instead of in-person discussions hosted through an online platform (i.e. YouTube, Zoom, or Crowdcast).
  • Available to anyone at no cost.
  • Recordings of the lectures available to those who cannot attend the virtual events live.
  • Fully bilingual through simultaneous translation.
  • Those who watch the event “live” will have the opportunity to ask questions to the experts through a live chat box and comments section.

Hopefully you can use this link,, Take the Survey or this one, Participer à l’enquête.

BTW, I wasn’t sure how to answer the question later in the survey about what time of day I would like to watch a livestream. Whoever designed the survey doesn’t seem to have taken timezones into account. I answered from the perspective of someone on the West Coast.

Improving neuromorphic devices with ion conducting polymer

A July 1, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces work which researchers are hopeful will allow them exert more control over neuromorphic devices’ speed of response,

“Neuromorphic” refers to mimicking the behavior of brain neural cells. When one speaks of neuromorphic computers, they are talking about making computers think and process more like human brains-operating at high-speed with low energy consumption.

Despite a growing interest in polymer-based neuromorphic devices, researchers have yet to establish an effective method for controlling the response speed of devices. Researchers from Tohoku University and the University of Cambridge, however, have overcome this obstacle through mixing the polymers PSS-Na and PEDOT:PSS, discovering that adding an ion conducting polymer enhances neuromorphic device response time.

A June 24, 2020 Tohoku University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides a few more technical details,

Polymers are materials composed of long molecular chains and play a fundamental aspect in modern life from the rubber in tires, to water bottles, to polystyrene. Mixing polymers together results in the creation of new materials with their own distinct physical properties.

Most studies on neuromorphic devices based on polymer focus exclusively on the application of PEDOT: PSS, a mixed conductor that transports both electrons and ions. PSS-Na, on the other hand, transports ions only. By blending these two polymers, the researchers could enhance the ion diffusivity in the active layer of the device. Their measurements confirmed an increase in device response time, achieving a 5-time shorting at maximum. The results also proved how closely related response time is to the diffusivity of ions in the active layer.

“Our study paves the way for a deeper understanding behind the science of conducting polymers.” explains co-author Shunsuke Yamamoto from the Department of Biomolecular Engineering at Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Engineering. “Moving forward, it may be possible to create artificial neural networks composed of multiple neuromorphic devices,” he adds.

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

Controlling the Neuromorphic Behavior of Organic Electrochemical Transistors by Blending Mixed and Ion Conductors by Shunsuke Yamamoto and George G. Malliaras. ACS [American Chemical Society] Appl. Electron. Mater. 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: Publication Date:June 15, 2020 Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Wormlike communication at the nanoscale

These days I need a little joy and these two researchers seem happy to share,

Prof. Dirk Grundler and doctoral assistant Sho Watanabe with a broadband spin-wave spectroscopy set up. Credit: EPFL / Alain Herzog

A July 15, 2020 news item on announces the development that so delights these researchers,

Researchers at EPFL [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne; Switzerland] have shown that electromagnetic waves coupled to precisely engineered structures known as artificial ferromagnetic quasicrystals allow for more efficient information transmission and processing at the nanoscale. Their research also represents the first practical demonstration of Conway worms, a theoretical concept for the description of quasicrystals.

A July 15, 2020 EPFL press release, which originated the news item, explains further,

High-frequency electromagnetic waves are used to transmit and process information in microelectronic devices such as smartphones. It’s already appreciated that these waves can be compressed using magnetic oscillations known as spin waves or magnons. This compression could pave the way for the design of nanoscale, multifunctional microwave devices with a considerably reduced footprint. But first, scientists need to gain a better understanding of spin waves – or precisely how magnons behave and propagate in different structures.

Learning more about aperiodic structures

In a study conducted by the doctoral assistant Sho Watanabe, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Vinayak Bhat, and further team members, the scientists from EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Magnetic Materials and Magnonics (LMGN) examined how electromagnetic waves propagate, and how they could be manipulated, in precisely engineered nanostructures known as artificial ferromagnetic quasicrystals. The quasicrystals have a unique property: their structure is aperiodic, meaning that their constituent atoms or tailor-made elements do not follow a regular, repeating pattern but are still arranged deterministically. Although this characteristic makes materials especially useful for the design of everyday and high-tech devices, it remains poorly understood.

