Clothing that reflects your thoughts?

First, there was a dress that reflected your emotions. Now, apparently, there’s a dress that reflects your thoughts. Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would want clothing that performed either function. However, I’m sure there’s an extrovert out there who’s equally puzzled abut my take on this matter.

Emotion-reading dress

Before getting to this latest piece of wearable technology, the mind-reading dress, you might find this emotional sensing dress not only interesting but eerily similar,

Here’s more from the video’s YouTube webpage,

Philips Design has developed a series of dynamic garments as part of the ongoing SKIN exploration research into the area known as emotional sensing. The garments, which are intended for demonstration purposes only, demonstrate how electronics can be incorporated into fabrics and garments in order to express the emotions and personality of the wearer. The marvelously intricate wearable prototypes include Bubelle, a dress surrounded by a delicate bubble illuminated by patterns that changed dependent on skin contact- and Frison, a body suit that reacts to being blown on by igniting a private constellation of tiny LEDs. Sensitive rather than intelligent These garments were developed as part of the SKIN research project, which challenges the notion that our lives are automatically better because they are more digital. It looks at more analog phenomena like emotional sensing and explores technologies that are sensitive rather than intelligent. SKIN belongs to the ongoing, far-future research program carried out at Philips Design. The aim of this program is to identify emerging trends and likely societal shifts and then carry out probes that explore whether there is potential for Philips in some of the more promising areas. Rethinking our interaction with products and content According to Clive van Heerden, Senior Director of design-led innovation at Philips Design, the SKIN probe has a much wider context than just garments. As our media becomes progressively more virtual, it is quite possible in long term future that we will no longer have objects like DVD players, or music contained on disks, or books that are actually printed. An opportunity is therefore emerging for us to completely rethink our interaction with products and content. More info: http://www.design.philips.com/about/d…

I first heard about the dress at the 2009 International Symposium of Electronic Arts (2009 ISEA held in Belfast, Norther Ireland and Dublin, Ireland). Clive van Heerden who was then working for Philips Design (it’s part of a Dutch multinational originally known widely for its Philips light bulbs and called Royal Philips Electronics) opened vHM Design Futures in 2011 with Jack Mama in London (UK). Should you be curious as to how the project is featured on vHM, check out 2006 SKIN: DRESSES.

Mind-reading dress

Moving on from emotion-sensing clothes to mind-reading clothes,

Mark Wilson’s August 31, 2020 article for Fast Company reflects a sanguine approach to clothing that broadcasts your ‘thoughts’ (Note: Links have been removed),

… what if your clothing were a direct reflection on yourself? What if it could literally visualize what you were thinking? That’s the idea of the Pangolin Scales Project, a new brain-reading dress by Dutch fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht [of Anouk Wipprecht FashionTech], with support from the Institute for Integrated Circuits at JKU [Johannes Kepler University Linz] and G.tec medical engineering.

… A total of 1,024 brain-reading EEG sensors are placed on someone’s head to measure the electrical activity inside their brain. These sensors have a faceted design that resembles the keratin scales of a pangolin.

… It’s not a message that you can understand just by looking at it. You won’t suddenly know if someone is hungry or thinking of their favorite book just because they’re wearing this dress. But it’s still a captivating visualization of the innermost working of someone’s mind, as well as a proof point: Maybe one day, you really will be able to judge a book by its cover, because that cover will say it all.

Whether you consider the projects to be analog or digital, they raise interesting questions about privacy.

Viburnum and a new kind of structural colo(u)r

I love structural colo(u) and the first such story here was this February 7, 2013 posting, which is where you’ll find the image below,

AGELESS BRILLIANCE: Although the pigment-derived leaf color of this decades-old specimen of the African perennial Pollia condensata has faded, the fruit still maintains its intense metallic-blue iridescence.COURTESY OF P.J. RUDALL [downloaded from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34200/title/Color-from-Structure/]

Those berries are stunning especially when you realize they are part of a long-dead Pollia plant. Scientist, Rox Middleton of University of Bristol (UK) was studying the structures that render the Pollia plant’s berries (fruit) blue when she decided to study another, more conveniently accessible plant with blue fruit. That’s when she got a surprise (from an August 11, 2020 article by Véronique Greenwood for the New York Times),

Big, leafy viburnum bushes have lined yards in the United States and Europe for decades — their domes of blossoms have an understated attractiveness. But once the flowers of the Viburnum tinus plant fade, the shrub makes something unusual: shiny, brilliantly blue fruit.

Scientists had noticed that pigments related to those in blueberries exist in viburnum fruit, and assumed that this must be the source of their odd hue. Blue fruit, after all, is rare. But researchers reported last week in Current Biology that viburnum’s blue is actually created by layers of molecules arranged under the surface of the skin, a form of what scientists call structural color. By means still unknown, the plant’s cells create thin slabs of fat [emphasis mine] arranged in a stack, like the flakes of puff pastry, and their peculiar gleam is the result.

Rox Middleton, a researcher at University of Bristol in England and an author of the new paper, had been studying the African pollia plant, which produces its own exotic blue fruit. But viburnum fruit were everywhere, and she realized that their blue had not been well-studied. Along with Miranda Sinnott-Armstrong, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and other colleagues, she set out to take a closer look at the fruit’s skin.

The pollia fruit’s blue is a form of structural color, in which light bounces off a regularly spaced arrangement of tiny structures such that certain wavelengths, usually those that look blue or green to us, are reflected back at the viewer. In pollia fruit, the color comes from light interacting with thin sheets of cellulose packed together. At first the team thought there would be something similar in viburnum. But they saw no cellulose stacks.

The research team has concluded that all it comes down the arrangement of fat molecules, which are also responsible for the cloudier, metallic blue in viburnum berries,

Caption Closeup of viburnum tinus. Credit: Rox Middleton Courtesy University of Cambridge

I encourage you to read Greenwood’s August 11, 2020 article in its entirety. For those who like more details, there are two press releases. The first is an August 6, 2020 University of Cambridge press release on EurekAlert. Middleton completed the ‘Virbunum’ research while completing her PhD at Cambridge. As mentioned earlier, Middleton is currently a researcher at the University of Bristol and they issued an August 11, 2020 press release touting her accomplishment.

