Monthly Archives: April 2022

Device with brainlike plasticity

A September 1, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announces a new type of memristor from Texas A&M University (Texas A&M or TAMU) and the National University of Singapore (NUS)

In a discovery published in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers has described a novel molecular device with exceptional computing prowess.

Reminiscent of the plasticity of connections in the human brain, the device can be reconfigured on the fly for different computational tasks by simply changing applied voltages. Furthermore, like nerve cells can store memories, the same device can also retain information for future retrieval and processing.

Two of the universities involved in the research have issued news/press releases. I’m going to start with the September 1, 2021 Texas A&M University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item on ScienceDaily,

“The brain has the remarkable ability to change its wiring around by making and breaking connections between nerve cells. Achieving something comparable in a physical system has been extremely challenging,” said Dr. R. Stanley Williams [emphasis mine], professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University. “We have now created a molecular device with dramatic reconfigurability, which is achieved not by changing physical connections like in the brain, but by reprogramming its logic.”

Dr. T. Venkatesan, director of the Center for Quantum Research and Technology (CQRT) at the University of Oklahoma, Scientific Affiliate at National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, and adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore, added that their molecular device might in the future help design next-generation processing chips with enhanced computational power and speed, but consuming significantly reduced energy.

Whether it is the familiar laptop or a sophisticated supercomputer, digital technologies face a common nemesis, the von Neumann bottleneck. This delay in computational processing is a consequence of current computer architectures, wherein the memory, containing data and programs, is physically separated from the processor. As a result, computers spend a significant amount of time shuttling information between the two systems, causing the bottleneck. Also, despite extremely fast processor speeds, these units can be idling for extended amounts of time during periods of information exchange.

As an alternative to conventional electronic parts used for designing memory units and processors, devices called memristors offer a way to circumvent the von Neumann bottleneck. Memristors, such as those made of niobium dioxide and vanadium dioxide, transition from being an insulator to a conductor at a set temperature. This property gives these types of memristors the ability to perform computations and store data.

However, despite their many advantages, these metal oxide memristors are made of rare-earth elements and can operate only in restrictive temperature regimes. Hence, there has been an ongoing search for promising organic molecules that can perform a comparable memristive function, said Williams.

Dr. Sreebrata Goswami, a professor at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, designed the material used in this work. The compound has a central metal atom (iron) bound to three phenyl azo pyridine organic molecules called ligands.

“This behaves like an electron sponge that can absorb as many as six electrons reversibly, resulting in seven different redox states,” said Sreebrata. “The interconnectivity between these states is the key behind the reconfigurability shown in this work.”

Dr. Sreetosh Goswami, a researcher at the National University of Singapore, devised this project by creating a tiny electrical circuit consisting of a 40-nanometer layer of molecular film sandwiched between a layer of gold on top and gold-infused nanodisc and indium tin oxide at the bottom.

On applying a negative voltage on the device, Sreetosh witnessed a current-voltage profile that was nothing like anyone had seen before. Unlike metal-oxide memristors that can switch from metal to insulator at only one fixed voltage, the organic molecular devices could switch back and forth from insulator to conductor at several discrete sequential voltages.

“So, if you think of the device as an on-off switch, as we were sweeping the voltage more negative, the device first switched from on to off, then off to on, then on to off and then back to on. I’ll say that we were just blown out of our seat,” said Venkatesan. “We had to convince ourselves that what we were seeing was real.”

Sreetosh and Sreebrata investigated the molecular mechanisms underlying the curious switching behavior using an imaging technique called Raman spectroscopy. In particular, they looked for spectral signatures in the vibrational motion of the organic molecule that could explain the multiple transitions. Their investigation revealed that sweeping the voltage negative triggered the ligands on the molecule to undergo a series of reduction, or electron-gaining, events that caused the molecule to transition between off state and on states.

Next, to describe the extremely complex current-voltage profile of the molecular device mathematically, Williams deviated from the conventional approach of basic physics-based equations. Instead, he described the behavior of the molecules using a decision tree algorithm with “if-then-else” statements, a commonplace line of code in several computer programs, particularly digital games.

“Video games have a structure where you have a character that does something, and then something occurs as a result. And so, if you write that out in a computer algorithm, they are if-then-else statements,” said Williams. “Here, the molecule is switching from on to off as a consequence of applied voltage, and that’s when I had the eureka moment to use decision trees to describe these devices, and it worked very well.” 

But the researchers went a step further to exploit these molecular devices to run programs for different real-world computational tasks. Sreetosh showed experimentally that their devices could perform fairly complex computations in a single time step and then be reprogrammed to perform another task in the next instant.

“It was quite extraordinary; our device was doing something like what the brain does, but in a very different way,” said Sreetosh. “When you’re learning something new or when you’re deciding, the brain can actually reconfigure and change physical wiring around. Similarly, we can logically reprogram or reconfigure our devices by giving them a different voltage pulse then they’ve seen before.” 

Venkatesan noted that it would take thousands of transistors to perform the same computational functions as one of their molecular devices with its different decision trees. Hence, he said their technology might first be used in handheld devices, like cell phones and sensors, and other applications where power is limited.

Other contributors to the research include Dr. Abhijeet Patra and Dr. Ariando from the National University of Singapore; Dr. Rajib Pramanick and Dr. Santi Prasad Rath from the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science; Dr. Martin Foltin from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Colorado; and Dr. Damien Thompson from the University of Limerick, Ireland.

Venkatesan said that this research is indicative of the future discoveries from this collaborative team, which will include the center of nanoscience and engineering at the Indian Institute of Science and the Microsystems and Nanotechnology Division at the NIST.

I’ve highlighted R. Stanley Williams because he and his team at HP [Hewlett Packard] Labs helped to kick off current memristor research in 2008 with the publication of two papers as per my April 5, 2010 posting,

In 2008, two memristor papers were published in Nature and Nature Nanotechnology, respectively. In the first (Nature, May 2008 [article still behind a paywall], a team at HP Labs claimed they had proved the existence of memristors (a fourth member of electrical engineering’s ‘Holy Trinity of the capacitor, resistor, and inductor’). In the second paper (Nature Nanotechnology, July 2008 [article still behind a paywall]) the team reported that they had achieved engineering control.

The novel memory device is based on a molecular system that can transition between on and off states at several discrete sequential voltages Courtesy: National University of Singapore

There is more technical detail in the September 2, 2022 NUS press release (also on EurekAlert),

Many electronic devices today are dependent on semiconductor logic circuits based on switches hard-wired to perform predefined logic functions. Physicists from the National University of Singapore (NUS), together with an international team of researchers, have developed a novel molecular memristor, or an electronic memory device, that has exceptional memory reconfigurability. 

Unlike hard-wired standard circuits, the molecular device can be reconfigured using voltage to embed different computational tasks. The energy-efficient new technology, which is capable of enhanced computational power and speed, can potentially be used in edge computing, as well as handheld devices and applications with limited power resource.

