A grade nine student from Toronto, Ontario, Arushi Nath has had quite the year,
Nath describes one of her latest outings in a November 3 (?), 2023 posting on the HotPopRobot website (more about the website later), Note: Links have been removed,
On 1 November 2023, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded this year’s top NSERC Awards at a ceremony held at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. As a back-to-back winner of the top awards of the 2023 and 2022 Canada-Wide Science Fair, I got an invitation to join this ceremony. You can learn more about my research on developing algorithms for asteroid astrometry and photometry to measure the success of the NASA Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission [emphasis mine] at www.MonitorMyPlanet.com
I could not attend the ceremony last year, but I was determined to attend it this year, and I am glad I did. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about the exceptional research carried out in Canada on issues ranging from astronomy to microbiology, ocean sciences, wastewater and machine learning and how it impacted us. I even got to meet and talk to several researchers, ask them questions, and understand what it takes to produce impactful research.
[description of awards and recipients]
Some Suggestions to Raise a STEM-ignited NexGen in Post-COVID-19 World
I think the research investments and funding should start earlier, to even include school students. We are the most connected generation ever and are aware of scientific research and developments happening in the world, be it in the area of astronomy or marine sciences, microbiology or machine learning. Our learning pathways have also changed. COVID-19 lockdowns spurred the use of Zoom, online courses and virtual conferences to learn about a new topic, connect with researchers, collaborate with them, undertake projects and then present them virtually – while attending school. STEM conversations and collaborations are starting earlier and need to be encouraged so that more students pursue STEM, undertake curiosity-driven projects, and maintain this curiosity and scientific temper no matter what career paths they choose.
It calls for greater investments in school science project scholarships, new and expanded science centres, research collaboration platforms, open-data sharing, allowing students access to conferences, creating community maker spaces, opening up high-speed computing facilities to students, more science festivals, fairs and competitions, and encouraging greater diversity in science.
Nearly 900 people gathered in Edmonton at the 2023 Canada-Wide Science Fair awards gala to celebrate the curiosity and ingenuity of Canadian students and announce the fair’s top winners. A total of 220 students shared more than 1.6 million in scholarships, awards, and prizes with the top awards in Discovery and Innovation going to Elizabeth Chen (Edmonton) for a project on alternative cancer treatments and Arushi Nath (Toronto), with a project on planetary defense [emphasis mine]. Arushi, who also won best project award at last year’s CWSF, becomes the first back-to-back best project award winner since 1989 – 1990.
The 34th European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) was held in Brussels, Belgium. It brought together 136 promising young scientists aged 14 to 20, from 36 countries across the EU and beyond for a five-day competition.
I was honored to represent Canada as Winner of 2023 Top Award at the 2023 Canada-Wide Science Fair.
My project “Developing Algorithms to Determine Asteroid’s Physical Properties and Success of Deflection Missions” won the second prize [at EUCYS]. I was the youngest contestant and the prize winner.
It was a wonderful experience to interact, form friendships and partners with bright young scientists across the world.
I found the descriptions of Nath’s work about ‘planetary defence’ and her paper is about algorithms for deflecting asteroids more accessible.
By the way, congratulations to Elizabeth Chen (Optimization of CAR-T Cell Therapy using RNA-Sequencing Analysis for Biomarker Identification) who won a top award at the 2023 EUCYS., as well as, an award from 2023 Canada-Wide Science Fair.
This is a different approach to neuromorphic (brainlike) computing being described in an August 28, 2023 news item on phys.org, Note: A link has been removed,
The word “fractals” might inspire images of psychedelic colors spiraling into infinity in a computer animation. An invisible, but powerful and useful, version of this phenomenon exists in the realm of dynamic magnetic fractal networks.
Dustin Gilbert, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering [University of Tennessee, US], and colleagues have published new findings in the behavior of these networks—observations that could advance neuromorphic computing capabilities.
Their research is detailed in their article “Skyrmion-Excited Spin-Wave Fractal Networks,” cover story for the August 17, 2023, issue of Advanced Materials.
“Most magnetic materials—like in refrigerator magnets—are just comprised of domains where the magnetic spins all orient parallel,” said Gilbert. “Almost 15 years ago, a German research group discovered these special magnets where the spins make loops—like a nanoscale magnetic lasso. These are called skyrmions.”
Named for legendary particle physicist Tony Skyrme, a skyrmion’s magnetic swirl gives it a non-trivial topology. As a result of this topology, the skyrmion has particle-like properties—they are hard to create or destroy, they can move and even bounce off of each other. The skyrmion also has dynamic modes—they can wiggle, shake, stretch, whirl, and breath[e].
As the skyrmions “jump and jive,” they are creating magnetic spin waves with a very narrow wavelength. The interactions of these waves form an unexpected fractal structure.
“Just like a person dancing in a pool of water, they generate waves which ripple outward,” said Gilbert. “Many people dancing make many waves, which normally would seem like a turbulent, chaotic sea. We measured these waves and showed that they have a well-defined structure and collectively form a fractal which changes trillions of times per second.”
Fractals are important and interesting because they are inherently tied to a “chaos effect”—small changes in initial conditions lead to big changes in the fractal network.
“Where we want to go with this is that if you have a skyrmion lattice and you illuminate it with spin waves, the way the waves make its way through this fractal-generating structure is going to depend very intimately on its construction,” said Gilbert. “So, if you could write individual skyrmions, it can effectively process incoming spin waves into something on the backside—and it’s programmable. It’s a neuromorphic architecture.”
