Tag Archives: Alice Major

The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (an addendum)

I missed a few science journalists (part 1 of this series, under the Science Communication subhead; Mainstream Media, sub subhead) as the folks at the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC) noted on Twitter,

Science Media Centre @SMCCanada Apr 16 Replying to @frogheart

Thanks for the mention. But I think poor @katecallen at the Toronto Star would be dismayed to read that @IvanSemeniuk is the only science reporter on a Canadian newspaper. And @row1960 Bob Weber at Canadian Press is carried in every newspaper in the country.

Science Media Centre @SMCCanada Apr 16 Replying to @frogheart

In addition, @mle_chung at CBC News Online (#1 news source in Canada) is read more than any other science writer in the country, as is her colleague @NebulousNikki

Thank you.

***ETA April 29, 2020 at 0910 PT: Yesterday, April 28, 2020, Postmedia announced that it was closing 15 community newspapers and a number of jobs elsewhere in the organization. Earlier in the month on April 7, 2020 Postmedia announced that 85 positions were being eliminated, including 11 in the editorial department of TorStar (Toronto Star). I hope they keep a position for a science writer at the Toronto Star.***

Alice Major, a poet mentioned in Part 3 under The word subhead; Poetry sub subhead, wrote with news of two other poets who focus on science in their work.

  • Christian Bök
  • Adam Dickinson

From Bök’s Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

Christian Bök[needs IPA] (born August 10, 1966 in Toronto, Canada) is an experimental Canadian poet. He is the author of Eunoia, which won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize.

On April 4, 2011 Bök announced a significant break-through in his 9-year project to engineer “a life-form so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem”.[7][8] On the previous day (April 3) Bök said he received confirmation from the laboratory at the University of Calgary that my poetic cipher, gene X-P13, has in fact caused E. coli to fluoresce red in our test-runs—meaning that, when implanted in the genome of this bacterium, my poem (which begins “any style of life/ is prim…”) does in fact cause the bacterium to write, in response, its own poem (which begins “the faery is rosy/ of glow…”).”[9]

The project has continued for over fifteen years at a cost exceeding $110,000 and he hopes to finish the project in 2014.[10] He published “Book I” of the resulting Xenotext in 2015.

Xenotext: Book 1 published by Coach House Books is described this way,

Internationally best-sellling poet Christian Bök has spent more than ten years writing what promises to be the first example of ‘living poetry.’ After successfully demonstrating his concept in a colony of E. coli, Bök is on the verge of enciphering a beautiful, anomalous poem into the genome of an unkillable bacterium (Deinococcus radiodurans), which can, in turn, “read” his text, responding to it by manufacturing a viable, benign protein, whose sequence of amino acids enciphers yet another poem. The engineered organism might conceivably serve as a post-apocalyptic archive, capable of outlasting our civilization.

Book I of The Xenotext constitutes a kind of ‘demonic grimoire,’ providing a scientific framework for the project with a series of poems, texts, and illustrations. A Virgilian welcome to the Inferno, Book I is the “orphic” volume in a diptych, addressing the pastoral heritage of poets, who have sought to supplant nature in both beauty and terror. The book sets the conceptual groundwork for the second volume, which will document the experiment itself. The Xenotext is experimental poetry in the truest sense of the term.

Adam Dickinson is a poet and an associate professor at Brock University (Ontario). He describes himself and his work this way (from the Brock University bio page),

Adam Dickinson is a poet and a professor of poetry. His creative and academic writing has primarily focused on intersections between poetry and science as a way of exploring new ecocritical perspectives and alternative modes of poetic composition. His latest book, Anatomic (Coach House Books), involves the results of chemical and microbial testing on his body, and was shortlisted for The Raymond Souster Award. Sections of it were also shortlisted for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Poetry Prize. His book, The Polymers (House of Anansi [2013]), which is an imaginary science project that combines the discourses, theories, and experimental methods of the science of plastic materials with the language and culture of plastic behaviour, was a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. He has published two previous books, Kingdom, Phylum (also nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry) and Cartography and Walking (nominated for an Alberta Book Award). His scholarly work (supported by SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada]) brings together research in innovative poetics, biosemiotics, pataphysics, and Anthropocene studies.

