Monthly Archives: March 2021

Cambridge Science Festival April 2021: 30 Days of Science

First, this Cambridge is in Massachusetts, US. The US festival was started in 2007 by John Durant, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Museum (see the MIT Museum Wikipedia entry for more information).

There’s also this from the Cambridge Science Festival website About Us webpage,

The Cambridge Science Festival, the first of its kind in the United States, is a celebration showcasing the leading edge in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).  A multifaceted, multicultural event, the Festival makes science accessible, interactive and fun, highlighting the impact of STEAM in all our lives.

For the 2021 Festival, recognizing social distancing will be in place as we begin to emerge from the pandemic,  we will celebrate STEAM in our community with an overarching theme of gratitude and appreciation. During the month of April 2021, we will showcase creative digital and virtual entries from our rich STEAM community, and celebrate with public displays of appreciation and gratitude. Stay tuned and get involved!

Modeled on art, music, and movie festivals, the Cambridge Science Festival offers activities, demonstrations, workshops, tours, debates, contests, talks, and behind-the-scene glimpses to illuminate the richness of scientific inquiry and the excitement of discovery.

The 2021 festival is offering the 30 Days of Science Challenge!

This year, Cambridge Science Festival is celebrating science for the entire month of April. Join us!

Our challenge to you: 30 Days of Science.

Each day, we’ll share a simple prompt with content and events developed exclusively by the Cambridge Science Festival community. Spend a few minutes a day exploring the offerings, connecting with cool scientists, & learning new things!

Or choose your own adventure! Want to learn about a new native bird each day? Maybe perfect your daily coffee routine with science? Ready to learn about 30 exoplanets?

We want to learn with you. We’re here to keep you accountable & cheer you on. Take the pledge — share your discoveries, fun facts, & new questions with us through #30DaysofScience.

Let’s get nerdy!

I’m In

The 2021 (US) Cambridge Science Festival starting April 1 has its website here and the 2021 (UK) Cambridge Science Festival 26 March to April 4 has its here.

h/t: @ArtBioCollab (Twitter) for their tweet about the (US) Cambridge Science Festival. You can also find their website here.

Self-assembled molecular nanofibers that are stronger than steel

A January 26, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announces a promising discovery in ‘self-assembly research’ (Note: A link has been removed,

Self-assembly is ubiquitous in the natural world, serving as a route to form organized structures in every living organism. This phenomenon can be seen, for instance, when two strands of DNA — without any external prodding or guidance — join to form a double helix, or when large numbers of molecules combine to create membranes or other vital cellular structures. Everything goes to its rightful place without an unseen builder having to put all the pieces together, one at a time.

For the past couple of decades, scientists and engineers have been following nature’s lead, designing molecules that assemble themselves in water, with the goal of making nanostructures, primarily for biomedical applications such as drug delivery or tissue engineering.

“These small-molecule-based materials tend to degrade rather quickly,” explains Julia Ortony, assistant professor in [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE), “and they’re chemically unstable, too. The whole structure falls apart when you remove the water, particularly when any kind of external force is applied.”

She and her team, however, have designed a new class of small molecules that spontaneously assemble into nanoribbons with unprecedented strength, retaining their structure outside of water. The results of this multi-year effort, which could inspire a broad range of applications, were described in Nature Nanotechnology (“Self-assembly of aramid amphiphiles into ultra-stable nanoribbons and aligned nanoribbon threads”) by Ortony and coauthors.

“This seminal work — which yielded anomalous mechanical properties through highly controlled self-assembly — should have a big impact on the field,” asserts Professor Tazuko Aida, deputy director for the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science and professor of chemistry and biotechnology at the University of Tokyo, who was not involved in the research.

A January 26, 2021 MIT news release, which originated the news item, describe the work in more detail,

The material the MIT group constructed — or rather, allowed to construct itself — is modeled after a cell membrane. Its outer part is “hydrophilic,” which means it likes to be in water, whereas its inner part is “hydrophobic,” meaning it tries to avoid water. This configuration, Ortony comments, “provides a driving force for self-assembly,” as the molecules orient themselves to minimize interactions between the hydrophobic regions and water, consequently taking on a nanoscale shape.

