Understanding the concept of zero—I still remember climbing that mountain, so to speak. It took the teacher quite a while to convince me that representing ‘nothing’ as a zero was worthwhile. In fact, it took the combined efforts of both my parents and the teacher to convince me to use zeroes as I was prepared to go without. The battle is long since over and I have learned to embrace zero.
I don’t think bees have to be convinced but they too may have a concept of zero. More about that later, here’s the latest abut bees and math from an October 10, 2019 news item on phys.org,
Start thinking about numbers and they can become large very quickly. The diameter of the universe is about 8.8×1023 km and the largest known number—googolplex, 1010100—outranks it enormously. Although that colossal concept was dreamt up by brilliant mathematicians, we’re still pretty limited when it comes to assessing quantities at a glance. ‘Humans have a threshold limit for instantly processing one to four elements accurately’, says Adrian Dyer from RMIT University, Australia; and it seems that we are not alone. Scarlett Howard from RMIT and the Université de Toulouse, France, explains that guppies, angelfish and even honeybees are capable of distinguishing between quantities of three and four, although the trusty insects come unstuck at finer differences; they fail to differentiate between four and five, which made her wonder. According to Howard, honeybees are quite accomplished mathematicians. ‘Recently, honeybees were shown to learn the rules of “less than” and “greater than” and apply these rules to evaluate numbers from zero to six’, she says. Maybe numeracy wasn’t the bees’ problem; was it how the question was posed? The duo publishes their discovery that bees can discriminate between four and five if the training procedure is correct in Journal of Experimental Biology.
Dyer explains that when animals are trained to distinguish between colours and objects, some training procedures simply reward the animals when they make the correct decision. In the case of the honeybees that could distinguish three from four, they received a sip of super-sweet sugar water when they made the correct selection but just a taste of plain water when they got it wrong. However, Dyer, Howard and colleagues Aurore Avarguès-Weber, Jair Garcia and Andrew Greentree knew there was an alternative strategy. This time, the bees would be given a bitter-tasting sip of quinine-flavoured water when they got the answer wrong. Would the unpleasant flavour help the honeybees to focus better and improve their maths?
‘[The] honeybees were very cooperative, especially when I was providing sugar rewards’, says Howard, who moved to France each April to take advantage the northern summer during the Australian winter, when bees are dormant. Training the bees to enter a Y-shaped maze, Howard presented the insects with a choice; a card featuring four shapes in one arm and a card featuring a different number of shapes (ranging from one to 10) in the other. During the first series of training sessions, Howard rewarded the bees with a sugary sip when they alighted correctly before the card with four shapes, in contrast to a sip of water when they selected the wrong card. However, when Howard trained a second set of bees she reproved them with a bitter-tasting sip of quinine when they chose incorrectly, rewarding the insects with sugar when they selected the card with four shapes. Once the bees had learned to pick out the card with four shapes, Howard tested whether they could distinguish the card with four shapes when offered a choice between it and cards with eight, seven, six or – the most challenging comparison – five shapes.
Not surprisingly, the bees that had only been rewarded during training struggled; they couldn’t even differentiate between four and eight shapes. However, when Howard tested the honeybees that had been trained more rigorously – receiving a quinine reprimand – their performance was considerably better, consistently picking the card with four shapes when offered a choice between it and cards with seven or eight shapes. Even more impressively, the bees succeeded when offered the more subtle choice between four and five shapes.
So, it seems that honeybees are better mathematicians than had been credited. Unlocking their ability was simply a matter of asking the question in the right way and Howard is now keen to find out just how far counting bees can go.
I’ll get to the link to and citation for the paper in a minute but first, I found more about bees and math (including zero) in this February 7, 2019 article by Jason Daley for The Smithsonian (Note: Links have been removed),
Bees are impressive creatures, powering entire ecosystems via pollination and making sweet honey at the same time, one of the most incredible substances in nature. But it turns out the little striped insects are also quite clever. A new study suggests that, despite having tiny brains, bees understand the mathematical concepts of addition and subtraction.
