Tag Archives: Alan Turing

The dangers of metaphors when applied to science

Metaphors can be powerful in both good ways and bad. I once read that there was a ‘lighthouse’ metaphor used to explain a scientific concept to high school students which later caused problems for them when they were studying the biological sciences as university students.  It seems there’s research now to back up the assertion about metaphors and their powers. From an Oct. 7, 2016 news item on phys.org,

Whether ideas are “like a light bulb” or come forth as “nurtured seeds,” how we describe discovery shapes people’s perceptions of both inventions and inventors. Notably, Kristen Elmore (Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University) and Myra Luna-Lucero (Teachers College, Columbia University) have shown that discovery metaphors influence our perceptions of the quality of an idea and of the ability of the idea’s creator. The research appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

While the metaphor that ideas appear “like light bulbs” is popular and appealing, new research shows that discovery metaphors influence our understanding of the scientific process and perceptions of the ability of inventors based on their gender. [downloaded from http://www.spsp.org/news-center/press-release/metaphors-bias-perception]

While the metaphor that ideas appear “like light bulbs” is popular and appealing, new research shows that discovery metaphors influence our understanding of the scientific process and perceptions of the ability of inventors based on their gender. [downloaded from http://www.spsp.org/news-center/press-release/metaphors-bias-perception]

An Oct. 7, 2016  Society for Personality and Social Psychology news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more insight into the work,

While those involved in research know there are many trials and errors and years of work before something is understood, discovered or invented, our use of words for inspiration may have an unintended and underappreciated effect of portraying good ideas as a sudden and exceptional occurrence.

In a series of experiments, Elmore and Luna-Lucero tested how people responded to ideas that were described as being “like a light bulb,” “nurtured like a seed,” or a neutral description. 

According the authors, the “light bulb metaphor implies that ‘brilliant’ ideas result from sudden and spontaneous inspiration, bestowed upon a chosen few (geniuses) while the seed metaphor implies that ideas are nurtured over time, ‘cultivated’ by anyone willing to invest effort.”

The first study looked at how people reacted to a description of Alan Turing’s invention of a precursor to the modern computer. It turns out light bulbs are more remarkable than seeds.

“We found that an idea was seen as more exceptional when described as appearing like a light bulb rather than nurtured like a seed,” said Elmore.

But this pattern changed when they used these metaphors to describe a female inventor’s ideas. When using the “like a light bulb” and “nurtured seed” metaphors, the researchers found “women were judged as better idea creators than men when ideas were described as nurtured over time like seeds.”

The results suggest gender stereotypes play a role in how people perceived the inventors.

In the third study, the researchers presented participants with descriptions of the work of either a female (Hedy Lamarr) or a male (George Antheil) inventor, who together created the idea for spread-spectrum technology (a precursor to modern wireless communications). Indeed, the seed metaphor “increased perceptions that a female inventor was a genius, while the light bulb metaphor was more consistent with stereotypical views of male genius,” stated Elmore.

Elmore plans to expand upon their research on metaphors by examining the interactions of teachers and students in real world classroom settings.

“The ways that teachers and students talk about ideas may impact students’ beliefs about how good ideas are created and who is likely to have them,” said Elmore. “Having good ideas is relevant across subjects—whether students are creating a hypothesis in science or generating a thesis for their English paper—and language that stresses the role of effort rather than inspiration in creating ideas may have real benefits for students’ motivation.”

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

Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius by Kristen C. Elmore and Myra Luna-Lucero. Social Psychological and Personality Science doi: 10.1177/1948550616667611 Published online before print October 7, 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

While Elmore and Luna-Lucero are focused on a nuanced analysis of specific metaphors, Richard Holmes’s book, ‘The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science’, notes that the ‘Eureka’  (light bulb) moment for scientific discovery and the notion of a ‘single great man’ (a singular genius) as the discoverer has its roots in romantic (Shelley, Keats, etc.) poetry.

Will AI ‘artists’ be able to fool a panel judging entries the Neukom Institute Prizes in Computational Arts?

There’s an intriguing competition taking place at Dartmouth College (US) according to a May 2, 2016 piece on phys.org (Note: Links have been removed),

Algorithms help us to choose which films to watch, which music to stream and which literature to read. But what if algorithms went beyond their jobs as mediators of human culture and started to create culture themselves?

In 1950 English mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing published a paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which starts off by proposing a thought experiment that he called the “Imitation Game.” In one room is a human “interrogator” and in another room a man and a woman. The goal of the game is for the interrogator to figure out which of the unknown hidden interlocutors is the man and which is the woman. This is to be accomplished by asking a sequence of questions with responses communicated either by a third party or typed out and sent back. “Winning” the Imitation Game means getting the identification right on the first shot.

Turing then modifies the game by replacing one interlocutor with a computer, and asks whether a computer will be able to converse sufficiently well that the interrogator cannot tell the difference between it and the human. This version of the Imitation Game has come to be known as the “Turing Test.”

On May 18 [2016] at Dartmouth, we will explore a different area of intelligence, taking up the question of distinguishing machine-generated art. Specifically, in our “Turing Tests in the Creative Arts,” we ask if machines are capable of generating sonnets, short stories, or dance music that is indistinguishable from human-generated works, though perhaps not yet so advanced as Shakespeare, O. Henry or Daft Punk.

The piece on phys.org is a crossposting of a May 2, 2016 article by Michael Casey and Daniel N. Rockmore for The Conversation. The article goes on to describe the competitions,

The dance music competition (“Algorhythms”) requires participants to construct an enjoyable (fun, cool, rad, choose your favorite modifier for having an excellent time on the dance floor) dance set from a predefined library of dance music. In this case the initial random “seed” is a single track from the database. The software package should be able to use this as inspiration to create a 15-minute set, mixing and modifying choices from the library, which includes standard annotations of more than 20 features, such as genre, tempo (bpm), beat locations, chroma (pitch) and brightness (timbre).

In what might seem a stiffer challenge, the sonnet and short story competitions (“PoeTix” and “DigiLit,” respectively) require participants to submit self-contained software packages that upon the “seed” or input of a (common) noun phrase (such as “dog” or “cheese grater”) are able to generate the desired literary output. Moreover, the code should ideally be able to generate an infinite number of different works from a single given prompt.

To perform the test, we will screen the computer-made entries to eliminate obvious machine-made creations. We’ll mix human-generated work with the rest, and ask a panel of judges to say whether they think each entry is human- or machine-generated. For the dance music competition, scoring will be left to a group of students, dancing to both human- and machine-generated music sets. A “winning” entry will be one that is statistically indistinguishable from the human-generated work.

The competitions are open to any and all comers [competition is now closed; the deadline was April 15, 2016]. To date, entrants include academics as well as nonacademics. As best we can tell, no companies have officially thrown their hats into the ring. This is somewhat of a surprise to us, as in the literary realm companies are already springing up around machine generation of more formulaic kinds of “literature,” such as earnings reports and sports summaries, and there is of course a good deal of AI automation around streaming music playlists, most famously Pandora.