The shape, in this case, is conferred by water, and ordinarily the whole structure would collapse when dried. But Ortony and her colleagues came up with a plan to keep that from happening. When molecules are loosely bound together, they move around quickly, analogous to a fluid; as the strength of intermolecular forces increases, motion slows and molecules assume a solid-like state. The idea, Ortony explains, “is to slow molecular motion through small modifications to the individual molecules, which can lead to a collective, and hopefully dramatic, change in the nanostructure’s properties.”

One way of slowing down molecules, notes Ty Christoff-Tempesta, a PhD student and first author of the paper, “is to have them cling to each other more strongly than in biological systems.” That can be accomplished when a dense network of strong hydrogen bonds join the molecules together. “That’s what gives a material like Kevlar — constructed of so-called ‘aramids’ — its chemical stability and strength,” states Christoff-Tempesta.

Ortony’s team incorporated that capability into their design of a molecule that has three main components: an outer portion that likes to interact with water, aramids in the middle for binding, and an inner part that has a strong aversion to water. The researchers tested dozens of molecules meeting these criteria before finding the design that led to long ribbons with nanometer-scale thickness. The authors then measured the nanoribbons’ strength and stiffness to understand the impact of including Kevlar-like interactions between molecules. They discovered that the nanoribbons were unexpectedly sturdy — stronger than steel, in fact. 

This finding led the authors to wonder if the nanoribbons could be bundled to produce stable macroscopic materials. Ortony’s group devised a strategy whereby aligned nanoribbons were pulled into long threads that could be dried and handled. Notably, Ortony’s team showed that the threads could hold 200 times their own weight and have extraordinarily high surface areas — 200 square meters per gram of material. “This high surface-to-mass ratio offers promise for miniaturizing technologies by performing more chemistry with less material,” explains Christoff-Tempesta. To this end, they have already developed nanoribbons whose surfaces are coated with molecules that can pull heavy metals, like lead or arsenic, out of contaminated water. Other efforts in the research group are aimed at using bundled nanoribbons in electronic devices and batteries.

Ortony, for her part, is still amazed that they’ve been able to achieve their original research goal of “tuning the internal state of matter to create exceptionally strong molecular nanostructures.” Things could easily have gone the other way; these materials might have proved to be disorganized, or their structures fragile, like their predecessors, only holding up in water. But, she says, “we were excited to see that our modifications to the molecular structure were indeed amplified by the collective behavior of molecules, creating nanostructures with extremely robust mechanical properties. The next step, figuring out the most important applications, will be exciting.”

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

Self-assembly of aramid amphiphiles into ultra-stable nanoribbons and aligned nanoribbon threads by Ty Christoff-Tempesta, Yukio Cho, Dae-Yoon Kim, Michela Geri, Guillaume Lamour, Andrew J. Lew, Xiaobing Zuo, William R. Lindemann & Julia H. Ortony. Nature Nanotechnology (2021) DOI: Published: 18 January 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

DEBBY FRIDAY’s LINK SICK, an audio play+, opens March 29, 2021 (online)

[downloaded from]

This is an artistic work, part of the DEBBY FRIDAY enterprise, and an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) project. Here’s the description from the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Link Sick event page,


Launching Monday, March 29, 2021 |

Set against the backdrop of an ambiguous dystopia and eternal rave, LINK SICK is a tale about the threads that bind us together.  

LINK SICK is DEBBY FRIDAY’S graduate thesis project – an audio-play written, directed and scored by the artist herself. The project is a science-fiction exploration of the connective tissue of human experience as well as an experiment in sound art; blurring the lines between theatre, radio, music, fiction, essay, and internet art. Over 42-minutes, listeners are invited to gather round, close their eyes, and open their ears; submerging straight into a strange future peppered with blink-streams, automated protests, disembodied DJs, dancefloor orgies, and only the trendiest S/S 221 G-E two-piece club skins.


DEBBY FRIDAY as Izzi/Narrator
Chino Amobi as Philo
Sam Rolfes as Dj GODLESS
Hanna Sam as ABC Inc. Announcer
Storm Greenwood as Diana Deviance
Alex Zhang Hungtai as Weaver
Allie Stephen as Numee
Soukayna as Katz
AI Voice Generated Protesters via Replica Studios

Presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Degree of Master of Fine Arts in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University.