To test the numeracy of the arthropods, researchers set up unique Y-shaped math mazes for the bees to navigate, according to Nicola Davis at the The Guardian. Because the insects can’t read, and schooling them to recognize abstract symbols like plus and minus signs would be incredibly difficult, the researchers used color to indicate addition or subtraction. …
Fourteen bees spent between four and seven hours completing 100 trips through the mazes during training exercises with the shapes and numbers chosen at random. All of the bees appeared to learn the concept. Then, the bees were tested 10 times each using two addition and two subtraction scenarios that had not been part of the training runs. The little buzzers got the correct answer between 64 and 72 percent of the time, better than would be expected by chance.
Last year, the same team of researchers published a paper suggesting that bees could understand the concept of zero, which puts them in an elite club of mathematically-minded animals that, at a minimum, have the ability to perceive higher and lower numbers in different groups. Animals with this ability include frogs, lions, spiders, crows, chicken chicks, some fish and other species. And these are not the only higher-level skills that bees appear to possess. A 2010 study that Dyer [Adrian Dyer of RMIT University in Australia] also participated in suggests that bees can remember human faces using the same mechanisms as people. Bees also use a complex type of movement called the waggle dance to communicate geographical information to one other, another sophisticated ability packed into a brain the size of a sesame seed.
If researchers could figure out how bees perform so many complicated tasks with such a limited number of neurons, the research could have implications for both biology and technology, such as machine learning. …
Then again, maybe the honey makers are getting more credit than they deserve. Clint Perry, who studies invertebrate intelligence at the Bee Sensory and Behavioral Ecology Lab at Queen Mary University of London tells George Dvorsky at Gizmodo that he’s not convinced by the research, and he had similar qualms about the study that suggested bees can understand the concept of zero. He says the bees may not be adding and subtracting, but rather are simply looking for an image that most closely matches the initial one they see, associating it with the sugar reward. …
If you have the time and the interest, definitely check out Daley’s article.
Here’s a link to and a citation for the latest paper about honeybees and math,
I’ve already written about October 2019 science and art/science events in Canada (see my Sept. 26, 2019 posting), but more event notices for Octoberhave come my way. These events are all art/science (or sciart as it’s sometimes called).
… on the future of life forms … a two-night (Oct./Nov.) discussion in Toronto, Canada
Here’s more from the ArtSci Salon’s October 3, 2019 announcement (received via email)
“…now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. That would be less wasteful, as it took a lot of food and care to grow a pigoon. A great deal of investment money had gone into OrganInc Farms…” (Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake 2003)
In Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood describes a not-too-distant future where humans have perfected the art of fabricating and modifying a variety of creatures to improve and prolongue their own lives and wellbeing.
As Atwood has stated in various occasions, this is not science fiction.
It is in fact already happening. New forms of life appear not only as the product of lab fabrication or gene editing, but also as the result of toxic pollutants and climate change induced adaptation.
what to make of them?
how to cope with a world where extinction, adaptation and mutation risk to make traditional categories and taxonomies obsolete?
Join us to this two-parts series to discuss the ethics and implications of these transformations with artists, scientists and bioethicists.
Part 1 Thursday, October 17, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Altered Inheritance: extinction, recreation or transformation? a dialogue and discussion on the implications of genome editing on humans and other organisms
with Francoise Baylis – Research Professor, Bioethicist, Dalhousie University
Karen Maxwell – Dept. of Biochemistry, Maxwell Lab, University of Toronto
emergent artists from OCADU [Ontario College of Art and Design University] and YorkU [York University, Toronto]
Part 2 Thursday, November 21, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Classifying the new? why do we classify? what is it good for? what is the limit of taxonomy and classification in a transforming world?
with Richard Pell – Centre for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh, PA
Laurence Packer – Mellitologist, Professor of biology and environmental studies, York University
Stefan Herda – earth science artist
Cole Swanson – artist and educator (Art Foundation and Visual and Digital Arts, Humber college)
Anna Marie O’Brien – Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs, University of Toronto
Françoise Baylis is University Research Professor at Dalhousie University. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Baylis was one of the organizers of, and a key participant in, the 2015 International Summit on Human Gene Editing. She is a member of the WHO expert advisory committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing. Her new book “Altered Inheritance. CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing” is published by Harvard University Press
Karen Maxwell is a research professor in the dept of biochemistry at the university of toronto, where she runs the Maxwell Lab. Among other topics, the lab’s three branches “Anti-CRISPR”, “Phage morons” and “Anti-Phage defences” study the interplay of phages with their bacterial hosts, with a focus on phage mediated bacterial virulence mechanisms and inhibitors of anti-phage bacterial defenses.