“This work is a significant breakthrough in our quest to design low-energy computing. The idea of using multiple switching in a single element draws inspiration from how the brain works and fundamentally reimagines the design strategy of a logic circuit,” said Associate Professor Ariando from the NUS Department of Physics who led the research.

The research was first published in the journal Nature on 1 September 2021, and carried out in collaboration with the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the University of Limerick, the University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M University.

Brain-inspired technology

“This new discovery can contribute to developments in edge computing as a sophisticated in-memory computing approach to overcome the von Neumann bottleneck, a delay in computational processing seen in many digital technologies due to the physical separation of memory storage from a device’s processor,” said Assoc Prof Ariando. The new molecular device also has the potential to contribute to designing next generation processing chips with enhanced computational power and speed.

“Similar to the flexibility and adaptability of connections in the human brain, our memory device can be reconfigured on the fly for different computational tasks by simply changing applied voltages. Furthermore, like how nerve cells can store memories, the same device can also retain information for future retrieval and processing,” said first author Dr Sreetosh Goswami, Research Fellow from the Department of Physics at NUS.

Research team member Dr Sreebrata Goswami, who was a Senior Research Scientist at NUS and previously Professor at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, conceptualised and designed a molecular system belonging to the chemical family of phenyl azo pyridines that have a central metal atom bound to organic molecules called ligands. “These molecules are like electron sponges that can offer as many as six electron transfers resulting in five different molecular states. The interconnectivity between these states is the key behind the device’s reconfigurability,” explained Dr Sreebrata Goswami.

Dr Sreetosh Goswami created a tiny electrical circuit consisting a 40-nanometer layer of molecular film sandwiched between a top layer of gold, and a bottom layer of gold-infused nanodisc and indium tin oxide. He observed an unprecedented current-voltage profile upon applying a negative voltage to the device. Unlike conventional metal-oxide memristors that are switched on and off at only one fixed voltage, these organic molecular devices could switch between on-off states at several discrete sequential voltages.

Using an imaging technique called Raman spectroscopy, spectral signatures in the vibrational motion of the organic molecule were observed to explain the multiple transitions. Dr Sreebrata Goswami explained, “Sweeping the negative voltage triggered the ligands on the molecule to undergo a series of reduction, or electron-gaining which caused the molecule to transition between off and on states.”

The researchers described the behavior of the molecules using a decision tree algorithm with “if-then-else” statements, which is used in the coding of several computer programs, particularly digital games, as compared to the conventional approach of using basic physics-based equations.

New possibilities for energy-efficient devices

Building on their research, the team used the molecular memory devices to run programs for different real-world computational tasks. As a proof of concept, the team demonstrated that their technology could perform complex computations in a single step, and could be reprogrammed to perform another task in the next instant. An individual molecular memory device could perform the same computational functions as thousands of transistors, making the technology a more powerful and energy-efficient memory option.

“The technology might first be used in handheld devices, like cell phones and sensors, and other applications where power is limited,” added Assoc Prof Ariando.

The team in the midst of building new electronic devices incorporating their innovation, and working with collaborators to conduct simulation and benchmarking relating to existing technologies.

Other contributors to the research paper include Abhijeet Patra and Santi Prasad Rath from NUS, Rajib Pramanick from the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Martin Foltin from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Damien Thompson from the University of Limerick, T. Venkatesan from the University of Oklahoma, and R. Stanley Williams from Texas A&M University.

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

Decision trees within a molecular memristor by Sreetosh Goswami, Rajib Pramanick, Abhijeet Patra, Santi Prasad Rath, Martin Foltin, A. Ariando, Damien Thompson, T. Venkatesan, Sreebrata Goswami & R. Stanley Williams. Nature volume 597, pages 51–56 (2021) DOI: Published 01 September 2021 Issue Date 02 September 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Graphene: a long story

For a change this October 19, 2021 item on isn’t highlighting a single research paper so much as it provides a history of graphene and context for research being done at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) at the University of Maryland (US),

Carbon is not the shiniest element, nor the most reactive, nor the rarest. But it is one of the most versatile.

Carbon is the backbone of life on earth and the fossil fuels that have resulted from the demise of ancient life. Carbon is the essential ingredient for turning iron into steel, which underlies technologies from medieval swords to skyscrapers and submarines. And strong, lightweight carbon fibers are used in cars, planes and windmills. Even just carbon on its own is extraordinarily adaptable: It is the only ingredient in (among other things) diamonds, buckyballs and graphite (the stuff used to make pencil lead).

This last form, graphite, is at first glance the most mundane, but thin sheets of it host a wealth of uncommon physics. Research into individual atom-thick sheets of graphite—called graphene—took off after 2004 when scientists developed a reliable way to produce it (using everyday adhesive tape to repeatedly peel layers apart). In 2010 early experiments demonstrating the quantum richness of graphene earned two researchers the Nobel Prize in physics.

In recent years, graphene has kept on giving. Researchers have discovered that stacking layers of graphene two or three at a time (called, respectively, bilayer graphene or trilayer graphene) and twisting the layers relative to each other opens fertile new territory for scientists to explore. Research into these stacked sheets of graphene is like the Wild West, complete with the lure of striking gold and the uncertainty of uncharted territory.

Researchers at JQI and the Condensed Matter Theory Center (CMTC) at the University of Maryland, including JQI Fellows Sankar Das Sarma and Jay Sau and others, are busy creating the theoretical physics foundation that will be a map of this new landscape. And there is a lot to map; the phenomena in graphene range from the familiar like magnetism to more exotic things like strange metallicity, different versions of the quantum Hall effect, and the Pomeranchuk effect—each of which involve electrons coordinating to produce unique behaviors. One of the most promising veins for scientific treasure is the appearance of superconductivity (lossless electrical flow) in stacked graphene.

“Here is a system where almost every interesting quantum phase of matter that theorists ever could imagine shows up in a single system as the twist angle, carrier density, and temperature are tuned in a single sample in a single experiment,” says Das Sarma, who is also the Director of the CMTC. “Sounds like magic or science fantasy, except it is happening every day in at least ten laboratories in the world.”

The richness and diversity of the electrical behaviors in graphene stacks has inspired a stampede of research. The 2021 American Physical Society March Meeting included 13 sessions addressing the topics of graphene or twisted bilayers, and Das Sarma hosted a day long virtual conference in June for researchers to discuss twisted graphene and the related research inspired by the topic. The topic of stacked graphene is extensively represented in scientific journals, and the online arXiv preprint server has over 2,000 articles posted about “bilayer graphene”—nearly 1,000 since 2018.

Perhaps surprisingly, graphene’s wealth of quantum research opportunities is tied to its physical simplicity.

An October 18, 2021 JQI news release by Bailey Bedford, which originated the news item, explains why researchers have described a twist found in graphene as ‘magic’,

Researchers have discovered that at a special, small twist angle (about 1.1 degrees)—whimsically named the “magic angle”—the environment is just right to create strong interactions that radically change its properties. When that precise angle is reached, the electrons tend to cluster around certain areas of the graphene, and new electrical behaviors suddenly appear as if summoned with a dramatic magician’s flourish. Magic angle graphene behaves as a poorly-conducting insulator in some circumstances and in other cases goes to the opposite extreme of being a superconductor—a material that transports electricity without any loss of energy.