The authors discuss issues with judging the entries,

Evaluation of the entries will not be entirely straightforward. Even in the initial Imitation Game, the question was whether conversing with men and women over time would reveal their gender differences. (It’s striking that this question was posed by a closeted gay man [Alan Turing].) The Turing Test, similarly, asks whether the machine’s conversation reveals its lack of humanity not in any single interaction but in many over time.

It’s also worth considering the context of the test/game. Is the probability of winning the Imitation Game independent of time, culture and social class? Arguably, as we in the West approach a time of more fluid definitions of gender, that original Imitation Game would be more difficult to win. Similarly, what of the Turing Test? In the 21st century, our communications are increasingly with machines (whether we like it or not). Texting and messaging have dramatically changed the form and expectations of our communications. For example, abbreviations, misspellings and dropped words are now almost the norm. The same considerations apply to art forms as well.

The authors also pose the question: Who is the artist?

Thinking about art forms leads naturally to another question: who is the artist? Is the person who writes the computer code that creates sonnets a poet? Is the programmer of an algorithm to generate short stories a writer? Is the coder of a music-mixing machine a DJ?

Where is the divide between the artist and the computational assistant and how does the drawing of this line affect the classification of the output? The sonnet form was constructed as a high-level algorithm for creative work – though one that’s executed by humans. Today, when the Microsoft Office Assistant “corrects” your grammar or “questions” your word choice and you adapt to it (either happily or out of sheer laziness), is the creative work still “yours” or is it now a human-machine collaborative work?

That’s an interesting question and one I asked in the context of two ‘mashup’ art exhibitions in Vancouver (Canada) in my March 8, 2016 posting.

Getting back to back to Dartmouth College and its Neukom Institute Prizes in Computational Arts, here’s a list of the competition judges from the competition homepage,

David Cope (Composer, Algorithmic Music Pioneer, UCSC Music Professor)
David Krakauer (President, the Santa Fe Institute)
Louis Menand (Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor at Harvard University)
Ray Monk (Author, Biographer, Professor of Philosophy)
Lynn Neary (NPR: Correspondent, Arts Desk and Guest Host)
Joe Palca (NPR: Correspondent, Science Desk)
Robert Siegel (NPR: Senior Host, All Things Considered)

The announcements will be made Wednesday, May 18, 2016. I can hardly wait!


Martin Robbins has written a rather amusing May 6, 2016 post for the Guardian science blogs on AI and art critics where he also notes that the question: What is art? is unanswerable (Note: Links have been removed),

Jonathan Jones is unhappy about artificial intelligence. It might be hard to tell from a casual glance at the art critic’s recent column, “The digital Rembrandt: a new way to mock art, made by fools,” but if you look carefully the subtle clues are there. His use of the adjectives “horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless” in a single sentence, for example.

The source of Jones’s ire is a new piece of software that puts… I’m so sorry… the ‘art’ into ‘artificial intelligence’. By analyzing a subset of Rembrandt paintings that featured ‘bearded white men in their 40s looking to the right’, its algorithms were able to extract the key features that defined the Dutchman’s style. …

Of course an artificial intelligence is the worst possible enemy of a critic, because it has no ego and literally does not give a crap what you think. An arts critic trying to deal with an AI is like an old school mechanic trying to replace the battery in an iPhone – lost, possessing all the wrong tools and ultimately irrelevant. I’m not surprised Jones is angry. If I were in his shoes, a computer painting a Rembrandt would bring me out in hives.

Can a computer really produce art? We can’t answer that without dealing with another question: what exactly is art? …

I wonder what either Robbins or Jones will make of the Dartmouth competition?

Ada Lovelace “… manipulative, aggressive, a drug addict …” and a genius but was she likable?

Ada Lovelace Day! Yes, it’s today, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, the day after Thanksgiving.  (You can check out my Oct. 14, 2014 posting for a brief Ada Lovelace history and information about an opera based on her life.)

Ada Lovelace Day was founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson and 2015 seems to have been a banner year for Lovelace where 200th anniversary of her birth is being celebrated not only with a Day featuring events around the world but also with an exhibit  in the Science Museum (London, UK) and a documentary on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). An Oct. 12, 2015 article by Zoe Kleinman for BBC news online features both the exhibit and the documentary (Note: A link has been removed),

An exhibition showcasing the work and life of Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace opens at the Science Museum in London this week [on Oct. 13, 2015].

The small exhibition includes a working model of the machine, which was never built because of funding issues.

Also on display is a lock of her hair.

Ada Lovelace was often unwell and was prescribed the opiate laudanum, to be taken with wine, by her doctor.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron and mathematician Annabella Milbanke.

“Intelligent she might have been, but she was also manipulative and aggressive, a drug addict, a gambler and an adulteress,” said mathematician Hannah Fry, who made a BBC documentary about her.

Hannah Fry has written an essay about Lovelace and what she discovered while making the documentary that can be found here,

I need to make a confession. Before starting this film, intrigued as I was by her story, I questioned if Ada Lovelace truly deserved the pedestal on which she has been placed by modern scientists and mathematicians. I wondered if she is really worthy of standing as a symbol for our subject. One thing is in little doubt. Ada’s story is a captivating tale.

The 19th century amateur mathematician, best known for her detailed notes on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, is often held up as a symbol for women in science. Never more so now than in the 200th anniversary of her birth.

Alongside the character flaws, there are also some who still debate the validity of Ada’s accomplishments.

The machine which Ada prophesised could create music was Babbage’s invention after all – surely he must have known it’s potential?

Although she certainly published the world’s first computer programme, can we be sure she was its author. In any case, the machine was never built. Her work ultimately had no tangible impact on the world whatsoever.

For me, Doron [Doron Swade – an expert in the history of computing and, while a curator at the Science Museum in London, the man responsible for bringing Babbage’s Difference Engine to life] also put an end to the discussion of Lovelace’s contribution. Her notes and letters to Babbage make it clear that Ada understood the potential of computers in a way that he never did, and that nobody ever had. In Doron’s words:

“This is not a suggestive hint. This is not a backwards projection. This is Lovelace thumping the table saying this is what is significant about this machine “

Calculated conclusion

Her foresight was so extraordinary that it would take another hundred years and Alan Turing to recognise the significance of her work. But it was an achievement that was probably as much a product of her artistic heritage as her scientific training.

Fry experienced a revelation while working on the documentary,

I think I’d become so used to expecting my role models to be unnaturally perfect people and elevating them to unachievably high levels that I couldn’t see why Ada deserved to be there.

But in making this programme I’ve realised that I was thinking about things in the wrong way.

Ada was very, very far from perfect, but perfection is not a pre-requisite to accomplishing something impressive. Our science role models shouldn’t always be there to celebrate the unachievable.

We should also be normalising the mundane and the ordinary – embracing our flaws and our failures. And that’s exactly why she is the ideal inspirational figure.

Sadly, the sentiment about acceptance is undercut by the essay’s sidebar, Who was Ada Lovelace?,

She was a contradiction: self-centred and obstinate, yet lacking in confidence; charismatic and enchanting, yet forceful and manipulative.