Richard Pell works at the intersections of science, engineering, and culture. He has worked in a variety of electronic media from documentary video to robotics to bioart to museum exhibition. He is the founder and director of the Center for PostNatural History (CPNH), an organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally and heritably altered through domestication, selective breeding, tissue culture or genetic engineering. The CPNH operates a permanent museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museums throughout Europe and the United States, including being the subject of a major exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London.
Laurence Packer is a mellitologist, ie a scholar whose main subject of study is wild bees. his research primarily involves the systematics of the bee subfamily Xeromelissinae – an obscure, but fascinating group of bees, restricted to the New World south of central Mexico. he has also expended considerable energy leading the global campaign to barcode the bees of the world. his work is concerned with promulgating the importance of bees: for genetic reasons, it seems that bees are more extinction prone than are almost all other organisms
Stefan Herda‘s practice explores our troubling relationship to the natural world through drawing, sculpture and video. Inspired by the earth sciences, Herda’s work navigates the space between truth and fiction. His material and process-based investigations fuse elements of authenticity, façade, the natural and the manufactured together. He received his BAH from the University of Guelph in 2010. His work in both sculpture and video has been included in exhibitions nationally and has been featured by CBC Arts and Daily VICE. Recently, Stefan has held solo shows at Patel Projects (Toronto) and Wil Kucey Gallery (Toronto), participated in group shows such as Cultivars: Possible Worlds at InterAccess (Toronto) and was featured as one of 12 artists in the Cabinet Project at the University of Toronto
Cole Swanson is an artist and educator based in Toronto, Canada. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and throughout international venues in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. At the heart of recent work is a cross-disciplinary exploration of materials and their sociocultural and biological histories. Embedded within art media and commonplace resources are complex relations between nature and culture, humans and other agents, consumers and the consumed. Swanson has engaged in a broad material practice using sound, installation, painting, and sculpture to explore interspecies relationships.
Anna Marie O’Brien is a post doc in the Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs at University of Toronto, working on duckweeds, microbes, urban contaminants, and phenotypes.her PhD work was at Davis, with thesis advisors Dr. Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra and Dr. Sharon Strauss. she also collaborated closely with Dr. Ruairidh Sawers at LANGEBIO-CINVESTAV in Guanajuato, Mexico.
The first highlighted speaker, Françoise Baylis, has been mentioned here twice before, in a May 17, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Global plea for moratorium on heritable genome editing’ subheading) and in an April 26, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Finally’ subheading, the second paragraph). Both postings touch on the topic of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and germline editing (genetic editing that will affect all of your descendents).
Cartooney in New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) starting October 18, 2019
I like physics but I love cartoons Stephen Hawking
There you have it from one of the 20th/early 21st century’s most famous physicists. The quote is the opening line for the New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) New Media Gallery’s latest event webpage, Cartooney,
The impact of animated cartoons has been profound. In the early 20th century, we began exploiting the possibilities of the animated frame. The seven artists in this exhibition don’t create cartoons, they deconstruct those that already exist; from Looney Tunes, to The Simpsons to Charlie Brown. They exploit this potent material to reveal the inner and outer workings of our human world. The original cartoon is ever-present, haunting us with suggestive content.