No time is listed but I’m assuming FRIDAY is operating on PDT, so, you might want to take that into account when checking.

FRIDAY seems to favour full caps for her name and everywhere on her eponymous website (from her ABOUT page),

DEBBY FRIDAY is an experimentalist.

Born in Nigeria, raised in Montreal, and now based in Vancouver, DEBBY FRIDAY’s work spans the spectrum of the audio-visual, resisting categorizations of genre and artistic discipline. She is at once sound theorist and musician, performer and poet, filmmaker and PUNK GOD. …

Should you wish to support the artist financially, she offers merchandise.

Getting back to the play, I look forward to the auditory experience. Given how much we are expected to watch and the dominance of images, creating a piece that requires listening is an interesting choice.

Soap and water for creating 2D nanoflakes (hexagonal boron nitride [hBN] sheets)

Rice University (Texas, US) has a pretty image illustrating the process of making 2D nanoflakes,

Caption: The image displays the exfoliation of hexagonal boron nitride into atomically thin nanosheets aided by surfactants, a process refined by chemists at Rice University. Credit: Ella Maru Studio

A January 27, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announces the Rice University news,

Just a little soap helps clean up the challenging process of preparing two-dimensional hexagonal boron nitride (hBN).

Rice University chemists have found a way to get the maximum amount [number] of quality 2D hBN nanosheets from its natural bulk form by processing it with surfactant (aka soap) and water. The surfactant surrounds and stabilizes the microscopic flakes, preserving their properties.

Experiments by the lab of Rice chemist Angel Martí identified the “sweet spot” for making stable dispersions of hBN, which can be processed into very thin antibacterial films that handle temperatures up to 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit).

A brief grammatical moment: I can see where someone might view it as arguable (see second paragraph of the above excerpt) but for me ‘amount’ is for something like ‘flour’ for an ‘amount of flour’. ‘Number’ is for something like a ‘number of sheets’. The difference lies in your ability to count the items. Generally speaking, you can’t count the number of flour, therefore, it’s the amount of flour, but you can count the number of sheets. Can count these hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) sheets? If not, is what makes this arguable.

A January 27, 2021 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves into details,

The work led by Martí, alumna Ashleigh Smith McWilliams and graduate student Cecilia Martínez-Jiménez is detailed in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Applied Nano Materials.

“Boron nitride materials are interesting, particularly because they are extremely resistant to heat,” Martí said. “They are as light as graphene and carbon nanotubes, but you can put hBN in a flame and nothing happens to it.”

He said bulk hBN is cheap and easy to obtain, but processing it into microscopic building blocks has been a challenge. “The first step is to be able to exfoliate and disperse them, but research on how to do that has been scattered,” Martí said. “When we decided to set a benchmark, we found the processes that have been extremely useful for graphene and nanotubes don’t work as well for boron nitride.”

Sonicating bulk hBN in water successfully exfoliated the material and made it soluble. “That surprised us, because nanotubes or graphene just float on top,” Martí said. “The hBN dispersed throughout, though they weren’t particularly stable.

“It turned out the borders of boron nitride crystals are made of amine and nitric oxide groups and boric acid, and all of these groups are polar (with positive or negative charge),” he said. “So when you exfoliate them, the edges are full of these functional groups that really like water. That never happens with graphene.”

Experiments with nine surfactants helped them find just the right type and amount to keep 2D hBN from clumping without cutting individual flakes too much during sonication. The researchers used 1% by weight of each surfactant in water, added 20 milligrams of bulk hBN, then stirred and sonicated the mix.

Spinning the resulting solutions at low and high rates showed the greatest yield came with the surfactant known as PF88 under 100-gravity centrifugation, but the highest-quality nanosheets came from all the ionic surfactants under 8,000 g centrifugation, with the greatest stability from common ionic surfactants SDS and CTAC.

DTAB — short for dodecyltrimethylammonium bromide — under high centrifugation proved best at balancing the yield and quality of 2D hBN. The researchers also produced a transparent film from hBN nanosheets dispersed in SDS and water to demonstrate how they can be processed into useful products.