Finally, for the insatiably curious, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Viburnum tinus Fruits Use Lipids to Produce Metallic Blue Structural Color by Rox Middleton, Miranda Sinnott-Armstrong, Yu Ogawa, Gianni Jacucci, Edwige Moyroud, Paula J. Rudall, Chrissie Prychid, Maria Conejero, Beverley J. Glover, Michael J. Donoghue, Silvia Vignolini. Current Biology DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.07.005 Published:August 06, 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Effective anti-icing with nanostructures modeled on moth eyes

According to an August 4, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily the ‘Ice-phobic’ properties of moths’ eyes have inspired a new technology,

Researchers have been working for decades on improving the anti-icing performance of functional surfaces. Ice accumulation on aircraft wings, for instance, can reduce lifting force, block moving parts and cause disastrous problems.

Research in the journal AIP [American Institute of Physics] Advances, from AIP Publishing, investigates a unique nanostructure, modeled on moth eyes, that has anti-icing properties. Moth eyes are of interest because they have a distinct ice-phobic and transparent surface.

An August 4, 2020 AIP news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into how they fabricated ‘moth-like eye’ structures at the nanoscale,

The researchers fabricated the moth eye nanostructure on a quartz substrate that was covered with a paraffin layer to isolate it from a cold and humid environment. Paraffin wax was chosen as a coating material due to its low thermal conductivity, easy coating and original water repellency.

“We evaluated the anti-icing properties of this unique nanostructure covered with paraffin in terms of adhesion strength, freezing time and mimicking rain sustainability,” said Nguyen Ba Duc, one of the authors.

Ice accumulation on energy transmission systems, vehicles and ships in a harsh environment often leads to massive destruction and contributes to serious accidents.

The researchers found the moth eyes nanostructure surface coated in paraffin exhibited greatly improved anti-icing performance, indicating the advantage of combining original water repellency and a unique heat-delaying structure. The paraffin interfered in the icing process in both water droplet and freezing rain experiments.

The number of air blocks trapped inside the nanostructure also contributed to delaying heat transfer, leading to an increase in freezing time of the attached water droplets.

“We also determined this unique nanostructure sample is suitable for optical applications, such as eyeglasses, as it has high transparency and anti-reflective properties,” said Ba Duc.

The high transparency and anti-reflective effects were due to the nanostructure being modeled on moth eyes, which have these transparent and anti-reflective properties.

Ice accumulation on a bare coated, nanostructure (NS) and nanostructure covered in paraffin (NSP) samples after a freezing test CREDIT: Nguyen Ba Duc

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

Investigate on structure for transparent anti-icing surfaces by Nguyen Ba Duc and Nguyen Thanh Binh. AIP Advances 10, 085101 (2020); https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0019119

This paper is open access.

D-Wave’s new Advantage quantum computer

Thanks to Bob Yirka’s September 30, 2020 article for phys.org there’s an announcement about D-Wave Systems’ latest quantum computer and an explanation of how D-Wave’s quantum computer differs from other quantum computers. Here’s the explanation (Note: Links have been removed),

Over the past several years, several companies have dedicated resources to the development of a true quantum computer that can tackle problems conventional computers cannot handle. Progress on developing such computers has been slow, however, especially when compared with the early development of the conventional computer. As part of the research effort, companies have taken different approaches. Google and IBM, for example, are working on gate-model quantum computer technology, in which qubits are modified as an algorithm is executed. D-Wave, in sharp contrast, has been focused on developing so-called annealer technology, in which qubits are cooled during execution of an algorithm, which allows for passively changing their value.

Comparing the two is next to impossible because of their functional differences. Thus, using 5,000 qubits in the Advantage system does not necessarily mean that it is any more useful than the 100-qubit systems currently being tested by IBM or Google. Still, the announcement suggests that businesses are ready to start taking advantage of the increased capabilities of quantum systems. D-Wave notes that several customers are already using their system for a wide range of applications. Menten AI, for example, has used the system to design new proteins; grocery chain Save-On-Foods has been using it to optimize business operations; Accenture has been using it to develop business applications; Volkswagen has used the system to develop a more efficient car painting system.

Here’s the company’s Sept. 29, 2020 video announcement,

For those who might like some text, there’s a Sept. 29, 2020 D-Wave Systems press release (Note: Links have been removed; this is long),

D-Wave Systems Inc., the leader in quantum computing systems, software, and services, today [Sept. 29, 2020] announced the general availability of its next-generation quantum computing platform, incorporating new hardware, software, and tools to enable and accelerate the delivery of in-production quantum computing applications. Available today in the Leap™ quantum cloud service, the platform includes the Advantage™ quantum system, with more than 5000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, in addition to an expanded hybrid solver service that can run problems with up to one million variables. The combination of the computing power of Advantage and the scale to address real-world problems with the hybrid solver service in Leap enables businesses to run performant, real-time, hybrid quantum applications for the first time.

As part of its commitment to enabling businesses to build in-production quantum applications, the company announced D-Wave Launch™, a jump-start program for businesses who want to get started building hybrid quantum applications today but may need additional support. Bringing together a team of applications experts and a robust partner community, the D-Wave Launch program provides support to help identify the best applications and to translate businesses’ problems into hybrid quantum applications. The extra support helps customers accelerate designing, building, and running their most important and complex applications, while delivering quantum acceleration and performance.

The company also announced a new hybrid solver. The discrete quadratic model (DQM) solver gives developers and businesses the ability to apply the benefits of hybrid quantum computing to new problem classes. Instead of accepting problems with only binary variables (0 or 1), the DQM solver uses other variable sets (e.g. integers from 1 to 500, or red, yellow, and blue), expanding the types of problems that can run on the quantum computer. The DQM solver will be generally available on October 8 [2020].

With support for new solvers and larger problem sizes backed by the Advantage system, customers and partners like Menten AI, Save-On-Foods, Accenture, and Volkswagen are building and running hybrid quantum applications that create solutions with business value today.

