I almost missed the briefing but the folks at the US National Science Foundation (NSF) kindly allowed me to join the meeting despite being 10 minutes late. Before launching into my comments, here’s what we were discussing,
From a September 20, 2023 NSF media briefing (received via email),
U. S. National Science Foundation Media Briefing on the Inaugural Global Centers Awards
Please join the U.S. National Science Foundation this Wednesday September 20th from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. ESTfor a discussion and Q&A on the inaugural Global Centers Competition awards. Earlier this week, NSF along with partner funding agencies from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom — announced awards totaling $76.4 million for the inaugural Global Centers Competition. These international, interdisciplinary collaborative research centers will apply best practices of broadening participation and community engagement to develop use-inspired research on climate change and clean energy. The centers will also create and promote opportunities for students and early-career researchers to gain education and training in world-class research while enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
NSF will have a panel of experts on hand to discuss and answer questions about these new Global Centers and how they will sync talent across the globe to generate the discoveries and solutions needed to empower resilient communities everywhere.
What: Panel discussion and Q&A on NSF’s Global Centers
When: 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. EST, Wednesday, September 20th, 2023
Where: This briefing [is over.]
Who: Scheduled panelists include…
Anne Emig is the Section Chief for the Programs and Analysis Section in the National Science Foundation Office of International Science and Engineering
Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf is the Principal Investigator for the Global Centers Track 1 project on AI and Biodiversity Change as well as the Director of the Translational Data Analytics Institute and a Professor of Computer Science Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology at the Ohio State University
Dr. Meng Tao is the Principal Investigator for the Global Centers Track 1 project Global Hydrogen Production Technologies Center as well as a Professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering at Arizona State University
Dr. Ashish Sharma is the Principal Investigator for the Global Centers Track 1 project Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions as well as the Climate and Urban Sustainability Lead at the Discovery Partners Institute, University of Illinois System
Note: This briefing is only open to members of the media
I’m glad to have learned about this effort and applaud the NSF for its outreach efforts. By comparison, Canadian agencies (I’m looking at you, Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada [NSERC] and Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC]) have a lot to learn.
Today [September 18, 2023], the U.S. National Science Foundation — along with partner funding agencies from Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom — announced awards totaling $76.4 million for the inaugural Global Centers Competition. These international, interdisciplinary collaborative research centers will apply best practices of broadening participation and community engagement to develop use-inspired research on climate change and clean energy. The centers will also create and promote opportunities for students and early-career researchers to gain education and training in world-class research while enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
“NSF builds capacity and advances its priorities through these centers of research excellence by uniting diverse teams from around the world,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Global Centers will sync talent across the globe to generate the discoveries and solutions needed to empower resilient communities everywhere.”
Global Centers are sponsored in part by a multilateral funding activity led by NSF and four partner funding organizations: Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and the United Kingdom’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
Both collectively and independently, the centers will support convergent interdisciplinary research collaborations focused on assessing and mitigating the impacts of climate change on society, people, and communities. Outcomes from Global Centers’ activities will inform and catalyze the development of innovative solutions and technologies to address climate change. Examples include: enhancing awareness of critical information; advancing and advocating for decarbonization efforts; creating climate change adaptation plans tailored to specific localities and groups; using artificial intelligence to study responses of nature to climate change; transboundary water issues; and scaling the production of next-generation technologies aimed at achieving net zero. Several projects include partnerships with tribal groups or historically Black colleges and universities that will broaden participation.
“The National Science Foundation Global Centres initiative provides students and researchers a platform to advance innovative and interdisciplinary research and gain education and training opportunities in world-class research while also enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility,” said NSERC President Alejandro Adem. “We at NSERC look forward to seeing the outcomes of the work being done by some of Canada and the world’s best and brightest minds to tackle one of the biggest issues of our time.”
The awards are divided into two tracks. Track 1 are Implementation grants with co-funding from international partners. Track 2 are Design grants meant to provide seed funding to develop the teams and the science for future competitions. Many additional countries are involved in Track 2 and will increase global engagement.
There are seven Track 1 Global Centers that involve research partnerships with Australia, Canada, and the U.K. Each Track 1 Global Center will be implemented by internationally dispersed teams consisting of U.S. and foreign researchers. U.S. researchers will be supported by NSF up to $5 million over four to five years, while foreign researchers will be supported by their respective country’s funding agency (CSIRO, NSERC, SSHRC and UKRI) with a comparable amount of funds.
There are 14 Track 2 Global Centers that are at the community-driven design stage. These centers’ teams involve U.S. researchers in partnerships with foreign researchers from any country. NSF will provide the U.S. researchers up to $250,000 of seed funding over a two-year period. These multidisciplinary, international teams will coordinate the research and education efforts needed to become competitive for Track-1 funding in the future.
“Our combined investment in Global Centers enables exciting researcher and innovation-led international and interdisciplinary collaboration to drive the energy transition,” said UKRI CEO, Dame Ottoline Leyser. “I look forward to seeing the creative solutions developed through these global collaborations.”
Kirsten Rose, Acting Chief Executive of CSIRO, said as Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO is proud to be part of a strong national contribution to solving this critical global challenge. “Partnering with the NSF’s Global Centers means Australia remains at the global forefront of work to build a clean hydrogen industry, build integrated and equitable energy systems, and partnering with regions and industries for a low emissions future.”
Track 1 (Implementation)
Global Hydrogen Production Technologies (HyPT) Center Grant number: 2330525 Arizona State University and U.S. partner institutions: University of Michigan, Stanford University and Navajo Technical University. Quadrilateral research partnership with Australia, Canada, and the U.K. Critical and Emerging Tech: green hydrogen (renewable energy generation).
Electric Power Innovation for a Carbon-free Society (EPICS) Grant number: 2330450 The Johns Hopkins University and U.S. partner institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California, Davis, and Resources for the Future. Trilateral research partnership with Australia and the U.K. Critical and Emerging Tech: renewable energy storage.
Global Nitrogen Innovation Center for Clean Energy and Environment (NICCEE) Grant number: 2330502 University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences and U.S. partner institutions: New York University and University of Massachusetts Amherst. Trilateral research partnership with Canada and the U.K. Critical & Emerging Tech: green ammonia (bioeconomy + agriculture).
Understanding Climate Change Impacts on Transboundary Waters Grant number: 2330317 University of Michigan and U.S. partner institutions: Cornell University, College of the Menominee Nation, Red Lake Nation and University of Wisconsin–Madison. Bilateral research partnership with Canada. Critical and Emerging Tech: N/A.
AI and Biodiversity Change (ABC) Grant number: 2330423 The Ohio State University and U.S. partner institutions: University of Pittsburgh and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bilateral Research partnership with Canada. Critical and Emerging Tech: AI.
U.S.-Canada Center on Climate-Resilient Western Interconnected Grid Grant number: 2330582 The University of Utah and U.S. partner institutions: University of California San Diego, The University of New Mexico, and The Nevada System of Higher Education. Bilateral Research partnership with Canada. Critical and Emerging Tech: AI.
Clean Energy and Equitable Transportation Solutions Grant number: 2330565 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and U.S. partner institutions: University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and Arizona State University. Bilateral Research partnership with the U.K. Critical and Emerging Tech: N/A
Track 2 (Design)
Developing Solutions to Decarbonize Emissions and Fuels Grant number: 2330509 University of Maryland, College Park. International collaboration with Japan, Israel, and Ghana.
Enhanced Wind Turbine Blade Durability Grant number: 2329911 Cornell University. International collaboration with Canada, the UK, Norway, Denmark, and Spain.
Building the Global Center for Forecasting Freshwater Futures Grant number: 2330211 Virginia Tech. International collaboration with Australia.
Climate Risk and Resilience: Southeast Asia as a Living Lab (SEALL) Grant number: 2330308 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. International collaboration with Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and India.
Climate-Smart Food-Energy-Water Nexus in Small Farms Grant number: 2330505 The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. International collaboration with Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Panama, Cambodia, and Uganda.
Center for Household Energy and Thermal Resilience (HEaTR) Grant number: 2330533 Cornell University. International collaboration with India, the U.K, Ghana, and Singapore.
Enabling interdisciplinary wildfire research for community resilience Grant number: 2330343 Oregon State University. International collaborations with Australia and the U.K.
SuReMin: Sustainable, resilient, responsible global minerals supply chain Grant number: 2330041 Northwestern University. International collaboration with Chile.
Nature-based Urban Hydrology Center Grant number: 2330413 Villanova University. International collaboration with Canada, the U.K, Switzerland, Ireland, Australia, Chile, and Turkey.
A multi-disciplinary framework to combat climate-induced desert locust upsurges, outbreaks, and plagues in East Africa Grand number: 2330452 Georgia State University. International collaboration with Ethiopia.
US-Africa Research Center for Clean Energy Grant number: 2330437 Georgia Institute of Technology. International collaborations with Rwanda.
Equitable and User-Centric Energy Market for Resilient Grid-interactive Communities Grant number: 2330504 Santa Clara University. International collaboration with Canada.
Energy Sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples (ESIP) Grant number: 2330387 University of North Dakota. International collaboration with Canada.
Blue Climate Solutions Grant number: 2330518 University of Rhode Island. International collaboration with Indonesia.