Faster, easier transmission of information

The LMGN team found that, under controlled conditions, a single electromagnetic wave coupled to an artificial quasicrystal splits into several spin waves, which then propagate within the structure. Each of these spin waves represents a different phase of the original electromagnetic wave, carrying different information. “It’s a very interesting discovery, because existing information-transmission methods follow the same principle,” says Dirk Grundler, an associate professor at EPFL’s School of Engineering (STI). “Except you need an extra device, a multiplexer, to split the input signal because – unlike in our study – it doesn’t divide on its own.”

Grundler also explains that, in conventional systems, the information contained in each wave can only be read at different frequencies – another inconvenience that the EPFL team overcame in their study. “In our two-dimensional quasicrystals, all the waves can be read at the same frequency,” he adds. The findings have been published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Waves that spread like worms

The researchers also observed that, rather than propagating randomly, the waves often moved like so-called Conway worms, named after a well-known mathematician John Horton Conway who also developed a model to describe the behavior and feeding patterns of prehistoric worms. Conway discovered that, within two-dimensional quasicrystals, constituent elements arrange like meandering worms following a Fibonacci sequence. Thereby they form selected one-dimensional quasicrystals. “Our study represents the first practical demonstration of this theoretical concept, proving that the sequences induce interesting functional properties of waves in a quasicrystal,” says Grundler.

Take a look at that last paragraph. A mathematician develops a model for how prehistoric worms may have moved and applies it, theoretically, to 2D quasicrystals which these researchers believe they’ve observed in the laboratory and they believe this may have an impact on our future electronic devices. Sometimes I sit at home in wonder.

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

Direct Observation of Worm‐Like Nanochannels and Emergent Magnon Motifs in Artificial Ferromagnetic Quasicrystals by Sho Watanabe, Vinayak S. Bhat, Korbinian Baumgaert, Dirk Grundler. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: First published: 15 July 2020

This is an open access paper.

The mention of quasicrystals reminded me of Daniel Schechtman who received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2011 and who was mentioned in a December 24, 2013 posting here,

“I suggested earlier that this achievement has a fabulous quality and the Daniel Schechtman backstory is the reason. The winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, Schechtman was reviled for years [emphasis mine] within his scientific community as Ian Sample notes in his Oct. 5, 2011 article on the announcement of Schechtman’s Nobel win written for the Guardian newspaper (Note: A link has been removed),

A scientist whose work was so controversial he was ridiculed and asked to leave his research group has won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Daniel Shechtman, 70, a researcher at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, received the award for discovering seemingly impossible crystal structures in frozen gobbets of metal that resembled the beautiful patterns seen in Islamic mosaics.

Images of the metals showed their atoms were arranged in a way that broke well-establised rules of how crystals formed, a finding that fundamentally altered how chemists view solid matter.

You may want to click on the Guardian link to the full story about Schechtman and his quasicrystals. As for my December 24, 2013 posting, that features news of the creation of the first single-element quasicrystal in a laboratory along with an excerpt of the Schechtman story (scroll down about 50% of the way).

“The earth is mostly made of cubes,” said Plato in 5th Century BCE. Turns out, he was right!

Theories from mathematics, physics, and geology have been used to demonstrate that the earth’s basic shape is, roughly speaking, a cube. From a July 20, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily,

Plato, the Greek philosopher who lived in the 5th century B.C.E. [before the common era], believed that the universe was made of five types of matter: earth, air, fire, water, and cosmos. Each was described with a particular geometry, a platonic shape. For earth, that shape was the cube.

Science has steadily moved beyond Plato’s conjectures, looking instead to the atom as the building block of the universe. Yet Plato seems to have been onto something, researchers have found.

In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], a team from the University of Pennsylvania, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, and University of Debrecen [Hungary] uses math, geology, and physics to demonstrate that the average shape of rocks on Earth is a cube.

A July 17, 2020 University of Pennsylvania news release (also on EurekAlert but dated July 20, 2020), which originated the news item, goes on to describe the work as “mind-blowing,”

“Plato is widely recognized as the first person to develop the concept of an atom [Maybe not, scroll down to find the subhead “Leucippus and Democritus”], the idea that matter is composed of some indivisible component at the smallest scale,” says Douglas Jerolmack, a geophysicist in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences’ Department of Earth and Environmental Science and the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. “But that understanding was only conceptual; nothing about our modern understanding of atoms derives from what Plato told us.