The discovery of magic-angle graphene and that it has certain quantum behaviors similar to a high-temperature superconductor was the Physics World 2018 Breakthrough of the Year. Superconductors have many valuable potential uses, like revolutionizing energy infrastructure and making efficient maglev trains. Finding a convenient, room-temperature superconductor has been a holy grail for scientists.

I haven’t done to justice to this piece and, so, for anyone interested in graphene, superconductors, and electronics I recommend reading the piece (October 18, 2021 JQI news release by Bailey Bedford) in its entirety where you’ll also find references to these articles and more,

Reference Publication

Related JQI Articles

The nanoscale precision of pearls

An October 21, 2021 news item on features a quote about nothingness and symmetry (Note: A link has been removed),

In research that could inform future high-performance nanomaterials, a University of Michigan-led team has uncovered for the first time how mollusks build ultradurable structures with a level of symmetry that outstrips everything else in the natural world, with the exception of individual atoms.

“We humans, with all our access to technology, can’t make something with a nanoscale architecture as intricate as a pearl,” said Robert Hovden, U-M assistant professor of materials science and engineering and an author on the paper. “So we can learn a lot by studying how pearls go from disordered nothingness to this remarkably symmetrical structure.” [emphasis mine]

The analysis was done in collaboration with researchers at the Australian National University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Western Norway University [of Applied Sciences] and Cornell University.

a. A Keshi pearl that has been sliced into pieces for study. b. A magnified cross-section of the pearl shows its transition from its disorderly center to thousands of layers of finely matched nacre. c. A magnification of the nacre layers shows their self-correction—when one layer is thicker, the next is thinner to compensate, and vice-versa. d, e: Atomic scale images of the nacre layers. f, g, h, i: Microscopy images detail the transitions between the pearl’s layers. Credit: University of Michigan

An October 21, 2021 University of Michigan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, reveals a surprise,

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], the study found that a pearl’s symmetry becomes more and more precise as it builds, answering centuries-old questions about how the disorder at its center becomes a sort of perfection. 

Layers of nacre, the iridescent and extremely durable organic-inorganic composite that also makes up the shells of oysters and other mollusks, build on a shard of aragonite that surrounds an organic center. The layers, which make up more than 90% of a pearl’s volume, become progressively thinner and more closely matched as they build outward from the center.

Perhaps the most surprising finding is that mollusks maintain the symmetry of their pearls by adjusting the thickness of each layer of nacre. If one layer is thicker, the next tends to be thinner, and vice versa. The pearl pictured in the study contains 2,615 finely matched layers of nacre, deposited over 548 days.

“These thin, smooth layers of nacre look a little like bed sheets, with organic matter in between,” Hovden said. “There’s interaction between each layer, and we hypothesize that that interaction is what enables the system to correct as it goes along.”

The team also uncovered details about how the interaction between layers works. A mathematical analysis of the pearl’s layers show that they follow a phenomenon known as “1/f noise,” where a series of events that seem to be random are connected, with each new event influenced by the one before it. 1/f noise has been shown to govern a wide variety of natural and human-made processes including seismic activity, economic markets, electricity, physics and even classical music.

“When you roll dice, for example, every roll is completely independent and disconnected from every other roll. But 1/f noise is different in that each event is linked,” Hovden said. “We can’t predict it, but we can see a structure in the chaos. And within that structure are complex mechanisms that enable a pearl’s thousands of layers of nacre to coalesce toward order and precision.”

The team found that pearls lack true long-range order—the kind of carefully planned symmetry that keeps the hundreds of layers in brick buildings consistent. Instead, pearls exhibit medium-range order, maintaining symmetry for around 20 layers at a time. This is enough to maintain consistency and durability over the thousands of layers that make up a pearl.

The team gathered their observations by studying Akoya “keshi” pearls, produced by the Pinctada imbricata fucata oyster near the Eastern shoreline of Australia. They selected these particular pearls, which measure around 50 millimeters in diameter, because they form naturally, as opposed to bead-cultured pearls, which have an artificial center. Each pearl was cut with a diamond wire saw into sections measuring three to five millimeters in diameter, then polished and examined under an electron microscope.

Hovden says the study’s findings could help inform next-generation materials with precisely layered nanoscale architecture.

“When we build something like a brick building, we can build in periodicity through careful planning and measuring and templating,” he said. “Mollusks can achieve similar results on the nanoscale by using a different strategy. So we have a lot to learn from them, and that knowledge could help us make stronger, lighter materials in the future.”

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

The mesoscale order of nacreous pearls by Jiseok Gim, Alden Koch, Laura M. Otter, Benjamin H. Savitzky, Sveinung Erland, Lara A. Estroff, Dorrit E. Jacob, and Robert Hovden. PNAS vol. 118 no. 42 e2107477118 DOI: Published in issue October 19, 2021 Published online October 18, 2021

This paper appears to be open access.

Living optical fibers

The word ‘living’ isn’t usually associated with optical fibers and the addition had me thinking that this October 11, 2021 Nanowerk Spotlight story by Michael Berger would be a synthetic biology story. Well, not exactly. Do read on for a good introduction describing glass, fiber optics, and optogenetics,

Glass is one of the oldest manufactured materials used by humans and glass making dates back at least 6000 years, long before humans had discovered how to smelt iron. Glasses have been based on the chemical compound silica – silicon dioxide, or quartz – the primary constituent of sand. Soda-lime glass, containing around 70% silica, accounts for around 90% of manufactured glass.

Historically, we are familiar with glasses’ decorative use or as window panes, household items, and in optics such as eyeglasses, microscopes and telescopes. More recently, starting in the 1950s, glass has been used in the manufacture of fiber optic cables, a technology that has revolutionized the communications industry and helped ring in the digital revolution.

Fiber optic cables propagate a signal as a pulse of light along a transparent medium, usually glass. This is not only used to transmit information but, for instance in many healthcare and biomedical applications, scientists use optical fibers for sensing applications by shining light into a sample and evaluating the absorbed or transmitted light.

A recent development in this field is optogenetics, a neuromodulation method that uses activation or deactivation of brain cells by illumination with different colors of light in order to treat brain disorders.

Berger goes on to explain the latest work and reveals what ‘living’ means where this work is concerned,

This work represents a simple and low-cost approach to fabricating optical fibers made from biological materials. These fibers can be easily modified for specific applications and don’t require sophisticated equipment to generate relevant information. This method could be used for many practical sensing and biological modeling applications.

“We use a natural, ionic, and biologically compatible crosslinking approach, which enables us to produce flexible hydrogel fibers in continuous multi-layered architectures, meaning they are easy to produce and can be modified after fabrication,” explains Guimarães [Carlos Guimarães, the paper’s first author]. “Similarly to silica fibers, the core hydrogel of our structures can be exposed, fused to another fiber or reassembled if they break, and efficiently guide light through the established connection.”