“We describe the steps you need to do to produce high-quality hBN flakes,” Martí said. “All of the steps are important, and we were able to bring to light the consequences of each one.”

Understanding the Exfoliation and Dispersion of Hexagonal Boron Nitride Nanosheets by Surfactants: Implications for Antibacterial and Thermally Resistant Coatings by Ashleigh D. Smith McWilliams, Cecilia Martínez-Jiménez, Asia Matatyaho Ya’akobi, Cedric J. Ginestra, Yeshayahu Talmon, Matteo Pasquali, and Angel A. Martí. ACS Appl. Nano Mater. 2021, 4, 1, 142–151 DOI: Publication Date: January 7, 2021 Copyright © 2021 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Inside Dogma Lab; an ArtSci Salon event on March 25, 2021

This event is taking place at 7 am PDT. Should you still be interested, here are more details from a March 17, 2021 ArtSci Salon announcement (received via email; you can also find the information on the webpage) provides descriptions of the talk and the artists after the registration and viewing information,

Benjamin Bacon & Vivian Xu –  Inside Dogma Lab – exploring new media

Thursday, March 25 [2021]

10 am EDT, 4 pm GST, 10 pm CST [ 7 am PDT]

This session will stream on Zoom and YouTube

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing
information about joining the meeting.

See more here:

Or on Facebook:


This ArtSci Salon /LASER morning event is inspired by the NewONE,
Learning without borders, a program at the University of Toronto
dedicated to interdisciplinary pedagogies and ecological learning
experiences. Art technology and science are waved together and inform
each other. The arts here are not simply used to illustrate or to
narrate, but to transmit, and make sense of complexity without falling
into given disciplinary and instrumental containers. The artistic medium
becomes simultaneously a catalyst for interrogating nature and a new
research tools able to display and communicate its complexity.

With this event, we welcome interdisciplinary artists Benjamin Bacon and
Vivian Xu.

Their transdisciplinary design lab, the Dogma Lab (, not only combines a diverse range of mediums (including software,
hardware, networked systems, online platforms, raw data, biomaterials
and living organisms), but also considers “the entanglement of
technological systems with other realities, including surveillance, sensory, bodily, environmental, and living systems. They are interested in complex hybrid networks that bridge the digital with the physical and biological realms, speculating on possible synthesized futures”.

Their research outcomes both individually and collectively have taken
the form of interfaces, wearables, toolkits, machines, musical
instruments, compositions and performances, public installations,
architectural spectacles and educational programs.

Situated in China, they have an invested interest in understanding and
participating in local design, technology and societal discourse, as
well how China as a local actor affects the dynamic of the larger global


Benjamin Bacon is an inter-disciplinary artist, designer and musician
that works at the intersection of computational design, networked
systems, data, sound, installation and mechanical sculpture. He is
currently Associate Professor of Media and Art and Director of Signature
Work at Duke Kunshan University. He is also a lifetime fellow at V2_ Lab
for the Unstable Media in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

He has exhibited or performed his work in the USA, Europe, Iran, and
China such as the National Art Museum of  China (Beijing), Gallery Ho
(NYC), Wave Gotik Treffen (Germany), Chelsea Museum (NYC), Millennium
Museum (Beijing), Plug-In Gallery (Switzerland), Beijing Design Week,
Shenzhen Bay Science Technology and Arts Festival, the  Shanghai
Symphony Hall. Most recently his mechanical life and AI sculpture PROBE
– AVERSO SPECILLO DI  DUCENDUM was collected by the UNArt Center in
Shanghai, China. [3]

Vivian Xu is a Beijing-born media artist, designer, researcher and
educator. Her work explores the boundaries  between bio and electronic
media in creating new forms of machine logic, speculative life and
sensory systems  often taking the form of objects, machines,
installations and wearable. Her work has been presented at various
institutions in China, the US, Europe and Australia.

She is an Assistant Professor of Media and Arts at Duke Kunshan
University. She has lectured, held research positions at various
institutions including Parsons New School for Design, New York
University Shanghai, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen).