The artists in this exhibition reframe our world. Here we are asked to consider the laws, systems and iconographies of the cartoon world while drawing parallels with our human world; physical laws, the laws of gravitation, matter + light, the physics of motion, and societal psychologies & behaviours. We are presented with fascinating catalogues and overlaying systems of symbolic language. The purposeful demolition of expectation in these works, mirrors the instabilities and dreams of modern life. They remind us that the pervasive medium of the cartoon can reflect and influence how we navigate the world. If there is a paradox here, it might be that dismantling a cartoon can throw open the doors of perception.
The New Westminster New Media Gallery’s next exhibition is exploring the impact of animated cartoons.
Cartooney opens at the gallery on Friday, Oct. 18 and runs until Dec. 8 , then again from Jan. 7 to Feb. 2 .
Artist Kevin McCoy, one-half of the duo of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, will be on hand for an artist talk on opening night, Friday, Oct. 18. The talk will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a reception and open exhibition from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, by Andy Holden (U.K.):
In his two-channel audiovisual installation, 57 minutes long, Holden becomes a cartoon avatar, giving both a lecture on cartoons and a cartoon lecture, describing how our world is best now understood as a cartoon. The project incorporates Greek philosophy, Stephen Hawking, critical theory, physics, art, the financial crisis and Donald Trump, while adapting 10 laws of cartoon physics to create a theory of the world and a prophetic glimpse of the world we live in.
CB-MMXVIII (I’ve been thinking of giving sleeping lessons), by Patten (U.K.):
In this multi-screen audiovisual installation, the artist duo Patten subjects Charlie Brown to all the digital stresses, distortions and manipulations available in 2018, testing his plasticity.
“Sampled texts from philosophy, science and critical theory criss-cross the screens and are linked with scrolling images related to the natural world, DNA, systems, multiples; all serving to influence our reading of the cartoon character and the texts,” says the release. The ambient soundtrack is a dramatically slowed down Linus and Lucy theme.
You can find the New Westminster New Media Gallery on the third floor at the Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St. See www.newmediagallery.ca for more details.
Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems in Vancouver, November 2019
Curiosity Collider, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization, will be hosting its inaugural art-science Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems at the VIVO Media Arts Centre from November 8 to 10, 2019. The festival features an art-science exhibition showcasing independent works and collaborative works by artist/scientist pairs, a hands-on DNA sonification workshop, an opening reception with performances, and guided discussions and tours.
Curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, the theme of the festival focuses on the “invasive systems” that surround us – from technology and infections, to pollution and invasive species. “We want to create a space to explore the influence of the invasive aspects of our world on our inner and outer lives” said Char. “We will examine our observations from both scientific and artistic perspectives- are these influences beneficial, inevitable, or preventable?” Attendees can anticipate a deep dive into the delicate and complicated nature of how both living and inanimate things redefine our lives and environments – through visual art, multimedia installations, and interactive experiences.
“I am not a scientist and do not come from a family of scientists, but I have always appreciated knowing how things work, how things are connected and how things evolve – collaboration between art and science feel natural to me,” said Vancouver artist Dzee Lousie. “Both artists and scientists are curious, perform experiments and are driven by questions.” Dzee’s work Crossing, an interactive puzzle painting that examines how microbial colonies can impact our behaviours and processes in our body, is the result of a collaboration with UBC PhD candidate Linda Horianopoulos. “As scientists, we often want people to take notice of our work and engage with it. I think that art attracts people to do exactly that,” said Linda.
The sculptural work Invasion by Prince George artist Twyla Exner explores the remnants of technology. “My artworks propose hybrids of technological structures and living organisms. They take form as abandoned technologies that have sprouted with new life, clever artificialities that imitate nature, or biotechnological fixtures of the not-so-distant future,” Twyla shared. Like Dzee, she feels that artists and scientists share the sense of curiosity, experimentation, and creative problem solving. “Both art and science have the ability to tell stories and shape how people see and interpret the world around them.”