For Canadian researchers who are interested, there’s a National Science Foundation Global Centres webpage on the NSERC website, which answers a lot of questions about the programme from a Canadian perspective. The application deadline for both tracks was May 10, 2023 and there’s no information (as of September 20, 2023) about future competitions. Nice to see the social science and humanities included in the form of a funding agency. (I think this might be the one compliment I deliver to a Canadian funding initiative this year. 🙂
News about local and international affairs (see Seth Borenstein’s September 20, 2023 Associated Press article “UN chief warns of ‘gates of hell’ in climate summit, but carbon polluting nations stay silent”) and one’s own personal experience with climate issues can be discouraging at times so it’s heartening to see these efforts. Kudos to the organizers of the Global Centers programme and I wish all the researchers success.
Given how new these centers are, it’s understandable that the panelists would be a little fuzzy about specific although they’ve clearly considered and are attempting to address issues such as sharing data, trust, and outreach to various stakeholders and communities.
I wish I’d asked about cybersecurity when they were talking about data. Ah well, there was my question about outreach to people over the age of 50 or 55 as so much of their planning was focused on youth. The panelists who responded (Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf, Dr. Meng Tao, and Dr. Ashish Sharma) did not seem to have done much thinking about seniors/elders/older people.
I believe bird watching (as mentioned by one of the panelists) does tend to attract older people but citizen science or other hobbies/programmes mentioned may or may not be a good source for seniors outreach. Almost all science outreach tilts to youth including citizen science.
With the planet is not doing so well and with the aging populations in Canada, the US, many European countries, China, Japan, and I’m sure many others perhaps some new thinking about ‘inclusivity’ might be in order. One suggestion, start thinking about age groups. In the same way that 20 is not 30, is not 40, so 55 is not 65, is not 75. One more thing, perhaps take into account life experience. Something that gets forgotten is that a lot of the programmes that people take for granted and a lot of the technology people use today was developed in the 1960s (e.g. Internet). That old person? Maybe it’s someone who founded the UN’s Environment Program (I was teaching a nanotechnology course in a seniors programme and asked students about themselves; I was intimidated by her credentials).
In the end, this Global Center initiative is heartening news.
Augmented Self: Can Generative AI be more than just a tool? Sept. 20  6:00-8:00 @Fields
This event is a collaboration between ArtSci Salon and the Quantified Self Meet up Group led by Eric Boyd. Join us for a thought-provoking exploration into the world of “Augmented Self: Can Generative AI be more than just a tool?”.
While the era of the Quantified Self isn’t over, new tools have emerged which make the idea of JUST quantifying yourself (for personal growth or insight) seem outdated. The widespread assumptions is that ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools can do at least some of your thinking FOR YOU. Similarly, MidJourney can churn out passable images from just a prompt (that ChatGPT wrote for you), even if you aren’t an artist. This ability has raised many red flags and concerns regarding intellectual property and copyright infringement. And hundreds more such tools are arriving like a tsunami as venture capitalists pour billions into Generative AI startups. How do we navigate Generative AI for personal growth and creativity? What are its ethical uses? How do we use it for personal growth and creativity, for education or accessibility? What is it’s impact on our sense of self and on the conditions of our employment?
6:00-6:30pm. Reception and Networking
6:30-7:15pm. Panel Discussion (see below)
7:15-7:45pm. Q&A with the audience
8pm – option – retiring to a nearby pub for discussions
Engage with a diverse panel of experts, each offering a nuanced perspective on the integration of AI into personal development:
Techie Viewpoint:Eric Boyd, will talk in general about the “Augmented Self” idea, and relate his experiences working with these tools on an unusual creative project – a solarpunk tarot deck. It’s a gigantic project, and “orchestrating artificial cognition” is the weird “augmented” experience at the heart of it.
Other Viewpoints: Seeking project show & tell, brief opinions and constructive criticism!
This event will be recorded. If you wish to join us on Zoom, please, head to the Facebook event page here a few days before the event to get the link.
Audience Participation: We invite your participation! If you’d like to speak on the panel, we are still looking to flesh it out. Ideally we’re looking for an educator who is grappling seriously with the impact of e.g. ChatGPT on their students and the process and goals of education in general. And we’re open to other ideas and viewpoints! Please contact the organizer (Eric Boyd) via meetup message with a brief description of your background and what you might share/say in 5+ minutes. It doesn’t need to be formal, these are the frontiers!
And everyone, please bring your curiosity and your questions! We welcome all input, especially critical or out-of-frame input. We don’t even know what kind of language we should be using to discuss this!
If you are intrigued by the intersection of technology, self-improvement, and personal expression and seek a nuanced perspective on the augmented self, this event is designed for you.
Join us for an evening of generative AI collaboration stories (in the usual manner of QS “what did you do”), candid exploration, and thought-provoking dialogue. Chart your course through the potential and complexities of the Augmented Self with the guidance of insightful experts and a community of like-minded explorers.
This event description began from a series of prompts to ChatGPT. Can you spot the unedited sections? Does it matter if you can or can’t? It feels very new and different to make things this way. Let’s talk about it. see full description by organizer Eric Boyd.
“Migrations Without Borders” is a modular piece of art that explores the potential of AI to mimic and remix cultural styles and elements [emphasis mine]. Incorporating eight distinct musical styles and corresponding visual elements, the piece allows for the dynamic composition of linked music themes and visuals.
But “Migrations” is more than just a showcase of AI’s abilities. It is a deliberate mixture of themes, including immigration, remix culture, AI bias, and the interplay of language and imagery. Drawing from Dhaivat’s personal experience and Toronto’s diverse cultural landscape, the piece creates a universe of cross-pollination that encourages reflection on the ways in which technology is changing our relationship to culture, identity, and acceptable thought.
The art invites us to consider the consequences of AI’s powers of mimicry and integration. What does it mean for likenesses and cultures to collide and mix so easily? How do we navigate the borrowing of styles and representations that may not be our own? What responsibilities and freedoms do we have in this rapidly evolving landscape?
I wouldn’t ordinarily post about an art exhibition closing or finale event but this it a good companion event in Toronto and gives people in the Vancouver area an opportunity for something that’s more avant garde than I realized when the exhibition was announced in May 2023,, from the Phase Shifting Index Closing Celebration event page on the Polygon Art Gallery website,
Jeremy Shaw: Phase Shifting Index
Sunday, September 24 5:00pm
[Location: The Polygon Gallery at 101 Carrie Cates Court in North Vancouver, BC, Canada]
Artist in attendance
Final day to see Phase Shifting Index—for the full experience of the seven-channel work please come at least 35 minutes before the exhibition closes at 5:00 pm.
Doors at 5:00pm Screening of Jeremy Shaw’s short film Quickeners at 5:15pm Conversation between Jeremy Shaw and The Polygon’s Audain Chief Curator Monika Szewczyk at 5:45pm Reception at 6:15pm
About Quickeners Quickeners: They live about 500 years after us and belong to the entirely rational- thinking species of Quantum Human, who are immortal and connected to each other through an abstract entity called “The Hive”. However, Quickeners have a developed a rare disorder named “Human Atavism Syndrome” – or H.A.S.- that prompts them to unexplainably desire to engage in long-forgotten behavioural patterns of humans. Detached from Hive, the Quickeners fall into an ecstatic state in which they sing, clap, cry, scream, dance and handle poisonous snakes [emphasis mine].
About Phase Shifting Index Through a seven-channel video, sound, and light installation—the most ambitious use to date of Jeremy Shaw’s signature, evolving ‘post-documentary’ approach—visitors experience seven distinct subcultures that believe they can fundamentally alter reality.
About Jeremy Shaw Born in North Vancouver and now based in Berlin, Jeremy Shaw works in a variety of media to explore altered states and the cultural and scientific practices that aspire to map transcendental experience. His films, installations and sculptures have gained worldwide acclaim with solo exhibitions at Centre Pompidou, Paris, MoMA PS1, New York, and Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin as well international surveys including the 57th Venice Biennale, 16th Lyon Biennale and Manifesta 11, Zurich.
From June 23 to Sept. 24, 2023, The Polygon Gallery presents the North American premiere of Phase Shifting Index by North Vancouver-born, Berlin-based artist Jeremy Shaw. The immersive installation combines film, sound, and light to tell a story about an imagined future in which human beliefs and survival are at stake.
Phase Shifting Index is a seven-channel video, sound, and light installation that functions as a science-fiction pseudo-documentary about seven distinct subcultures that believe they can fundamentally alter reality. Each screen shows a group engaging in ritualistic movements while dressed in clothing that places them in periods ranging from the 1960s to the 1990s. Shaw uses outdated modes of 20th-century video technology (such as 16mm film and Hi-8 video tape), while interviews in indecipherable languages are subtitled in English. All seven channels are tied together by an overarching narrator who describes their belief systems and the significance of their movements: body-mind centering, robotic popping-and-locking, modern and postmodern dance, jump-style, hardcore punk skanking, and trust exercises, amongst others.
As the work progresses, the audiovisual elements of each screen draws the viewer into a dramatic narrative arc. At the climax, the seven autonomous subcultural groups align in a trans-temporal dance routine, with all subjects on all screens engaged in the same cathartic, synchronized movements, before disintegrating into abstraction and chaos. Sounds and sights collide on screen and then meld into a synaptic colour field. The result is a suspension of time and space, as the seven parallel realities fuse into one psychedelic art installation.