The Advanced Materials cover illustration [image at top of this posting] depicts a visual representation of this process, with the skyrmions floating on top of a turbulent blue sea illustrative of the chaotic structure generated by the spin wave fractal.
“Those waves interfere just like if you throw a handful of pebbles into a pond,” said Gilbert. “You get a choppy, turbulent mess. But it’s not just any simple mess, it’s actually a fractal. We have an experiment now showing that the spin waves generated by skyrmions aren’t just a mess of waves, they have inherent structure of their very own. By, essentially, controlling those stones that we ‘throw in,’ you get very different patterns, and that’s what we’re driving towards.”
The discovery was made in part by neutron scattering experiments at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) High Flux Isotope Reactor and at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research. Neutrons are magnetic and pass through materials easily, making them ideal probes for studying materials with complex magnetic behavior such as skyrmions and other quantum phenomena.
Gilbert’s co-authors for the new article are Nan Tang, Namila Liyanage, and Liz Quigley, students in his research group; Alex Grutter and Julie Borchers from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Lisa DeBeer-Schmidt and Mike Fitzsimmons from Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Eric Fullerton, Sheena Patel, and Sergio Montoya from the University of California, San Diego.
The team’s next step is to build a working model using the skyrmion behavior.
“If we can develop thinking computers, that, of course, is extraordinarily important,” said Gilbert. “So, we will propose to make a miniaturized, spin wave neuromorphic architecture.” He also hopes that the ripples from this UT Knoxville discovery inspire researchers to explore uses for a spiraling range of future applications.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
Skyrmion-Excited Spin-Wave Fractal Networks by Nan Tang, W. L. N. C. Liyanage, Sergio A. Montoya, Sheena Patel, Lizabeth J. Quigley, Alexander J. Grutter, Michael R. Fitzsimmons, Sunil Sinha, Julie A. Borchers, Eric E. Fullerton, Lisa DeBeer-Schmitt, Dustin A. Gilbert. Advanced Materials Volume 35, Issue 33 August 17, 2023 2300416 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.202300416 First published: 04 May 2023
Humans have been making symbols for numbers for more than 5,500 years. More than 100 distinct notation systems are known to have been used by different civilisations, including Babylonian, Egyptian, Etruscan, Mayan and Khmer.
The remarkable fact is that despite the great diversity of symbols and cultures, all are based on addition and multiplication. For example, in our familiar Hindu-Arabic numerals: 1,434 = (1 x 1000) + (4 x 100) + (3 x 10) + (4 x 1).
Why have humans invented the same arithmetic, over and over again? Could arithmetic be a universal truth waiting to be discovered?
Grace describes a biological phenomenon to support his proposal (from Grace’s August 14, 2023 essay), Note: Links have been removed,
Bees provide a clue
We proposed a new approach based on the assumption that arithmetic has a biological origin.
Many non-human species, including insects, show an ability for spatial navigation which seems to require the equivalent of algebraic computation. For example, bees can take a meandering journey to find nectar but then return by the most direct route, as if they can calculate the direction and distance home.
How their miniature brain (about 960,000 neurons) achieves this is unknown. These calculations might be the non-symbolic precursors of addition and multiplication, honed by natural selection as the optimal solution for navigation.
Arithmetic may be based on biology and special in some way because of evolution’s fine-tuning.
He goes on to describe how he and his colleagues tested their hypothesis (read the essay) and concludes with this (from Grace’s August 14, 2023 essay), Note: A link has been removed,
Although this structure [how our perception is structured] is shared with other animals, only humans have invented mathematics. It is humanity’s most intimate creation, a realisation in symbols of the fundamental nature and creativity of the mind.
In this sense, mathematics is both invented (uniquely human) and discovered (biologically-based). The seemingly miraculous success of mathematics in the physical sciences hints that our mind and the world are not separate, but part of a common unity.
The arc of mathematics and science points toward non-dualism, a philosophical concept that describes how the mind and the universe as a whole are connected, and that any sense of separation is an illusion. This is consistent with many spiritual traditions (Taoism, Buddhism) and Indigenous knowledge systems such as mātauranga Māori.
Here’s a link to (or PDF for Grace’s paper) and a citation for the paper,
This is not the first time that I’ve come across information such as this. According to a September 28, 2023 posting by Karl Bode for the TechDirt website, companies in Silicon Valley (California, US) are hiring poets (and other writers) to help train AI (artificial intelligence), Note: Links have been removed,
… however much AI hype-men would like to pretend AI makes human beings irrelevant, they remain essential for the underlying illusion and reality to function. As such, a growing number of Silicon Valley companies are increasingly hiring poets, English PHDs, and other writers to write short stories for LLMs [language learning models] to train on in a bid to improve the quality of their electro-mimics:
“A string of job postings from high-profile training data companies, such as Scale AI and Appen, are recruiting poets, novelists, playwrights, or writers with a PhD or master’s degree. Dozens more seek general annotators with humanities degrees, or years of work experience in literary fields. The listings aren’t limited to English: Some are looking specifically for poets and fiction writers in Hindi and Japanese, as well as writers in languages less represented on the internet.”
So it’s clear we still have a long way to go before these technologies actually get anywhere close to matching both the hype and employment apocalypse many predicted. LLMs are effectively mimics that create from what already exists. Since it’s not real artificial intelligence, it’s still not actually capable of true creativity:
“They are trained to reproduce. They are not designed to be great, they try to be as close as possible to what exists,” Fabricio Goes, who teaches informatics at the University of Leicester, told Rest of World, explaining a popular stance among AI researchers. “So, by design, many people argue that those systems are not creative.”