“The interesting thing here is that what we find with rock, or earth, is that there is more than a conceptual lineage back to Plato. It turns out that Plato’s conception about the element earth being made up of cubes is, literally, the statistical average model for real earth. And that is just mind-blowing.”

The group’s finding began with geometric models developed by mathematician Gábor Domokos of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, whose work predicted that natural rocks would fragment into cubic shapes.

“This paper is the result of three years of serious thinking and work, but it comes back to one core idea,” says Domokos. “If you take a three-dimensional polyhedral shape, slice it randomly into two fragments and then slice these fragments again and again, you get a vast number of different polyhedral shapes. But in an average sense, the resulting shape of the fragments is a cube.”

Domokos pulled two Hungarian theoretical physicists into the loop: Ferenc Kun, an expert on fragmentation, and János Török, an expert on statistical and computational models. After discussing the potential of the discovery, Jerolmack says, the Hungarian researchers took their finding to Jerolmack to work together on the geophysical questions; in other words, “How does nature let this happen?”

“When we took this to Doug, he said, ‘This is either a mistake, or this is big,'” Domokos recalls. “We worked backward to understand the physics that results in these shapes.”

Fundamentally, the question they answered is what shapes are created when rocks break into pieces. Remarkably, they found that the core mathematical conjecture unites geological processes not only on Earth but around the solar system as well.

“Fragmentation is this ubiquitous process that is grinding down planetary materials,” Jerolmack says. “The solar system is littered with ice and rocks that are ceaselessly smashing apart. This work gives us a signature of that process that we’ve never seen before.”

Part of this understanding is that the components that break out of a formerly solid object must fit together without any gaps, like a dropped dish on the verge of breaking. As it turns out, the only one of the so-called platonic forms–polyhedra with sides of equal length–that fit together without gaps are cubes.

“One thing we’ve speculated in our group is that, quite possibly Plato looked at a rock outcrop and after processing or analyzing the image subconsciously in his mind, he conjectured that the average shape is something like a cube,” Jerolmack says.

“Plato was very sensitive to geometry,” Domokos adds. According to lore, the phrase “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter” was engraved at the door to Plato’s Academy. “His intuitions, backed by his broad thinking about science, may have led him to this idea about cubes,” says Domokos.

To test whether their mathematical models held true in nature, the team measured a wide variety of rocks, hundreds that they collected and thousands more from previously collected datasets. No matter whether the rocks had naturally weathered from a large outcropping or been dynamited out by humans, the team found a good fit to the cubic average.

However, special rock formations exist that appear to break the cubic “rule.” The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, with its soaring vertical columns, is one example, formed by the unusual process of cooling basalt. These formations, though rare, are still encompassed by the team’s mathematical conception of fragmentation; they are just explained by out-of-the-ordinary processes at work.

“The world is a messy place,” says Jerolmack. “Nine times out of 10, if a rock gets pulled apart or squeezed or sheared–and usually these forces are happening together–you end up with fragments which are, on average, cubic shapes. It’s only if you have a very special stress condition that you get something else. The earth just doesn’t do this often.”

The researchers also explored fragmentation in two dimensions, or on thin surfaces that function as two-dimensional shapes, with a depth that is significantly smaller than the width and length. There, the fracture patterns are different, though the central concept of splitting polygons and arriving at predictable average shapes still holds.

“It turns out in two dimensions you’re about equally likely to get either a rectangle or a hexagon in nature,” Jerolmack says. “They’re not true hexagons, but they’re the statistical equivalent in a geometric sense. You can think of it like paint cracking; a force is acting to pull the paint apart equally from different sides, creating a hexagonal shape when it cracks.”

In nature, examples of these two-dimensional fracture patterns can be found in ice sheets, drying mud, or even the earth’s crust, the depth of which is far outstripped by its lateral extent, allowing it to function as a de facto two-dimensional material. It was previously known that the earth’s crust fractured in this way, but the group’s observations support the idea that the fragmentation pattern results from plate tectonics.

Identifying these patterns in rock may help in predicting phenomenon such as rock fall hazards or the likelihood and location of fluid flows, such as oil or water, in rocks.

For the researchers, finding what appears to be a fundamental rule of nature emerging from millennia-old insights has been an intense but satisfying experience.