Ultimately, Ada was probably quite a difficult person to like. [emphasis mine]

It’s 200 years later and women still have to be concerned with likability. Even Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) worries about it as she notes in the Oct. 13, 2015 issue (no. 3) of Lenny (Lena Dunham’s [Girls tv series]  newsletter) h/t Laineygossip,

… if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.” This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue. Are we socially conditioned to behave this way? We’ve only been able to vote for what, 90 years? I’m seriously asking — my phone is on the counter and I’m on the couch, so a calculator is obviously out of the question. Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?

She acknowledges that she’s well paid by any standard but she’s pointing out that her male colleagues don’t have to worry about whether or not they’ll be liked or viewed as difficult when they negotiate or even when they express an opinion,

A few weeks ago at work, I spoke my mind and gave my opinion in a clear and no-bullshit way; no aggression, just blunt. The man I was working with (actually, he was working for me) said, “Whoa! We’re all on the same team here!” As if I was yelling at him. I was so shocked because nothing that I said was personal, offensive, or, to be honest, wrong. All I hear and see all day are men speaking their opinions, and I give mine in the same exact manner, and you would have thought I had said something offensive.

… Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper all fought and succeeded in negotiating powerful deals for themselves. If anything, I’m sure they were commended for being fierce and tactical, while I was busy worrying about coming across as a brat and not getting my fair share.

Bringing it back to the topic of science, how often does a male scientist get described as “a difficult person to like.” It would take more than drug addiction, adultery, stating an opinion in a forthright fashion, and/or being manipulative for a man to earn that label.

Getting back to Ada and the celebrations, there’s an Oct. 12, 2015 preview of her Science Museum exhibit by Nicola Davis for the Guardian (Note: A link has been removed),

In the bowels of London’s Science Museum, Dr Tilly Blyth gingerly opens an envelope. Inside is a lock of long, dark hair tied with a green ribbon. It’s a curiously poignant moment. The lively, intelligent woman to whom it belonged died young, but her mathematical work with computer pioneer Charles Babbage has seen her become a paragon for women in science and technology. Gazing down at the tresses, the centuries seem to shrink away. Ladies and gentlemen, Ada Lovelace is in the room.

The exhibit opens today, October 13, 2015 and runs until March 31, 2016. You can find out more here.

Here’s my favourite Ada Lovelace image; it’s being used in the exhibit’s promotional materials,


Courtesy Science Museum (London, UK)

You can find out more about Ada Lovelace Day 2015 events such as the annual flagship event on the findingada.com website,

This year, our our annual flagship event is being hosted by the Conway Hall Ethical Society at Conway Hall, Holborn, on the evening of 13 October. Confirmed speakers include Mars Rover engineer Abigail Hutty, astrophysicist and science communicator Dr Jen Gupta, nanochemist Dr Suze Kundu, our very own Suw Charman-Anderson. Our compère again this year is the inimitable Helen Arney. Tickets cost £20 (general entry), £5 (concessions), and are available now!

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Customizing bacteria (E. coli) into squares, circles, triangles, etc.

The academic paper for this latest research from Delft University of Technology (TU Delft, Netherlands), uses the term ‘bacterial sculptures,’ an intriguing idea that seems to have influenced the artistic illustration accompanying the research announcement.

Artistic rendering live E.coli bacteria that have been shaped into a rectangle, triangle, circle, and square (from front to back). Colors indicate the density of the Min proteins that represent a snapshot in time (based on actual data), as these proteins oscillate back and forth within the bacterium, to determine the mid plane of the cell for cellular division. Image credit:  ‘Image Cees Dekker lab TU Delft / Tremani’

Artistic rendering live E.coli bacteria that have been shaped into a rectangle, triangle, circle, and square (from front to back). Colors indicate the density of the Min proteins that represent a snapshot in time (based on actual data), as these proteins oscillate back and forth within the bacterium, to determine the mid plane of the cell for cellular division.
Image credit: ‘Image Cees Dekker lab TU Delft / Tremani’

A June 22, 2015 news item on Nanowerk provides more insight into the research (Note: A link has been removed),

The E.coli bacterium, a very common resident of people’s intestines, is shaped as a tiny rod about 3 micrometers long. For the first time, scientists from the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University have found a way to use nanotechnology to grow living E.coli bacteria into very different shapes: squares, triangles, circles, and even as letters spelling out ‘TU Delft’. They also managed to grow supersized E.coli with a volume thirty times larger than normal. These living oddly-shaped bacteria allow studies of the internal distribution of proteins and DNA in entirely new ways.

In this week’s Nature Nanotechnology (“Symmetry and scale orient Min protein patterns in shaped bacterial sculptures”), the scientists describe how these custom-designed bacteria still manage to perfectly locate ‘the middle of themselves’ for their cell division. They are found to do so using proteins that sense the cell shape, based on a mathematical principle proposed by computer pioneer Alan Turing in 1953.

A June 22, 2015 TU Delft press release, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Cell division

“If cells can’t divide properly, biological life wouldn’t be possible. Cells need to distribute their cell volume and genetic materials equally into their daughter cells to proliferate.”, says prof. Cees Dekker, “It is fascinating that even a unicellular organism knows how to divide very precisely. The distribution of certain proteins in the cell is key to regulating this, but how exactly do those proteins get that done?”


As the work of the Delft scientist exemplifies, the key here is a process discovered by the famous Alan Turing in 1953. Although Turing is mostly known for his role in deciphering the Enigma coding machine and the Turing Test, the impact of his ‘reaction-diffusion theory’ on biology might be even more spectacular. He predicted how patterns in space and time emerge as the result of only two molecular interactions – explaining for instance how a zebra gets its stripes, or how an embryo hand develops five fingers.

MinD and MinE

Such a Turing process also acts with proteins within a single cell, to regulate cell division. An E.coli cell uses two types of proteins, known as MinD and MinE, that bind and unbind again and again at the inner surface of the bacterium, thus oscillating back and forth from pole to pole within the bacterium every minute. “This results in a low average concentration of the protein in the middle and high concentrations at the ends, which drives the division machinery to the cell center”, says PhD-student Fabai Wu, who ran the experiments. “As our experiments show, the Turing patterns allow the bacterium to determine its symmetry axes and its center. This applies to many bacterial cell shapes that we custom-designed, such as squares, triangles and rectangles of many sizes. For fun, we even made ‘TUDelft’ and ‘TURING’ letters. Using computer simulations, we uncovered that the shape-sensing abilities are caused by simple Turing-type interactions between the proteins.”

Actual data for live E.coli bacteria that have been shaped into the letters TUDELFT.
The red color shows the cytosol contents of the cell, while the green color shows the density of the Min proteins, representing a snapshot in time, as these proteins oscillate back and forth within the bacterium to determine the mid plane of the cell for cellular division. The letters are about 5 micron high.
Image credit:  ‘Fabai Wu, Cees Dekker lab at TU Delft’

Spatial control for building synthetic cells

“Discovering this process is not only vital for our understanding of bacterial cell division – which is important in developing new strategies for antibiotics. But the approach will likely also be fruitful to figuring out how cells distribute other vital systems within a cell, such as chromosomes”, says Cees Dekker. “The ultimate goal in our research is to be able to completely build a living cell from artificial components, as that is the only way to really understand how life works. Understanding cell division – both the process that actually pinches off the cell into two daughters and the part that spatially regulates that machinery – is a major part of that.”