It was the ‘psychedelic’ in the last line along with references to the 1960s that dampened my enthusiasm for this ‘mind blowing’ experience. However, Ryan Kelln’s Transmigrations and proposed talk at Art Science Salon/Quantified Self Toronto’s event “Augmented Self: Can Generative AI be more than just a tool?” broadened my thinking on the matter.
A September 14, 2023 announcement (received via email) from the Canadian Science Policy Centre includes an invitation to sign up for the 2024 edition of their Science Meets Parliament (SMP) programme, here’s more about the programme from the announcement,
Science Meets Parliament (SMP) is a program that works to strengthen the connections between the science and policy communities. This program is open to Tier II Canada Research Chairs, Indigenous Principal Investigators, and Banting Postdoctoral Fellows. …
The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) and the Office of the Chief Science Advisor (OCSA) are pleased to announce that registration is open for the 2024 edition of Science Meets Parliament!
This program is scheduled to take place in Ottawa on May 6th and 7th 2024, subject to Parliament being in session and in person.
The objective of this initiative is to strengthen the connections between Canada’s scientific and political communities, enable a two-way dialogue, and promote mutual understanding. This initiative aims to help scientists become familiar with policy making at the political level, and for parliamentarians to explore using scientific evidence in policy making. This initiative is not meant to be an advocacy exercise, and will not include any discussion of science funding or other forms of advocacy.
The Science Meets Parliament model is adapted from the successful Australian program held annually since 1999. Similar initiatives exist in the EU, the UK and Spain.
CSPC’s program aims to benefit the parliamentarians, the scientific community and, indirectly, the Canadian public.
For anyone who likes to ‘kick the tires before buying’, there’s an information session (from the announcement),
A virtual information session will be held for all interested parties on September 19th , from 11:30-12:30 pm ET [8:30 – 9:30 am PT]. To register for the SMP 2024 Virtual Information Session, click here.
Finally (from the announcement),
The deadline to apply for this program is October 11, 2023. To apply, click here.
Be careful not to fall, is a familiar stricture when applied to ‘leaning out of windows’ supplying a frisson of danger to the ‘lean’ but in German, ‘aus dem Fenster lehnen’ or ‘lean out of the window’, is an expression for interdisciplinarity. It’s a nice touch for a book about an art/physics collaboration where it can feel ‘dangerous’ to move so far out of your comfort zone. The book is described this way in its Vancouver (Canada) Public Library catalogue entry,
Art and physics collide in this expansive exploration of how knowledge can be translated across disciplinary communities to activate new aesthetic and scientific perspectives.
Leaning Out of Windows shares findings from a six-year collaboration by a group of artists and physicists exploring the connections and differences between the language they use [emphasis mine], the means by which they develop knowledge, how that knowledge is visualized, and, ultimately, how they seek to understand the universe. Physicists from TRIUMF, Canada’s particle physics accelerator, presented key concepts in the physics of Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces to artists convened by Emily Carr University of Art + Design; the participants then generated conversations, process drawings, diagrams, field notes, and works of art. The “wondrous back-and-forth” of this process allowed both scientists and artists to, as Koenig [Ingrid Koenig] and Cutler [Randy Lee Cutler] describe, “lean out of our respective fields of inquiry and inhabit the infinite spaces of not knowing.”
From this leaning into uncertainty comes a rich array of work towards furthering the shared project of artists and scientists in shaping cultural understandings of the universe: Otoniya J. Okot Bitek reflects on the invisible forces of power; Jess H. Brewer contemplates emergence, free will, and magic; Mimi Gellman looks at the resonances between Indigenous Knowledge and physics; Jeff Derksen finds Hegelian dialectics within the matter-antimatter process; Sanem Güvenç considers the possibilities of the void; Nirmal Raj ponders the universe’s “special moment of light and visibility” we happen to inhabit; Sadira Rodrigues eschews the artificiality of the lab for a “boring berm of dirt”; and Marina Roy metaphorically turns beams of stable and radioactive gold particles into art of pigments, oils, liquid plastic, and wood. Combined with additional essays, diagrams, and artworks, these texts and artworks live in the intersection of disparate fields that nonetheless share a deep curiosity of the world and our place within it, and a dedication to building and sharing knowledges.
Self-published, “Leaning Out of Windows: An Art and Physics Collaboration” and edited by Ingrid Koenig & Randy Lee Cutler (who also wrote many of the essays) was produced through an entity known as Figure 1 (located in Vancouver). It can be purchased for $45 CAD here on the Figure 1 website or $41.71 (CAD?) on Amazon. (Weirdly, if you look at the back outside cover you’ll see a price of $45 USD.)
Kind of a book
“Leaning” functions as three kinds of books in one package. First, it is documentation for a six year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), second, a collection of essays, and, third, a catalogue for three inter-related exhibitions. (Aside: my focus is primarily on the text for an informal book review.)
Like an art exhibition catalogue, this book is printed in a large, awkward to hold format, with shiny (coated) pages. It makes reading the essays and documentation a little challenging but perfect for a picture book/coffee table book where the images are supposed to look good.
I particularly liked the maps for the various phases of the project and the images for phase 1 showing what happens when an image is passed from one artist to the next, without explanation, asking for a new image to be produced and passed on to yet another artist and so on. There is no discussion amongst the artists about the initial impetus (the first artist in the stream of four met with physicists at a science symposium to talk about antimatter).
Unexpectedly, the documentation proved to be a highlight for me. BTW, you can find out more about the Leaning Out of Windows (LOoW) project (e.g. participants, phases, and art/science resources) on its website.
Koenig should be congratulated for getting as much publicity for the book as possible, given the topic and that there are no celebrities involved. CBC gave it a mention (May 8, 2023) on its Books: Leaning Out of Windows webpage. It also got a mention by Dana Gee in a May 12, 2023 ‘Books brief‘ posting on the Vancouver Sun website.
Plus, there were a couple of articles in an art magazine highlighting the art/science project while it was in progress featuring the few images I was about to access online for this project.
A January 6, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine by Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig introduces the project (Note: I’ll revisit the “metaphor and analogy” mention in this article and throughout the LOoW book later in this post),
The disciplines of art and physics share certain critical perspectives: both deal with how metaphor and analogy inform creative processes. Additionally, artists and physicists address issues of the imagination, creative thinking and communication, and how meaning is made through theoretical research and process-based investigations. There are also important differences in these perspectives. Art brings an appreciation for abstract or non-representational practices. Physics research addresses complex problems relevant to understanding the study of matter and motion through space and time. Physicists also contribute knowledge about how the universe behaves. Together, the achievements of art and physics allow the possibility of a much richer understanding of the nature of reality than each field can contribute individually.
There’s a January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine by Perrin Grauer featuring Mimi Gellman, Note: A link has been removed,
Artwork by artist and ECU Associate Professor Mimi Gellman was selected to appear on the cover of the current issue of Canadian Art magazine.
The gleaming, otherworldly image graces the magazine’s issue on antimatter —a subject which “presents a mirror world of abstract phenomena: time reversals, mutual annihilation, cosmic rays, cloud chambers, an infinite sea of sub-atomic particles that parallels our ‘real’ world of matter,” according to the issue’s editors.
Mimi describes her work as approaching some of the affinities between the biological, the perceptual, the cultural and the astronomical.
“My drawings do not explore the exterior world we perceive but rather what I call the ‘architecture of consciousness’ which permits us to perceive it,” she says.
“Recalling astronomical diagrams and reflecting the mixture of hybrid cultural worldviews in my background, they reveal deep similarities between the dimension explored by sub-atomic physics and the implicit interiority of contemporary art.”
I’m sorry I never saw any announcements for the project exhibitions, all of which seemed to have taken place at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. There were three concepts each explored in three exhibitions, with different artists each time, titled: Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces, respectively.
A bouquet or two and a few nitpicks
Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig have a wonderful quote from Karen Barad, physicist and philosopher, in their essay titled, “Collaborative Research between Artists and Physicists,”
Barad introduces the concept of intra-action and the fluidity of materialization through our bodily entanglements—through intra-action our bodies remain entangled with those around us. “Not only subjects but also objects are permeated through and through with their entangled kin, the other is not just in one’s skin, but in one’s bones, in one’s belly in one’s heart, in one’s nucleus, in one’s past and future.This is a true for electrons as it is for brittlestars as it is for the differentially constituted human.” As Barad asks herself, “How do I know where my physics begins and ends?” … [p. 13]
To the left of the page is a black and white photograph of entangled cables captioned, “GRIFFIN (Gamma Ray Infrastructure for Fundamental Investigations of Nuclei- TRIUMF.” It’s a nice touch and points to the difficulty of ‘illustrating’ or producing visual art in response to physics ideas such as quantum entanglement, something Einstein called, ‘spooky action at a distance’. From the Quantum entanglement Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,
Quantum entanglement is the phenomenon that occurs when a group of particles are generated, interact, or share spatial proximity in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the group cannot be described independently of the state of the others [[emphasis mine], including when the particles are separated by a large distance [emphasis mine]. The topic of quantum entanglement is at the heart of the disparity between classical and quantum physics: entanglement is a primary feature of quantum mechanics not present in classical mechanics.