“There are a lot of sand grains, pebbles, and asteroids out there, and all of them evolve by chipping in a universal manner,” says Domokos, who is also co-inventor of the Gömböc, the first known convex shape with the minimal number–just two–of static balance points. Chipping by collisions gradually eliminates balance points, but shapes stop short of becoming a Gömböc; the latter appears as an unattainable end point of this natural process.

The current result shows that the starting point may be a similarly iconic geometric shape: the cube with its 26 balance points. “The fact that pure geometry provides these brackets for a ubiquitous natural process, gives me happiness,” he says.

“When you pick up a rock in nature, it’s not a perfect cube, but each one is a kind of statistical shadow of a cube,” adds Jerolmack. “It calls to mind Plato’s allegory of the cave. He posited an idealized form that was essential for understanding the universe, but all we see are distorted shadows of that perfect form.”

The human capacity for imagination, in this case linking ideas about geometry and mathematics from the 5th Century BCE to modern physics and geology and to the solar system, astounds and astonishes me. As for Jerolmack’s comment that Plato (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was the first to develop the concept of an atom, not everyone agrees.

Leucippus and Democritus

It may not ever be possible to determine who was the first to theorize/philosophize about atoms but there is relatively general agreement that Leucippus (5th cent.BCE) and his successor, Democritus (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) were among the first. Here’s more about Ancient Atomism and its origins from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy,

Leucippus (5th c. BCE) is the earliest figure whose commitment to atomism is well attested. He is usually credited with inventing atomism. According to a passing remark by the geographer Strabo, Posidonius (1st c. BCE Stoic philosopher) reported that ancient Greek atomism can be traced back to a figure known as Moschus or Mochus of Sidon, who lived at the time of the Trojan wars. This report was given credence in the seventeenth century: the Cambridge Platonist Henry More traced the origins of ancient atomism back, via Pythagoras and Moschus, to Moses. This theologically motivated view does not seem to claim much historical evidence, however.

Leucippus and Democritus are widely regarded as the first atomists [emphasis mine] in the Greek tradition. Little is known about Leucippus, while the ideas of his student Democritus—who is said to have taken over and systematized his teacher’s theory—are known from a large number of reports. These ancient atomists theorized that the two fundamental and oppositely characterized constituents of the natural world are indivisible bodies—atoms—and void. The latter is described simply as nothing, or the negation of body. Atoms are by their nature intrinsically unchangeable; they can only move about in the void and combine into different clusters. Since the atoms are separated by void, they cannot fuse, but must rather bounce off one another when they collide. Because all macroscopic objects are in fact combinations of atoms, everything in the macroscopic world is subject to change, as their constituent atoms shift or move away. Thus, while the atoms themselves persist through all time, everything in the world of our experience is transitory and subject to dissolution.

Although the Greek term atomos is most commonly associated with the philosophical system developed by Leucippus and Democritus, involving solid and impenetrable bodies, Plato’s [emphasis mine] Timaeus presents a different kind of physical theory based on indivisibles. The dialogue elaborates an account of the world wherein the four different basic kinds of matter—earth, air, fire, and water—are regular solids composed from plane figures: isoceles and scalene right-angled triangles. Because the same triangles can form into different regular solids, the theory thus explains how some of the elements can transform into one another, as was widely believed.

As you can see from the excerpt, they are guessing as to the source for atomism and thee are different kinds of atomism and Plato staked his own atomistic territory.

The paper

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper followed by a statement of significance and the paper’s abstract,

Plato’s cube and the natural geometry of fragmentation by Gábor Domokos, Douglas J. Jerolmack, Ferenc Kun, and János Török. PNAS DOI: First published July 17, 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Now for the Significance and the Abstract,

We live on and among the by-products of fragmentation, from nanoparticles to rock falls to glaciers to continents. Understanding and taming fragmentation is central to assessing natural hazards and extracting resources, and even for landing probes safely on other planetary bodies. In this study, we draw inspiration from an unlikely and ancient source: Plato, who proposed that the element Earth is made of cubes because they may be tightly packed together. We demonstrate that this idea is essentially correct: Appropriately averaged properties of most natural 3D fragments reproduce the topological cube. We use mechanical and geometric models to explain the ubiquity of Plato’s cube in fragmentation and to uniquely map distinct fragment patterns to their formative stress conditions.