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

Symmetry and scale orient Min protein patterns in shaped bacterial sculptures by Fabai Wu, Bas G. C. van Schie, Juan E. Keymer, & Cees Dekker. Nature Nanotechnology (2015) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.126 Published online 22 June 2015

This paper is behind a paywall but there does seem to be another link (in the excerpt below) which gives you a free preview via ReadCube Access (according to the TU Delft press release),

The DOI for this paper will be 10.1038/nnano.2015.126. Once the paper is published electronically, the DOI can be used to retrieve the abstract and full text by adding it to the following url: http://dx.doi.org/


International Women’s Day March 8, 2015: Pioneering Women of Physics, Science goes to the Movies, and Transistor

In honour of International Women’s Day 2015, here are four items about women and science. The first features Canada’s Perimeter Institute (PI) and a tribute to pioneering women in physics, from a Feb. 26, 2015 PI news release,

They discovered pulsars, found the first evidence of dark matter, pioneered mathematics, radioactivity, nuclear fission, elasticity, and computer programming, and have even stopped light.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Rosalind Franklin

Hedy Lamarr

Wu Chien ShiungIt’s a fascinating group of women and these four provide a taste only.

The second item about women in science is also from the Perimeter Institute, which is hosting an ‘Inspiring Future Women in Science’ conference on Friday, May 6, 2015. From the PI program page,

Are you interested in turning your love of science into a career?  Perimeter Institute is inviting female high school students to participate in an inspirational half day conference on Friday March 6, 2015.  The goal is to bring together like minded young women with a strong interest in science and expose them to the rewards, challenges and possibilities of a career in science.


Rima Brek – Rima is a Ubisoft veteran of 16 years and a founding team member of the Toronto studio. There, she was responsible for kick-starting the technology team and helping ship the critically-acclaimed Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist. She is a sought-after advisor whose guidance and leadership have directly helped Ubisoft Toronto grow to over 300 game developers in just five years.

Dianna Cowern – Dianna is a science communicator and educator. She received her degree in physics from MIT and completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship in astrophysics at Harvard. She then worked on mobile applications as a software engineer at General Electric before beginning a position at the University of California, San Diego as a physics outreach coordinator. She is the primary content creator for her educational YouTube channel, Physics Girl.

Roslyn Bern – As president of the Leacross Foundation, Roslyn Bern has been creating opportunities for women and girls throughout Canada. She has worked on initiatives for over 20 years, as an educator, a business woman, and as a philanthropist. She has focused on developing scholarships and bursaries for girls in under-represented career fields. She has been instrumental on sending teenage girls to the Arctic and Antarctic with Students on Ice, and created a partnership with colleges and corporations to certify STEM women in Electrical engineering. …

By the time this piece is posted it will be too late to attend this year’s event but interested parties could plan for next year in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

The third item concerns an initiative from the Public Radio Exchange, PRX. Called Transistor; a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] audio project. From the series page,

Transistor is a transformative STEM podcast, taking the electricity of a story and channeling it to listeners. Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist, and a neuroscientist — report on conundrums, curiosities, and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are the winners of the STEM Story Project, a competition we held for unique science radio.

Much as the transistor radio was a new technical leap, this Transistor features new women voices and sounds from new science producers.

PRX presents Transistor, applying our storytelling and podcast experience to science. The Sloan Foundation powers Transistor with funding and support. And listeners complete the circuit.

The Feb. 18, 2015 PRX news release offers more details about the hosts and their first podcasts,

PRX is thrilled to announce the launch of a new weekly podcast series Transistor (official press release). Three scientist hosts — a biologist, an astrophysicist, and a neuroscientist — report on conundrums, curiosities, and current events in and beyond their fields. Sprinkled among their episodes are the winners of the PRX STEM Story Project, a competition we held for unique science radio.

Just as the transistor radio was a new technical leap, this Transistor features new women voices and their science perspectives. We’ve launched with four episodes from our three scientist hosts:

  • Dr. Michelle Thaller, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who studies binary stars and the life cycles of the stars.
    • We Are Stardust: We’re closer than ever before to discovering if we’re not alone in the universe. Astrophysicist Michelle Thaller visits the NASA lab that discovered that comets contain some of the very same chemical elements that we contain. Then, Michelle talks to a Vatican planetary scientist about how science and religion can meet on the topic of life beyond Earth.
  • Dr. Christina Agapakis, a biologist and writer based in Los Angeles. Her research focuses on the intersection of microbiology and design, exploring the symbiosis among microbes and biology, technology, and culture.
    • Food, Meet Fungus: The microbiome — the trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live in and on our body — is hot right now. We explore what we do know in the face of so much hope and hype, starting with food.
  • Dr. Wendy Suzuki, a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University, whose research focuses on understanding how our brains form and retain new long-term memories and the effects of aerobic exercise on memory. Her book Healthy Brain, Happy Life will be published by Harper Collins in the Spring of 2015.
    • Totally Cerebral: Untangling the Mystery of Memory: Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki introduces us to scientists who have uncovered some of the deepest secrets about our brains. She begins by talking with experimental psychologist Brenda Milner [interviewed in her office at McGill University, Montréal, Quebéc], who in the 1950s, completely changed our understanding of the parts of the brain important for forming new long-term memories.
    • Totally Cerebral: The Man Without a Memory: Imagine never being able to form a new long term memory after the age of 27. Welcome to the life of the famous amnesic patient “HM”. Neuroscientist Suzanne Corkin studied HM for almost half a century, and gives us a glimpse of what daily life was like for him, and his tremendous contribution to our understanding of how our memories work.

Each scientist is working with a talented independent producer: Lauren Ober, Julie Burstein, and Kerry Donahue.

Subscribe to the show through iTunes or RSS, or you can stream it on PRX.org.

I listened to all four of the introductory programs which ranged in running time from about 16 mins. to 37 mins. All three hosts are obviously excited about sharing their science stories and I look forward to hearing more from them.

The last item comes from David Bruggeman’s Feb. 20, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: A link has been removed),

Science Goes to the Movies is a new program produced by the City University of New York and sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. … The hosts are Faith Salie, a journalist and host you might have heard before as a panelist on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, and Dr. Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on brain-body relationships and psychological disorders.  (In what makes for a small world, Berlin is married to Canadian rap troubadour Baba Brinkman.) …

Science Goes to the Movies can be found here where you’ll also find a video of the first episode,

Hallucinations and black holes vie for the 2015 Oscar. Co-hosts Faith Salie and Dr. Heather Berlin are joined by AMNH astrophysicist Dr. Emily Rice for a look at the science in three of the top films of the year, Birdman, The Theory of Everything, and Interstellar.