Some of the essays
One essay that stood out in LOoW, was “A Boring Berm of Dirt’ (pp. 141-7) by Sadira Rodrigues. She notes that dirt and soil are not the same; one is dead (dirt) and the other is living (soil) and that the berm has an important role at TRIUMF. If you want a more specific discussion of the difference between dirt and soil, see David Beaulieu’s February 23, 2023 essay (Soil vs. Dirt: What’s the Difference?) on The Spruce website.
Rodrigues’ essay (part of the Emergence concept) situates the work physically (word play alert: physics/physically) whereas all of the other work is based on ideas.
In “Boring Berm … ,” radioactivity is mentioned, a term which is largely taboo these days due its association with poisoning, bombs, and death. The eassy goes into fascinating detail about TRIUMF’s underground facility and how the facility deals with its nuclear waste and the role that the berm plays. (On a more fanciful note, the danger in the title of the book is given another dimension in this essay focused on nuclear topics.) Regardless, the essay was definitely an eye-opener.
Aside: The institution has been rebranded from: TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) to: TRIUMF (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre). You can find a reference to the ‘nuclear’ name in my October 2, 2018 posting although the name was already changed, probably in the early to mid-2010s. There is no mention of the ‘nuclear’ name in TRIUMF’s Wikipedia entry, accessed August 22, 2023.
Gellman and language
Mimi Gellman’s essay, “Crossing No Divide: Mapping Affinities in Art and Science” evokes unity, as can be seen in the title. She’s one of the more ‘lyrical’ writers,
There is a place in our imagination where east or west, or large or small, or any other opposites cease to be productive contradictions. As an artist and educator, I have become interested in the non-binary and resonance between Indigenous Knowledge and physics, between art and science, and between traditional ways of considering cognition and thinking with the hand. [p. 33]
This is how Gellman is described for the January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine, which is archived on the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD) website,
Mimi Gellman is an Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi (Ojibway-Jewish Métis) visual artist and educator with a multi-streamed practice in architectural glass and conceptual installation. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Culture + Community at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada, and is completing her research praxis PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University on the metaphysics of Indigenous mapping.
She highlights some interesting observations about language and thinking,
The Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin, like many Indigenous languages is verb-based in contrast with Western languages’ noun-based constructions and these have deep implications for the development of one’s worldview. …
I suspect anyone who speaks more than one language can testify to the observation that language affects one’s worldview. More academically, it’s called linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I find it hard to believe that it’s considered a controversial idea but here goes from the Linguistic relativity Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,
The idea of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis /səˌpɪər ˈhwɔːrf/ sə-PEER WHORF, the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers’ worldview or cognition, and thus individuals’ languages determine or shape their perceptions of the world.
The hypothesis has long been controversial, and many different, often contradictory variations have existed throughout its history. The strong hypothesis of linguistic relativity, now referred to as linguistic determinism, says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and restrict cognitive categories. This was held by some of the early linguists before World War II, but it is generally agreed to be false by modern linguists. Nevertheless, research has produced positive empirical evidence supporting a weaker version of linguistic relativity: that a language’s structures influence and shape a speaker’s perceptions, without strictly limiting or obstructing them.
Gettng back to Gellman, language, linguistic relativity, worldviews, and, adding physics/science, she quotes James (Sa’ke’j) Youngblood Henderson “a research fellow at the Native Law Centre of Canada, University of Saskatchewan College of Law. He was born to the Bear Clan of the Chickasaw Nation and Cheyenne Tribe in Oklahoma in 1944 and is married to Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaw educator. In 1974, he received a juris doctorate in law from Harvard Law School,”
[at a 1993 dialogue between Western and Indigenous scientists …]
[Youngblood Henderson] We don’t have one god. You need a noun-based language to have one god. We have forces. All forces are equal and you are just the amplifier of the forces. The way you conduct your life and the dignity you give to other things gives you access to other forces. Even trees are verbs instead of nouns. The Mi’kmaq named their trees for the sound the wind makes when it blows through the trees during the autumn about an hour after the sunset, when the wind usually comes from a certain direction. So one might be like a ‘shu-shu’ something and another more like a ‘tinka-tinka’ something. Although physics in the western world has been essentially the quest for the smallest noun (which used to be a-tom, ‘that which cannot be further divided’), as they were inside the atom things weren’t acting like nouns anymore. The physicists were intrigued with the possibilities inherent in a language that didn’t depend on nouns but could move right to verbs when the circumstances were appropriate.3
This work from Gellman is a favourite of mine, and is featured in the January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine and you’ll find it in the book,
Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Theodor W. Adorno, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel were unexpected guest stars in Derksen’s essay, “From Two to Another: The Anti-Matter Series,” given that he is an award-winning poet. These days he has this on his profile page on the Department of English, Simon Fraser University website, “Dean and Associate Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.”
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are well known as materialists, having helped define a materialist view of history, of economics and of capitalism. And both Marx and Engels aimed to develop Marxism as a science rather than a model based on naturalizing capitalism and “man.” … [p. 89]
Derksen includes a diagram/poem, for which I can’t find a digitized copy, but here’s what he had to say about it,
My mode of looking at this [antimatter] is through poetic research —which itself does not aim to arrive at a synthesis but instead looks for relational moments. In this I also see a poetic language emerge from both discourses [artistic/scientific]—matter-antimatter thought and dialectical thinking. For my contribution to Leaning Out of Windows, I have tried to combine the scientific aspect of dialectical thinking with the poetic aspect of matter-antimatter thought and experimentation. To do this, I have taken the diagrammatic rendering of Carl Anderson’s experiment which resulted in his 1932 paper … as a model to relate the dialectical thinking at the heart of Marxism and matter-antimatter thought. …
Towards the end of his essay, Derksen notes that he’s working (on what I would call) a real poem. I sent an email to Derksen on August 21, 2023 asking,
Have you written the poem or is still in progress?
If you have written it, has it been published or is it being readied for publication? I would be happy to mention where.
If you do have it ready and would like to ‘soft launch’ the poem, could you send it to me for inclusion in the post?
No response at this time.
Flashback to Alan Storey
I think it was 2002 or 2003 when I first heard about an artist at TRIUMF, Alan Storey. The ‘residency’ was the product of a joint effort between the Canada Council for the Arts (Canada Council) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC).
I spoke with Storey towards the end of his ;residency; and he was a little disappointed because nothing much had come of it. Nobody really seemed to know what to do with an artist at a nuclear facility and he didn’t really didn’t seem to know either. (Alan Storey’s work can be seen in the City of Vancouver’s collection of public art works here and on his website.)
My guess is that someone had a great idea but didn’t think past the ‘let’s give money to science institutions so they can host some artists who will magically produce wonderful things for us’ stage of thinking. While there is no longer a Canada Council/NSERC programme, it’s clear from LOoW (funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC]) that lessons have been learned.
Kudos to David Morissey who acted as an interface and convenor for the artists and to Nigel Smith (Director 2021 – present) and Jonathan Bagger (Director 2014 – 2020) for supporting the project from the TRIUMF side and to Ingrid Koenig and Randy Lee Cutler who organized and facilitated LOoW from the artists’ side.
Now, for the nits
“Co-thought” is mentioned a number of times. What is it? According to my searches, it has something to do with gestures. Here’s one of the few reference I could find for co-thought,
Co-thought and co-speech gestures are generated by the same action generation process by Mingyuan Chu and Sotaro Kita. Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2016 Feb;42(2):257-70. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000168. Epub 2015 Aug 3.
People spontaneously gesture when they speak (co-speech gestures) and when they solve problems silently (co-thought gestures) [emphasis mine]. In this study, we first explored the relationship between these 2 types of gestures and found that individuals who produced co-thought gestures more frequently also produced co-speech gestures more frequently (Experiments 1 and 2). This suggests that the 2 types of gestures are generated from the same process. We then investigated whether both types of gestures can be generated from the representational use of the action generation process that also generates purposeful actions that have a direct physical impact on the world, such as manipulating an object or locomotion (the action generation hypothesis). To this end, we examined the effect of object affordances on the production of both types of gestures (Experiments 3 and 4). We found that individuals produced co-thought and co-speech gestures more often when the stimulus objects afforded action (objects with a smooth surface) than when they did not (objects with a spiky surface). These results support the action generation hypothesis for representational gestures. However, our findings are incompatible with the hypothesis that co-speech representational gestures are solely generated from the speech production process (the speech production hypothesis).
It would have been nice if Koenig and Cutler had noted they were borrowing a word ot coining a word and explaining how it was being used in the LOoW context.
Fruit, passports, and fishing trips
The editors/writers use the words or variants, metaphor, poetry, and analogy with great abandon.
“Fruitful bridge” (top of page) and “fruitful match-ups” (bottom of page) on p. 18 seemed a bit excessive as did the “metaphorical passport” on p. 5.
I choked a bit over this on p. 19, “… these artist/scientist interactions can be seen as ‘procedural metaphors’ that enact a thought experiment … .” Procedural metaphor? It seems a bit of a stretch.
A last example and it’s a pair: “metaphorical fishing trips whereby artist and scientists received whatever they might reel in …” on p. 42 (emphases mine). Fishing trips are mentioned in a later essay too, one of the few times there’s some sort of follow through on an analogy.
Maybe someone who wasn’t involved with the project should have taken a look at the text before it was sent to the printer.
Using the words, poetry, metaphor, and analogy can be tricky and, I want to emphasize that in my opinion, those words were not often put to good use in this book.