  • Protein design pioneer Menten AI has developed the first process using hybrid quantum programs to determine protein structure for de novo protein design with very encouraging results often outperforming classical solvers. Menten AI’s unique protein designs have been computationally validated, chemically synthesized, and are being advanced to live-virus testing against COVID-19.
  • Western Canadian grocery retailer Save-On-Foods is using hybrid quantum algorithms to bring grocery optimization solutions to their business, with pilot tests underway in-store. The company has been able to reduce the time an important optimization task takes from 25 hours to a mere 2 minutes of calculations each week. Even more important than the reduction in time is the ability to optimize performance across and between a significant number of business parameters in a way that is challenging using traditional methods.
  • Accenture, a leading global professional services company, is exploring quantum, quantum-inspired, and hybrid solutions to develop applications across industries. Accenture recently conducted a series of business experiments with a banking client to pilot quantum applications for currency arbitrage, credit scoring, and trading optimization, successfully mapping computationally challenging business problems to quantum formulations, enabling quantum readiness.
  • Volkswagen, an early adopter of D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, has expanded its quantum use cases with the hybrid solver service to build a paint shop scheduling application. The algorithm is designed to optimize the order in which cars are being painted. By using the hybrid solver service, the number of color switches will be reduced significantly, leading to performance improvements.

The Advantage quantum computer and the Leap quantum cloud service include:

  • New Topology: The topology in Advantage makes it the most connected of any commercial quantum system in the world. In the D-Wave 2000Q™ system, qubits may connect to 6 other qubits. In the new Advantage system, each qubit may connect to 15 other qubits. With two-and-a-half times more connectivity, Advantage enables the embedding of larger problems with fewer physical qubits compared to using the D-Wave 2000Q system. The D-Wave Ocean™ software development kit (SDK) includes tools for using the new topology. Information on the topology in Advantage can be found in this white paper, and a getting started video on how to use the new topology can be found here.
  • Increased Qubit Count: With more than 5000 qubits, Advantage more than doubles the qubit count of the D-Wave 2000Q system. More qubits and richer connectivity provide quantum programmers access to a larger, denser, and more powerful graph for building commercial quantum applications.
  • Greater Performance & Problem Size: With up to one million variables, the hybrid solver service in Leap allows businesses to run large-scale, business-critical problems. This, coupled with the new topology and more than 5000 qubits in the Advantage system, expands the complexity and more than doubles the size of problems that can run directly on the quantum processing unit (QPU). In fact, the hybrid solver outperformed or matched the best of 27 classical optimization solvers on 87% of 45 application-relevant inputs tested in MQLib. Additionally, greater connectivity of the QPU allows for more compact embeddings of complex problems. Advantage can find optimal solutions 10 to 30 times faster in some cases, and can find better quality solutions up to 64% percent of the time, when compared to the D-Wave 2000Q LN QPU.
  • Expansion of Hybrid Software & Tools in Leap: Further investments in the hybrid solver service, new solver classes, ease-of-use, automation, and new tools provide an even more powerful hybrid rapid development environment in Python for business-scale problems.
  • Flexible Access: Advantage, the expanded hybrid solver service, and the upcoming DQM solver are available in the Leap quantum cloud service. All current Leap customers get immediate access with no additional charge, and new customers will benefit from all the new and existing capabilities in Leap. This means that developers and businesses can get started today building in-production hybrid quantum applications. Flexible purchase plans allow developers and forward-thinking businesses to access the D-Wave quantum system in the way that works for them and their business. 
  • Ongoing Releases: D-Wave continues to bring innovations to market with additional hybrid solvers, QPUs, and software updates through the cloud. Interested users and customers can get started today with Advantage and the hybrid solver service, and will benefit from new components of the platform through Leap as they become available.

“Today’s general availability of Advantage delivers the first quantum system built specifically for business, and marks the expansion into production scale commercial applications and new problem types with our hybrid solver services. In combination with our new jump-start program to get customers started, this launch continues what we’ve known at D-Wave for a long time: it’s not about hype, it’s about scaling, and delivering systems that provide real business value on real business applications,” said Alan Baratz, CEO, D-Wave. “We also continue to invest in the science of building quantum systems. Advantage was completely re-engineered from the ground up. We’ll take what we’ve learned about connectivity and scale and continue to push the limits of innovation for the next generations of our quantum computers. I’m incredibly proud of the team that has brought us here and the customers and partners who have collaborated with us to build hundreds of early applications and who now are putting applications into production.”

“We are using quantum to design proteins today. Using hybrid quantum applications, we’re able to solve astronomical protein design problems that help us create new protein structures,” said Hans Melo, Co-founder and CEO, Menten AI. “We’ve seen extremely encouraging results with hybrid quantum procedures often finding better solutions than competing classical solvers for de novo protein design. This means we can create better proteins and ultimately enable new drug discoveries.”

“At Save-On-Foods, we have been committed to bringing innovation to our customers for more than 105 years. To that end, we are always looking for new and creative ways to solve problems, especially in an environment that has gotten increasingly complex,” said Andrew Donaher, Vice President, Digital & Analytics at Save-On-Foods. “We’re new to quantum computing, and in a short period of time, we have seen excellent early results. In fact, the early results we see with Advantage and the hybrid solver service from D-Wave are encouraging enough that our goal is to turn our pilot into an in-production business application. Quantum is emerging as a potential competitive edge for our business.“

“Accenture is committed to helping our clients prepare for the arrival of mainstream quantum computing by exploring relevant use cases and conducting business experiments now,” said Marc Carrel-Billiard, Senior Managing Director and Technology Innovation Lead at Accenture. “We’ve been collaborating with D-Wave for several years and with early access to the Advantage system and hybrid solver service we’ve seen performance improvements and advancements in the platform that are important steps for helping to make quantum a reality for clients across industries, creating new sources of competitive advantage.”

“Embracing quantum computing is nothing new for Volkswagen. We were the first to run a hybrid quantum application in production in Lisbon last November with our bus routing application,” said Florian Neukart, Director of Advanced Technologies at Volkswagen Group of America. “At Volkswagen, we are focusing on building up a deep understanding of meaningful applications of quantum computing in a corporate context. The D-Wave system gives us the opportunity to address optimization tasks with a large number of variables at an impressive speed. With this we are taking a step further towards quantum applications that will be suitable for everyday business use.”

I found the description of D-Wave’s customers and how they’re using quantum computing to be quite interesting. For anyone curious about D-Wave Systems, you can find out more here. BTW, the company is located in metro Vancouver (Canada).

The Quantum Physicist as Causal Detective: an Oct. 7, 2020 event

I love mysteries and am quite interested in the nature of reality (you, too?) and that gives us something in common with a couple of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI; Canada) researchers. From The Quantum Physicist as Causal Detective event page on the insidetheperimeter.ca website (notice received via email),

In their live webcast from Perimeter on October 7 [2020], Robert Spekkens and Elie Wolfe will shed light on the exciting possibilities brought about by applying quantum thinking to the science of cause and effect.