Episode 102 featuring Into the Woods and the Imitation Game will première on March 20, 2015,

Science Goes to the Movies looks at The Imitation Game and Into the Woods. With special guest cryptologist Rosario Gennaro, we discuss pattern recognition in the work of both Alan Turing and Stephen Sondheim.

Science Goes to the Movies is made possible by generous support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Kudos to the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for funding two exciting ventures: Transistors and Science Goes to the Movies.

Getting back to where I started: Happy International Women’s Day 2015!

Zebras, Turing patterns, and the Polish Academy of Sciences

A Feb. 6, 2015 news item on Azonano profiles some research from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physical Chemistry (IPC PAS),

In the world of single atoms and molecules governed by chaotic fluctuations, is the spontaneous formation of Turing patterns possible – the same ones that are responsible for the irregular yet periodic shapes of the stripes on zebras’ bodies? A Polish-Danish team of physicists has for the first time demonstrated that such a process can not only occur, but can also be used for potentially very interesting applications.

A Feb. 6, 2015 IPC PAS press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes Turing’s patterns and the research in more detail,

Everyone is familiar with a zebra’s stripes, but not everyone knows that these are the manifestations of chemical reactions taking place according to a process first described by the famous British mathematician Alan Turing, the creator of the basics of today’s computer science. Turing patterns, most commonly displayed in chemistry as periodic changes in the concentration of chemical substances, have hitherto only been observed in dimensions of microns or larger. It seemed that on a smaller scale – at the nanoscale, where random fluctuations rule the movement of single atoms and molecules – these patterns do not have the right to form spontaneously.

“So far, no-one has even studied the possibility of the formation of Turing patterns by single atoms or molecules. However, our results show that Turing nanostructures may exist. And since this is the case, we will be able to find very specific applications for them in nanotechnology and materials science,” says Dr. Bogdan Nowakowski from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences (IPC PAS) in Warsaw, one of the physicists in the Polish-Danish team that has recently conducted computer simulations and theoretical analyses on Turing nanostructures.

Turing patterns occur in dynamic systems far from a state of equilibrium. Under the appropriate conditions there may then be a feedback mechanism: chemical reactions taking place may influence the concentration of their own components, which in turn may change the course of the reaction itself. The process leads to the formation of periodic, but not necessarily monotonously regular patterns. In nature, these patterns play an important role, particularly in the formation of young organisms (morphogenesis). For example, in the initial phases of the development of vertebrate embryos, this is how periodic segments, somites, are formed in the dorsal mesoderm, which are later converted into, among others, vertebrae, components of the spine.

“In our studies we considered very simple reactions of two model substances with different rates of diffusion. Computer simulations carried out using molecular dynamics, in collaboration with Dr. Jesper Hansen from the Danish University of Roskilde, gave rise to a very interesting picture,” says Dr. Piotr Dziekan (IPC PAS).

Clear and permanent patterns formed spontaneously in the simulated systems (of nanometer dimensions) – periodic changes in the density of molecules, which remained stable despite the destructive influence of fluctuations. It turned out that one cycle of concentration changes within the Turing pattern could appear on a length of just 20 molecules.

For Turing nanostructures to be formed, chemical reactions satisfying certain conditions have to take place between the chemical substances. This requirement severely reduces the number of compounds that can participate in the process and, consequently, severely limits the potential applications. However, the simulations carried out by the Polish-Danish team suggest that Turing nanostructures can quite easily be transferred to other compounds, not participating directly in the main reaction.

“Turing nanostructures can only arise with carefully selected chemical substances. Fortunately, the pattern formed by them can be ‘imprinted’ in the concentration of other chemical compounds. For the pattern to be copied, these compounds must fulfill only two simple conditions: they must bind to one of the reactants of the main reaction and diffuse slowly,” explains Dr. Dziekan.

This work is theoretical as the final paragraph of the press release intimates,

The possibility of forming Turing patterns on nanometer distances opens the door to interesting applications, particularly in the field of surface modification of materials. By skillfully selecting the chemical composition of the reagents and the conditions in which the reaction occurs, it could be possible to form Turing patterns in two dimensions (on the same surface of the material), or three (also in the space adjacent to the surface). The formed patterns could then be fixed, e.g. by photopolymerisation, thereby obtaining a permanent, stable, extended surface with a complex, periodic structure.

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

Nanoscale Turing structures by Piotr Dziekan. J. S. Hansen, and Bogdan Nowakowski. J. Chem. Phys. 141, 124106 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4895907

This paper is behind a paywall.

Science for your imagination

David Bruggeman over on his Pasco Phronesis has two postings which highlight different approaches to communicating about science. His Aug. 31, 2014 posting features audio plays (Note: Links have been removed),

L.A. Theatre Works makes a large number of their works available via audio. Its Relativity series (H/T Scirens) is a collection of (at this writing) 25 plays with science and technology either as themes and/or as forces driving the action of the play. You’re certainly familiar with War of the Worlds, and you may have heard of the plays Arcadia and Copenhagen. The science covered in these plays is from a number of different fields, and some works will try to engage the audience on the social implications of how science is conducted. The casts have many familiar faces as well. …

You can find the Relativity Series website here where the home page features these (amongst others),


Jason Ritter and Mandy Siegfried star in a new play about love between gun-shy young scientists.


The story of Alan Turing, an early pioneer in computer science, and his struggle to live authentically while serving his country.


A respected physician must choose between the lives of two terminally ill men in George Bernard Shaw’s sharp-tongued satire of the medical profession.


It’s London, 1879, and the members of the Explorers Club must confront their most lethal threat yet: the admission of a woman into their scientific ranks.


The Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 comes to life as William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow square off over human evolution and the divide between faith and science.


Miriam Margolyes stars as Rosalind Franklin, whose work led directly to the discovery of the DNA “double helix.”


A teenage misfit is coming of age in the comforting glow of late-night horror movies. But when reality begins to intrude on his fantasy world, he realizes that hiding in the closet is no longer an option.

David’s Aug. 26, 2014 posting features Hieroglyph, a project from Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Science and the Imagination (Note: A link has been removed),

Next month [Sept. 2014] William Morrow will release Hieroglyph, a collection of science fiction short stories edited by the Director of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University.  The name of the collection is taken from a theory advanced by science fiction writer Neil [Neal] Stephenson, and a larger writing project of which this book is a part.  The Hieroglyph Theory describes the kind of science fiction that can motivate scientists and engineers to create a future.  A Hieroglyph story provides a complete picture of the future, with a compelling innovation as part of that future.  An example would be the Asimov model of robotics.

Heiroglyph was first mentioned here in a May 7, 2013 posting,

The item which moved me to publish today (May 7, 2013), Can Science Fiction Writers Inspire The World To Save Itself?, by Ariel Schwartz concerns the Hieroglyph project at Arizona State University,

Humanity’s lack of a positive vision for the future can be blamed in part on an engineering culture that’s more focused on incrementalism (and VC funding) than big ideas. But maybe science fiction writers should share some of the blame. That’s the idea that came out of a conversation in 2011 between science fiction author Neal Stephenson and Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University.