Moving on, arts and sciences together have a longstanding history.
Poetry and physics
One of the giants of 19th century physics, James Clerk Maxwell was also known for his poetry. and some of the most evocative (poetic) text in the LOoW book can be found in the quotes from various physicists of the 20th century. The link between physicist and poetry is explicit in a September 17, 2018 posting (12 poignant poems (and one bizarre limerick) written by physicists about physics) by Colin Hunter for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.
Going back further, there’s De rerum natura, a poem in six books, by Lucretius ((c. 99 BCE– c. 55 BCE). Amongst many other philosophical concerns (e.g., the nature of mind and soul, etc.), Lucretius also discussed atomism (“… a natural philosophy proposing that the physical universe is composed of fundamental indivisible components known as atoms; from the Atomism Wikipedia entry). So, poetry and physics have a long history.
Leaving aside Derksen’s diagram/poem, there’s a dearth of poetry in the book except for a suite of seven poems from TRIUMF physicist and professor at UBC, Jess Brewer following his “Emergence, Free Will and Magic” essay,
Emergence / An extremely brief history of one universe, expressed as a series of science fiction poems by Jess H. Brewer, June 29, 2019
Inspired by Dyson Freeman’s delightful lecture series , “Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe,” Reviews of Modern Physics (51) 1979
1. Bang Why not? For reasons known only to itself, the universe begins The quantum foam of spacetime seethes with effortless energies, entering and exiting this continuum with a turbulent intensity transcending the superficially smooth expanding cosmos and yet it kens the glacial passage of “time”, because it waits. And kens the vast reaches of “space”, because it watches, Its own experiences has taught it that from each iteration of complexity, awareness will emerge.
… [p. 149]
My thanks to Brewer for the poetry and magic and my apologies for any mistakes I’ve introduced into his piece. I was trying to be especially careful with the punctuation as that can make quite a difference to how a piece is read.
While Muriel Rukeyser is not a physicist at TRIUMF or, indeed, alive, one of her poems leads the essay “Leaning into Language or the Universe is Made of Stories,” by Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig,
Time comes into it Say it. Say it. The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.. —Muriel Ruykeyser, Speed of Darkness, 1968
Muriel Rukeyser was a poet, playwright, biographer, children’s book author, and political activist. Indeed, for Rukeyser, these activities and forms of expression were linked. …
One of Rukeyser’s intentions behind writing biographies of nonliterary persons was to find a meeting place between science and poetry. [emphasis mine] In an analysis of Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, Virginia Terris argued that Rukeyser believed that in the West, poetry and science are wrongly considered to be in opposition to one another. Thus, writes Terris, “Rukeyser [set] forth her theoretical acceptance of science … [and pointed] out the many parallels between [poetry and science]—unity within themselves, symbolic language, selectivity, the use of the imagination in formulating concepts and in execution. [emphasis mine] Both, she believe[d], ultimately contribute to one another.”
Rokeyser’s poem raised a few questions. Is her poem a story? Or, is she using symbolic language, the poem, to poke fun at stories and atoms? Is she suggesting that atoms are really stories? I found the poem evocative especially with where it was placed in the book.
Morrissey takes a prosaic approach, from the essay “Leaning into Language or the Universe is Made of Stories,”
… [in response to Rukeyser’s claim about stories] Morrissey responded stating that “scientific theories are stories—but how we evaluate stories is important—they need to be true, but they do probe, and some are more popular than others, especially theories that we can’t measure.” He surprised us further when he said that wrong stories can also be useful—they may have elements in them that turn out to be useful for future research. … [pp. 205-6]
In general and throughout this project, it seems as if they (artists and physicists) tried but, for the most part, were never quite able to articulate in poetic, metaphoric, and analogical forms. They tended to fall back onto their preferred modes of scientific notations, prosaic language, and artworks.
Both sides of the knife blade cut
Everybody does it. Poets, academics, artists, scientists, etc. we all appropriate ideas and language, sometimes without understanding them very well. Take this for example, from the Canadian Broadcasting’s (CBC) Books “Elementary Particles” August 16, 2023 webpage,
Elementary Particles by Sneha Madhavan-Reese
A poetry collection about family history and scientific exploration
Through keen, quiet observation, Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s evocative new collection takes us from the wide expanse of rural India to the minute map of Michigan we carry on the palms of our hands. These poems contemplate ancestral language, the wonder and uncertainty of scientific discovery, the resilience of a dung beetle, the fleeting existence of frost flowers on the Arctic Ocean.
The collection is full of familiar characters, from Rosa Parks to Seamus Heaney to Corporal Nathan Cirillo, anchoring it in specific moments in time and place, but has the universality that comes from exploring the complex relationship between a child and her immigrant parents, and in turn, a mother and her children. Elementary Particles examines the building blocks of a life — the personal, family, and planetary histories, transformations, and losses we all experience. (From Brick Books)
Sneha Madhavan-Reese is a writer currently based in Ottawa. In 2015 she received Arc Poetry Magazine’s Diana Brebner Prize and was shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her previous poetry collection is called Observing the Moon
As you can see, there’s no substantive mention of physics in this book description—it’s just a title. Puzzling since there’s this about the author on Asian Heritage Canada’s Sneha Madhavan-Reese webpage
Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s award winning poetry has been widely published in literary magazines in North America and Australia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 2000, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2002. Madhavan-Reese currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario. [emphases mine]
It seems the mechanical engineer did not write up her book blurb because even though the poet’s scientific specialty is not physics as such, I’d expect a better description.
In the end, it seems art and science or poetry and science (in this case, physics) sells.
Alchemy, beauty, and Marx’s surprise connection to atomism
It was unexpected to see a TRIUMF physicist reference alchemy. The physicists haven’t turned lead into gold but they have changed one element into another. If memory holds it was one metallic atom being changed into another type of metallic atom. (Having had to return the book to the library, memory has serve.)
The few references to alchemy that I’ve stumbled across elsewhere in my readings of assorted science topics are derogatory, hence the surprise. Things may be changing; Princeton University Press published a November 7, 2018 posting by author William R. Newman about Newton and alchemy. First, here’s a bit about William Newman,
William R. Newman is Distinguished Professor and Ruth N. Halls Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine at Indiana University. His many books include Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution and Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
People often say that Isaac Newton was not only a great physicist, but also an alchemist. This seems astonishing, given his huge role in the development of science. Is it true, and if so, what is the evidence for it?
WN: The astonishment that Newton was an alchemist stems mostly from the derisive opinion that many moderns hold of alchemy [emphasis mine]. How could the man who discovered the law of universal gravitation, who co-invented calculus, and who was the first to realize the compound nature of white light also engage in the seeming pseudo-science of alchemy? There are many ways to answer this question, but the first thing is to consider the evidence of Newton’s alchemical undertaking. We now know that at least a million words in Newton’s hand survive in which he addresses alchemical themes. Much of this material has been edited in the last decade, and is available on the Chymistry of Isaac Newton site at www.chymistry.org. Newton wrote synopses of alchemical texts, analyzed their content in the form of reading notes and commentaries, composed florilegia or anthologies made up of snippets from his sources, kept experimental laboratory notebooks that recorded his alchemical research over a period of decades, and even put together a succession of concordances called the Index chemicus in which he compared the sayings of different authors to one another. The extent of his dedication to alchemy was almost unprecedented. Newton was not just an alchemist, he was an alchemist’s alchemist.
The ‘beauty’ essay by Ingrid Koenig was also a surprise. Beauty seems to be anathema to contemporary artists. I wrote this in an August 23, 2016 posting (Georgina Lohan, Bharti Kher, and Pablo Picasso: the beauty and the beastliness of art [in Vancouver]), “It seems when it comes to contemporary art, beauty is transgressive.”
Koenig describes it as irrelevant for contemporary artists and yet, beauty is an important attribute to physicists. Her thoughts on beauty in visual art and in physics were a welcome addition to the book.
Marx’s connection to atomism
This will take a minute.
De rerum natura, a six-volume poem by Lucretius (mentioned under the Poetry and physics subhead of this posting), helped to establish the concept of atomism. As it turns out, Lucretius got the idea from earlier thinkers, Epicurus and Democritus.
This chapter turns to Karl Marx’s treatment of Epicureanism and Lucretius [emphasis mine] in his doctoral dissertation, and argues that the questions raised by Marx may be brought to bear on our own understanding of Epicurean philosophy, particularly in respect of a tension between determinism and individual self-consciousness in a universe governed by material causation. Following the contours of Marx’s dissertation [emphasis mine], the chapter focusses on three key topics: the difference between Democritus’ and Epicurus’ methods of philosophy; the swerve of the atom; and the so-called ‘meteors’, or heavenly bodies [emphasis mine]. Marx sought to develop Hegel’s understanding of Epicurus, in particular by elevating the principle of autonomous action to a first form of self-consciousness – a consideration largely mediated by Lucretius’ theorization of the atomic swerve and his poem’s overarching framework of liberating humans from the oppression of the gods.
Fascinating, eh? The rest of this is behind a paywall. For the interested, here’s a citation and link for the book,
Approaches to Lucretius; Traditions and Innovations in Reading the De Rerum Natura Edited by Donncha O’Rourke, University of Edinburgh
Publisher: Cambridge University Press Online publication date: June 2020 Print publication year: 2020 Online ISBN: 9781108379854
It’s a little surprising Derksen doesn’t mention the connection in his essay.