Watch the live webcast on this page on Wednesday, October 7 [2020] at 7 pm ET.

What do data science and the foundations of quantum theory have to do with one another?

A great deal, it turns out. The particular branch of data science known as causal inference focuses on a problem which is central to disciplines ranging from epidemiology to economics: that of disentangling correlation and causation in statistical data.

Meanwhile, in a slightly different guise, this same problem has been pondered by quantum physicists as part of a continuing effort to make sense of various puzzling quantum phenomena. On top of that, the most celebrated result concerning quantum theory’s meaning for the nature of reality – Bell’s theorem – can be seen in retrospect to be built on the solution to a particularly challenging problem in causal inference.

Recent efforts to elaborate upon these connections have led to an exciting flow of techniques and insights across the disciplinary divide.

Perimeter researchers Robert Spekkens and Elie Wolfe have done pioneering work studying relations of cause and effect through a quantum foundational lens, and can be counted among a small number of physicists worldwide with expertise in this field.

In their joint webcast from Perimeter [at 7 pm ET] on October 7 [2020], Spekkens and Wolfe will explore what is happening at the intersection of these two fields and how thinking like a quantum physicist leads to new ways of sussing out cause and effect from correlation patterns in statistical data.

For those of us on the West Coast, that webcast will be at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020 and I believe you can watch it here.

You mean Fitbit makes mistakes? More accuracy with ‘drawn-on-skin’ electronics

A July 30, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces news about more accurate health monitoring with electronics applied directly to your skin,

A team of researchers led by Cunjiang Yu, Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston, has developed a new form of electronics known as “drawn-on-skin electronics,” allowing multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin with an ink pen.

The advance, the researchers report in Nature Communications, allows for the collection of more precise, motion artifact-free health data, solving the long-standing problem of collecting precise biological data through a wearable device when the subject is in motion.

The imprecision may not be important when your FitBit registers 4,000 steps instead of 4,200, but sensors designed to check heart function, temperature and other physical signals must be accurate if they are to be used for diagnostics and treatment.

A July 30, 2020 University of Houston news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jeannie Kever, which originated the news item, goes on to explain why you might want to have electronics ‘drawn on your skin’,

The drawn-on-skin electronics are able to seamlessly collect data, regardless of the wearer’s movements.  

They also offer other advantages, including simple fabrication techniques that don’t require dedicated equipment.

“It is applied like you would use a pen to write on a piece of paper,” said Yu. “We prepare several electronic materials and then use pens to dispense them. Coming out, it is liquid. But like ink on paper, it dries very quickly.”

Wearable bioelectronics – in the form of soft, flexible patches attached to the skin – have become an important way to monitor, prevent and treat illness and injury by tracking physiological information from the wearer. But even the most flexible wearables are limited by motion artifacts, or the difficulty that arises in collecting data when the sensor doesn’t move precisely with the skin.

The drawn-on-skin electronics can be customized to collect different types of information, and Yu said it is expected to be especially useful in situations where it’s not possible to access sophisticated equipment, including on a battleground.

The electronics are able to track muscle signals, heart rate, temperature and skin hydration, among other physical data, he said. The researchers also reported that the drawn-on-skin electronics have demonstrated the ability to accelerate healing of wounds.

In addition to Yu, researchers involved in the project include Faheem Ershad, Anish Thukral, Phillip Comeaux, Yuntao Lu, Hyunseok Shim, Kyoseung Sim, Nam-In Kim, Zhoulyu Rao, Ross Guevara, Luis Contreras, Fengjiao Pan, Yongcao Zhang, Ying-Shi Guan, Pinyi Yang, Xu Wang and Peng Wang, all from the University of Houston, and Jiping Yue and Xiaoyang Wu from the University of Chicago.

The drawn-on-skin electronics are actually comprised of three inks, serving as a conductor, semiconductor and dielectric.

“Electronic inks, including conductors, semiconductors, and dielectrics, are drawn on-demand in a freeform manner to develop devices, such as transistors, strain sensors, temperature sensors, heaters, skin hydration sensors, and electrophysiological sensors,” the researchers wrote.

This research is supported by the Office of Naval Research and National Institutes of Health.

Caption: A new form of electronics known as “drawn-on-skin electronics” allows multifunctional sensors and circuits to be drawn on the skin with an ink pen. Credit: University of Houston

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

Ultra-conformal drawn-on-skin electronics for multifunctional motion artifact-free sensing and point-of-care treatment by Faheem Ershad, Anish Thukral, Jiping Yue, Phillip Comeaux, Yuntao Lu, Hyunseok Shim, Kyoseung Sim, Nam-In Kim, Zhoulyu Rao, Ross Guevara, Luis Contreras, Fengjiao Pan, Yongcao Zhang, Ying-Shi Guan, Pinyi Yang, Xu Wang, Peng Wang, Xiaoyang Wu & Cunjiang Yu. Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 3823 (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17619-1

This paper is open access.

Concerns about Zoom? Call for expressions of interest in “Zoom Obscura,” creative interventions for a data ethics of video conferencing

Have you wondered about Zoom video conferencing and all that data being made available? Perhaps questioned ethical issues in addition to those associated with data security? Is so and you’d like to come up with a creative intervention that delves beyond encryption issues, there’s Zoom Obscura (on the creativeinformatics.org website),

CI [Creative Informatics] researchers Pip Thornton, Chris Elsden and Chris Speed were recently awarded funding from the Human Data Interaction Network (HDI +) Ethics & Data competition. Collaborating with researchers from Durham [Durham University] and KCL [Kings College London], the Zoom Obscura project aims to investigate creative interventions for a data ethics of video conferencing beyond encryption.

The COVID-19 pandemic has gifted video conferencing companies, such as Zoom, with a vast amount of economically valuable and sensitive data such as our facial and voice biometrics, backgrounds and chat scripts. Before the pandemic, this ‘new normal’ would be subject to scrutiny, scepticism and critique. Yet, the urgent need for remote working and socialising left us with little choice but to engage with these potentially exploitative platforms.

While much of the narrative around data security revolves around technological ‘solutions’ such as encryption, we think there are other – more creative – ways to push back against the systems of digital capitalism that continue to encroach on our everyday lives.