If science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to create new things–Stephenson believes it can–then more visionary, realistic sci-fi stories can help create a better future. Hence the Hieroglyph experiment, launched this month as a collaborative website for researchers and writers. Many of the stories created on the platform will go into a HarperCollins anthology of fiction and non-fiction, set to be published in 2014.

As it turns out, William Morrow Books is a a HarperCollins imprint. You can read a bit more about the book and preview some of the contents from the Scribd.com Hieroglyph webpage which includes this table of contents (much better looking in the Scribd version),


Good on the organizers for being able to follow through on their promise to have something published by HarperCollins in 2014.

This book is not ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination’s only activity. In November 2014, Margaret Atwood, an internationally known Canadian novelist, will visit the center (from the center’s home page),

Internationally renowned novelist and environmental activist Margaret Atwood will visit Arizona State University this November to discuss the relationship between art and science, and the importance of creative writing and imagination for addressing social and environmental challenges.

Atwood’s visit will mark the launch of the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative, a new collaborative venture at ASU among the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, the Center for Science and the Imagination and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Atwood, author of the MaddAddam trilogy of novels that have become central to the emerging literary genre of climate fiction, or “CliFi,” will offer the inaugural lecture for the initiative on Nov. 5.

“We are proud to welcome Margaret Atwood, one of the world’s most celebrated living writers, to ASU and engage her in these discussions around climate, science and creative writing,” said Jewell Parker Rhodes, founding artistic director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and the Piper Endowed Chair at Arizona State University. “A poet, novelist, literary critic and essayist, Ms. Atwood epitomizes the creative and professional excellence our students aspire to achieve.”

Focusing in particular on CliFi, the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will explore how imaginative skills can be harnessed to create solutions to climate challenges, and question whether and how creative writing can affect political decisions and behavior by influencing our social, political and scientific imagination.

“ASU is a leader in exploring how creativity and the imagination drive the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities,” said Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination. “The Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative will use the thriving CliFi genre to ask the hard questions about our cultural relationship to climate change and offer compelling visions for sustainable futures.”

The multidisciplinary Initiative will bring together researchers, artists, writers, decision-makers and the public to engage in research projects, teaching activities and events at ASU and beyond. The three ASU programs behind the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative have a track record for academic and public engagement around innovative programs, including the Sustainability Solutions Festival; Emerge; and the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference.

“Imagining how the future could unfold in a climatically changing world is key to making good policy and governance decisions today,” said Manjana Milkoreit, a postdoctoral fellow with the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “We need to know more about the nature of imagination, its relationship to scientific knowledge and the effect of cultural phenomena such as CliFi on our imaginative capabilities and, ultimately, our collective ability to create a safe and prosperous future.”

Kind of odd they don’t mention Atwood’s Canadian, eh?

There’s lots more on the page which features news bits and articles, as well as, event information. Coincidentally, another Canuck (assuming he retains his citizenship after several years in the US) visited the center on June 7, 2014 to participate in an event billed as ‘An evening with Nathan Fillion and friends;; serenity [Joss Whedon’s tv series and movie], softwire, and science of science fiction’. A June 21, 2014 piece (on the center home page) by Joey Eschrich describes the night in some detail,

Nathan Fillion may very well be the friendliest, most unpretentious spaceship captain, mystery-solving author and science fiction heartthrob in the known universe. The “ruggedly handsome” star of TV’s “Castle” was the delight of fans as he headlined a fundraiser on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe, June 7 [2014].

The “Serenity, Softwire, and the Science of Science Fiction” event, benefiting the ASU Department of English and advertised as an “intimate evening for a small group of 50 people,” included considerable face-time with Fillion, who in-person proved surprisingly similar to the witty, charming and compassionate characters he plays on television and in film.

Starring with Fillion in the ASU evening’s festivities were science fiction author PJ Haarsma (a close friend of Fillion’s) along with ASU professors Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination; Peter Goggin, a literacy expert in the Department of English and senior scholar with the Global Institute of Sustainability; and School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty Jim Bell, an astronomer, and Sara Imari Walker, an astrobiologist. In addition to the Department of English, sponsors included ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Center for Science and the Imagination.

The event began with each panelist explaining how he or she arrived at his or her respective careers, and whether science or science fiction played a role in that journey. All panelists pointed to reading and imagining as formational to their senses of themselves and their places in life.

A number of big questions were posed to the panelists: “What is the likelihood of life on other planets?” and “What is the physical practicality of traveling to other planets?” ASU scientists Bell and Walker deftly fielded these complex planetary inquiries, while Goggin and Finn explained how the intersection of science and humanities – embodied in science fiction books and film – encouraged children and scholars alike to think creatively about the future. Attendees reported that they found the conversation “intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking as well as fun and entertaining.”

During the ensuing discussion, Haarsma and Fillion bantered back and forth comically, as we are told they often do in real life, at one point raising the group’s awareness of the mission they have shared for many years: promoting reading in the lives of young people. The two founded the Kids Need to Read Foundation, which provides books to underserved schools and libraries. Fillion, the son of retired English teachers, attended Concordia University of Alberta [no], where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Society, an organization that emphasizes literature and debate. His brother, Jeff, is a highly respected school principal. Fillion’s story about the importance of books and reading in his childhood home was a rare moment of seriousness for the actor.

The most delightful aspect of the evening, according to guests, was the good nature of Fillion himself, who arrived with Haarsma earlier than expected and stayed later than scheduled. Fillion spent several minutes with each individual or group of friends, laughing with them, using their phone cameras to snap group “selfies” and showing a genuine interest in getting to know them.

Audience members each received copies of science fiction books: Haarsma’s teen novel, “Softwire: Virus on Orbis I,” and the Tomorrow Project science fiction anthology “Cautions, Dreams & Curiosities,” which was co-produced by the Center for Science and the Imagination with Intel and the Society for Science & the Public. Guests presented their new books and assorted other items to Fillion and Haarsma for autographing and a bit more conversation before the evening came to a close. It was then time for Fillion to head back downtown to his hotel, but not before one cadre of friends “asked him to take one last group shot of us at the end of the night, to which he replied with a smile, ‘I thought you’d never ask.’”

Oops! Concordia University is in the province of Québec not Alberta which is home to the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

The evening with Nathan Fillion and friends was a fundraiser, participants were charged $250 each for one of 50 seats at the event, which means they raised $12,500 minus any expenses incurred. Good for them!

For anyone unfamiliar with P.J. Haarsma’s oeuvre, there’s this Wikipedia entry for The Softwire.

Science and the arts: a science rap promotes civil discussion about science and religion; a science movie and a play; and a chemistry article about authenticating a Lawren Harris painting

Canadian-born rapper of science and many other topics, Baba Brinkman sent me an update about his current doings (first mentioned in an Aug. 1, 2014 posting featuring his appearances at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, his Rap Guide to Religion being debuted at the Fringe, and his Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the creation of an animated rap album of his news Rap Guide to Religion), Note: Links have been removed,

Greetings from Edinburgh! In the past two and half weeks I’ve done fifteen performances of The Rap Guide to Religion for a steadily building audience here at the Fringe, and we recently had a whole pile of awesome reviews published, which I will excerpt below, but first a funny story.