These flexible hydrogel fibers are made from sugars and work just like solid-state optical fibers used to transmit data. However, they are biocompatible so they can be easily integrated with biological systems.

“We could even consider them to be alive [emphasis mine] since we can use them to grow living cells inside the fiber,” says Guimarães. “As these embedded cells grow over time, we can then use light to inform on living dynamic events, for example to track cancer invasive proliferation into optical information.” [emphasis mine]

As to what constitutes optical information in this context,

Another intriguing aspect of these hydrogel fibers is that their permeable mesh enables the inclusion of biological targets of interest for detection. For example, the scientists observed that fibers were able to soak SARS-CoV-2 viruses, and by integrating nanoparticles for their binding and detection, shifts in visible light could be observed for detecting the accumulation of viral particles within the fiber.

“When light moving through the fiber encounters living cells, it changes its characteristics depending on cellular density, invasive proliferation, expression of molecules, etc.” Guimarães notes. “This light-cell interaction can digitize complex biological events, converting responses such as cancer cell progression in 3D environments and susceptibility to drugs into numbers and data, very fast and without the need for sample destruction.”

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

Engineering Polysaccharide-Based Hydrogel Photonic Constructs: From Multiscale Detection to the Biofabrication of Living Optical Fibers by Carlos F. Guimarães, Rajib Ahmed, Amideddin Mataji-Kojouri, Fernando Soto, Jie Wang, Shiqin Liu, Tanya Stoyanova, Alexandra P. Marques, Rui L. Reis, Utkan Demirci. Advanced Materials DOI: First published: 07 October 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Coming soon: Responsible AI at the 35th Canadian Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) from 30 May to 3 June, 2022

35 years? How have I not stumbled on this conference before? Anyway, I’m glad to have the news (even if I’m late to the party), from the 35th Canadian Conference on Artificial Intelligence homepage,

The 35th Canadian Conference on Artificial Intelligence will take place virtually in Toronto, Ontario, from 30 May to 3 June, 2022. All presentations and posters will be online, with in-person social events to be scheduled in Toronto for those who are able to attend in-person. Viewing rooms and isolated presentation facilities will be available for all visitors to the University of Toronto during the event.

The event is collocated with the Computer and Robot Vision conferences. These events (AI·CRV 2022) will bring together hundreds of leaders in research, industry, and government, as well as Canada’s most accomplished students. They showcase Canada’s ingenuity, innovation and leadership in intelligent systems and advanced information and communications technology. A single registration lets you attend any session in the two conferences, which are scheduled in parallel tracks.

The conference proceedings are published on PubPub, an open-source, privacy-respecting, and open access online platform. They are submitted to be indexed and abstracted in leading indexing services such as DBLP, ACM, Google Scholar.

You can view last year’s [2021] proceedings here:

The 2021 proceedings appear to be open access.

I can’t tell if ‘Responsible AI’ has been included as a specific topic in previous conferences but 2022 is definitely hosting a couple of sessions based on that theme, from the Responsible AI activities webpage,

Keynote speaker: Julia Stoyanovich

New York University

“Building Data Equity Systems”

Equity as a social concept — treating people differently depending on their endowments and needs to provide equality of outcome rather than equality of treatment — lends a unifying vision for ongoing work to operationalize ethical considerations across technology, law, and society.  In my talk I will present a vision for designing, developing, deploying, and overseeing data-intensive systems that consider equity as an essential objective.  I will discuss ongoing technical work, and will place this work into the broader context of policy, education, and public outreach.

Biography: Julia Stoyanovich is an Institute Associate Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the Tandon School of Engineering, Associate Professor of Data Science at the Center for Data Science, and Director of the Center for Responsible AI at New York University (NYU).  Her research focuses on responsible data management and analysis: on operationalizing fairness, diversity, transparency, and data protection in all stages of the data science lifecycle.  She established the “Data, Responsibly” consortium and served on the New York City Automated Decision Systems Task Force, by appointment from Mayor de Blasio.  Julia developed and has been teaching courses on Responsible Data Science at NYU, and is a co-creator of an award-winning comic book series on this topic.  In addition to data ethics, Julia works on the management and analysis of preference and voting data, and on querying large evolving graphs. She holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from Columbia University, and a B.S. in Computer Science and in Mathematics & Statistics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  She is a recipient of an NSF CAREER award and a Senior Member of the ACM.

Panel on ethical implications of AI


Luke Stark, Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University

Luke Stark is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western University in London, ON. His work interrogating the historical, social, and ethical impacts of computing and AI technologies has appeared in journals including The Information Society, Social Studies of Science, and New Media & Society, and in popular venues like Slate, The Globe and Mail, and The Boston Globe. Luke was previously a Postdoctoral Researcher in AI ethics at Microsoft Research, and a Postdoctoral Fellow in Sociology at Dartmouth College; he holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a BA and MA from the University of Toronto.

Nidhi Hegde, Associate Professor in Computer Science and Amii [Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute] Fellow at the University of Alberta

Nidhi is a Fellow and Canada CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research] AI Chair at Amii and an Associate Professor in the Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta. Before joining UAlberta, she spent many years in industry research labs. Most recently, she was a Research team lead at Borealis AI (a research institute at Royal Bank of Canada), where her team worked on privacy-preserving methods for machine learning models and other applied problems for RBC. Prior to that, she spent many years in research labs in Europe working on a variety of interesting and impactful problems. She was a researcher at Bell Labs, Nokia, in France from January 2015 to March 2018, where she led a new team focussed on Maths and Algorithms for Machine Learning in Networks and Systems, in the Maths and Algorithms group of Bell Labs. She also spent a few years at the Technicolor Paris Research Lab working on social network analysis, smart grids, privacy, and recommendations. Nidhi is an associate editor of the IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, and an editor of the Elsevier Performance Evaluation Journal.

Karina Vold, Assistant Professor, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto

Dr. Karina Vold is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. She is also a Faculty Affiliate at the U of T Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society, a Faculty Associate at the U of T Centre for Ethics, and an Associate Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. Vold specialises in Philosophy of Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, and her recent research has focused on human autonomy, cognitive enhancement, extended cognition, and the risks and ethics of AI.

Elissa Strome, Executive Director, Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy at CIFAR

Elissa is Executive Director, Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy at CIFAR, working with research leaders across the country to implement Canada’s national research strategy in AI.  Elissa completed her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia in 2006. Following a post-doc at Lund University, in Sweden, she decided to pursue a career in research strategy, policy and leadership. In 2008, she joined the University of Toronto’s Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation and was Director of Strategic Initiatives from 2011 to 2015. In that role, she led a small team dedicated to advancing the University’s strategic research priorities, including international institutional research partnerships, the institutional strategy for prestigious national and international research awards, and the establishment of the SOSCIP [Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform] research consortium in 2012. From 2015 to 2017, Elissa was Executive Director of SOSCIP, leading the 17-member industry-academic consortium through a major period of growth and expansion, and establishing SOSCIP as Ontario’s leading platform for collaborative research and development in data science and advanced computing.