Plato envisioned Earth’s building blocks as cubes, a shape rarely found in nature. The solar system is littered, however, with distorted polyhedra—shards of rock and ice produced by ubiquitous fragmentation. We apply the theory of convex mosaics to show that the average geometry of natural two-dimensional (2D) fragments, from mud cracks to Earth’s tectonic plates, has two attractors: “Platonic” quadrangles and “Voronoi” hexagons. In three dimensions (3D), the Platonic attractor is dominant: Remarkably, the average shape of natural rock fragments is cuboid. When viewed through the lens of convex mosaics, natural fragments are indeed geometric shadows of Plato’s forms. Simulations show that generic binary breakup drives all mosaics toward the Platonic attractor, explaining the ubiquity of cuboid averages. Deviations from binary fracture produce more exotic patterns that are genetically linked to the formative stress field. We compute the universal pattern generator establishing this link, for 2D and 3D fragmentation.

Fascinating, eh?

Converting carbon dioxide into fuel with blinking nanocrystals

A July 16, 2020 news item on Nanowerk announces some work from Rutgers University (New Jersey, US) where carbon dioxide could one day be converted into fuel or perhaps be used in quantum computers,

Imagine tiny crystals that “blink” like fireflies and can convert carbon dioxide, a key cause of climate change, into fuels.

A Rutgers-led team has created ultra-small titanium dioxide crystals that exhibit unusual “blinking” behavior and may help to produce methane and other fuels, according to a study in the journal Angewandte Chemie (“A Blinking Mesoporous TiO2-x Composed of Nanosized Anatase with Unusually Long-Lived Trapped Charge Carriers”).

The crystals, also known as nanoparticles, stay charged for a long time and could benefit efforts to develop quantum computers.

I don’t think I have the imagination necessary for this image, which illustrates the work according to the researchers,

The arrows point to titanium dioxide nanocrystals lighting up and blinking (left) and then fading (right). Images: Tewodros Asefa and Eliska Mikmekova

A July 16, 2020 Rutgers University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the topic,

“Our findings are quite important and intriguing in a number of ways, and more research is needed to understand how these exotic crystals work and to fulfill their potential,” said senior author Tewodros (Teddy) Asefa, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick [in New Jersey]. He’s also a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering in the School of Engineering.

More than 10 million metric tons of titanium dioxide are produced annually, making it one of the most widely used materials, the study notes. It is used in sunscreens, paints, cosmetics and varnishes, for example. It’s also used in the paper and pulp, plastic, fiber, rubber, food, glass and ceramic industries.

The team of scientists and engineers discovered a new way to make extremely small titanium dioxide crystals. While it’s still unclear why the engineered crystals blink and research is ongoing, the “blinking” is believed to arise from single electrons trapped on titanium dioxide nanoparticles. At room temperature, electrons – surprisingly – stay trapped on nanoparticles for tens of seconds before escaping and then become trapped again and again in a continuous cycle.

The crystals, which blink when exposed to a beam of electrons, could be useful for environmental cleanups, sensors, electronic devices and solar cells, and the research team will further explore their capabilities.

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

A Blinking Mesoporous TiO2−x Composed of Nanosized Anatase with Unusually Long‐Lived Trapped Charge Carriers by Dr. Tao Zhang, Dr. Jingxiang Low, Prof. Jiaguo Yu, Dr. Alexei M. Tyryshkin, Dr. Eliška Mikmeková, Prof. Tewodros Asefa. Angewandte Chemie DOI: First published [online]: 22 May 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Open Call for Artwork—Ontario Science Centre Auction

The deadline is August 23, 2020 and artists get to keep up to 40% of a winning bid. As for the details, here’s more from an August 20, 2020 ArtSci Salon notice (received this morning Aug. 21, 2020 via email),

Hello ArtSci Salon,

I am working at the Ontario Science Centre and I lead their annual fundraiser. Due to COVID, we are not able to hold our traditional sit-down dinner, however we are organizing an eAuction and this year we are excited to be featuring Art in addition to some unique science themed packages.  We are pleased to be able to offer Artists up to 40% of the winning bids!

Would you consider sharing out our call for art to your SciArt community? Please visit our webpage on our event website for details about the Call for artwork and how to apply today. The deadline to apply is August 23.