Yesterday [August 14, 2014] BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] Sunday Morning TV was in to film my performance. They had a scheme to send a right wing conservative Christian to the show and then film us having an argument afterwards. The man they sent certainly has the credentials. Reverend George Hargreaves is a Pentecostal Minister and former leader of the UK Christian Party, as well as a young earth creationist and strong opponent of abortion and homosexuality. He led the protests that got “Jerry Springer the Opera” shut down in London a few years back, and is on record as saying that religion is not an appropriate subject for comedy. Before he converted to Christianity, the man was also a DJ and producer of pop music for the London gay scene, interesting background.

So after an hour of cracking jokes at religion’s expense, declaring myself an unapologetic atheist, and explaining why evolutionary science gives a perfectly satisfying naturalistic account of where religion comes from, I sat down with Reverend George and was gobsmacked when he started the interview with: “I don’t know if we’re going to have anything to debate about… I LOVED your show!” We talked for half an hour with the cameras rolling and at one point George said “I don’t know what we disagree about,” so I asked him: “Do you think one of your ancestors was a fish?” He declared that statement a fishy story and denied it, and then we found much to disagree about.

I honestly thought I had written a hard-hitting, provocative and controversial show, but it turns out the religious are loving it as much as the nonbelievers – and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I asked Reverend George why he wasn’t offended, even though he’s officially against comedy that targets religion, and he told me it’s because I take the religious worldview seriously, instead of lazily dismissing it as delusional. The key word here is “lazily” rather than “delusional” because I don’t pull punches about religion being a series of delusions, but I don’t think those delusions are pointless. I think they have evolved (culturally and genetically) to solve adaptive problems in the past, and for religious people accustomed to atheists being derisive and dismissive that’s a (semi) validating perspective.

To listen to songs from The Rap Guide to Religion, you need to back my Kickstarter campaign so I can raise the money to produce a proper record. To check out what the critics here in Edinburgh have to say about my take on religion, read on. And if you want to help organize a gig somewhere, just let me know. The show is open for bookings.

On Sunday Morning [August 17, 2014 GMT] my segment with Reverend George will air on BBC One, so we’ll see what a million British people think of the debate.

All the best from the religious fringe,


Here’s a link to the BBC One Sunday Morning Live show, where hopefully you’ll be able to catch the segment featuring Baba and Reverend George Hargreaves either livestreamed or shortly thereafter.

A science movie and a science play

Onto the science movie and the play: David Bruggeman on his Pasco Phronesis blog writes about two upcoming movie biopics featuring Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively, in an Aug. 8, 2014 posting. Having covered the Turing movie here (at length) in a July 22, 2014 posting here’s the new information about the Hawking movie from David’s Aug, 8, 2014 posting,

Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking are noted British scientists, well recognized for their work and for having faced significant challenges in their lives.  While they were in different fields and productive in different parts of the 20th century (Hawking is still with us), their stories will compete in movieplexes (at least in the U.S.) this November.

The Theory of Everything is scheduled for release on November 7 and focuses on the early career and life of Hawking.  He’s portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, and the film is directed by James Marsh.  Marsh has several documentaries to his credit, including the Oscar-winning Man on Wire.  Theory is the third film project on Hawking since 2004, but the first to get much attention outside of the United Kingdom (this might explain why it won’t debut in the U.K. until New Year’s Day).  It premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival next month [Sept. 2014].

David features some trailers for both movies and additional information.

Interestingly the science play focuses on the friendship between a female UK scientist and her former student, Margaret Thatcher (a UK Prime Minister). From an Aug. 13, 2014 Alice Bell posting on the Guardian science blog network (Note: Links have been removed),

Adam Ganz’s new play – The Chemistry Between Them, to be broadcast on Radio 4 this month – explores one of the most intriguing friendships in the history of science and politics: Margaret Thatcher and Dorothy Hodgkin.

As well as winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her pioneering scientific work on the structures of proteins, Hodgkin was a left-wing peace campaigner who was awarded the Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Order of Lenin. Hardly Thatcher’s type, you might think. But Hodgkin was Thatcher’s tutor at university, and the relationships between science, politics and women in high office are anything but straightforward.

I spoke to Ganz about his interest in the subject, and started by asking him to tell us more about the play.

… they stayed friends throughout Dorothy’s life. Margaret Thatcher apparently had a photo of Dorothy Hodgkin in Downing Street, and they maintained a kind of warm relationship. The play happens in two timescales – one is a meeting in 1983 in Chequers where Dorothy came to plead with Margaret to take nuclear disarmament more seriously at a time when Cruise missiles and SS20s were being stationed in Europe. In fact I’ve set it – I’m not sure of the exact date – shortly after the Korean airliner was shot down, when the Russians feared Nato were possibly planning a first strike. And that is intercut with the time when Margaret is studying chemistry and looking at her journey; what she learned at Somerville, but especially what she learned from Dorothy.

Here’s a link to the BBC 4 webpage for The Chemistry Between Them. I gather the broadcast will be Weds., Aug. 20, 2014 at 1415 hours GMT.

Chemistry and authentication of a Lawren Harris painting

The final item for this posting concerns Canadian art, chemistry, and the quest to prove the authenticity of a painting. Roberta Staley, editor of Canadian Chemical News (ACCN), has written a concise technical story about David Robertson’s quest to authenticate a painting he purchased some years ago,

Fourteen years ago, David Robertson of Delta, British Columbia was holidaying in Ontario when he stopped at a small antique shop in the community of Bala, two hours north of Toronto in cottage country. An unsigned 1912 oil painting caught his attention. Thinking it evocative of a Group of Seven painting, Robertson paid the asking price of $280 and took it home to hang above his fireplace.

Roberta has very kindly made it available as a PDF: ChemistryNews_Art.Mystery.Group.7. It will also be available online at the Canadian Chemical News website soon. (It’s not in the July/August 2014 issue.)

For anyone who might recognize the topic, I wrote a sprawling five-part series (over 5000 words) on the story starting with part one. Roberta’s piece is 800 words and offers her  account of the tests for both Autumn Harbour and the authentic Harris painting, Hurdy Gurdy. I was able to attend only one of them (Autumn Harbour).

David William Robertson, Autumn Harbour’s owner has recently (I received a notice on Aug. 13, 2014) updated his website with all of the scientific material and points of authentication that he feels prove his case.

Have a very nice weekend!

Turing film, Imitation Game, gets European première at London Film Festival; will world première be at Toronto International Film Fest?

There’s quite a cast associated with “Imitation Game,” a film which focuses on Alan Turing’s years as a codebreaker during World War II and will be enjoying its European première at the BFI [British Film Institute?] London Film Festival on Oct. 8, 2014 according to a July 21, 2014 BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) news item online.