As part of this HDI-funded project, we seek artists, hackers and creative technologists who are interested in experimenting with creative methods to join us in a series of online workshops that will explore how to restore some control and agency in how we can be seen and heard in these newly ubiquitous online spaces. Through three half-day workshops held remotely, we will bring artists and technicians together to ideate, prototype, and exhibit various interventions into the rapidly normalising culture of video-calling in ways that do not compromise our privacy and limit the sharing of our data. We invite interventions that begin at any stage of the video-calling process – from analogue obfuscation, to software manipulation or camera trickery.

Selected artists/collectives will receive a £1000 commission to take part and contribute in three workshops, in order to design and produce one or more, individual or collaborative, creative interventions developed from the workshops. These will include both technical support from a creative technologist as well as a curator for dissemination both online and in Edinburgh and London.

If you are an artist / technologist interested in disrupting/subverting the pandemic-inspired digital status quo, please send expressions of interest of no more than 500 words to pip.thornton@ed.ac.uk , andrew.dwyer@bristol.ac.uk, celsden@ed.ac.uk and michael.duggan@kcl.ac.uk by 8th October 2020. We don’t expect fully formed projects (these will come in the workshop sessions), but please indicate any broad ideas and thoughts you have, and highlight how your past and present practice might be a good fit for the project and its aims.

The Zoom Obscura project is in collaboration with Tinderbox Lab in Edinburgh and Hannah Redler-Hawes (independent curator and codirector of the Data as Culture art programme at the Open Data Institute in London). Outputs from the project will be hosted and exhibited via the Data as Culture archive site and at a Creative Informatics event at the University of Edinburgh.

Are folks outside the UK eligible?

I asked Dr. Pip Thornton about eligibility and she kindly noted this in her Sept. 25, 2020 tweet (reply copied from my Twitter feed),

Open to all, but workshop timings may be more amenable to UK working hours. Having said that, we won’t know what the critical mass is until we review all the applications, so please do apply if you’re interested!

Who are the members of the Zoom Obscura project team?

From the Zoom Obscura webpage (on the creativeinformatics.org website),

Dr. Pip Thornton is a post-doctoral research associate in Creative Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, having recently gained her PhD in Geopolitics and Cybersecurity from Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis, Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction: A Critique of Linguistic Capitalism, included theoretical, political and artistic critiques of Google’s search and advertising platforms. She has presented in a variety of venues including the Science Museum, the Alan Turing Institute and transmediale. Her work has featured in WIRED UK and New Scientist, and a collection from her {poem}.py intervention has been displayed at Open Data Institute in London. Her Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) funded installation Newspeak 2019, shown at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2019), was recently awarded an honourable mention in the Surveillance Studies Network biennial art competition (2020) and is shortlisted for the 2020 Lumen Prize for art and technology in the AI category.

Dr. Andrew Dwyer is a research associate  in the University of Bristol’s Cyber Security Group. Andrew gained a DPhil in Cyber Security at the University of Oxford, where he studied and questioned the role of malware – commonly known as computational viruses and worms –  through its analysis, detection, and translation into international politics and its intersection with multiple ecologies. In his doctoral thesis – Malware Ecologies: A Politics of Cybersecurity – he argued for a re-evaluation of the role of computational actors in the production and negotiation of security, and what this means for human-centred notions of weapons and warfare. Previously, Andrew has been a visiting fellow at the German ‘Dynamics of Security’ collaborative research centre based between Philipps-Universität Marburg, Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen and the Herder Institute, Marburg and is a Research Affiliate at the Centre for Technology and Global Affairs at the University of Oxford. He will soon be starting a 3-year Addison Wheeler research fellowship in the Department of Geography at the Durham University

Dr Chris Elsden is a research associate in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. Chris is primarily working on the AHRC Creative Informatics project., with specific interests in FinTech and livestreaming within the Creative Industries. He is an HCI researcher, with a background in sociology, and expertise in the human experience of a data-driven life. Using and developing innovative design research methods, his work undertakes diverse, qualitative and often speculative engagements with participants to investigate emerging relationships with technology – particularly data-driven tools and financialn technologies. Chris gained his PhD in Computer Science at Open Lab, Newcastle University in 2018, and in 2019 was a recipient of a SIGCHI Outstanding Dissertation Award.

Dr Mike Duggan is a Teaching Fellow in Digital Cultures in the Department of Digital Humanities at Kings College London. He was awarded a PhD in Cultural Geography from Royal Holloway University of London in 2017, which examined everyday digital mapping practices. This project was co-funded by the Ordnance Survey and the EPSRC. He is a member of the Living Maps network, where he is an editor for the ‘navigations’ section and previously curated the seminar series. Mike’s research is broadly interested in the digital and cultural geographies that emerge from the intersections between everyday life and digital technology.

Professor Chris Speed is Chair of Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh where his research focuses upon the Network Society, Digital Art and Technology, and The Internet of Things. Chris has sustained a critical enquiry into how network technology can engage with the fields of art, design and social experience through a variety of international digital art exhibitions, funded research projects, books journals and conferences. At present Chris is working on funded projects that engage with the social opportunities of crypto-currencies, an internet of toilet roll holders, and a persistent argument that chickens are actually robots.  Chris is co-editor of the journal Ubiquity and co-directs the Design Informatics Research Centre that is home to a combination of researchers working across the fields of interaction design, temporal design, anthropology, software engineering and digital architecture, as well as the PhD, MA/MFA and MSc and Advanced MSc programmes.

David Chatting is a designer and technologist who works in software and hardware to explore the impact of emerging technologies in everyday lives. He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Design at Goldsmiths – University of London, a Visiting Researcher at Newcastle University’s Open Lab and has his own design practice. Previously he was a Senior Researcher at BTs Broadband Applications Research Centre. David has a Masters degree in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art (2012) and a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from the University of Birmingham (2000). He has published papers and filed patents in the fields of HCI, psychology, tangible interfaces, computer vision and computer graphics.

Hannah Redler Hawes (Data as Culture) is an independent curator and codirector of the Data as Culture art programme at the Open Data Institute in London. Hannah specialises in emerging artistic practice within the fields of art and science and technology, with an interest in participatory process. She has previously developed projects for museums, galleries, corporate contexts, digital space and the public realm including the  Institute of Physics, Tate Modern, The Lowry, Natural History Museum, FACT Liverpool, the Digital Catapult and Science Gallery London, and has provided specialist consultancy services to the Wellcome Collection, Discover South Kensington and the Horniman Museum. Hannah enjoys projects that redraw boundaries between different disciplines. Current research is around addiction, open data, networked culture and new forms of programming beyond the gallery.