The problem remains that while the underlying technology will continuously improve, the folks rushing to implement it without thinking likely won’t. Most seem dead set on using AI primarily as a bludgeon against labor in the hopes the public won’t notice the drop in quality, and professional writers, editors, and creatives won’t mind increasingly lower pay and tenuous position in the food chain.
In the last paragraph, Bode appears to be alluding to the Writers Guild of America strike (known popularly as the Hollywood writers strike), which ended on September 26, 2023 (for more details, see this September 26, 2023 article by Samantha Delouya for CNN).
Four years ago, I used this head “Ghosts, mechanical turks, and pseudo-AI (artificial intelligence)—Is it all a con game?” for a more in depth look at how AI is overhyped; see my September 24, 2019 posting.
This list of events, which are in date order (more or less), comes courtesy of the UK’s Sense about Science organization. Self-described as “… an independent charity that promotes the public interest in sound science and evidence,” their November 13, 2023 announcement (received via email) offers a good range of events focused on science, evidence, and understanding the science you’re getting.
Greenwich (England) and Glasgow (Scotland) Skeptics pub talks
Here’s more from the Sense about Science November 13, 2023 announcement,
Greenwich and Glasgow Skeptics pub talks
Want to engage with us about the importance of evidence? We have two public talks coming up, which can be a great opportunity to learn more about our work, meet some of our team and explore how everyone can use evidence as a tool to improve our lives.
Greenwich SitP is currently the only branch of SitP in South East London. The idea is simple: Once a month, we all meet up in a pub to hear a guest speaker and enjoy a drink or three
Our chosen pub is the Davy’s Wine Vaults (161 Greenwich High Road, SE10 8JA) and usually we meet on the second Tuesday of every month. Talks will begin at 7:30pm. Although the talks are free and open to all, we would appreciate a small contribution towards covering speakers’ expenses (suggested donation: £3).
Our Next Talk
The Power of Asking for Evidence
Munkhbayar Elkins & Tushita Bagga Sense about Science
14 November 2023 Tuesday 19:30
In a time of misinformation, purchasable blue ticks, and spurious claims to be ‘following the science’, how do we ask the right questions of information we find from social media, companies, and politicians? 66% of people think it’s important the government shows the public all the evidence used to make policy decisions. And yet, the sources of data used in policy making become more complex, modelling and big data being two key examples. But you don’t need to be an expert to ask the right questions. This talk will cover how to ask about the data behind the issues that matter to you, be that climate change or local healthcare policies. With examples of how people asking for evidence have made a real difference, we’ll show you how you can too, and why this is more important than ever in the lead up to a general election next year.
Munkhbayar is senior research and policy officer at Sense about Science, with a BA in International Relations and an MSc in Security Studies. He works closely with decision-makers, world-leading researchers and community groups to raise the standard of evidence in public life. He wants to promote transparency of evidence standard across government to ensure accountability and to equip society with the right skills to scrutinise 21st century decision-making.
Tushita serves as a Policy and Campaigns Officer at Sense about Science, where she works on the upcoming Transparency of Evidence Standard campaign and is responsible for co-ordinating the annual Evidence Week event at UK Parliament. She recently completed her master’s degree in social policy research at the London School of Economics. Her previous work has focused on the role of ethics in academics interacting with marginalised communities and in news media representations of public health approaches to addressing the opioid epidemic. Tush is passionate about the accessible dissemination of social science research to the public and is driven to enable the masses to critically analyse complex policy concepts.
NB: This talk replaces the one which was originally advertised.
A week later on Tuesday, November 21, 2023, this same talk will be given by a different speaker in a Glasgow (Scotland) pub,
The power of asking for evidence – Annie Howitt (Sense About Science)
November 21  @ 8:15 pm – 10:00 pm
In a time of misinformation, purchasable blue ticks, and spurious claims to be ‘following the science’, how do we ask the right questions of information we find from social media, companies, and politicians? 61% of people think it’s important the government shows the public all the evidence used to make policy decisions. And yet, the sources of data used in policy making become more complex, modelling and big data being two key examples. But you don’t need to be an expert to ask the right questions. This talk will cover how to ask about the data behind the issues that matter to you, be that climate change or local healthcare policies. With examples of how people asking for evidence have made a real difference, we’ll show you how you can too.
About the speaker: Annie is the Communities officer at the charity Sense about Science. During her PhD researching pancreatic cancer, she realised that so much of our understanding of cancer biology and treatments is inaccessible to the people it affects the most. That’s how she found Sense about Science, which works with researchers to equip the public, policymakers and media with good questions and insights into evidence, particularly on difficult issues. Recently, Sense about Science has published What Counts? (a scoping inquiry into how well the government’s evidence for covid-19 decisions served society), guides to understanding data science and AI. It also runs Evidence Week in Parliament at Westminster and in Holyrood, bringing together policy makers, researchers and the public, and, in partnership with the journal Nature, the John Maddox Prize for courageously advancing public discourse with sound science.
This is event is free to attend, although we will be asking for donations at the end of the talk. Participants are under no obligation whatsoever to donate, however please rest assured that the money we collect doesn’t end up in anyone’s pocket – it is used to fund our overhead costs, and travel/accommodation for our speakers who come from further afield.
Accessibility: The Admiral Woods Bar now has a functioning lift which can take wheelchair users (or others who are unable to manage stairs) down to the function room. There is also a disabled toilet in the function room too. To help us accommodate you if you require to use these facilities we recommend you email us in advance: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Admiral Woods Bar 29 Waterloo Street Glasgow, G2 6BZ United Kingdom + Google Map
UNESCO (Global) Media (and) Information Literacy Week 2023: a webinar on Thursday, November 16, 2023
According to their November 13, 2023 announcement, Sense about Science will be chairing a panel discussion,
UNESCO [Global] Media [and] Information Literacy week webinar
Join us online as we chair a live panel discussion on what infrastructure is needed for people to access sound evidence, find trustworthy sources, and engage in informed debate.