This event is hosted by ArtSci Salon @ The Fields Institute for
Research in Mathematical Sciences, the NewOne @ UofT and is part of
Leonardo/ISAST LASER TALKS. LASER is a program of international
gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists
together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with
the wider public. The mission of the LASERs is to encourage contribution
to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary
dialogue and opportunities for community building to over 40 cities
around the world. To learn more about how our LASER Hosts and to visit a
LASER near you please visit our website: [5].

Interesting timing: two Michaels and Meng Wanzhou

Given the tensions between Canada and China these days, this session with China-based artists intrigues for more than the usual reasons.

For anyone unfamiliar with the situation, here’s a quick recap: Meng Wanzhou, deputy board chair and chief financial officer (CFO) of telecom giant, Huawei, which was founded by her father Ren Zhengfei. has been detained, at a US government request and in accordance with a treaty, since 2018 in one of her two multimillion dollar mansions in Vancouver, Canada. She wears an electronic bracelet for surveillance purposes, must be escorted on her shopping trips and other excursions, and must abide by an 11 pm – 7 am curfew. She is currently fighting extradition to the US with an extensive team of Canadian lawyers.

In what has been widely perceived as retaliatory, China shortly after Meng Wanzhou’s arrest put two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, wre arrested and put in prison allowing only severely limited contact with Canadian consular officials. As I write this on March 22, 2021, brief trials have been held (Friday, March 19, 2021 and Monday, March 22, 2021) for both Michaels, no outside observers allowed. It’s unclear as to which or how many lawyers are arguing in defence of either Michael. Sentences will be given at some time in the future.

Tensions are very high indeed.

Moving on to links

You can find the Dogma Lab here. As for Leonardo/ISAST, there is an interesting history,

The journal Leonardo was founded in 1968 in Paris by kinetic artist and astronautical pioneer Frank Malina. Malina saw the need for a journal that would serve as an international channel of communication among artists, with emphasis on the writings of artists who use science and developing technologies in their work. After the death of Frank Malina in 1981 and under the leadership of his son, Roger F. Malina, Leonardo moved to San Francisco, California, as the flagship journal of the newly founded nonprofit organization Leonardo/The International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). Leonardo/ISAST has grown along with its community and today is the leading organization for artists, scientists and others interested in the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts and music.

Frank Malina, founder of Leonardo, was an American scientist. After receiving his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1936, Malina directed the WAC Corporal program that put the first rocket beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. He co-founded and was the second director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), co-founded the Aerojet General Corporation and was an active participant in rocket-science development in the period leading up to and during World War II.

Invited to join the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) in 1947 by Julian Huxley, Malina moved to Paris as the director of the organization’s science programs. The separation between science and the humanities was the subject of intense debate during the post-war period, particularly after the publication of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures in 1959. The concept that there was and should be a natural relationship between science and art fascinated Malina, eventually influencing him to synthesize his scientific experience with his long-standing artistic sensibilities. As an artist, Malina moved from traditional media to mesh, string and canvas constructions and finally to experiments with light, which led to his development of systems for kinetic painting.

Here’s a description of the LASER talks from the Leonardo/ISAST LASER Talks event page,

… a program of international gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with the wider public. The mission of LASER is to encourage contribution to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and opportunities for community building.

There are two talks scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, March 23, 2021 and four talks for Thursday, March 25, 2021 with more scheduled for April on the Leonardo/ISAST LASER Talks event page,

You can find out more about the New College at the University of Toronto here where the New One: Learning without Borders programme is offered. BTW, New College was founded in 1962. You can get more information on their Why New College page.

COVID-19 infection as a dance of molecules

What a great bit of work, publicity-wise, from either or both the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (Canada) and artist/scientist Radha Chaddah. IAM (ee-yam): Dance of the Molecules, a virtual performance installation featuring COVID-19 and molecular dance, has been profiled in the Toronto Star, on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website, and in the Globe and Mail within the last couple of weeks. From a Canadian perspective, that’s major coverage and much of it national.

Bruce DeMara’s March 11, 2021 article for the Toronto Star introduces artist/scientist Radha Chaddah, her COVID-19 dance of molecules, and her team (Note: A link has been removed),

Visual artist Radha Chaddah has always had an abiding interest in science. She has a degree in biology and has done graduate studies in stem cell research.