Tinderbox Collective : From grass-roots youth work to award-winning music productions, Tinderbox is building a vibrant and eclectic community of young musicians and artists in Scotland. We have a number of programmes that cross over with each other and come together wherever possible.  They are open to children and young people aged 10 – 25, from complete beginners to young professionals and all levels in between. Tinderbox Lab is our digital arts programme and shared studio maker-space in Edinburgh that brings together artists across disciplines with an interest in digital media and interactive technologies. It is a new programme that started development in 2019, leading to projects and events such as Room to Play, a 10-week course for emerging artists led by Yann Seznec; various guest artist talks & workshops; digital arts exhibitions at the V&A Dundee & Edinburgh Festival of Sound; digital/electronics workshops design/development for children & young people; and research included as part of Electronic Visualisation and the Arts (EVA) London 2019 conference.

Jack Nissan (Tinderbox) is the founder and director of the Tinderbox Collective. In 2012/13, Jack took part in a fellowship programmed called International Creative Entrepreneurs and spent several months working with community activists and social enterprises in China, primarily with families and communities on the outskirts of Beijing with an organisation called Hua Dan. Following this, he set up a number of international exchanges and cross-cultural productions that formed the basis for Tinderbox’s Journey of a Thousand Wings programme, a project bringing together artists and community projects from different countries. He is also a co-director and founding member of Hidden Door, a volunteer-run multi-arts festival, and has won a number of awards for his work across creative and social enterprise sectors. He has been invited to take part in several steering committees and advisory roles, including for Creative Scotland’s new cross-cutting theme on Creative Learning and Artworks Scotland’s peer-networks for artists working in participatory settings. Previously, Jack worked as a researcher in psychology and ageing for the multidisciplinary MRC Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, specialising in areas of neuropsychology and memory.

Luci Holland (Tinderbox) is a Scottish (Edinburgh-based) composer, sound artist and radio presenter who composes and produces music and audiovisual art for film, games and concert. As a games music composer Luci wrote the original dynamic/responsive music for Blazing Griffin‘s 2018 release Murderous Pursuits, and has composed and arranged for numerous video game music collaborations, such as orchestrating and producing an arrangement of Jessica Curry‘s Disappearing with label Materia Collective’s bespoke cover album Pattern: An Homage to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Currently she has also been composing custom game music tracks for Skyrim mod Lordbound and a variety of other film and game music projects. Luci also builds and designs interactive sonic art installations for festivals and venues (Refraction (Cryptic), CITADEL (Hidden Door)); and in 2019 Luci joined new classical music station Scala Radio to present The Console, a weekly one-hour show dedicated to celebrating great music in games. Luci also works as a musical director and composer with the youth music charity Tinderbox Project on their Orchestra & Digital Arts programmes; classical music organisation Absolute Classics; and occasionally coordinates musical experiments and productions with her music-for-media band Mantra Sound.

Good luck to all who submit an expression of interest and good luck to Dr. Thornton (I see from her bio that she’s been shortlisted for the 2020 Lumen Prize).

Non-invasive chemical imaging reveals the Eykian Lamb of God’s secrets

Left: color image after the 1950s treatment. The ears of the Eyckian Lamb were revealed after removal of the 16th-century overpaint obscuring the background. Right: color image after the 2019 treatment that removed all of the 16th century overpaint, revealing the face of the Eyckian Lamb. The dotted lines indicate the outline of the head before removal of 16th-century overpaint.

Fascinating, yes? More than one person has noticed that the ‘new’ lamb is “disturbingly human-like.” First, here’s more about this masterpiece and the technology used to restore it (from a July 29, 2020 University of Antwerp (Belgium) press release (Note: I do not have all of the figures (images) described in this press release embedded here),

Two non-invasive chemical imaging modalities were employed to help understand the changes made over time to the Lamb of God, the focal point of the Ghent Altarpiece (1432) by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. Two major results were obtained: a prediction of the facial features of the Lamb of God that had been hidden beneath non-original overpaint dating from the 16th century (and later), and evidence for a smaller earlier version of the Lamb’s body with a more naturalistic build. These non-invasive imaging methods, combined with analysis of paint cross-sections and magnified examination of the paint surface, provide objective chemical evidence to understand the extent of overpaints and the state of preservation of the original Eyckian paint underneath.

The Ghent Altarpiece is one of the founding masterpieces of Western European painting. The central panel, The Adoration of the Lamb, represents the sacrifice of Christ with a depiction of the Lamb of God standing on an altar, blood pouring into a chalice. During conservation treatment and technical analysis in the 1950s, conservators recognized the presence of overpaint on the Lamb and the surrounding area. But based on the evidence available at that time, the decision was made to remove only the overpaint obscuring the background immediately surrounding the head. As a result, the ears of the Eyckian Lamb were uncovered, leading to the surprising effect of a head with four ears (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Left: Color image after the 1950s treatment. The ears of the Eyckian Lamb were revealed after removal of the 16th century overpaint obscuring the background. (© Lukasweb.be – Art in Flanders vzw). Right: Color image after the 2019 treatment that removed all of the 16th century overpaint, revealing the face of the Eyckian Lamb. The dotted lines indicate the outline of the head before removal of 16th century overpaint. (© Lukasweb.be – Art in Flanders vzw).

During the recent conservation treatment of the central panel, chemical images collected before 16th century overpaint was removed revealed facial features that predicted aspects of the Eyckian Lamb, at that time still hidden below the overpaint. For example, the smaller, v-shaped nostrils of the Eyckian Lamb are situated higher than the 16th century nose, as revealed in the map for mercury, an element associated with the red pigment vermilion (Figure 2, red arrow). A pair of eyes that look forward, slightly lower than the 16th century eyes, can be seen in a false-color hyperspectral infrared reflectance image (Figure 2, right). This image also shows dark preparatory underdrawing lines that define pursed lips, and in conjunction with the presence of mercury in this area, suggest the Eyckian lips were more prominent. In addition, the higher, 16th century ears were painted over the gilded rays of the halo (Figure 2, yellow rays). Gilding is typically the artist’s final touch when working on a painting, which supports the conclusion that the lower set of ears is the Eyckian original. Collectively, these facial features indicate that, compared to the 16th century restorer’s overpainted face, the Eyckian Lamb has a smaller face with a distinctive expression.