Tutorial on AI and the Law

Prof. Maura R. Grossman, University of Waterloo, and

Hon. Paul W. Grimm, United States District Court for the District of Maryland

AI applications are becoming more and more ubiquitous in almost every field of endeavor, and the same is true as to the legal industry. This panel, consisting of an experienced lawyer and computer scientist, and a U.S. federal trial court judge, will discuss how AI is currently being used in the legal profession, what adoption has been like since the introduction of AI to law in about 2009, what legal and ethical issues AI applications have raised in the legal system, and how a sitting trial court judge approaches AI evidence, in particular, the determination of whether to admit that AI evidence or not, when they are a non-expert.

How is AI being used in the legal industry today?

What has the legal industry’s reaction been to legal AI applications?

What are some of the biggest legal and ethical issues implicated by legal and other AI applications?

How does a sitting trial court judge evaluate AI evidence when making a determination of whether to admit that AI evidence or not?

What considerations go into the trial judge’s decision?

What happens if the judge is not an expert in AI?  Do they recuse?

You may recognize the name, Julia Stoyanovich, as she was mentioned here in my March 23, 2022 posting titled, The “We are AI” series gives citizens a primer on AI, a series of peer-to-peer workshops aimed at introducing the basics of AI to the public. There’s also a comic book series associated with it and all of the materials are available for free. It’s all there in the posting.

Getting back to the Responsible AI activities webpage,, there’s one more activity and this seems a little less focused on experts,

Virtual Meet and Greet on Responsible AI across Canada

Given the many activities that are fortunately happening around the responsible and ethical aspects of AI here in Canada, we are organizing an event in conjunction with Canadian AI 2022 this year to become familiar with what everyone is doing and what activities they are engaged in.

It would be wonderful to have a unified community here in Canada around responsible AI so we can support each other and find ways to more effectively collaborate and synergize. We are aiming for a casual, discussion-oriented event rather than talks or formal presentations.

The meet and greet will be hosted by Ebrahim Bagheri, Eleni Stroulia and Graham Taylor. If you are interested in participating, please email Ebrahim Bagheri (

Thank you to the co-chairs for getting the word out about the Responsible AI topic at the conference,

Responsible AI Co-chairs

Ebrahim Bagheri
Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering, Ryerson University

Eleni Stroulia
Professor, Department of Computing Science
Acting Vice Dean, Faculty of Science
Director, AI4Society Signature Area
University of Alberta

The organization which hosts these conference has an almost palindromic abbreviation, CAIAC for Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association (CAIA) or Association Intelligence Artificiel Canadien (AIAC). Yes, you do have to read it in English and French and the C at either end gets knocked depending on which language you’re using, which is why it’s almost.

The CAIAC is almost 50 years old (under various previous names) and has its website here.

*April 22, 2022 at 1400 hours PT removed ‘the’ from this section of the headline: “… from 30 May to 3 June, 2022.” and removed period from the end.

Artificially designed protein nanoparticle TIP60

As is often the case with research from Japan, I find the work interesting and challenging to read about. An October 5, 2021 news item on Nanowerk describes the nature of the research from Japan,

Nanoparticles and nanocages are attractive materials that may be applied in color agents, catalysts, and drug delivery. For real-world use, it is necessary to produce a large number of nanoparticles of uniform size and shape, but thus far, nanoparticle formation methods using metals have been widely researched, and the formation of nanoparticles with a certain shape and size have been realized. However, it is not easy to create a group of uniform nanoparticles with the same structure at the atomic level.

You might find as I did that this image provided by the researchers is quite helpful (Thank you to the person who made this diagram),

Caption: Sixty fusion proteins of a pentameric Sm-like protein (PDB ID: 3BY7) and a dimeric MyoX-coil domain (PDB ID: 2LW9) self-assemble into a protein nanoparticle complex, TIP60 (Truncated Icosahedral Protein composed of 60-mer fusion proteins). Credit: Reproduced from Icosahedral 60-meric porous structure of designed supramolecular protein nanoparticle TIP60, Ryoichi Arai et al., Chem. Commun., 2021, with permission from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

An October 5, 2021 Shinshu University press release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, provides further detail

A joint research group led by Associate Professor Ryoichi Arai (Institute for Biomedical Sciences and Faculty of Textile Science and Technology, Shinshu University) and Assistant Professor Norifumi Kawakami (Faculty of Science and Technology, Keio University) developed a uniform and useful supramolecular protein nanoparticle symmetrically self-assembled from fusion proteins of a pentameric protein domain and a dimeric protein domain. It is possible to modify the functionality by site-specific mutagenesis or chemical modification. This designed protein nanoparticle with a diameter of about 22 nm was named TIP60 (Truncated Icosahedral Protein composed of 60-mer fusion proteins) because it is formed by self-assembling 60-meric artificial fusion proteins shaped like a soccer ball (N. Kawakami et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 57, 12400–12404, 2018).

In the present study, the joint research group solved the detailed three-dimensional structure of the TIP60 using single-particle cryo-electron microscopy. A large amount of TIP60 was expressed in E. coli, and a purified sample was observed at the cryo-electron microscope facility operated by Prof. Masahide Kikkawa lab at the University of Tokyo. By performing single-particle analysis based on obtained image data, a three-dimensional map was reconstructed with a resolution of 3.3 Å. It was revealed that TIP60 forms hollow spherical nanoparticles as designed and has an icosahedral 60-meric structure with 20 triangular-like pores with an edge of about 4 nm each. In addition, the group elucidated in detail the characteristic three-dimensional structure, such as the linker connecting the pentamer formation domain and the dimer formation domain composed of an α-helix.

When a small molecule compound is added after chemically modifying only the outer surface of TIP60 with a high molecular compound, the small molecule compound enters the internal cavity and chemically modifies in the inner surface. In other words, it was found that the porous structure of TIP60 acts as a filter by molecular size, and the outer and inner surfaces of TIP60 can be chemically modified with different molecules of different sizes (E. Nasu et al., ACS Appl. Nano Mater. 4, 2434–2439, 2021).

In the future, the group will utilize artificially designed protein nanoparticles by advancing the design and functional modification of site-specific variants based on the three-dimensional structure of TIP60 elucidated in this study. It is expected to lead to the development and applications in the nanobiotechnology and nanomaterial fields, such as use as a nanocapsule for a drug delivery system

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

Icosahedral 60-meric porous structure of designed supramolecular protein nanoparticle TIP60 by Junya Obata, Norifumi Kawakami, Akihisa Tsutsumi, Erika Nasu, Kenji Miyamoto, Masahide Kikkawa and Ryoichi Arai. Chemical Communications (Chem. Commun., 2021,57, 10226-10229) DOI: First published 04 Sep 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Seeing a single nanoparticle catalyst at work
Carbon monoxide oxidises to carbon dioxide on the surface of the nanoparticle. Credit: Science Communication Lab for DESY

An October 1, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announces research enabling scientists to observe a single nanoparticle at work,

A DESY-led research team has been using high-intensity X-rays to observe a single catalyst nanoparticle at work. The experiment has revealed for the first time how the chemical composition of the surface of an individual nanoparticle changes under reaction conditions, making it more active. The team led by DESY’s Andreas Stierle is presenting its findings in the journal Science Advances. This study marks an important step towards a better understanding of real, industrial catalytic materials.