The cast includes Mark Strong as,

Major General Sir Stewart Graham Menzies, KCB KCMG DSO MC (/ˈmɪŋɪz/; 30 January 1890 – 29 May 1968) was Chief of MI6 (SIS), British Secret Intelligence Service, during and after the Second World War. (see the rest of Menzies’ Wikipedia entry here along with all the links)

Strong always offers a compelling performance and he is billed alongside, Benedict Cumberbatch (BCC Sherlock) as Alan Turing, Keira Knightley as Turing’s friend and colleague in what are described in the BBC online news item as “extraordinary performances,”

The Imitation Game follows the race against time as Turing and his team at the top-secret codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park attempt to decipher German naval messages and help end the war.

Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear and Charles Dance also star.

Festival director Clare Stewart said the film featured “extraordinary performances”.

A July 21, 2014 news item by Nick Vivarelli for Variety describes the film and upcoming première (aka preem; Note: A link has been removed),

Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum’s Alan Turing drama “The Imitation Game,” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, will open the 58th BFI London Film Festival on October 8th, marking the pic’s European preem.

The biopic based on the life story of the crypotgrapher and mathematician who cracked the German “Enigma Code” during WWII, and was later prosecuted by the British government in the early 1950s for being a homosexual, will screen in London’s Odeon Leicester Square, with key cast, Cumberbatch and Knightley, and helmer Tyldum, expected on the red carpet.

A July 21, 2014 article by Andrew Pulver for the Guardian notes the emphasis on the Oct. 8, 2014 event as a ‘European’ première,

Directed by Morten Tyldum and co-starring Keira Knightley as Turing’s friend and fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke, the London film festival screening is being billed as a European premiere, which suggests the film’s world premiere will be held outside Europe, most likely at the Toronto film festival in early September.

The London film festival runs from 8-19 October [2014].

Here’s a trailer for the film; (it looks pretty good to me),

Widespread release for the film is scheduled for early November 2014. I have not been able to confirm that “Imitation Game” will be at TIFF in early September 2014.

Turing has been mentioned here many times but my June 20, 2012 posting is the most comprehensive,

Alan Turing led one of those lives that seems more like an act of fiction than anything else. Born June 23, 1912, the centenary is being celebrated in the UK and internationally as he was an instrumental figure in the field of science.

He had quite an extraordinary life unto a death, which could be described as enigmatic. It is not clear whether he committed suicide or accidentally killed himself with cyanide. A half-eaten apple was found by his bedside but never tested for poison. (Snow White was Turing’s favourite fairy tale.) His death came after shortly completing a court-ordered course of chemical castration (he could have chosen imprisonment instead) on being found guilty of homosexuality.

You can find out more about the BFI London Film Festival here and about the Toronto International Film Festival here. There is a July 21, 2014 posting by Sarah on Lainey Gossip speculation about this film and Benedict Cumberbatch’s chances of an Academy Award (Oscar) nomination along with speculation about possible competitors.

ETA July 22, 2014, 1130 PDT: Imitation Game is getting its Canadian première at the 2014 TIFF (media release PDF p. 5). H/T Lainey Gossip (scroll down about 40% of the way.

Turing tizzy

Alan Turing led one of those lives that seems more like an act of fiction than anything else. Born June 23, 1912, the centenary is being celebrated in the UK and internationally as he was an instrumental figure in the field of science. This video about the UK’s Science Museum Turing centenary exhibition titled, Codebreaker – Alan Turing’s life and legacy, only hints at some of his accomplishments and tragedies,

John Butterworth in his June 21, 2012 posting on the Guardian Science blogs describes a few of the artifacts he saw in a preview showing of the exhibit,

There is the prototype of one of the first ever general-purpose programmable computers (see picture above [in Butterworth’s posting]). Machines like this were used to help find and solve the metal fatigue problem which had caused the first passenger jets to crash. They have the relevant piece of the Comet jet, fished out of the Mediterranean. Enigma machines, including one loaned by Sir Michael Jagger [Rolling Stones] of Honky Tonk Women fame; a bottle of the hormone pills which Turing was forced to take by a profoundly grateful nation after he saved many thousands of lives in World War II, and loved a man.

There is an extensive Wikipedia essay on Turing, which provides more detail about his accomplishments  and travails including his conviction for ‘indecency’ in 1952. Homosexual behaviour was illegal in Britain at the time and once convicted Turing was given the choice, as noted in the video, of prison or chemical castration. From the Turing essay, here’s a brief description of Turning and his death (Note: I have removed links and footnotes),

Alan Mathison Turing, OBE, FRS (…, 23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954), was an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. He was highly influential in the development of computer science, providing a formalisation of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” with the Turing machine, which played a significant role in the creation of the modern computer. Turing is widely considered to be the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.

During the Second World War, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. For a time he was head of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. He devised a number of techniques for breaking German ciphers, including the method of the bombe, an electromechanical machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine.

After the war he worked at the National Physical Laboratory, where he created one of the first designs for a stored-program computer, the ACE.

On 8 June 1954, Turing’s cleaner found him dead; he had died the previous day. A post-mortem examination established that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. When his body was discovered an apple lay half-eaten beside his bed, and although the apple was not tested for cyanide, it is speculated that this was the means by which a fatal dose was delivered. An inquest determined that he had committed suicide, and he was cremated at Woking Crematorium on 12 June 1954. Turing’s mother argued strenuously that the ingestion was accidental, caused by her son’s careless storage of laboratory chemicals. Biographer Andrew Hodges suggests that Turing may have killed himself in an ambiguous way quite deliberately, to give his mother some plausible deniability. David Leavitt has suggested that Turing was re-enacting a scene from the 1937 film Snow White, his favourite fairy tale, pointing out that he took “an especially keen pleasure in the scene where the Wicked Witch immerses her apple in the poisonous brew.”

Of course, Snow White doesn’t die because the poison puts her into a ‘sleep’ from which she can be awakened by a kiss from her true love, as per the Disney 1937 classic. This suggests to me that Turing was a bit of a ‘romantic’. Apples are also associated with forbidden knowledge (as per the bible’s Adam and Eve story) and with Isaac Newton and gravity.

There are celebrations* taking place worldwide. You can find a list of Turing events here on the Leeds University website. I did search for Canadian events and found this,

I have one more piece I’d like to include here; it’s an excerpt from a June 20, 2012 posting by S. Barry Cooper for the Guardian’s Northerner blog,

John Turing talks in the family’s reminscences about his younger brother Alan, recalling how the future computer genius was noted for:

bad reports, slovenly habits and unconventional behaviour

The ‘neurotypical’ John says that neither he nor his parents “had the faintest idea that this tiresome, eccentric and obstinate small boy was a budding genius.”

It is still very common for geekishly irritating little boys and girls to suffer misunderstanding and routine bullying at school. Nowadays Alan would probably have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

Back in 2009 I met a Finnish artist/performer/musician who was working on an opera about Alan Turing and his life. I haven’t hear of it since but if anyone’s life ever cried out for ‘opera’ treatment, Turing’s does. I hope that opera got written and one day there’ll be a performance I can view.

*July 21, 2014 ‘celebration’ corrected to ‘celebrations’.