[…] four-act dance performance; the first part “IAM: Dance of the Molecules” premiered as a digital exhibition on the Aga Khan Museum’s website March 5 [2021] and runs for eight weeks. Subsequent acts — human, planetary and universal, all using the COVID virus as an entry point — will be unveiled over the coming months until the final instalment in December 2022.

Among Chaddah’s team were Allie Blumas and the Open Fortress dance collective — who perform as microscopic components of the virus’s proliferation, including “spike” proteins, A2 receptors and ribosomes — costumiers Call and Response (who designed for the late Prince), director of photography Henry Sansom and composer Dan Bédard (who wrote the film’s music after observing the dance rehearsals remotely).

A March 5, 2021 article by Leah Collins for CBC online offers more details (Note: Links have been removed),

This month, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto is debuting new work from local artist Radha Chaddah. Called IAM, this digital exhibition is actually the first act in a series of four short films that she aims to produce between now and the end of 2022. It’s a “COVID story,” says Chaddah, but one that offers a perspective beyond the anniversary of its impact on life and culture and toilet-paper consumption. “I wanted to present a piece that makes people think about the coronavirus in a different way,” she explains, “one that pulls them out of the realm of fear and puts our imaginations into the realm of curiosity.”

It’s scientific curiosity that Chaddah’s talking about, and her own extra-curricular inquiries first sparked the series. For several years, Chaddah has produced work that splices art and science, a practice she began while doing grad studies in molecular neurobiology. “If I had to describe it simply, I would say that I make art about invisible realities, often using the tools of research science,” she says, and in January of last year, she was gripped by news of the novel coronavirus’ discovery. 

“I started researching: reading research papers, looking into how it was that [the virus] actually affected the human body,” she says. “How does it get into the cells? What’s its replicative life cycle?” Chaddah wanted a closer look at the structure of the various molecules associated with the progression of COVID-19 in the body, and there is, it turns out, a trove of free material online. Using animated 3-D renderings (sourced from this digital database), Chaddah began reviewing the files: blowing them up with a video projector, and using the trees in her own backyard as “a kind of green, living stage.”

Part one of IAM (the film appearing on the Aga Khan’s website) is called “Dance of the Molecules.” Recorded on Chaddah’s property in September, it features two dancers: Allie Blumas (who choreographed the piece) and Lee Gelbloom. Their bodies, along with the leafy setting, serve as a screen for Chaddah’s projections: a swirl of firecracker colour and pattern, built from found digital models. Quite literally, the viewer is looking at an illustration of how the coronavirus infects the human body and then replicates. (The very first images, for example, are close-ups of the virus’ spiky surface, she explains.) And in tandem with this molecular drama, the dancers interpret the process. 

There is a brief preview,

To watch part 1 of IAM: Dance of the Molecules, go here to the Aga Khan Museum.


Being a bit curious I looked up Radha Chaddah’s website and found this on her Bio webpage (click on About tab for the dropdown menu from the Home page),

Radha Chaddah is a Toronto based visual artist and scientist. Born in Owen Sound, Ontario she studied Film and Art History at Queen’s University (BAH), and Human Biology at the University of Toronto, where she received a Master of Science in Cell and Molecular Neurobiology. 

Chaddah makes art about invisible realities like the cellular world, electromagnetism and wave form energy, using light as her primary medium.  Her work examines the interconnected themes of knowledge, illusion, desire and the unseen world. In her studio she designs projected light installations for public exhibition. In the laboratory, she uses the tools of research science to grow and photograph cells using embedded fluorescent light-emitting molecules. Her cell photographs and light installations have been exhibited across Canada and her photographs have appeared in numerous publications.  She has lectured on basic cell and stem cell biology for artists, art students and the public at OCADU [Ontario College of Art & Design University], the Ontario Science Centre, the University of Toronto and the Textile Museum of Canada.

I also found Call and Response here, the Open Fortress dance collective on the Centre de Création O Vertigo website, Henry Sansom here, and Dan Bedard here. Both Bedard and Sansom can be found on the Internet Move Database (, as well.

Baby steps toward a quantum brain

My first quantum brain posting! (Well, I do have something that seems loosely related in a July 5, 2017 posting about quantum entanglement and machine learning and more. Also, I have lots of item on brainlike or neuromorphic computing.)