An October 1, 2021 Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, explains why this research is important and provides more technical details,

Catalysts are materials that promote chemical reactions without being consumed themselves. Today, catalysts are used in numerous industrial processes, from fertiliser production to manufacturing plastics. Because of this, catalysts are of huge economic importance. A very well-known example is the catalytic converter installed in the exhaust systems of cars. These contain precious metals such as platinum, rhodium and palladium, which allow highly toxic carbon monoxide (CO) to be converted into carbon dioxide (CO2) and reduce the amount of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx).

“In spite of their widespread use and great importance, we are still ignorant of many important details of just how the various catalysts work,” explains Stierle, head of the DESY NanoLab. “That’s why we have long wanted to study real catalysts while in operation.” This is not easy, because in order to make the active surface as large as possible, catalysts are typically used in the form of tiny nanoparticles, and the changes that affect their activity occur on their surface.

Surface strain relates to chemical composition

In the framework of the EU project Nanoscience Foundries and Fine Analysis (NFFA), the team from DESY NanoLab has developed a technique for labelling individual nanoparticles and thereby identifying them in a sample. “For the study, we grew nanoparticles of a platinum-rhodium alloy on a substrate in the lab and labelled one specific particle,” says co-author Thomas Keller from DESY NanoLab and in charge of the project at DESY. “The diameter of the labelled particle is around 100 nanometres, and it is similar to the particles used in a car’s catalytic converter.” A nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre.

Using X-rays from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF in Grenoble, France, the team was not only able to create a detailed image of the nanoparticle; it also measured the mechanical strain within its surface. “The surface strain is related to the surface composition, in particular the ratio of platinum to rhodium atoms,” explains co-author Philipp Plessow from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), whose group computed strain as a function of surface composition. By comparing the observed and computed facet-dependent strain, conclusions can be drawn concerning the chemical composition at the particle surface. The different surfaces of a nanoparticle are called facets, just like the facets of a cut gemstone.

When the nanoparticle is grown, its surface consists mainly of platinum atoms, as this configuration is energetically favoured. However, the scientists studied the shape of the particle and its surface strain under different conditions, including the operating conditions of an automotive catalytic converter. To do this, they heated the particle to around 430 degrees Celsius and allowed carbon monoxide and oxygen molecules to pass over it. “Under these reaction conditions, the rhodium inside the particle becomes mobile and migrates to the surface because it interacts more strongly with oxygen than the platinum,” explains Plessow. This is also predicted by theory.

“As a result, the surface strain and the shape of the particle change,” reports co-author Ivan Vartaniants, from DESY, whose team converted the X-ray diffraction data into three-dimensional spatial images. “A facet-dependent rhodium enrichment takes place, whereby additional corners and edges are formed.” The chemical composition of the surface, and the shape and size of the particles have a significant effect on their function and efficiency. However, scientists are only just beginning to understand exactly how these are connected and how to control the structure and composition of the nanoparticles. The X-rays allow researchers to detect changes of as little as 0.1 in a thousand in the strain, which in this experiment corresponds to a precision of about 0.0003 nanometres (0.3 picometres).

Crucial step towards analysing industrial catalyst materials

“We can now, for the first time, observe the details of the structural changes in such catalyst nanoparticles while in operation,” says Stierle, Lead Scientist at DESY and professor for nanoscience at the University of Hamburg. “This is a major step forward and is helping us to understand an entire class of reactions that make use of alloy nanoparticles.” Scientists at KIT and DESY now want to explore this systematically at the new Collaborative Research Centre 1441, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and entitled “Tracking the Active Sites in Heterogeneous Catalysis for Emission Control (TrackAct)”.

“Our investigation is an important step towards analysing industrial catalytic materials,” Stierle points out. Until now, scientists have had to grow model systems in the laboratory in order to conduct such investigations. “In this study, we have gone to the limit of what can be done. With DESY’s planned X-ray microscope PETRA IV, we will be able to look at ten times smaller individual particles in real catalysts, and under reaction conditions.”
DESY is one of the world’s leading particle accelerator centres and investigates the structure and function of matter – from the interaction of tiny elementary particles and the behaviour of novel nanomaterials and vital biomolecules to the great mysteries of the universe. The particle accelerators and detectors that DESY develops and builds at its locations in Hamburg and Zeuthen are unique research tools. They generate the most intense X-ray radiation in the world, accelerate particles to record energies and open up new windows onto the universe. DESY is a member of the Helmholtz Association, Germany’s largest scientific association, and receives its funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) (90 per cent) and the German federal states of Hamburg and Brandenburg (10 per cent).

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

Single alloy nanoparticle x-ray imaging during a catalytic reaction by Young Yong Kim, Thomas F. Keller, Tiago J. Goncalves, Manuel Abuin, Henning Runge, Luca Gelisio, Jerome Carnis, Vedran Vonk, Philipp N. Plessow, Ivan A. Vartaniants, Andreas Stierle. Science Advances • 1 Oct 2021 • Vol 7, Issue 40 • DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abh0757

This paper is open access.

Art in the Age of Planetary Consciousness; an April 22, 2022 talk in Venice (Italy) and online (+ an April 21/22, 2022 art/sci event)

The Biennale Arte (also known as the Venice Biennale) 2022: The Milk of Dreams runs from April 23 -November 27, 2022 with pre-openings on April 20, 21, and 22.

As part of the Biennale’s pre-opening, the ArtReview (international contemporary art magazine) and the Berggruen Institute (think tank with headquarters in Los Angeles, California) are presenting a talk on April 22, 2022, from the Talk on Art in the Age of Planetary Consciousness on the website (Note: I cannot find an online portal so I’m guessing this is in person only),

Join the artists and ArtReview’s Mark Rappolt for this panel discussion – the first in a new series of talks in collaboration with Berggruen Arts – on 22 April 2022 at Casa dei Tre Oci, Venice

We live in an age in which we increasingly recognise and acknowledge that the human-made world and non-human worlds overlap and interact. In which actions cause reactions in a system that is increasingly planetary in scale while being susceptible to change by the actions of individual and collective agents. How does this change the way in which we think about art? And the ways in which we think about making art? Does it exist apart or as a part of this new consciousness and world view? Does art reflect such systems or participate within them? Or both?

This discussion between artists Shubigi Rao and Wu Tsang,who will both be showing new works at the 59th Venice Biennale, is the first in a new programme of events in which ArtReview is partnering with the Berggruen Institute to explore the intersections of philosophy, science and culture [emphasis mine] – as well as celebrating Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice as a gathering place for artists, curators, artlovers and thinkers. The conversation is chaired by ArtReview editor-in-chief Mark Rappolt.