When the introduction of disposable beverage containers increased litter in the US, the response of producers was to launch a keep America beautiful campaign that placed the blame on consumers – the end users. In many countries it has taken over half a century for regulators to step in and deal with the problem of waste by, for example, prohibiting the use of free plastic bags or by making retailers take back unwanted packaging. But we still largely blame consumers for waste, despite them having little choice in practice about how goods are packaged.
Are we at risk of doing the same for consumers of information, overwhelmed by the volume of material available but not in control over what content is presented to them– by blaming poor information literacy for the spread of false information and misunderstanding?
While empowering citizens with information literacy is unquestionably good, is it enough? Or are we setting people up to fail in an attention economy where information providers surface content that maximised engagement, with no interest in whether it is accurate or useful? Is it fair to blame someone for naïvely sharing bad information when they are only fed corroborating material, or should we challenge the absence of regulation and oversight of how information is curated by social media platforms and search engines?
What infrastructure is needed for people to access sound evidence, find trustworthy sources, and genuinely engage in informed societal debate?
Join the IFLA Information Literacy Section and the School Library Section co-sponsored Global MIL Webinar and have a rich conversation with the invited panelists.
Royal Statistical Society (RSS) workshop on developing accessible health statistics on Monday, November 20, 2023
This is the last event noted in the November 13, 2023 Sense about Science announcement,
Royal Statistical Society workshop on developing accessible health statistics
On Monday 20 November 2023, our Deputy-director David Schley will be part of a panel discussing how organisations producing health statistics across the UK can ensure their data is accessible and meaningful to the public.
This is a hybrid event at the Royal Statistical Society, run by the Official Statistics section but open to the public for a fee.
During this afternoon of discussion, we will be exploring with our panels the approaches and challenges faced by organisations producing health related statistics across the UK to ensure the numbers and messages produced are accessible and meaningful to the public and other users.
In the first session (1-3pm), the panel will cover work across government departments and organisations to create a coherent system to produce comparable statistics across the four nations of the UK. They will touch upon the importance of presenting a coherent picture across the UK, at national and subnational levels, the data challenges, including how the definitions used can change the meaning of the statistics produced and how the public understand them. We will hear the experiences from people working in that area to improve the coherence of our statistical system to those that used these statistics to inform policy.
Our panel will include the head of the Office for Statistics Regulation Ed Humpherson, Lucy Vickers, Deputy Director – Statistics & Data Science at the Department for Health and Social Care, Julie Stanborough, Deputy Director for Health and Social Care Analysis at the Office for National Statistics with colleagues Michelle Waters and Heidi Wilson who work together with colleagues across the four nations on improving the UK-wide coherence on health statistics. They will be joined by William Perks (Head of health, social services and population statistics, Welsh Government), and colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland. We are also looking to bring into the discussion the perspectives from local authorities around the challenges of low-granularity meaningful statistics.
After a break, the second session (3.30-5.30pm) will discuss how we communicate statistics to users in a sensitive and accessible manners. The language of statistics, especially in the health context can be extremely technical and emotionally charged with words such as ‘risks’, ‘hazards’ and ‘uncertainty’. Those terms have a very specific meaning for a statistician which differs from the one the general public gives to these words. In this session, our panellists will share their experience in communicating sometimes complex concepts to a wide audience, balancing transparent and accurate reporting with accessibility. They will share what they have tried, what worked and what did not and ideas to communicate clearly in that area, in a time where misleading information spreads fast and that mistakes in communication have the potential to damage the trust users have in the organisations producing the statistics.
The second panel will include both statistics producers (ONS engagement hub lead, and Lucy Vickers from DHSC, William Perks from Welsh Government) and the head of the Office for Statistics Regulation Ed Humpherson, individuals that champions promoting public understanding of statistics (David Schley from Sense about Science, Rhian Davies a RSS Statistics Ambassador), and charity and users groups.
When the introduction of disposable beverage containers increased litter in the US, the response of producers was to launch a keep America beautiful campaign that placed the blame on consumers [emphasis mine] – the end users. In many countries it has taken over half a century for regulators to step in and deal with the problem of waste by, for example, prohibiting the use of free plastic bags or by making retailers take back unwanted packaging. But we still largely blame consumers for waste, despite them having little choice in practice about how goods are packaged. [[emphases mine]
Are we at risk of doing the same for consumers of information, overwhelmed by the volume of material available but not in control over what content is presented to them– by blaming poor information literacy for the spread of false information and misunderstanding? …
Hopefully, there’s something to your taste in this range of upcoming events.
Since stone wear down and away with time these researchers from China and Italy are trying to find ways to mitigate the damage. (At the end of this piece I have a list of other posts about stone buildings and monuments, preservation, and nanotechnology.)
A team of Chinese and Italian researchers has restored parts of a 300-year-old Catholic church in Venice, Italy, using modern nanotechnology.
The Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth [Church of the Scalzi], which overlooks the Grand Canal and is a prime example of Venetian Baroque architecture, is the beneficiary of a patented method developed to consolidate, or treat, marble stones damaged by time and the elements.The research was funded by the Veneto regional government, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Ministry of Science and Technology’s belt and road foreign expert exchange programme [part of the Belt and Road Initiative?].