Getting to the latest news, a February 1, 2021 news item on Nanowerk announces research in to new intelligent materials that could lead to a ‘quantum brain’,

An intelligent material that learns by physically changing itself, similar to how the human brain works, could be the foundation of a completely new generation of computers. Radboud [university in the Netherlands] physicists working toward this so-called “quantum brain” have made an important step. They have demonstrated that they can pattern and interconnect a network of single atoms, and mimic the autonomous behaviour of neurons and synapses in a brain.

If I understand the difference between the work in 2017 and this latest work, it’s that in 2017 they were looking at quantum states and their possible effect on machine learning, while this work in 2021 is focused on a new material with some special characteristics.

A February 1, 2021 Radboud University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides information on the case supporting the need for a quantum brain and some technical details about how it might be achieved,

Considering the growing global demand for computing capacity, more and more data centres are necessary, all of which leave an ever-expanding energy footprint. ‘It is clear that we have to find new strategies to store and process information in an energy efficient way’, says project leader Alexander Khajetoorians, Professor of Scanning Probe Microscopy at Radboud University.

‘This requires not only improvements to technology, but also fundamental research in game changing approaches. Our new idea of building a ‘quantum brain’ based on the quantum properties of materials could be the basis for a future solution for applications in artificial intelligence.’

Quantum brain

For artificial intelligence to work, a computer needs to be able to recognise patterns in the world and learn new ones. Today’s computers do this via machine learning software that controls the storage and processing of information on a separate computer hard drive. ‘Until now, this technology, which is based on a century-old paradigm, worked sufficiently. However, in the end, it is a very energy-inefficient process’, says co-author Bert Kappen, Professor of Neural networks and machine intelligence.

The physicists at Radboud University researched whether a piece of hardware could do the same, without the need of software. They discovered that by constructing a network of cobalt atoms on black phosphorus they were able to build a material that stores and processes information in similar ways to the brain, and, even more surprisingly, adapts itself.

Self-adapting atoms

In 2018, Khajetoorians and collaborators showed that it is possible to store information in the state of a single cobalt atom. By applying a voltage to the atom, they could induce “firing”, where the atom shuttles between a value of 0 and 1 randomly, much like one neuron. They have now discovered a way to create tailored ensembles of these atoms, and found that the firing behaviour of these ensembles mimics the behaviour of a brain-like model used in artificial intelligence.

In addition to observing the behaviour of spiking neurons, they were able to create the smallest synapse known to date. Unknowingly, they observed that these ensembles had an inherent adaptive property: their synapses changed their behaviour depending on what input they “saw”. ‘When stimulating the material over a longer period of time with a certain voltage, we were very surprised to see that the synapses actually changed. The material adapted its reaction based on the external stimuli that it received. It learned by itself’, says Khajetoorians.

Exploring and developing the quantum brain

The researchers now plan to scale up the system and build a larger network of atoms, as well as dive into new “quantum” materials that can be used. Also, they need to understand why the atom network behaves as it does. ‘We are at a state where we can start to relate fundamental physics to concepts in biology, like memory and learning’, says Khajetoorians.

If we could eventually construct a real machine from this material, we would be able to build self-learning computing devices that are more energy efficient and smaller than today’s computers. Yet, only when we understand how it works – and that is still a mystery – will we be able to tune its behaviour and start developing it into a technology. It is a very exciting time.’

Here is a charming image illustrating the reasons for a quantum brain,

Courtesy: Radboud University

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

An atomic Boltzmann machine capable of self-adaption by Brian Kiraly, Elze J. Knol, Werner M. J. van Weerdenburg, Hilbert J. Kappen & Alexander A. Khajetoorians. Nature Nanotechnology (2021) DOI: Published: 01 February 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Antikythera’s (a 2,000 year old computer) secrets unlocked?

The Antikythera Mechanism is fascinating and a March 12, 2021 University College London (UCL) press release (also on EurekAlert) reveals the reason for the fascination before announcing the latest research into this ‘celestial’ object,

Known to many as the world’s first analogue computer, the Antikythera Mechanism is the most complex piece of engineering to have survived from the ancient world. The 2,000-year-old device was used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets as well as lunar and solar eclipses.