I came across your artwork via the Sci-Art Gallery site and I am reaching out to a number of artists to consider participating, in addition to placing some ads (via Akimbo and and various other local art organizations).

The Science Centre is able to leverage our relationship with various media partners who provide in-kind media space (over $450,000 value of ad space!) to help us promote the eAuction. We are also investing in paid targeted social ads to promote the auction to groups who might be interested in specific packages.

Proceeds from the auction will support the Science Centre as we imagine new ways to deliver accessible and innovative science-based learning experiences and programs.

Please feel free to email me with any questions.

Shannon Persaud Tolnay
Head, Events and Donor Communications
Phone: 416-696-3123
Cell: 416-992-7127

Ontario Science Centre
770 Don Mills Road
Toronto, ON M3C 1T3

I found a few more details on the Ontario Science Centre’s Open Call for Artwork webpage,

Artist Participation Agreement (click to download and view the Agreement)

Selection Criteria Innovative connection to Science, Technology, Nature (30%), Aesthetic expression (30%), Diversity and Inclusion (20%), Ease of transport and delivery (20%).

If the Artwork is not sold, no fee will be paid to the Artist.

Employees of the Ontario Science Centre and RBC (title sponsor of the eAuction) are not permitted to submit Artwork for the eAuction, unless they agree to donate 100% of the proceeds.


Mary Jane Conboy, Chief Scientist, Ontario Science Centre

Ana Klasnja, Senior Multi Media Producer, Ontario Science Centre

Sabrina Maltese, Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art

Tash Naveau, Artist and Indigenous Arts Administrator

Shannon Persaud Tolnay, Head, Events and Donor Communications, Ontario Science Centre

Personal information is collected by the Centennial Centre for Science and Technology under the authority of section 6 of the Centennial Centre of Science and Technology Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. C.5. for the administration of the juried competition to participate in the Ontario Science Centre’s  RBC Innovators’ Online Art Exhibition and eAuction. Any questions about the collection of your personal information should be directed to

Tax receipts will not be issued to Artists for Artwork submission in the RBC Innovators’ eAuction. Should the Artist wish to donate their fee back to the Science Centre, a tax receipt can be issued for the amount of the donation.

Acknowledgment, promotion and recognition will begin early October. In advertising materials (i.e. print: Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, National Post, Restobar and digital: PATH Video walls,, VerizonMedia, etc) In targeted Social Ads: Paid Facebook / Instagram; Paid Twitter; LinkedIn posts; In donor, member and supporter eNewsletters, On RBC Innovators’ Ball event websites | POST EVENT: 2020/2021 Annual Report, Sponsor / Donor Wall for one year / Donor newsletter. 2019 in-kind media value total $470,855.

the auction runs from October 26 – November 9, 2020. Good luck!

Gold nanoparticles make a new promise: a non-invasive COVID-19 breathalyser

I believe that swab they stick up your nose to test for COVDI-19 is 10 inches long so it seems to me that discomfort or unpleasant are not the words that best describe the testing experience .

Hopefully, no one will have to find inadequate vocabulary for this new COVID-19 testing assuming that future trials are successful and they are able to put the technology into production. From an August 19, 2020 news item on Nanowerk,

Few people who have undergone nasopharyngeal swabs for coronavirus testing would describe it as a pleasant experience. The procedure involves sticking a long swab up the nose to collect a sample from the back of the nose and throat, which is then analyzed for SARS-CoV-2 RNA [ribonucleic acid] by the reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

Now, researchers reporting in [American Chemical Society] ACS Nano (“Multiplexed Nanomaterial-Based Sensor Array for Detection of COVID-19 in Exhaled Breath”) have developed a prototype device that non-invasively detected COVID-19 in the exhaled breath of infected patients.

An August 19, 2020 ACS news release (also received via email and on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more technical details,

In addition to being uncomfortable, the current gold standard for COVID-19 testing requires RT-PCR, a time-consuming laboratory procedure. Because of backlogs, obtaining a result can take several days. To reduce transmission and mortality rates, healthcare systems need quick, inexpensive and easy-to-use tests. Hossam Haick, Hu Liu, Yueyin Pan and colleagues wanted to develop a nanomaterial-based sensor that could detect COVID-19 in exhaled breath, similar to a breathalyzer test for alcohol intoxication. Previous studies have shown that viruses and the cells they infect emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be exhaled in the breath.