His current research-creation project, “Metabolic Poetics,” (also supported by SSHRC) is concerned with the potential of expanded modes of reading and writing to shift the frames and scales of conventional forms of signification in order to bring into focus the often inscrutable biological and cultural writing intrinsic to the Anthropocene, especially as this is reflected in the inextricable link between the metabolic processes of human and nonhuman bodies and the global metabolism of energy and capital.

He has been featured at prominent international literary festivals, such as Poetry International in Rotterdam, The Harbourfront International Festival of Authors in Toronto, and the Oslo International Poetry Festival in Norway. Adam has also been a finalist for the K.M. Hunter Artist Award in Literature, Administered by the Ontario Arts Council. Adam welcomes potential student supervisions on topics in poetry and poetics, environmental writing, science and literature, and creative writing.

Thank you.

This last addition may seen a little offbeat but ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada) has hosted a surprisingly large number of science events in Vancouver. Two recent examples include: The Eyes are the Windows to The Mind; Implications for Artificial Intelligence (AI) -driven Personalized Interaction on March 4, 2020 and, the relatively recent, Whispers in the Dark: Underground Science on June 12, 2019.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to resist the impulse to make any more additions.

***ETA April 30, 2020: Research2Reality (R2R) was launched in 2015 as a social media initiative featuring a series of short video interviews with Canadian scientists (see more in my May 11, 2015 posting). Almost five years later, the website continues to feature interviews and it also hosts news about Canadian science and research. R2R was founded by Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoyquette) and Mike MacMillan.***

For anyone who stumbled across this addendum first, it fits on to the end of a 5-part series:

Part 1 covers science communication, science media (mainstream and others such as blogging) and arts as exemplified by music and dance: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (1 of 5).

Part 2 covers art/science (or art/sci or sciart) efforts, science festivals both national and local, international art and technology conferences held in Canada, and various bar/pub/café events: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (2 of 5).

Part 3 covers comedy, do-it-yourself (DIY) biology, chief science advisor, science policy, mathematicians, and more: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (3 of 5).

Part 4 covers citizen science, birds, climate change, indigenous knowledge (science), and the IISD Experimental Lakes Area: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (4 of 5).

Part 5: includes science podcasting, eco art, a Saskatchewan lab with an artist-in-residence, the Order of Canada and children’s science literature, animation and mathematics, publishing science, *French language science media,* and more: The decade that was (2010-19) and the decade to come (2020-29): Science culture in Canada (5 of 5).

*French language science media added December 9, 2020.

A math musical in Vancouver (BC, Canada) and a math workshop for poets at Banff (Alberta, Canada)

Mathematicians in Canada must be the wildest group of scientists we’ve got or perhaps they’re just the most creative of the lot. How else can you explain a math musical, Math Out Loud, which premiered Dec. 14, 2011 in Vancouver, and a workshop titled, Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts, held at the Banff International Research Station (BIRS) from Dec. 4 – 9, 2011).

I found out about the math musical in a Jan. 5, 2012 community newspaper article by Martha Perkins (for the WestEnder),

When Mackenzie Gray talks about the way Paul McCartney used a recursive sequence to make the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” seem to last forever, you realize that part of the Beatles’ phenomenal success might have sprung from McCartney’s genius as a mathematician.

When Roger Kemp draws on a napkin to illustrate that you just have to change the way you think about numbers to come up with a binary code for pi (as in 3.14 ad infinitum), you get a sense that math can actually be a lot of fun.

Here’s a little more information about the play from a Dec. 14, 2011 news release,

Math Out Loud is a major theatrical production that uses comedy, dance and music to make math approachable. Our goal is to reintroduce math to students in a new, creative light and hopefully re-open a door some may have considered closed.” [said Mackenzie Gray]

Highly-visible and well-recognized Vancouver television and film actor Mackenzie Gray (Superman: Man of Steel; Smallville; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) directed and wrote the script and songs. Academy Award-winning producer Dale Hartleben (The Man Who Skied Down Everest; 1976) produced the play. Acclaimed choreographer and Royal Winnipeg Ballet alumnus Joel Sturrock created the Broadway style dance numbers. Composer Joe Docherty arranged and recorded the music. A team of eight actors brings the production to life.