The cutting-edge method could be used to restore landmarks of world-class cultural heritage – including the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column and the Victoria Memorial in London as well as historic sculptures – made from marble similar to the church [Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth]
The research team, led by scientists at China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xian and the CNR [National Research Council of Italy]-Institute of Geosciences and Earth Resources in Florence, Italy, found an “effective and enduring” method to consolidate marble stones after the design and systematic study of nine different treatment methods.
… They [research team] discovered the combination of two commonly used consolidation products – nanosilica and tetraethoxysilane (TEOS) – had the highest consolidating effect among all tested materials.
In the study published in the peer-reviewed journal [Science China Technological Sciences], the authors used a two-step method to consolidate the marble stones. They first applied nanosilica with dimensions less than 10nm to the surface of the stone using a poultice, a paste-like material, to cover the stone. The nanosilica particles could then penetrate as deep as 5cm (2 inches) into the pores of the stone and consolidate it. Then they used the same poultice method and put TEOS on the surface, which could enhance the stone’s hardness or mechanical strength. …
This paper is behind a paywall. However, it is possible to request a PDF copy of the paper from the authors on their Research Gate “Enhanced consolidation efficacy and durability of highly porous calcareous building stones enabled by nanosilica-based treatments” webpage,
Frontiers publishes peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journals and materials for children through their children’s magazine, “Frontiers for Young Minds” (see my November 18, 2013 post about the magazine’s inception) and The Nobel Collection featuring science stories for children written by Nobel laureates (see my February 22, 2022 post for the first collection and my June 9, 2023 post for the second collection.
Frontiers for Young Minds, an award-winning, non-profit, open-access scientific journal for kids, has released the third volume of its Nobel Collection today. The new volume features five articles on topics from using a glowing protein found in jellyfish to understand cell function to studying the smallest units of matter. Prior to publication, the distinguished scientists worked with young reviewers aged 8-15 to ensure their articles were interesting and understandable for young readers.
Launched in 2013, Frontiers for Young Minds inspires the next generation of scientists by making science accessible and engaging for young people. It provides reliable and up-to-date information on various topics in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). Through a unique review process, kids engage in dialogue with leading researchers worldwide, empowering the young reviewers with a better understanding not only of the science of the article, but of the scientific process and the importance of validating information. While learning about the world around them, young reviewers develop confidence, critical thinking, and communication skills.
The Nobel Collection is a special series of articles by Nobel Laureates. This third volume of the collection is an exciting new, educational installment for children and adults alike. The first and second volumes of the collection consist of 10 articles each, covering topics from discovering life on other planets to superfluids that defy gravity.
In this latest release, the scientists share their insights on the following topics:
The Quirky Lives of Quarks: A Close Look into Matter, written by David Gross, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004. Atoms are small units of matter that create everything we see. Inside atoms there are subatomic particles such as protons and neutrons, which compose the nucleus of the atom. Protons and neutrons are themselves composed of even smaller units called quarks. David Gross discovered how these quarks interact, explaining why the attraction force between them gets weaker as they get closer together and stronger as they move further apart.
Molecular Flashlights that Light Up Science, written by Martin Chalfie, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008. Green fluorescent protein (GPF) is a tiny glowing molecule that was originally found in glowing jellyfish. Martin Chalfie developed a way to use GFP as a marker that scientists can use to learn what is going on inside cells and organisms. Since his breakthrough, GFP was used in many different studies, helping scientists understand how cells work, how certain viruses cause diseases, and how proteins fold.
The Ribosome – The Factory for Protein Production According to the Genetic Code, written by Ada Yonath, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009. Proteins are small biological machines that work in our bodies as well as in the bodies of all animals, plants, viruses, and bacteria. They are produced by a protein production ‘factory’ in cells called the ribosome. Ada Yonath developed a method for studying the structure and function of ribosomes. This method could be used to study how antibiotics work and improve them.
The Secrets of Secretion: Protein Transport in Cells, written by Randy Schekman, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2013. Cells release substances to the blood and to other cells via a process called secretion. For a substance to be secreted, it needs to travel between different stations within the cell and then cross the outer envelope of the cell called a membrane. This travel of a substance within and outside a cell is performed by small carriers called vesicles, which are like little cars that take a passenger substance to its destination. Randy Schekman identified different stations that this ‘car’ goes through within the cell, and significantly contributed to understanding the whole pathway of this fundamental process of secretion.
Seeing Beyond the Limits with Super-Resolution Microscopy, written by Eric Betzig, awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014. Scientists often want to look at very small objects in order to study them. For many years it was believed that we cannot look with visible light on objects that are smaller than a fundamental property of light called its wavelength (the distance between two peaks in the light wave). Eric Betzig was able to break that limit using a method based on glowing molecules that are attached to the object scientists want to study. This paved the way for scientists to look at objects they could never see before.
The third volume will expand with more Nobel Laureate authors later this year, providing young readers the opportunity to learn even more about important discoveries.
Commenting on the new volume, Frontiers for Young Minds head of programLaura Hendersonsays: “It’s wonderful to now have three volumes of our Nobel collection and so many Nobelist authors joining us to provide kids with access to their work. We want to ensure all science enthusiasts can read Nobel Prize-winning scientific concepts. With over 1.5 million reads and downloads of the articles in volumes one and two, I can’t wait to see volume three inspire our young readers even more.”
To find out more, watch this video. [29 secs. runtime]
A trio of Australian academics (Alan Labas, Benjamin Matthew Long, and Dylan Liu, all from Federation University Australia) have written a September 26, 2023 essay about nanocellulose derived from food waste for The Conversation, Note: Links have been removed,
Food waste is a global problem with approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted each year throughout the food lifecycle – from the farm to food manufacturers and households.