The researchers made an array of gold nanoparticles linked to molecules that are sensitive to various VOCs. When VOCs interact with the molecules on a nanoparticle, the electrical resistance changes. The researchers trained the sensor to detect COVID-19 by using machine learning to compare the pattern of electrical resistance signals obtained from the breath of 49 confirmed COVID-19 patients with those from 58 healthy controls and 33 non-COVID lung infection patients in Wuhan, China. Each study participant blew into the device for 2-3 seconds from a distance of 1¬-2 cm. Once machine learning identified a potential COVID-19 signature, the team tested the accuracy of the device on a subset of participants. In the test set, the device showed 76% accuracy in distinguishing COVID-19 cases from controls and 95% accuracy in discriminating COVID-19 cases from lung infections. The sensor could also distinguish, with 88% accuracy, between sick and recovered COVID-19 patients. Although the test needs to be validated in more patients, it could be useful for screening large populations to determine which individuals need further testing, the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

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

Multiplexed Nanomaterial-Based Sensor Array for Detection of COVID-19 in Exhaled Breath by Benjie Shan, Yoav Y Broza, Wenjuan Li, Yong Wang, Sihan Wu, Zhengzheng Liu, Jiong Wang, Shuyu Gui, Lin Wang, Zhihong Zhang, Wei Liu, Shoubing Zhou, Wei Jin, Qianyu Zhang, Dandan Hu, Lin Lin, Qiujun Zhang, Wenyu Li, Jinquan Wang, Hu Liu, Yueyin Pan, and Hossam Haick. ACS Nano 2020, XXXX, XXX, XXX-XXX DOI: Publication Date:August 18, 2020 Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Science fiction, interconnectedness (globality), and pandemics

Mayurika Chakravorty at Carleton University (Department of English) in Ottawa, (Ontario, Canada) points out that the latest pandemic (COVID-19) is an example of how everything is connected (interconnectedness or globality) by way of science fiction in her July 19, 2020 essay on The Conversation (h/t July 20, 2020 item on, Note: Links have been removed,

In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, a theory widely shared on social media suggested that a science fiction text, Dean Koontz’s 1981 science fiction novel, The Eyes of Darkness, had predicted the coronavirus pandemic with uncanny precision. COVID-19 has held the entire world hostage, producing a resemblance to the post-apocalyptic world depicted in many science fiction texts. Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s classic 2003 novel Oryx and Crake refers to a time when “there was a lot of dismay out there, and not enough ambulances” — a prediction of our current predicament.

However, the connection between science fiction and pandemics runs deeper. They are linked by a perception of globality, what sociologist Roland Robertson defines as “the consciousness of the world as a whole.”

Chakravorty goes on to make a compelling case (from her July 19, 2020 essay Note: Links have been removed),

In his 1992 survey of the history of telecommunications, How the World Was One, Arthur C. Clarke alludes to the famed historian Alfred Toynbee’s lecture entitled “The Unification of the World.” Delivered at the University of London in 1947, Toynbee envisions a “single planetary society” and notes how “despite all the linguistic, religious and cultural barriers that still sunder nations and divide them into yet smaller tribes, the unification of the world has passed the point of no return.”

Science fiction writers have, indeed, always embraced globality. In interplanetary texts, humans of all nations, races and genders have to come together as one people in the face of alien invasions. Facing an interplanetary encounter, bellicose nations have to reluctantly eschew political rivalries and collaborate on a global scale, as in Denis Villeneuve’s 2018 film, Arrival.

Globality is central to science fiction. To be identified as an Earthling, one has to transcend the local and the national, and sometimes, even the global, by embracing a larger planetary consciousness.

In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin conceptualizes the Ekumen, which comprises 83 habitable planets. The idea of the Ekumen was borrowed from Le Guin’s father, the noted cultural anthropologist Arthur L. Kroeber. Kroeber had, in a 1945 paper, introduced the concept (from Greek oikoumene) to represent a “historic culture aggregate.” Originally, Kroeber used oikoumene to refer to the “entire inhabited world,” as he traced back human culture to one single people. Le Guin then adopted this idea of a common origin of shared humanity in her novel.


Regarding Canada’s response to the crisis [COVID-19], researchers have noted both the immorality and futility of a nationalistic “Canada First” approach.

If you have time, I recommend reading Chakravorty’s July 19, 2020 essay in its entirety.