Venue: Casa dei Tre Oci, Venice

Date: 22 April [2022]

Time: Entry from 4.30pm, talk to commence 5pm [Central European Summer Time, for PT subtract 9 hours]

Moderator: Mark Rappolt, Editor-in-Chief ArtReview & ArtReview Asia

Speakers: Shubigi Rao, Wu Tsang


About the artists:

Artist and writer Shubigi Rao’s interests include libraries, archival systems, histories and lies, literature and violence, ecologies, and natural history. Her art, texts, films, and photographs look at current and historical flashpoints as perspectival shifts to examining contemporary crises of displacement, whether of people, languages, cultures, or knowledge bodies. Her current decade-long project, Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book is about the history of book destruction and the future of knowledge. In 2020, the second book from the project won the Singapore Literature Prize (non-fiction), while the first volume was shortlisted in 2018. Both books have won numerous awards, including AIGA (New York)’s 50 best books of 2016, and D&AD Pencil for design. The first exhibition of the project, Written in the Margins, won the APB Signature Prize 2018 Juror’s Choice Award. She is currently the Curator for the upcoming Kochi-Muziris Biennale. She will be representing Singapore at the 59th Venice Biennale.

Wu Tsang is an award-winning filmmaker and visual artist. Tsang’s work crosses genres and disciplines, from narrative and documentary films to live performance and video installations. Tsang is a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellow, and her projects have been presented at museums, biennials, and film festivals internationally. Awards include 2016 Guggenheim Fellow (Film/Video), 2018 Hugo Boss Prize Nominee, Creative Capital, Rockefeller Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and Warhol Foundation. Tsang received her BFA (2004) from the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an MFA (2010) from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Currently Tsang works in residence at Schauspielhaus Zurich, as a director of theatre with the collective Moved by the Motion. Her work is included in the 59th Venice Biennale’s central exhibition The Milk of Dreams, curated by Cecilia Alemani. On 20 April, TBA21–Academy in collaboration with The Hartwig Art Foundation presents the Italian premiere of Moby Dick; or, The Whale, the Wu Tsang-directed feature-length silent film with a live symphony orchestra, at Venice’s Teatro Goldoni.

I’m not sure how this talk will “explore the intersections of philosophy, science and culture.” I can make a case for philosophy and culture but not science. At any rate, the it serves as an introduction to the Berggruen Institute’s new activities in Europe, from the Talk on Art in the Age of Planetary Consciousness on the website,

The Berggruen Institute – headquartered in Los Angeles – was established in 2010 to develop foundational ideas about how to reshape political and social institutions in a time of great global change. It recently acquired Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice as a new base for its European activities. The neo-gothic building, originally designed as a home and studio by the artist Mario de Maria, will serve as a space for global dialogue and new ideas, via a range of workshops, symposia and exhibitions in the visual arts and architecture.

In a further expansion of activity, the initiative Berggruen Arts & Culture has been launched with the acquisition of the historic Palazzo Diedo in Venice’s Cannaregio district. The site will host exhibitions as well as a residency programme (with Sterling Ruby named as the inaugural artist-in-residence). Curator Mario Codognato has been appointed artistic director of the initiative; the architect Silvio Fassi will oversee the palazzo’s renovation, which is scheduled to open in 2024.

Having been most interested in the Berggruen Institute (founded by Nicolas Berggruen) and its events, I’ve missed the arts and culture aspect of the Berggruen enterprise. Mark Westall’s March 15, 2022 article for FAD magazine gives some insight into Berggruen’s Venice arts and culture adventure,

In the most recent of his initiatives to encourage the work of today’s artists, deepen the connection between contemporary art and the past, and make art more widely accessible to the public, philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen today [March 15, 2022] announced the creation of Berggruen Arts & Culture and the acquisition of the historic Palazzo Diedo by the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust in Venice’s Cannaregio district, which is being restored and renovated to serve as a base for this multi-faceted, international program and its activities in Venice and around the world.

At Palazzo Diedo, Berggruen Arts & Culture will host an array of exhibitions—some drawn from Nicolas Berggruen’s personal collection—as well as installations, symposia, and an artist-in-residence program that will foster the creation of art in Venice. To bring the palazzo to life during the renovation phase and make its new role visible to the public, Berggruen Arts & Culture has named Sterling Ruby as its inaugural artist-in-residence. Ruby will create A Project in Four Acts, a multi-year installation at Palazzo Diedo, with the first element debuting on April 20, 2022, and on view through the duration of the 59th Biennale Arte.

Internationally renowned contemporary art curator Mario Codognato, who has served as chief curator of MADRE in Naples and director of the Anish Kapoor Foundation in Venice [I have more on Anish Kapoor later], has been named the artistic director of Berggruen Arts & Culture. Venetian architect Silvio Fassi is overseeing the renovation of the palazzo, which will open officially in 2024, concurrent with the Biennale di Venezia.

Nicolas Berggruen’s initiatives in the visual arts and culture have spanned the traditional and the experimental. As a representative of a family that is legendary in the field of 20th-century European art, he has been instrumental in expanding the programming and curatorial autonomy of the Museum Berggruen, which has been a component of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin since 2000. As founder of the Berggruen Institute, he has spearheaded the expansion of the Institute with a presence in Los Angeles, Beijing, and Venice. He has supported Institute-led projects pairing leading contemporary artists including Anicka Yi, Ian Cheng, Rob Reynolds, Agnieszka Kurant, Pierre Huyghe, and Nancy Baker Cahill with researchers in artificial intelligence and biology, to create works exploring our changing ideas of what it means to be human.

Palazzo Diedo is the second historic building that the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust has acquired in Venice, following the purchase of Casa dei Tre Oci on the Giudecca as the principal European base for the Berggruen Institute. In April and June 2022, Berggruen Arts & Culture will present a series of artist conversations in partnership with ArtReview at Casa dei Tre Oci. Berggruen Arts & Culture will also undertake activities such as exhibitions, discussions, lectures, and residencies at sites beyond Palazzo Diedo and Casa dei Tre Oci, such as Museum Berggruen in Berlin and the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles.

For those of us not lucky enough to be in Venice for the opening of the 59th Biennale Arte, there’s this amusing story about Anish Kapoor and an artistic feud over the blackest black (a coating material made of carbon nanotubes) in my February 21, 2019 posting.

Art/sci and the Berggruen Institute

While the April 22, 2022 talk doesn’t directly address science issues vis-à-vis arts and culture, this upcoming Berggruen Institute/University of Southern California (USC) event does,

What Will Life Become?

Thursday, April 21 [2022] @ USC // Friday, April 22 [2022] @ Berggruen Institute // #WWLB


Biotechnologies that push the limits of life, artificial intelligences that can be trained to learn, and endeavors that envision life beyond Earth are among recent and anticipated technoscientific futures. Such projects unsettle theories and material realities of body, mind, species, and the planet. They prompt us to ask: How will we conjure positive human futures and future humans?