It’s an interesting book if not an easy one. (By the way, I wish they’d included an index.) You can get a preview of some of the artwork in the January 6, 2020 article on the Canadian Art Magazine website.
I can’t rid myself of the feeling that LOoW (the book) is meant to function as a ‘proof of concept’ for someone wanting to start an art/science department or programme at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, perhaps jointly with the University of British Columbia. It is highly unusual to see this sort of material in anything other than a research journal or as a final summary to the granting agency.
Should starting an art/science programme be the intention, I hope they are successful in getting such it together and, in the meantime, thank you to the physicists and artists for their work.
We should all ‘lean out of windows’ on occasion and, if it means, falling or encountering ‘dangerous, uncomfortable ideas’ then, that’s alright too.
The term they’re using in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s (Israel) announcement is “a generally accurate human embryo model.” This is in contrast to previous announcements including the one from the University of Cambridge team highlighted in Part 1.
A research team headed by Prof. Jacob Hanna at the Weizmann Institute of Science has created complete models of human embryos from stem cells cultured in the lab—and managed to grow them outside the womb up to day 14. As reported today [September 6, 2023] in Nature, these synthetic embryo models had all the structures and compartments characteristic of this stage, including the placenta, yolk sac, chorionic sac and other external tissues that ensure the models’ dynamic and adequate growth.
Cellular aggregates derived from human stem cells in previous studies could not be considered genuinely accurate human embryo models, because they lacked nearly all the defining hallmarks of a post-implantation embryo. In particular, they failed to contain several cell types that are essential to the embryo’s development, such as those that form the placenta and the chorionic sac. In addition, they did not have the structural organization characteristic of the embryo and revealed no dynamic ability to progress to the next developmental stage.
Given their authentic complexity, the human embryo models obtained by Hanna’s group may provide an unprecedented opportunity to shed new light on the embryo’s mysterious beginnings. Little is known about the early embryo because it is so difficult to study, for both ethical and technical reasons, yet its initial stages are crucial to its future development. During these stages, the clump of cells that implants itself in the womb on the seventh day of its existence becomes, within three to four weeks, a well-structured embryo that already contains all the body organs.
“The drama is in the first month, the remaining eight months of pregnancy are mainly lots of growth,” Hanna says. “But that first month is still largely a black box. Our stem cell–derived human embryo model offers an ethical and accessible way of peering into this box. It closely mimics the development of a real human embryo, particularly the emergence of its exquisitely fine architecture.”
Hanna’s team built on their previous experience in creating synthetic stem cell–based models of mouse embryos. As in that research, the scientists made no use of fertilized eggs or a womb. Rather, they started out with human cells known as pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to differentiate into many, though not all, cell types. Some were derived from adult skin cells that had been reverted to “stemness.” Others were the progeny of human stem cell lines that had been cultured for years in the lab.
The researchers then used Hanna’s recently developed method to reprogram pluripotent stem cells so as to turn the clock further back: to revert these cells to an even earlier state – known as the naïve state – in which they are capable of becoming anything, that is, specializing into any type of cell. This stage corresponds to day 7 of the natural human embryo, around the time it implants itself in the womb. Hanna’s team had in fact been the first to start describing methods to generate human naïve stem cells, back in 2013; they continued to improve these methods, which stand at the heart of the current project, over the years.
The scientists divided the cells into three groups. The cells intended to develop into the embryo were left as is. The cells in each of the other groups were treated only with chemicals, without any need for genetic modification, so as to turn on certain genes, which was intended to cause these cells to differentiate toward one of three tissue types needed to sustain the embryo: placenta, yolk sac or the extraembryonic mesoderm membrane that ultimately creates the chorionic sac.
Soon after being mixed together under optimized, specifically developed conditions, the cells formed clumps, about 1 percent of which self-organized into complete embryo-like structures. “An embryo is self-driven by definition; we don’t need to tell it what to do – we must only unleash its internally encoded potential,” Hanna says. “It’s critical to mix in the right kinds of cells at the beginning, which can only be derived from naïve stem cells that have no developmental restrictions. Once you do that, the embryo-like model itself says, ‘Go!’”
The stem cell–based embryo-like structures (termed SEMs) developed normally outside the womb for 8 days, reaching a developmental stage equivalent to day 14 in human embryonic development. That’s the point at which natural embryos acquire the internal structures that enable them to proceed to the next stage: developing the progenitors of body organs.
Complete human embryo models match classic diagrams in terms of structure and cell identity
When the researchers compared the inner organization of their stem cell–derived embryo models with illustrations and microscopic anatomy sections in classical embryology atlases from the 1960s, they found an uncanny structural resemblance between the models and the natural human embryos at the corresponding stage. Every compartment and supporting structure was not only there, but in the right place, size and shape. Even the cells that make the hormone used in pregnancy testing were there and active: When the scientists applied secretions from these cells to a commercial pregnancy test, it came out positive.
In fact, the study has already produced a finding that may open a new direction of research into early pregnancy failure. The researchers discovered that if the embryo is not enveloped by placenta-forming cells in the right manner at day 3 of the protocol (corresponding to day 10 in natural embryonic development), its internal structures, such as the yolk sac, fail to properly develop.
“An embryo is not static. It must have the right cells in the right organization, and it must be able to progress – it’s about being and becoming,” Hanna says. “Our complete embryo models will help researchers address the most basic questions about what determines its proper growth.”
This ethical approach to unlocking the mysteries of the very first stages of embryonic development could open numerous research paths. It might help reveal the causes of many birth defects and types of infertility. It could also lead to new technologies for growing transplant tissues and organs. And it could offer a way around experiments that cannot be performed on live embryos – for example, determining the effects of exposure to drugs or other substances on fetal development.
Complete human day 14 post-implantation embryo models from naïve ES cells by Bernardo Oldak, Emilie Wildschutz, Vladyslav Bondarenko, Mehmet-Yunus Comar, Cheng Zhao, Alejandro Aguilera-Castrejon, Shadi Tarazi, Sergey Viukov, Thi Xuan Ai Pham, Shahd Ashouokhi, Dmitry Lokshtanov, Francesco Roncato, Eitan Ariel, Max Rose, Nir Livnat, Tom Shani, Carine Joubran, Roni Cohen, Yoseph Addadi, Muriel Chemla, Merav Kedmi, Hadas Keren-Shaul, Vincent Pasque, Sophie Petropoulos, Fredrik Lanner, Noa Novershtern & Jacob H. Hanna. Nature (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06604-5 Published: 06 September 2023
This paper is behind a paywall.
As for the question I asked in the head “what now?” I have absolutely no idea.
Usually, there’s a rough chronological order to how I introduce the research, but this time I’m looking at the term used to describe it, following up with the various news releases and commentaries about the research, and finishing with a Canadian perspective.
After writing this post (but before it was published), the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) made their September 6, 2023 announcement and things changed a bit. That’s in Part two.
“Synthetic Embryos” are neither Synthetic nor Embryos. So why are editors giving that name to stem cell-based models of human development?
One of the less convincing aspects of the last fortnight’s flurry of announcements about advances in simulating early human development (see here) concerned their name. Headlines galore (in newspapers and scientific journals) referred to “synthetic embryos“.
But embryo models, however impressive, are not embryos. To claim that the fundamental stages of embryo development that we learnt at school – fertilisation, cleavage and compaction – could now be bypassed to achieve the same result would be wrong. Nor are these objects “synthesised”: indeed, their interest to us lies in the ways in which they organise themselves. The researchers merely place the stem cells in a matrix in appropriate conditions, then stand back and watch them do it. Scientists were therefore unhappy about this use of the term in news media, and relieved when the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) stepped in with a press release:
“Unlike some recent media reports describing this research, the ISSCR advises against using the term “synthetic embryo” to describe embryo models, because it is inaccurate and can create confusion. Integrated embryo models are neither synthetic nor embryos. While these models can replicate aspects of the early-stage development of human embryos, they cannot and will not develop to the equivalent of postnatal stage humans. Further, the ISSCR Guidelines prohibit the transfer of any embryo model to the uterus of a human or an animal.”
Although this was the ISSCR’s first attempt to put that position to the public, it had already made that recommendation to the research community two years previously. Its 2021 Guidelines for Stem Cell Research and Clinical Translation had recommended researchers to “promote accurate, current, balanced, and responsive public representations of stem cell research”. In particular:
“While organoids, chimeras, embryo models, and other stem cell-based models are useful research tools offering possibilities for further scientific progress, limitations on the current state of scientific knowledge and regulatory constraints must be clearly explained in any communications with the public or media. Suggestions that any of the current in vitro models can recapitulate an intact embryo, human sentience or integrated brain function are unfounded overstatements that should be avoided and contradicted with more precise characterizations of current understanding.”
Diploma Medical School, University of Birmingham (1975-78)
LLB, University of Wolverhampton
Diploma in Intellectual Property Law & Practice, University of Bristol
Following an education in medicine at the University of Birmingham and a career as a BBC science producer, Julian has focused on the law and regulation of life science technologies since 1997, practising in England and Australia. He joined Bristows with Alex Denoon in 2018.