Exploded model of the Cosmos gearing of the Antikythera Mechanism. ©2020 Tony Freeth.

Continuing on from the March 12, 2021 University College London (UCL) press release,

Published in Scientific Reports, the paper from the multidisciplinary UCL Antikythera Research Team reveals a new display of the ancient Greek order of the Universe (Cosmos), within a complex gearing system at the front of the Mechanism.

Lead author Professor Tony Freeth (UCL Mechanical Engineering) explained: “Ours is the first model that conforms to all the physical evidence and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the Mechanism itself.

“The Sun, Moon and planets are displayed in an impressive tour de force of ancient Greek brilliance.”

The Antikythera Mechanism has generated both fascination and intense controversy since its discovery in a Roman-era shipwreck in 1901 by Greek sponge divers near the small Mediterranean island of Antikythera.

The astronomical calculator is a bronze device that consists of a complex combination of 30 surviving bronze gears used to predict astronomical events, including eclipses, phases of the moon, positions of the planets and even dates of the Olympics.

Whilst great progress has been made over the last century to understand how it worked, studies in 2005 using 3D X-rays and surface imaging enabled researchers to show how the Mechanism predicted eclipses and calculated the variable motion of the Moon.

However, until now, a full understanding of the gearing system at the front of the device has eluded the best efforts of researchers. Only about a third of the Mechanism has survived, and is split into 82 fragments – creating a daunting challenge for the UCL team.

The biggest surviving fragment, known as Fragment A, displays features of bearings, pillars and a block. Another, known as Fragment D, features an unexplained disk, 63-tooth gear and plate.

Previous research had used X-ray data from 2005 to reveal thousands of text characters hidden inside the fragments, unread for nearly 2,000 years. Inscriptions on the back cover include a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and indicated by marker beads. It was this display that the team worked to reconstruct.

Two critical numbers in the X-rays of the front cover, of 462 years and 442 years, accurately represent cycles of Venus and Saturn respectively. When observed from Earth, the planets’ cycles sometimes reverse their motions against the stars. Experts must track these variable cycles over long time-periods in order to predict their positions.

“The classic astronomy of the first millennium BC originated in Babylon, but nothing in this astronomy suggested how the ancient Greeks found the highly accurate 462-year cycle for Venus and 442-year cycle for Saturn,” explained PhD candidate and UCL Antikythera Research Team member Aris Dacanalis.

Using an ancient Greek mathematical method described by the philosopher Parmenides, the UCL team not only explained how the cycles for Venus and Saturn were derived but also managed to recover the cycles of all the other planets, where the evidence was missing.

PhD candidate and team member David Higgon explained: “After considerable struggle, we managed to match the evidence in Fragments A and D to a mechanism for Venus, which exactly models its 462-year planetary period relation, with the 63-tooth gear playing a crucial role.”

Professor Freeth added: “The team then created innovative mechanisms for all of the planets that would calculate the new advanced astronomical cycles and minimize the number of gears in the whole system, so that they would fit into the tight spaces available.”

“This is a key theoretical advance on how the Cosmos was constructed in the Mechanism,” added co-author, Dr Adam Wojcik (UCL Mechanical Engineering). “Now we must prove its feasibility by making it with ancient techniques. A particular challenge will be the system of nested tubes that carried the astronomical outputs.”

h/t BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) March 12, 2021 article about the Anitikythera Mechanism, which includes another image and an embedded video. The March 12, 2021 University College London (UCL) press release includes links to more information about the Antikythera Mechanism, the research, and Dr. Tony Freeth.

For the insatiably curious, I have an October 2, 2012 posting and an August 3, 2016 posting with what was the latest information at the time.

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

A Model of the Cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism by Tony Freeth, David Higgon, Aris Dacanalis, Lindsay MacDonald, Myrto Georgakopoulou & Adam Wojcik. Scientific Reports volume 11, Article number: 5821 (2021) DOI: Published 12 March 2021

This paper is open access and, as these things go, it’s fairly accessible reading, i.e., even someone like me who has no interest in astronomy can understand enough to enjoy the article.

Today’s post falls, thematically speaking, into similar territory as yesterday’s (March 16, 2021) posting where in addition to celebrating Urania Day I included information about astronomy and some of its history.