On Thursday, April 21 [2022] and Friday, April 22 [2022], the Berggruen Institute and the USC Dornsife Center on Science, Technology, and Public, together with philosophers, scientists, and artists, collaboratively and critically inquire:

What Will Life Become?

“Speculative Worldbuilding”

“What Will Life Become?”

“Futures of Life”
“Futures of Mind”
“Futures in Outer Space”

“Embodied Futures”


The search for extraterrestrial biosignatures, human/machine cyborgian mashups, and dreams to facilitate reproduction beyond Earth are future-facing technologies. They complicate the purported thresholds, conditions, and boundaries of “the human,” “life,” and “the mind” — as if such categories have ever been stable. 

In concert with the Berggruen Institute’s newly launched Future Humans Program, What Will Life Become? invites philosophers, scientists, and artists to design and co-shape the human and more-than-human futures of life, the mind, and the planet.

Day 1 at USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience 101 features a Keynote with director and speculative architect Liam Young who will discuss world-building through narrative and film with Nils Gilman; a Public Forum with leading scholars K Allado-McDowell, Neda Atanasoski, Lisa Ruth Rand, Tiffany Vora, moderated by Claire Isabel Webb, who will consider the question, “what will life become?” Reception to follow.

Day 2 at the Berggruen Institute features a three-part Salon: “Futures of Life,” “Futures of Mind,” and “Futures in Outer Space.” Conceptual artists Sougwen Chung*, Nancy Baker Cahill, REEPS100, Brian Cantrell, and ARSWAIN will unveil world premieres. “Embodied Futures” invites participants to imagine novel forms of life, mind, and being through artistic and intellectual provocations.

I have some details about how you can attend the programme in person or online,


To participate in the Keynote Conversation and Public Forum on April 21, join us in person at USC Michelson Hall 101 or over YouTube beginning at 1:00 p.m [PT]. We’ll also send you the findings of the Workshop. Please register here.


This invite-only [mephasis mine] workshop at the Berggruen Institute Headquarters features a day of creating Embodied Futures. A three-panel salon, followed by the world premieres of art commissioned by the Institute, will provide provocations for the Possible Worlds exercises. Participants will imagine and design Future Relics and write letters to 2049. WWLB [What Will Life Become?] findings will be available online following the workshop.

*I will have more about Sougwen Chung and her work when I post my commentary on the exhibition running from March 5 – October 23, 2022 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, “The Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.”

Key to quantum electronics could be germanium-bonded aluminium

I have not seen aluminum called aluminium in quite some time. (I’ve always had a fondness for that extra syllable.) I first saw notice of this work from Austria in an October 11, 2021 news item on Nanowerk,

A novel electronic component from TU Wien (Vienna) could be an important key to the era of quantum information technology: Using a special manufacturing process, pure germanium is bonded with aluminium in a way that atomically sharp interfaces are created. This results in a so-called monolithic metal-semiconductor-metal heterostructure.

This structure shows unique effects that are particularly evident at low temperatures. The aluminium becomes superconducting – but not only that, this property is also transferred to the adjacent germanium semiconductor and can be specifically controlled with electric fields. This makes it excellently suited for complex applications in quantum technology, such as processing quantum bits.

A particular advantage is that using this approach, it is not necessary to develop completely new technologies. Instead, mature and well established semiconductor fabrication techniqueses can be used to enable germanium-based quantum electronics.

An October 6, 2021 Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien) press release (also on EurekAlert but published October 12, 2021), which originated the news item, delves into the technical details and the importance of temperature,

Germanium: difficult to form high-quality contacts

“Germanium is a material which will definitely play an important role in semiconductor technology for the development of faster and more energy-efficient components,” says Dr. Masiar Sistani from the Institute for Solid State Electronics at TU Wien. However, if it is used to produce components on a nanometre scale, major problems arise: the material makes it extremely difficult to produce high-quality electrical contacts. This is related to the high impact of even smallest impurities at the contact points that significantly alter the electrical properties. “We have therefore set ourselves the task of developing a new manufacturing method that enables reliable and reproducible contact properties”, says Masiar Sistani.

Diffusing atoms

The key is temperature: when nanometre-structured germanium and aluminium are brought into contact and heated, the atoms of both materials begin to diffuse into the neighbouring material – but to very different extents: the germanium atoms move rapidly into the aluminium, whereas aluminium hardly diffuses into the germanium at all. “Thus, if you connect two aluminium contacts to a thin germanium nanowire and raise the temperature to 350 degrees Celsius, the germanium atoms diffuse off the edge of the nanowire. This creates empty spaces into which the aluminium can then easily penetrate,” explains Masiar Sistani. “In the end, only a few nanometre area in the middle of the nanowire consists of germanium, the rest has been filled up by aluminium.”

Normally, aluminium is made up of tiny crystal grains, but this novel fabrication method forms a perfect single crystal in which the aluminium atoms are arranged in a uniform pattern. As can be seen under the transmission electron microscope, a perfectly clean and atomically sharp transition is formed between germanium and aluminium, with no disordered region in between. In contrast to conventional methods where electrical contacts are applied to a semiconductor, for example by evaporating a metal, no oxides can form at the boundary layer.

Quantum transport in Grenoble

In order to take a closer look at the properties of this monolithic metal-semiconductor heterostructure of germanium and aluminium at low temperature, we collaborated with Dr. Olivier Buisson and Dr. Cécile Naud from the quantum electronics circuits group at Néel Institute – CNRS-UGA [Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Université Grenoble Alpes] in Grenoble. It turned out that the novel structure indeed has quite remarkable properties: “Not only were we able to demonstrate superconductivity in pure, undoped germanium for the first time, we were also able to show that this structure can be switched between quite different operating states using electric fields. Such a germanium quantum dot device can not only be superconducting but also completely insulating, or it can behave like a Josephson transistor, an important basic element of quantum electronic circuits,” explains Masiar Sistani.

This new heterostructure combines a whole range of advantages: The structure has excellent physical properties needed for quantum technologies, such as high carrier mobility and excellent manipulability with electric fields, and it has the additional advantage of fitting well with already established microelectronics technologies: Germanium is already used in current chip architectures and the temperatures required for heterostructure formation are compatible with well-established semiconductor processing schemes. The novel structures not only have theoretically interesting quantum properties, but also opens up a technologically very realistic possibility of enabling further novel and energy-saving devices.

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

Al–Ge–Al Nanowire Heterostructure: From Single-Hole Quantum Dot to Josephson Effect by Jovian Delaforce, Masiar Sistani, Roman B. G. Kramer, Minh A. Luong, Nicolas Roch, Walter M. Weber, Martien I. den Hertog, Eric Robin, Cecile Naud, Alois Lugstein, Olivier Buisson. Advanced Materials Volume 33, Issue 39 October 1, 2021 2101989 DOI: First published [online]: 08 August 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.