I have a lot of sympathy with the position of the science writers and editors incurring the scientists’ ire. First, why should journalists have known of the ISSCR’s recommendations on the use of the term “synthetic embryo”? A journalist who found Recommendation 4.1 of the ISSCR Guidelines would probably not have found them specific enough to address the point, and the academic introduction containing the missing detail is hard to find. …
My second reason for being sympathetic to the use of the terrible term is that no suitable alternative has been provided, other than in the Stem Cell Reports paper, which recommends the umbrella terms “embryo models” or “stem cell based embryo models”. …
When asked why she had used the term “synthetic embryo”, the journalist I contacted remarked that, “We’re still working out the right language and it’s something we’re discussing and will no doubt evolve along with the science”.
It is absolutely in the public’s interest (and in the interest of science), that scientific research is explained in terms that the public understands. There is, therefore, a need, I think, for the scientific community to supply a name to the media or endure the penalties of misinformation …
In such an intensely competitive field of research, disagreement among researchers, even as to names, is inevitable. In consequence, however, journalists and their audiences are confronted by a slew of terms which may or may not be synonymous or overlapping, with no agreed term [emphasis mine] for the overall class of stem cell based embryo models. We cannot blame them if they make up snappy titles of their own [emphasis mine]. …
The earliest date for the announcement at the International Society for Stem Cell Researh meeting that I can find is Hannah Devlin’s June 14, 2023 article in The Guardian newspaper, Note: A link has been removed,
Scientists have created synthetic human embryos using stem cells, in a groundbreaking advance that sidesteps the need for eggs or sperm.
Scientists say these model embryos, which resemble those in the earliest stages of human development, could provide a crucial window on the impact of genetic disorders and the biological causes of recurrent miscarriage.
However, the work also raises serious ethical and legal issues as the lab-grown entities fall outside current legislation in the UK and most other countries.
The structures do not have a beating heart or the beginnings of a brain, but include cells that would typically go on to form the placenta, yolk sac and the embryo itself.
Prof Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz, of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, described the work in a plenary address on Wednesday [June 14, 2023] at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s annual meeting in Boston.
Two days later, this June 16, 2023 essay by Kathryn MacKay, Senior Lecturer in Bioethics, University of Sydney (Australia), appeared on The Conversation (h/t June 16, 2023 news item on phys.org), Note: Links have been removed,
Researchers have created synthetic human embryos using stem cells, according to media reports. Remarkably, these embryos have reportedly been created from embryonic stem cells, meaning they do not require sperm and ova.
This development, widely described as a breakthrough that could help scientists learn more about human development and genetic disorders, was revealed this week in Boston at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
The research, announced by Professor Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz of the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. But Żernicka-Goetz told the meeting these human-like embryos had been made by reprogramming human embryonic stem cells.
So what does all this mean for science, and what ethical issues does it present?
MacKay goes on to answer her own questions, from the June 16, 2023 essay, Note: A link has been removed,
One of these quandaries arises around whether their creation really gets us away from the use of human embryos.
Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in London UK, reportedly said that if these human-like embryos can really model human development in the early stages of pregnancy, then we will not have to use human embryos for research.
At the moment, it is unclear if this is the case for two reasons.
First, the embryos were created from human embryonic stem cells, so it seems they do still need human embryos for their creation. Perhaps more light will be shed on this when Żernicka-Goetz’s research is published.
Second, there are questions about the extent to which these human-like embryos really can model human development.
Professor Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz’s research is published
Almost two weeks later the research from the Cambridge team (there are other teams and countries also racing; see Part two for the news from Sept. 6, 2023) was published, from a June 27, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily,
Cambridge scientists have created a stem cell-derived model of the human embryo in the lab by reprogramming human stem cells. The breakthrough could help research into genetic disorders and in understanding why and how pregnancies fail.
Published today [Tuesday, June 27, 2023] in the journal Nature, this embryo model is an organised three-dimensional structure derived from pluripotent stem cells that replicate some developmental processes that occur in early human embryos.
Use of such models allows experimental modelling of embryonic development during the second week of pregnancy. They can help researchers gain basic knowledge of the developmental origins of organs and specialised cells such as sperm and eggs, and facilitate understanding of early pregnancy loss.
“Our human embryo-like model, created entirely from human stem cells, gives us access to the developing structure at a stage that is normally hidden from us due to the implantation of the tiny embryo into the mother’s womb,” said Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, who led the work.
She added: “This exciting development allows us to manipulate genes to understand their developmental roles in a model system. This will let us test the function of specific factors, which is difficult to do in the natural embryo.”
In natural human development, the second week of development is an important time when the embryo implants into the uterus. This is the time when many pregnancies are lost.
The new advance enables scientists to peer into the mysterious ‘black box’ period of human development – usually following implantation of the embryo in the uterus – to observe processes never directly observed before.
Understanding these early developmental processes holds the potential to reveal some of the causes of human birth defects and diseases, and to develop tests for these in pregnant women.
Until now, the processes could only be observed in animal models, using cells from zebrafish and mice, for example.
Legal restrictions in the UK currently prevent the culture of natural human embryos in the lab beyond day 14 of development: this time limit was set to correspond to the stage where the embryo can no longer form a twin. [emphasis mine]
Until now, scientists have only been able to study this period of human development using donated human embryos. This advance could reduce the need for donated human embryos in research.
Zernicka-Goetz says the while these models can mimic aspects of the development of human embryos, they cannot and will not develop to the equivalent of postnatal stage humans.
Over the past decade, Zernicka-Goetz’s group in Cambridge has been studying the earliest stages of pregnancy, in order to understand why some pregnancies fail and some succeed.
In 2021 and then in 2022 her team announced in Developmental Cell, Nature and Cell Stem Cell journals that they had finally created model embryos from mouse stem cells that can develop to form a brain-like structure, a beating heart, and the foundations of all other organs of the body.
The new models derived from human stem cells do not have a brain or beating heart, but they include cells that would typically go on to form the embryo, placenta and yolk sac, and develop to form the precursors of germ cells (that will form sperm and eggs).
Many pregnancies fail at the point when these three types of cells orchestrate implantation into the uterus begin to send mechanical and chemical signals to each other, which tell the embryo how to develop properly.
There are clear regulations governing stem cell-based models of human embryos and all researchers doing embryo modelling work must first be approved by ethics committees. Journals require proof of this ethics review before they accept scientific papers for publication. Zernicka-Goetz’s laboratory holds these approvals.
“It is against the law and FDA regulations to transfer any embryo-like models into a woman for reproductive aims. These are highly manipulated human cells and their attempted reproductive use would be extremely dangerous,” said Dr Insoo Hyun, Director of the Center for Life Sciences and Public Learning at Boston’s Museum of Science and a member of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics.
Zernicka-Goetz also holds position at the California Institute of Technology and is NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Awardee.
The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Open Philanthropy.
(There’s more about legal concerns further down in this post.)
Published the same day (June 27, 2023) is a paper (citation and link follow) also focused on studying human embryonic development using stem cells. First, there’s this from the Abstract,
Investigating human development is a substantial scientific challenge due to the technical and ethical limitations of working with embryonic samples. In the face of these difficulties, stem cells have provided an alternative to experimentally model inaccessible stages of human development in vitro …
A July 25, 2023 essay by Françoise Baylis and Jocelyn Downie of Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) for The Conversation (h/t July 25, 2023 article on phys.org) covers the advantages of doing this work before launching into a discussion of legislation and limits in the UK and, more extensively, in Canada, Note: Links have been removed,
This research could increase our understanding of human development and genetic disorders, help us learn how to prevent early miscarriages, lead to improvements in fertility treatment, and — perhaps — eventually allow for reproduction without using sperm and eggs.
Synthetic human embryos — also called embryoid bodies, embryo-like structures or embryo models — mimic the development of “natural human embryos,” those created by fertilization. Synthetic human embryos include the “cells that would typically go on to form the embryo, placenta and yolk sac, and develop to form the precursors of germ cells (that will form sperm and eggs).”
Though research involving natural human embryos is legal in many jurisdictions, it remains controversial. For some people, research involving synthetic human embryos is less controversial because these embryos cannot “develop to the equivalent of postnatal stage humans.” In other words, these embryos are non-viable and cannot result in live births.
Now, for a closer look at the legalities in the UK and in Canada, from the July 25, 2023 essay, Note: Links have been removed,
The research presented by Żernicka-Goetz at the ISSCR meeting took place in the United Kingdom. It was conducted in accordance with the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act, 1990, with the approval of the U.K. Stem Cell Bank Steering Committee.
U.K. law limits the research use of human embryos to 14 days of development. An embryo is defined as “a live human embryo where fertilisation is complete, and references to an embryo include an egg in the process of fertilisation.”
Synthetic embryos are not created by fertilization and therefore, by definition, the 14-day limit on human embryo research does not apply to them. This means that synthetic human embryo research beyond 14 days can proceed in the U.K.
The door to the touted potential benefits — and ethical controversies — seems wide open in the U.K.
While the law in the U.K. does not apply to synthetic human embryos, the law in Canada clearly does. This is because the legal definition of an embryo in Canada is not limited to embryos created by fertilization [emphasis mine].
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act (the AHR Act) defines an embryo as “a human organism during the first 56 days of its development following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended.”
Based on this definition, the AHR Act applies to embryos created by reprogramming human embryonic stem cells — in other words, synthetic human embryos — provided such embryos qualify as human organisms.