Math Out Loud tells the story of high school students Damon and Kelly as they share an adventure through a mathematical time-travelling dream full of colourful characters and conflicts that highlight the relevance of mathematics in a student’s busy modern life. Characters such as Christopher Columbus, Greek mathematician Eratosthenes and Cleopatra demonstrate mathematical principals tied to modern pop culture references. …

“If someone had told me three months ago a play could spark my interest in studying math, I wouldn’t have believed them,” said Sayer Roberts, one of the actors on stage with Math Out Loud. “I nearly failed math when I was in school. If math and science had been approached in a fun, unusual and creative way when I was in school, I’m pretty sure I’d have a different outlook on those subjects today.” [emphasis mine]

Yes, I heartily agree with Roberts’ sentiment. It’s amazing how many people shut down when they hear the word ‘science’ and it is, as he notes, all about how it’s introduced and taught. Bravo to the mathematicians for trying to turn that around.

The other project I mentioned, Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts, was profiled in a Dec. 16, 2011 post by Nassif Ghoussoub of Piece of Mind,

“Thank you so much for this opportunity for a non-mathematician to be part of the BIRS community”, wrote Alice Major. It doesn’t happen often that an illiterate mathematician gets an email from a Poet Laureate. Major was writing about her experience at last week’s workshop at BIRS (The Banff International Research Station). Entitled, “Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts”, the workshop was a BIRS classic. Her email made me feel even worse about not being there, and not only because I missed the likes of Ingrid Daubechies, David Mumford, and Robert Moody, who were merely the math. reps. for that event. Artists, musicians, poets, physicists and engineers were also there and they are now writing about it.

Artistic beauty and mathematical complexity have a history of interaction for as long as civilization itself: The golden ratio and the pyramids, Alhambra’s tessellations and the Penrose tiling, of course Da Vinci, Dali, Esher, and various minimalist and abstract schools of art, which had their roots in mathematics. But the workshop was about a totally different matter. It was about modern science and the future of such interactions.

Take for example, Stylometry analysis of literary style, which was initiated by the English logician, Augustus de Morgan, in the mid 1800’s as a way to settle questions of authorship by, for example, finding patterns in the length of words used by various authors.

Nassif goes on to a discussion of origami, Penrose tiles quasicrytals, robotics and more, as they relate to mathematics.

Alice Major, the poet laureate mentioned in Nassif’s post, wrote about her experience at Banff in a Dec. 14, 2011 posting,

The invitation to Banff thrilled me, but it also tipped me through a trap door in my psyche.  I would be surrounded by people who negotiated the academic environment easily. The list of participants detailed their various affiliations, but I had to be categorized as ‘independent.’ That sounds a lot sturdier than I felt. University had been a very scary place for me four decades ago. All my fellow students seemed to know so much more than me, to be so much more sophisticated than a kid from Outer Scarberia. I never seemed to have the right answers in class, the right clothes. And at that time I was only coping with the English program – a language I could supposedly understand – not the dense math language of symbol and equation.

So here I was. Nor could I just sit at the back of the class and absorb. At some point I was going to have to stand up and wring myself out. I’d have to talk to them. By the time I actually did so, my brain was melting jelly.

I intended to talk about metaphor, how it is an underlying mode of thought, not just a decoration, and applies to all realms of creation. Fortunately, writers can read bits of what they’ve written, and at least those sentences are coherent. I got through the outline of what I meant to say. But, in the discussion afterwards, when David Mumford asked a question about how we might teach metaphor better, I could only look at him and think, “A Fields medalist is asking me a question. What the $%@# do I say now?”

I gave some feebly irrelevant response. It was only afterwards, when the neural jelly was starting to re-set, that I thought, “For heavens sake, Alice, that whole chapter of the book is about how we can teach and learn metaphorical thinking!”

The book Major was remembering was her recently published, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science.

So there you have it, math, poetry, musicals, dance, Penrose tiles, Gaussian distribution curves, etc.