Tokyo’s nano tech 2010; McGill Nanotech discovery could make chemistry greener; Vancouver Olympics and technology; Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 1 of 3)

I’m looking forward to posting (as promised) my piece about the new dean at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology. Dr. Cheryl Geisler. First though, I’ll be noting some of the nanotechnology news.

Mentioned here earlier this month in a piece featuring varnish that ‘sings’, Tokyo’s nano tech 2010 International Nanotechnology Exhibition and Conference opens today, Feb. 17 and runs until Feb. 19. I believe this show and conference is one of the oldest and biggest of its type. For those who don’t know, Japan has long been a leader in nanotechnology. In fact, the term was coined by Norio Taniguchi in 1974 in his paper for the Japan Society for Precision Engineering. (Btw, if you’re interested in ‘singing’ varnish, you can read about it here in my posting of Feb. 3, 2010. It is towards the end of the post.)

On a completely other note, there’s a  news item on physorg.com highlighting a new nanotechnology-enabled process, discovered by researchers at McGill University in Montréal, for using catalysts in chemical reactions so they are ‘greener’. From the news item,

A new nanotech catalyst developed by McGill University Chemists Chao-Jun Li, Audrey Moores and their colleagues offers industry an opportunity to reduce the use of expensive and toxic heavy metals. Catalysts are substances used to facilitate and drive chemical reactions. Although chemists have long been aware of the ecological and economic impact of traditional chemical catalysts and do attempt to reuse their materials, it is generally difficult to separate the catalyzing chemicals from the finished product. The team’s discovery does away with this chemical process altogether.

Li neatly describes the new catalyst as “use a magnet and pull them out!” The technology is known as nanomagnetics and involves nanoparticles of a simple iron magnet

Congratulations to the researchers at McGill.

While it’s not nanotech specific it builds on yesterday’s (Feb.16.10) piece about science at the Vancouver Olympics and provides a tidy segue to the Geisler interview.  I’ve found an article about technology and the Vancouver Olympics on Fast Company by Dan Nosowitz. From the article,

The Vancouver Olympics is especially exciting because it combines all of our favorite things: Twitter, Facebook, Google Street View, recycled computer guts, iPhone apps, and mind-controlled light shows. Oh, right, and sports, I guess.

The Medals

Vancouver’s gold, silver, and bronze medals are all constructed partly of metal collected from discarded circuit boards. Teck Resources, a Canadian mining company, supplied the Royal Canadian Mint with recycled gold, silver, and copper (there’s not much bronze in computer parts, apparently) from which these particularly beautiful medals are made. Each medal is laser-etched with a unique design, and the medals are all wavy, meant to simulate the topographic diversity of Vancouver.

I agree, the medals are gorgeous and, in their way, an extraordinary expression of science, technology, and art.  (You can see images of the medals if you click through to the Fast Company article.)

I could wax on longer about how art, science, technology and more are interconnected but I’d rather post the piece I’ve written after interviewing Cheryl Geisler earlier this month. One note before proceeding, I have preserved the flavour of Geisler’s speech as much as possible. This was a stylistic choice as I prefer to ‘hear’ the interview and a standard Q & A style would not have worked well given the volume of contextual information that I wanted to include.

Off the deep end: interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 1 of 3)

The new Dean (since August 2009 when she arrived from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York State), Dr. Cheryl Geisler, of the new Faculty (since April 2009) of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT) at Simon Fraser University (SFU) administers three schools

  • Communication,
  • Contemporary Arts and
  • Interactive Arts and Technology

and two components

  • Master of Publishing and
  • under a not yet finalised special arrangement, Masters [sic] of Digital Media

that occupy (or will in Sept.2011 when the School for the Contemporary Arts moves to its new location at Woodward’s in Vancouver’s downtown eastside) five different physical locations in three different Metro Vancouver (Canada) municipalities. (Geisler has managed, as she pledged, to spend time (i.e., roughly a day) at each location if not weekly certainly on a regular basis. This is an impressive achievement when you consider that the Burnaby campus is 20 k from Surrey and 10 k from Vancouver (you can check those distances on this chart). It becomes more impressive when you realize how awkward the routing is if you’re traveling by car or public transit.)

Describing FCAT is a challenge since it hasn’t achieved a stable form (assuming that stability will be possible given the subject areas the faculty represents). Now, imagine trying to get a grasp of the situation when you’ve moved from the east coast of one country to the west coast of a new country, albeit on the same continent. Then add a move from a privately funded postsecondary institution which is an older one, Rensselaer was founded in 1828, to a publicly funded, comparatively new university, SFU was founded in 1965. All of this on top of dealing with a fluid faculty that has a local but wide-flung geography.

“You know, whenever I see something different I always say that I don’t know if this is SFU or the Canadian university system or if it’s Vancouver. I have no way to sort it out,” says Geisler in response to a question about whether or not she’d encountered any surprises after starting her new job. “Some of the reasons that I chose to come here were because of the greater social engagement with the community [that SFU is known for] and a greater emphasis on collegial decision-making processes. In the private university that I came from, we got things done quickly but not always with a lot of input. Now, I’m coming to a system where things don’t get done particularly quickly but there’s always a lot of consultation, so my challenge is to try and marry those two.”

Geisler brings a little more to the job than her past experience as Head of the Department of Language, Literature and Communication at Rensselaer (you can get more details about Geisler’s CV in yesterday’s posting). She was the leader for a project (RAMP Up! Reforming Advancement Processes through University Professions) funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). While much of the focus was specifically on women, the overarching project goals can be applied to other situations. From the project website,

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s NSF-funded project for institutional transformation stands for Reforming Advancement Processes through University Professions.  One of the major goals of the RAMP-Up project is institutional reform using mechanisms of professional self-regulation as a means for controlling advancement through faculty ranks.

Unlike reforms aimed at top-down policy initiatives, this type of self-regulatory reform cannot be mandated, but is achieved only by rethinking faculty-to-faculty processes such as networking, mentoring, and peer review. The kind of change necessary for effective institutional reform will come about as a transformation of culture at all levels of the institute, particularly within departments, which are the hubs of faculty work.

Geisler does anticipate bringing some RAMP Up! (so to speak) to SFU. “Yes, [the project] focused on bottom-up cultural transformations of big university/academic processes and I have a big commitment to bottom-up processes which I brought to that project [and had reinforced as I worked on it]. A big emphasis for me now is to create connections between the various components of FCAT and not consider them as separate entities but to try mixing [them] up and see what the synergies could be.”

Similar to a successful RAMP Up! initiative which went through three rounds of funding, Geisler has proposals on her desk to introduce a type of career campaign award to faculty members for working with a mentor and developing a plan for career advancement. “We’ve had a lot of interest from the junior faculty and I believe it’s really one of the first mentoring initiatives at SFU,” says Geisler.

Tomorrow: budget cuts and history.

Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler Introduction, Part 2, Part 3