A synthetic human embryo is a human organism. It is of the species Homo sapiens, and is thus human. It also qualifies as an organism — a life form — alongside other organisms created by means of fertilization, asexual reproduction, parthenogenesis or cloning.
Given that the AHR Act applies to synthetic human embryos, there are legal limits on their creation and use in Canada.
First, human embryos — including synthetic human embryos – can only be created for the purposes of “creating a human being, improving or providing instruction in assisted reproduction procedures.”
Given the state of the science, it follows that synthetic human embryos could legally be created for the purpose of improving assisted reproduction procedures.
Second, “spare” or “excess” human embryos — including synthetic human embryos — originally created for one of the permitted purposes, but no longer wanted for this purpose, can be used for research. This research must be done in accordance with the consent regulations which specify that consent must be for a “specific research project.”
Finally, all research involving human embryos — including synthetic human embryos — is subject to the 14-day rule. The law stipulates that: “No person shall knowingly… maintain an embryo outside the body of a female person after the fourteenth day of its development following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended.”
Putting this all together, the creation of synthetic embryos for improving assisted human reproduction procedures is permitted, as is research using “spare” or “excess” synthetic embryos originally created for this purpose — provided there is specific consent and the research does not exceed 14 days.
This means that while synthetic human embryos may be useful for limited research on pre-implantation embryo development, they are not available in Canada for research on post-implantation embryo development beyond 14 days.
The authors close with this comment about the prospects for expanding Canada’s14-day limit, from the July 25, 2023 essay,
… any argument will have to overcome the political reality that the federal government is unlikely to open up the Pandora’s box of amending the AHR Act.
It therefore seems likely that synthetic human embryo research will remain limited in Canada for the foreseeable future.
As mentioned, in September 2023 there was a new development. See: Part two.
Nano4EARTH Roundtable Discussion on Batteries and Energy Storage
September 26, 2023 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. ET Online and L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, D.C.
The Nano4EARTH roundtable discussion on batteries and energy storage aims to identify fundamental knowledge gaps, needs, and opportunities to advance current electrification goals. By convening stakeholders from different sectors, backgrounds, and expertise the goal of this roundtable is to identify applicable lessons across the spectrum of technologies, discuss system-specific needs, scalability and commercialization challenges, and potential paths forward. These needs could have a near-term impact on energy efficiency, sustainable development, and climate change. The moderated discussion will tackle all aspects of the topic – ranging from exciting R&D opportunities to commercialization challenges – by featuring a small group of experts from different sectors and backgrounds.
This roundtable is a critical part of the Nano4EARTH National Nanotechnology Challenge, which aims to leverage recent investments in understanding and controlling matter at the nanoscale to develop technologies and industries that address climate change. Nano4EARTH focuses on facilitating opportunities for members of the nanotechnology community to convene, collaborate, and share resources. Nano4EARTH also strives to provide mechanisms that support technology development and commercialization of nanotechnology-enabled climate solutions.
The topic of this roundtable was identified at the Nano4EARTH kick-off workshop (summary readout and video archive) as a particularly promising area that could have an impact in a short time frame (four years or less). This roundtable is the second of four.
Online and the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office: Suite 8001, 470 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024. Directions are available here.
Since the 17th century, when Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens first debated the nature of light, scientists have been puzzling over whether light is best viewed as a wave or a particle—or perhaps, at the quantum level, even both at once. Now, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology have revealed a new connection between the two perspectives, using a 350-year-old mechanical theorem—ordinarily used to describe the movement of large, physical objects like pendulums and planets—to explain some of the most complex behaviors of light waves.
The work, led by Xiaofeng Qian, assistant professor of physics at Stevens and reported in the August 17  online issue of Physical Review Research, also proves for the first time that a light wave’s degree of non-quantum entanglement exists in a direct and complementary relationship with its degree of polarization. As one rises, the other falls, enabling the level of entanglement to be inferred directly from the level of polarization, and vice versa. This means that hard-to-measure optical properties such as amplitudes, phases and correlations—perhaps even these of quantum wave systems—can be deduced from something a lot easier to measure: light intensity.
“We’ve known for over a century that light sometimes behaves like a wave, and sometimes like a particle, but reconciling those two frameworks has proven extremely difficult,” said Qian “Our work doesn’t solve that problem — but it does show that there are profound connections between wave and particle concepts not just at the quantum level, but at the level of classical light-waves and point-mass systems.”
Qian’s team used a mechanical theorem, originally developed by Huygens in a 1673 book on pendulums, that explains how the energy required to rotate an object varies depending on the object’s mass and the axis around which it turns. “This is a well-established mechanical theorem that explains the workings of physical systems like clocks or prosthetic limbs,” Qian explained. “But we were able to show that it can offer new insights into how light works, too.”
This 350-year-old theorem describes relationships between masses and their rotational momentum, so how could it be applied to light where there is no mass to measure? Qian’s team interpreted the intensity of a light as the equivalent of a physical object’s mass, then mapped those measurements onto a coordinate system that could be interpreted using Huygens’ mechanical theorem. “Essentially, we found a way to translate an optical system so we could visualize it as a mechanical system, then describe it using well-established physical equations,” explained Qian.
Once the team visualized a light wave as part of a mechanical system, new connections between the wave’s properties immediately became apparent — including the fact that entanglement and polarization stood in a clear relationship with one another.
“This was something that hadn’t been shown before, but that becomes very clear once you map light’s properties onto a mechanical system,” said Qian. “What was once abstract becomes concrete: using mechanical equations, you can literally measure the distance between ‘center of mass’ and other mechanical points to show how different properties of light relate to one another.”
Clarifying these relationships could have important practical implications, allowing subtle and hard-to-measure properties of optical systems — or even quantum systems — to be deduced from simpler and more robust measurements of light intensity, Qian explained. More speculatively, the team’s findings suggest the possibility of using mechanical systems to simulate and better-understand the strange and complex behaviors of quantum wave systems.
“That still lies ahead of us, but with this first study we’ve shown clearly that by applying mechanical concepts, it’s possible to understand optical systems in an entirely new way,” Qian said. “Ultimately, this research is helping to simplify the way we understand the world, by allowing us to recognize the intrinsic underlying connections between apparently unrelated physical laws.”
Intriguingly they used this image for the news release without a caption (I added the one you see) and no attribution/credit,
Now for the text, Note: A link has been removed,
AI-generated writing, photography, art and music have been skyrocketing in popularity, but that surging success has also triggered an enormous backlash, with many rejecting AI art — and even asserting that its proliferation marks the beginning of the end for humanity.
So why do some people react so negatively to art made by artificial intelligence? According to a new study from the UBC Sauder School of Business, it’s because for some, it challenges what it is to be human.
For the study, which appears in the June 2023 edition of Computers in Human Behavior, researchers led a series of psychology experiments involving AI art. In one, participants were shown two paintings, and were told that one was generated by AI and the other was human-made; in another, they listened to two pieces of music, one supposedly created by humans and the other by AI.
In reality, however, both pieces of artwork that participants were asked to evaluate were created by either AI or by a human. The researchers randomly labeled one of them as AI-made and the other one as human-made. Still, participants showed an overwhelming preference for artwork they thought was made by people.
“We found that there is a very pervasive bias against work made by AI artists,” says UBC Sauder PhD student Guanzhong Du (he/him), who co-authored the study with Kobe Millet and Michail D. Kokkoris from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Florian Buehler at Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences in Dornbirn, Austria.
“No matter which one is actually made by the human artist, people prefer the artwork that is labelled as human. They think it is more creative — and when they listen to music or look at paintings made by human artists, they think they are more awe-inspiring.”
To find out what’s driving the bias, the researchers tested whether the anti-AI sentiment was more pronounced in people with stronger “anthropocentric creativity beliefs” — that is, the belief that creativity is a uniquely human characteristic and distinguishes Homo sapiens from other species. They also measured the value of the artworks by asking participants which ones they would be willing to buy.
The results showed the bias against AI art is more pronounced in people who believe that creativity is a uniquely human characteristic, and that they were willing to pay more for works they believed were generated by humans.
“For those people, learning that AI can also be creative may be very threatening, because it challenges their worldview about what human beings are,” says Du. And the bias isn’t a matter of personal taste, he adds.
“It’s not like some people prefer Coke and some prefer Pepsi. It represents a deeper philosophical question about our understanding of human identity,” says Du. “What makes human beings unique as a species? What differentiates us from others? And what is our place in the universe?”
Artificial intelligence is already woven into everyday life, found in everything from chatbots to autocorrect to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa.
More recently, works made by AI art generators have swept social media. AI art also made headlines when a song featuring vocals by what sounded like music megastars Drake and The Weeknd went viral, raising alarm bells about creativity and ownership for artists and record companies.
The study is the first of its kind to link people’s aversion to AI art with speciesism and anthropocentrism, and their view that digital works threaten “the last fortress of human supremacy arguments, artistic creation.”
Du predicts that in the future, we will encounter more and more AI art. He also believes we should be aware of the human bias the study exposes, and embrace AI-generated art rather than resist it.
“We should learn to appreciate the beauty and the creativity of AI. Because if we leverage AI, if we work with AI, maybe we can better develop our own creativity. Maybe we can collaborate with AI, and achieve something we cannot achieve alone,” he says. “But if we are unaware of our bias against AI, that is not possible.”