Figure 2: Left: Colorized composite elemental map showing the distribution of gold (in yellow), mercury (in red), and lead (in white). The red arrow indicates the position of the Eyckian Lamb’s nostrils. (University of Antwerp). Right: Composite false-color infrared reflectance image (blue – 1000 nm, green – 1350 nm, red – 1650 nm) shows underdrawn lines indicating the position of facial features of the Eyckian Lamb, including forward-gazing eyes, the division between the lips, and the jawline. (National Gallery of Art, Washington). The dotted lines indicate the outline of the head before removal of 16th century overpaint.

The new imaging also revealed previously unrecognized revisions to the size and shape of the Lamb’s body: a more naturalistically shaped Lamb, with slightly sagging back, more rounded hindquarters and a smaller tail. The artist’s underdrawing lines used to lay out the design of the smaller shape can be seen in the false-color hyperspectral infrared reflectance image (Figure 3, lower left, white arrows). Mathematical processing of the reflectance dataset to emphasize a spectral feature associated with the pigment lead white resulted in a clearer image of the smaller Lamb (Figure 3, lower right). Differences between the paint handling of the fleece in the initial small Lamb and the revised area of the larger Lamb also were found upon reexamination of the x-radiograph and the paint surface under the microscope.

Figure 3: Upper left: Color image before removal of all 16th century overpaint. (© Lukasweb.be – Art in Flanders vzw). Upper right: Color image after removal of all 16th century overpaint. (© Lukasweb.be – Art in Flanders vzw). Lower left: False-color infrared reflectance image (blue – 1000 nm, green – 1350 nm, red – 1650 nm) reveals underdrawing lines that denote the smaller hindquarters of the initial Lamb. Lower right: Map derived from processing the infrared reflectance image cube showing the initial Lamb with a slightly sagging back, more rounded hindquarters and a smaller tail. Brighter areas of the map indicate stronger absorption from the -OH group associated with one of the forms of lead white. (National Gallery of Art, Washington).

During the conservation treatment completed in 2019, decisions were informed by well-established conservation methods (high-resolution color photography, X-radiography, infrared imaging, paint sample analysis) as well as the new chemical imaging. In this way, the conservation treatment uncovered the smaller face of the Eyckian Lamb, with forward-facing eyes that meet the viewer’s gaze. Only overpaints that could be identified as being later additions dating from the 16th century onward were carefully and safely removed. The body of the Lamb, however, has not changed. The material evidence indicates that the lead white paint layer used to define the larger squared-off hindquarters was applied prior to the 16th century restoration, but because analysis at the present time cannot definitively establish whether this was a change by the original artist(s) or a very early restoration or alteration by another artist, the enlarged contour of the Lamb was left untouched.

Chemical imaging technologies can be used to build confidence about the state of preservation of original paint and help guide the decision to remove overpaint. Combined with the conservators’ thorough optical examination, informed by years of experience and insights derived from paint cross-sections, chemical imaging methods will no doubt be central to ongoing interdisciplinary research, helping to resolve long-standing art-historical issues on the Ghent Altarpiece as well as other works of art. These findings were obtained by researchers from the University of Antwerp using macroscale X-ray fluorescence imaging and researchers at the National Gallery of Art, Washington using infrared reflectance imaging spectroscopy, interpreted in conjunction with the observations of the scientists and the conservation team from The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Brussels.

A January 22, 2020 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) online news item notes some of the response to the ‘new’ lamb (Note: A link has been removed),

Restorers found that the central panel of the artwork, known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, had been painted over in the 16th Century.

Another artist had altered the Lamb of God, a symbol for Jesus depicted at the centre of the panel.

Now conservationists have stripped away the overpaint, revealing the lamb’s “intense gaze” and “large frontal eyes”.

Hélène Dubois, the head of the restoration project, told the Art Newspaper the original lamb had a more “intense interaction with the onlookers”.

She said the lamb’s “cartoonish” depiction, which departs from the painting’s naturalistic style, required more research.

The lamb has been described as having an “alarmingly humanoid face” with “penetrating, close-set eyes, full pink lips and flared nostrils” by the Smithsonian Magazine.

These features are “eye-catching, if not alarmingly anthropomorphic”, said the magazine, the official journal of the Smithsonian Institution.

There was also disbelief on social media, where the lamb was called “disturbing” by some and compared to an “alien creature”. Some said they felt it would have been better to not restore the lamb’s original face.

The painter of the panel, Jan Van Eyck, is considered to be one of the most technical and talented artists of his generation. However, it is widely believed that The Ghent Altarpiece was started by his brother, Hubert Van Eyck.

Taken away by the Nazis during World War Two and Napoleon’s troops in the 1700s, the altarpiece is thought to be one of the most frequently stolen artworks of all time.

If you have the time, do read the January 22, 2020 BBC news item in its entirety as it conveys more of the controversy.

Jennifer Ouellette’s July 29, 2020 article for Ars Technica delves further into the technical detail along with some history about this particular 21st Century restoration. The conservators and experts used artificial intelligence (AI) to assist.

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

Dual mode standoff imaging spectroscopy documents the painting process of the Lamb of God in the Ghent Altarpiece by J. and H. Van Eyck by Geert Van der Snickt, Kathryn A. Dooley, Jana Sanyova, Hélène Dubois, John K. Delaney, E. Melanie Gifford, Stijn Legrand, Nathalie Laquiere and Koen Janssens. Science Advances 29 Jul 2020: Vol. 6, no. 31, eabb3379 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abb3379

This paper is open access.

Blue quantum dots and your television screen

Scientists used equipment at the Canadian Light Source (CLS; synchrotron in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada) in the quest for better glowing dots on your television (maybe computers and telephones, too?) screen. From an August 20, 2020 news item on Nanowerk,

There are many things quantum dots could do, but the most obvious place they could change our lives is to make the colours on our TVs and screens more pristine. Research using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan is helping to bring this technology closer to our living rooms.

An August 19, 2020 CLS news release (also received via email) by Victoria Martinez, which originated the news item, explains what quantum dots are and fills in with technical details about this research,

Quantum dots are nanocrystals that glow, a property that scientists have been working with to develop next-generation LEDs. When a quantum dot glows, it creates very pure light in a precise wavelength of red, blue or green. Conventional LEDs, found in our TV screens today, produce white light that is filtered to achieve desired colours, a process that leads to less bright and muddier colours.