Across the food supply chain, Australians waste around 7.6 million tonnes of food each year. This costs our economy approximately A$36.6 billion annually.
In a recent study published in Bioresource Technology Reports, we have found a way to use food waste for making a versatile material known as nanocellulose. In particular, we used acid whey – a significant dairy production waste material that it usually difficult to dispose of.
For those who may not be familiar with nanocellulose, a lot of research was done here in Canada with a focus on using forest and agricultural waste products to produce nanocellulose. (See the CelluForce and Blue Goose Biorefineries websites for more about nanocellulose production, which in both their cases results in a specific material known as cellulose nanocrystals [CNC].) There’s more about the different kinds of nanocellulose later in this post.
Nanocellulose is a biopolymer, which means it’s a naturally produced long chain of sugars. It has remarkable properties – bacterial nanocellulose is strong, chemically stable and biocompatible, meaning it’s not harmful to human cells. This makes it a highly marketable product with applications in packaging, wound treatments, drug delivery or food production.
The traditional approach for making nanocellulose can be expensive, uses large amounts of energy and takes a long time. Some types of nanocellulose production [emphasis mine] also use a chemical process that produces unwanted waste byproducts.
By contrast, our new approach uses just food waste and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) – something you may be familiar with as a kombucha starter. Our process is low cost, consumes little energy and produces no waste.
… Lovers of home-brewed kombucha may actually be familiar with the raw nanocellulose material – it forms as a floating off-white structure called a pellicle. Some people already use this kombucha by-product as vegan leather.) A similar pellicle formed on our acid whey mixture.
I’m not sure if the “types of nanocellulose production” the writers are referring to are different types of nanocellose materials or different types of nanocellulose extraction.
Nanocellulose is a term referring to nano-structured cellulose. This may be either cellulose nanocrystal (CNC or NCC [nanocellulose crystal]), cellulose nanofibers (CNF) also called nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC), or bacterial nanocellulose, which refers to nano-structured cellulose produced by bacteria.
CNF is a material composed of nanosized cellulose fibrils with a high aspect ratio (length to width ratio). Typical fibril widths are 5–20 nanometers with a wide range of lengths, typically several micrometers. It is pseudo-plastic and exhibits thixotropy, the property of certain gels or fluids that are thick (viscous) under normal conditions, but become less viscous when shaken or agitated. When the shearing forces are removed the gel regains much of its original state. The fibrils are isolated from any cellulose containing source including wood-based fibers (pulp fibers) through high-pressure, high temperature and high velocity impact homogenization, grinding or microfluidization (see manufacture below).
Nanocellulose can also be obtained from native fibers by an acid hydrolysis, giving rise to highly crystalline and rigid nanoparticles which are shorter (100s to 1000 nanometers) than the cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) obtained through homogenization, microfluiodization or grinding routes. The resulting material is known as cellulose nanocrystal (CNC).
Nanochitin is similar in its nanostructure to nanocellulose.
Interestingly, Canadian development efforts are not mentioned in the essay until the very end, where we are lost in a plethora of other mentions, Note 1: Links have been removed; Note 2: All emphases mine,
A lthough wood-driven nanocellulose was first produced in 1983 by Herrick and Turbak, its commercial production postponed till 2010, mainly due to the high production energy consumption and high production cost. Innventia AB (Sweden) established the first nanocellulose pilot production plant 2010. Companies and research institutes actively producing micro and nano fibrillated cellulose include: American Process (US), Borregaard (Norway), CelluComp (UK), Chuetsu Pulp and Paper (Japan), CTP/FCBA (France), Daicel (Japan), Dai-ichi Kyogo (Japan), Empa (Switzerland), FiberLean Technologies (UK), InoFib (France), Nano Novin Polymer Co. (Iran), Nippon Paper (Japan), Norske Skog (Norway), Oji Paper (Japan), RISE (Sweden), SAPPI (Netherlands), Seiko PMC (Japan), Stora Enso (Finland), Sugino Machine (Japan), Suzano (Brazil), Tianjin Haojia Cellulose Co. Ltd (China), University of Maine (US), UPM (Finland), US Forest Products Lab (US), VTT (Finland), and Weidmann Fiber Technology (Switzerland). Companies and research institutes actively producing cellulose nanocrystals include: Alberta Innovates (Canada), American Process (US), Blue Goose Biorefineries (Canada), CelluForce (Canada), FPInnovations (Canada), Hangzhou Yeuha Technology Co. (China), Melodea (Israel/Sweden), Sweetwater Energy (US), Tianjin Haojia Cellulose Co. Ltd (China), and US Forest Products Lab (US). Companies and research institutes actively producing cellulose filaments include: Kruger (Canada), Performance BioFilaments (Canada), and Tianjin Haojia Cellulose Co. Ltd (China). Cellucomp (Scotland) produces Curran, a root-vegetable based nanocellulose.
This leaves me with a couple of questions: Is my understanding of the nanocellulose story insular or Is the Wikipedia entry a little US-centric? It’s entirely possible the answer to both questions could be yes.
Demand for nanocellulose is growing worldwide. The global market was valued at US$0.4 billion in 2022 (A$0.6bn) and is expected to grow to US$2 billion by 2030 (A$3.1bn). Bacterial nanocellulose produced from food waste can help to satisfy this demand.
This growth is in part due to how we can use nanocellulose instead of petroleum-based and other non-renewable materials in things like packaging. Among its desirable properties, nanocellulose is also fully biodegradable.
Having neither the research skills nor the resources to investigate the impact the money (and power) have on science in Canada, more specifically, on our fisheries and oceans, I have to thank the Canadian Science Media Centre for the link to a paper on the topic.
Twenty-six years ago, in response to regionally devastating fisheries collapses [collapse of Maritime provinces cod fisheries] in Canada, Hutchings et al. asked “Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control?” Now, a quarter-century later, we review how government science advice continues to be influenced by non-science interests, particularly those with a financial stake in the outcome of the advice. We use the example of salmon aquaculture in British Columbia, Canada, to demonstrate how science advice from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) can fail to be impartial, evidence-based, transparent, and independently reviewed—four widely implemented standards of robust science advice. Consequently, DFO’s policies are not always supported by the best available science. These observations are particularly important in the context of DFO having struggled to sustainably manage Canada’s marine resources, creating socio-economic uncertainty and putting the country’s international reputation at risk as it lags behind its peers. We conclude by reiterating Hutchings et al.’s unheeded recommendation for a truly independent fisheries-science advisory body in Canada to be enshrined in the decision-making process.
Over a quarter of a century later, the cod fisheries and others are in dire conditions, Note: Links have been removed,
… numerous Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) populations are at historically low abundances (Peterman and Dorner 2012; Riddell et al. 2013; Bendriem et al. 2019; COSEWIC 2019), and Canada’s Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) stocks remain in a “critical” state (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2020).
… Science advice is integral to DFO’s [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] role, but the provision of Canadian fisheries-science advice is challenging, due not only to the diversity and large geographic scale of Canada’s ocean environments, but also to the pitfalls inherent in providing science advice.
Although science can play an important role in the mitigation and reversal of anthropogenic stresses by supplying evidence for policy decisions, competing interests and ideologies can impede the delivery of robust science advice and its integration into government policy decisions. In particular, individuals or groups with vested interests can manipulate the science-policy process through the “disinformation playbook” (Reed et al. 2021)—a collection of strategies that downplay and obscure risk by seeding doubt about scientific consensus (Freudenburg et al. 2008). These tactics can be used to discount the connections between negative health or environmental outcomes and their corporate or industrial causes, at times resulting in regulatory capture, a “process by which regulation… is consistently or repeatedly directed away from the public interest and toward the interests of the regulated industry, by the intent and action of the industry itself” (Carpenter and Moss 2013). Examples of regulatory capture exist in relation to cancers from tobacco use, bird-population declines from dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), ozone-layer depletion from chlorofluorocarbons, and climate change from greenhouse gas emissions (Oreskes and Conway 2010; Anker et al. 2011).
Reassuringly, governments commonly seek to incorporate evidence and scientific findings to strengthen policy and better inform decision-making. A flagship example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), provides policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis for climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation (Masson-Delmotte et al. 2021). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assesses the global extinction risks for animal, fungal, and plant species (IUCN Red List 2022). In Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) (Waples et al. 2013) provides species threat-status assessments whose quality and independence are internationally recognized (Waples et al. 2013). Recently, to inform their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, many national governments drew on science advisory bodies, such as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) in Canada (Macdonald and Pickering 2009; Ismail et al. 2010).
Salmon aquaculture has had a turbulent history in Canada, particularly on the Pacific coast, where non-native Atlantic salmon comprises 89% of aquaculture production by quantity and 95% by value (FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022). The controversy on the Pacific coast—where the industry is regulated federally, by DFO, rather than provincially, as in Atlantic Canada—is largely due to the amplification of disease and its transmission from farmed to wild salmon, a concern for salmon farming globally (Garseth et al. 2013; Krkošek 2017; Kibenge 2019; Mordecai et al. 2021). The Pacific coast of Canada is perhaps the only region in the world where salmon farming was developed alongside abundant, viable wild salmon stocks (FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022). In this context, widespread declines of many wild Pacific salmon populations (Peterman and Dorner 2012; Riddell et al. 2013; Bendriem et al. 2019, 2019), in parallel with growing evidence of the ecological effects of salmon farms, have eroded the social license for the industry to operate (Wiber et al. 2021; Reid et al. 2022). …
The quality of DFO’s science advice on salmon farming in BC is particularly important in the context of growing evidence that (due to multiple causes) wild salmon are not thriving (Peterman and Dorner 2012; Riddell et al. 2013; Bendriem et al. 2019; COSEWIC 2019), and has repeatedly been a cause for concern among scientists, nongovernmental organisations, Indigenous groups, and even government bodies (Proboszcz 2018; Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans 2021a). …
… for some, the close relationships between members of the salmon aquaculture industry and DFO personnel raise concerns that these standards of impartiality are not being met. For example, the former Director of DFO’s Aquaculture, Biotechnology, and Aquatic Animal Health Science Branch was previously the President of the Aquaculture Association of Canada (Supplementary data, pp. 80–82), an organisation with the objective to “promote, support, and encourage… [the] advancement of aquaculture in Canada” (Supplementary data, p. 83). Similarly, the former Director of the Pacific Biological Station and Head of Aquaculture for DFO later served as Chair of the Science Advisory Council for the BC Salmon Farmers Association, by which he was described as “a strong advocate for the aquaculture industry in BC” (Supplementary data, pp. 84–85). These are just two examples among many. …
DFO’s accountability to industry was once again brought to light in 2022 when a prominent DFO research scientist testified in front of a parliamentary committee that DFO’s ability to conduct robust, transparent evidence-based risk assessments on aquaculture–wild interactions was compromised by a lack of independence from industry (Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans 2021b). Examples of the Department’s processes for developing salmon-farm regulations, while not examples of science advice, further call industry influence into question. …
The case for improving fisheries-science advice in Canada has never been stronger. DFO’s standard of fisheries-science advice now lags behind international best practice (Hutchings et al. 2012b; Winter and Hutchings 2020) as well as Canada’s own science advisory bodies, such as COSEWIC and the NACI, which strive to offer advice unfiltered and unaffected by political or bureaucratic influences. Yet DFO continues to allow industry lobbying and other non-science influences to interfere with advice processes (see Impartial section) while publicly claiming that the resulting advice is based on science (Supplementary data, pp. 10–15). …
This paper is open access and because I don’t ever before recall seeing an ‘Acknowledgements’ section that is sad, humorous, and touching, here it is,
We dedicate this paper to Jeffrey Hutchings, who tragically passed away halfway through the writing process. Jeff was a giant of the field who had an immense, positive influence on his friends and colleagues, and on fisheries science and policy in Canada and beyond. JH contributed to the conception and outline of the paper, wrote the first draft of the Introduction, edited as far as the “Background” subsection of the “Salmon Aquaculture Case Study,” discussed the case study examples, and penned a portion of the “Conclusions and Recommendations.” SG, AB, and GM all contributed equally to the manuscript (and reserve the right to list themselves as first author on their CVs). Published order of the co-first authors was determined via haphazard out-of-a-hat selection by AB’s 18-month-old son, Linden; whether this process bears all four hallmarks of robust science advice was not assessed. We are very grateful to 14 colleagues who provided valuable feedback during preparation and review.