Until now, blue-glowing quantum dots, which are crucial for creating a full range of colour, have proved particularly challenging for researchers to develop. However, University of Toronto (U of T) researcher Dr. Yitong Dong and collaborators have made a huge leap in blue quantum dot fluorescence, results they recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.

“The idea is that if you have a blue LED, you have everything. We can always down convert the light from blue to green and red,” says Dong. “Let’s say you have green, then you cannot use this lower-energy light to make blue.”

The team’s breakthrough has led to quantum dots that produce green light at an external quantum efficiency (EQE) of 22% and blue at 12.3%. The theoretical maximum efficiency is not far off at 25%, and this is the first blue perovskite LED reported as achieving an EQE higher than 10%.

The Science

Dong has been working in the field of quantum dots for two years in Dr. Edward Sargent’s research group at the U of T. This astonishing increase in efficiency took time, an unusual production approach, and overcoming several scientific hurdles to achieve.

CLS techniques, particularly GIWAXS [grazing incidence wide-angle X-ray scattering] on the HXMA beamline [hard X-ray micro-analysis (HXMA)], allowed the researchers to verify the structures achieved in their quantum dot films. This validated their results and helped clarify what the structural changes achieve in terms of LED performance.

“The CLS was very helpful. GIWAXS is a fascinating technique,” says Dong.

The first challenge was uniformity, important to ensuring a clear blue colour and to prevent the LED from moving towards producing green light.

“We used a special synthetic approach to achieve a very uniform assembly, so every single particle has the same size and shape. The overall film is nearly perfect and maintains the blue emission conditions all the way through,” says Dong.

Next, the team needed to tackle the charge injection needed to excite the dots into luminescence. Since the crystals are not very stable, they need stabilizing molecules to act as scaffolding and support them. These are typically long molecule chains, with up to 18 carbon-non-conductive molecules at the surface, making it hard to get the energy to produce light.

“We used a special surface structure to stabilize the quantum dot. Compared to the films made with long chain molecules capped quantum dots, our film has 100 times higher conductivity, sometimes even 1000 times higher.”

This remarkable performance is a key benchmark in bringing these nanocrystal LEDs to market. However, stability remains an issue and quantum dot LEDs suffer from short lifetimes. Dong is excited about the potential for the field and adds, “I like photons, these are interesting materials, and, well, these glowing crystals are just beautiful.”

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

Bipolar-shell resurfacing for blue LEDs based on strongly confined perovskite quantum dots by Yitong Dong, Ya-Kun Wang, Fanglong Yuan, Andrew Johnston, Yuan Liu, Dongxin Ma, Min-Jae Choi, Bin Chen, Mahshid Chekini, Se-Woong Baek, Laxmi Kishore Sagar, James Fan, Yi Hou, Mingjian Wu, Seungjin Lee, Bin Sun, Sjoerd Hoogland, Rafael Quintero-Bermudez, Hinako Ebe, Petar Todorovic, Filip Dinic, Peicheng Li, Hao Ting Kung, Makhsud I. Saidaminov, Eugenia Kumacheva, Erdmann Spiecker, Liang-Sheng Liao, Oleksandr Voznyy, Zheng-Hong Lu, Edward H. Sargent. Nature Nanotechnology volume 15, pages668–674(2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41565-020-0714-5 Published: 06 July 2020 Issue Date: August 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

If you search “Edward Sargent,” he’s the last author listed in the citation, here on this blog, you will find a number of postings that feature work from his laboratory at the University of Toronto.

New nanotubes discovered in the eye

I was half-expecting to read about some sort of fancy carbon nanotubes—I was wrong. From an August 12, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily where the researchers keep the mystery going for a while,

A new mechanism of blood redistribution that is essential for the proper functioning of the adult retina has just been discovered in vivo by researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM).

“For the first time, we have identified a communication structure between cells that is required to coordinate blood supply in the living retina,” said Dr. Adriana Di Polo, a neuroscience professor at Université de Montréal and holder of a Canada Research Chair in glaucoma and age-related neurodegeneration, who supervised the study.

“We already knew that activated retinal areas receive more blood than non-activated ones,” she said, “but until now no one understood how this essential blood delivery was finely regulated.”

The study was conducted on mice by two members of Di Polo’s lab: Dr. Luis Alarcon-Martinez, a postdoctoral fellow, and Deborah Villafranca-Baughman, a PhD student. Both are the first co-authors of this study.

In living animals, as in humans, the retina uses the oxygen and nutrients contained in the blood to fully function. This vital exchange takes place through capillaries, the thinnest blood vessels in all organs of the body. When the blood supply is dramatically reduced or cut off — such as in ischemia or stroke — the retina does not receive the oxygen it needs. In this condition, the cells begin to die and the retina stops working as it should.

An August 12, 2020 University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) news release on EurekAlert clears up the mystery,

Tunnelling between cells

Wrapped around the capillaries are pericytes, cells that have the ability to control the amount of blood passing through a single capillary simply by squeezing and releasing it.

“Using a microscopy technique to visualize vascular changes in living mice, we showed that pericytes project very thin tubes, called inter-pericyte tunnelling nanotubes, [emphasis mine] to communicate with other pericytes located in distant capillaries,” said Alarcon-Martinez. “Through these nanotubes, the pericytes can talk to each other to deliver blood where it is most needed.”

Another important feature, added Villafranca-Baughman, is that “the capillaries lose their ability to shuttle blood where it is required when the tunnelling nanotubes are damaged–after an ischemic stroke, for example. The lack of blood supply that follows has a detrimental effect on neurons and the overall tissue function.”

The team’s findings suggest that microvascular deficits observed in neurodegenerative diseases like strokes, glaucoma, and Alzheimer’s disease might result from the loss of tunnelling nanotubes and impaired blood distribution. Strategies that protect these nanostructures should then be beneficial, but remain to be demonstrated.

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

Interpericyte tunnelling nanotubes regulate neurovascular coupling by Luis Alarcon-Martinez, Deborah Villafranca-Baughman, Heberto Quintero, J. Benjamin Kacerovsky, Florence Dotigny, Keith K. Murai, Alexandre Prat, Pierre Drapeau & Adriana Di Polo. Nature (2020) Published: 12 August 2020 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2589-x

This paper is behind a paywall.