As with many of these ‘nanoparticle solutions’ to a problem, it seems the nanoparticles are the delivery system. A September 21, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily announces the research,
A new form of agricultural pest control could one day take root — one that treats crop infestations deep under the ground in a targeted manner with less pesticide.
Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed nanoparticles, fashioned from plant viruses, that can deliver pesticide molecules to soil depths that were previously unreachable. This advance could potentially help farmers effectively combat parasitic nematodes that plague the root zones of crops, all while minimizing costs, pesticide use and environmental toxicity.
Controlling infestations caused by root-damaging nematodes has long been a challenge in agriculture. One reason is that the types of pesticides used against nematodes tend to cling to the top layers of soil, making it tough to reach the root level where nematodes wreak havoc. As a result, farmers often resort to applying excessive amounts of pesticide, as well as water to wash pesticides down to the root zone. This can lead to contamination of soil and groundwater.
To find a more sustainable and effective solution, a team led by Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and founding director of the Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering, developed plant virus nanoparticles that can transport pesticide molecules deep into the soil, precisely where they are needed. The work is detailed in a paper published in Nano Letters.
Steinmetz’s team drew inspiration from nanomedicine [emphasis mine], where nanoparticles are being created for targeted drug delivery, and adapted this concept to agriculture. This idea of repurposing and redesigning biological materials for different applications is also a focus area of the UC San Diego Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), of which Steinmetz is a co-lead.
“We’re developing a precision farming approach where we’re creating nanoparticles for targeted pesticide delivery,” said Steinmetz, who is the study’s senior author. “This technology holds the promise of enhancing treatment effectiveness in the field without the need to increase pesticide dosage.”
The star of this approach is the tobacco mild green mosaic virus, a plant virus that has the ability to move through soil with ease. Researchers modified these virus nanoparticles, rendering them noninfectious to crops by removing their RNA. They then mixed these nanoparticles with pesticide solutions in water and heated them, creating spherical virus-like nanoparticles packed with pesticides through a simple one-pot synthesis.
This one-pot synthesis offers several advantages. First, it is cost-effective, with just a few steps and a straightforward purification process. The result is a more scalable method, paving the way toward a more affordable product for farmers, noted Steinmetz. Second, by simply packaging the pesticide inside the nanoparticles, rather than chemically binding it to the surface, this method preserves the original chemical structure of the pesticide.
“If we had used a traditional synthetic method where we link the pesticide molecules to the nanoparticles, we would have essentially created a new compound, which will need to go through a whole new registration and regulatory approval process,” said study first author Adam Caparco, a postdoctoral researcher in Steinmetz’s lab. “But since we’re just encapsulating the pesticide within the nanoparticles, we’re not changing the active ingredient, so we won’t need to get new approval for it. That could help expedite the translation of this technology to the market.”
Moreover, the tobacco mild green mosaic virus is already approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as an herbicide to control an invasive plant called the tropical soda apple. This existing approval could further streamline the path from lab to market.
The researchers conducted experiments in the lab to demonstrate the efficacy of their pesticide-packed nanoparticles. The nanoparticles were watered through columns of soil and successfully transported the pesticides to depths of at least 10 centimeters. The solutions were collected from the bottom of the soil columns and were found to contain the pesticide-packed nanoparticles. When the researchers treated nematodes with these solutions, they eliminated at least half of the population in a petri dish.
While the researchers have not yet tested the nanoparticles on nematodes lurking beneath the soil, they note that this study marks a significant step forward.
“Our technology enables pesticides meant to combat nematodes to be used in the soil,” said Caparco. “These pesticides alone cannot penetrate the soil. But with our nanoparticles, they now have soil mobility, can reach the root level, and potentially kill the nematodes.”
Future research will involve testing the nanoparticles on actual infested plants to assess their effectiveness in real-world agricultural scenarios. Steinmetz’s lab will perform these follow-up studies in collaboration with the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory. Her team has also established plans for an industry partnership aimed at advancing the nanoparticles into a commercial product.