The festival is hosted in collaboration with the VIVO Media Arts Centre (2625 Kaslo Street, Vancouver, BC V5M 3G9). It will open on the evening of November 8th, with a reception and a live performance by local sound artist Edzi’u, during which her sculptural installation Moose are Life will be brought to life. On Saturday, artist Laara Cerman will co-host a DNA sonification workshop with scientist Scott Pownall. Their work Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major – a hand-cranked music box that plays a tune created from the DNA of local invasive plants – will be on exhibit during the festival. The festival will also include tours by the curator at 3:30pm and guided discussions at 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Visit https://collisionsfestival2019.eventbrite.ca for festival tickets and http://bit.ly/collisionsfestival2019 for festival information.
Curiosity Collider and VIVO Media Arts Centre gratefully acknowledge the support of BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Regional Cultural Project Grants Program, UBC Faculty of Science, and our printing sponsor Jukebox, for making Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems possible.
About Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation
Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation is a Vancouver based non-profit organization that is committed to providing opportunities for artists whose work expresses scientific concepts and scientists who collaborate with artists. We challenge the perception and experience of science in our culture, break down the walls between art and science, and engage our growing community to bringing life to the concepts that describe our world.
In this DNA sonification workshop, participants will learn the process of DNA barcoding of invasive plant species, and how to sonify DNA sequences with basic music theory and MIDI freeware. Participants will also get hands-on experience in amplying specific genetic regions in plants through polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a step necessary in preparing samples for DNA barcoding.
This workshop will be led by artist Laara Cerman and scientist Scott Pownall, whose art-science collaborative work “Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major” will be on exhibit during Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems. Laara and Scott will also share their process of working together, and how decisions were made to arrive at their collaborative work of art and science.
We acknowledge that Collisions Festival and its events take place on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land.
I asked the Curiosity Collider folks (@CCollider on Twitter) if you needed to bring any equipment or have any knowledge of music. The answer was: no, you don’t need to bring anything (unless you want to) and you don’t need to know about music.
Uncorked at Science World at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver on November 14, 2019
This is not a cheap night out. An October 10, 2019 article by Lindsay William-Ross for the Daily Hive website gives you reasons to go anyway (Note: Links have been removed),
A new wine-themed event will have Vancouverites swirling with nerdy glee. Uncorked: A Celebration of the Science of Wine is an evening of sipping and learning that will bring together world-renown winemakers, chefs, and science experts for an unforgettable event.
Participating wineries are:
Mission Hill Family Estate CedarCreek Estate Winery CheckMate Artisanal Winery Martin’s Lane Winery Road 13 Vineyards
The wines will be paired with bites from Chef Patrick Gayler from Mission Hill’s Terrace Restaurant and Chef Neil Taylor from CedarCreek’s new Home Block Restaurant.
Programming for the evening includes seminars on the science of blending wine, the science of aging wine, the role of technology at modern vineyards, and the science of soil and terroir.
Proceeds from Uncorked will support Science World’s On the Road program, which last year brought live science performances to 41,500 students throughout B.C. who otherwise might not have had a chance to visit TELUS World of Science.
Tickets are $89 and can be purchased here. You may also want to reserve some money for the silent auction. Don’t forget, it’s November 14, 2019 from 7 pm to 10 pm at Science World in Vancouver. You can find directions and a map here.
… on June 12th, 2019 at the Italian Cultural Centre. ARPICO is proud to host Dr. Silvia Scorza, who will be presenting on the topic of underground science (literally underground) at SNOLAB, where research is conducted in fields of fundamental science that require shielding from external radiation such as cosmic rays. SNOLAB (SNO stands for Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) is a Canadian research laboratory located 2 km underground in Sudbury, Ontario. This presentation will give a unique and interesting perspective into the research that is conducted mostly out of the public view and discussion, but contributes critically to our scientific advances. Applications found in medicine, national security, industry, computing, science, and workforce development, illustrate a long and growing list of beneficial practical applications with contributions from particle physics.
Please read below to learn more about our speaker and topic.
Ahead of the speaking event, ARPICO will be holding its 2019 Annual General Meeting in the same location. We encourage everyone to participate in the AGM, have their say on ARPICO’s matters and possibly volunteer for the Board of Directors. ARPICO is made by all of its members, not just the Board, and it is therefore paramount that you all come, let us know what your wishes are for the Society and tell us how we can do better together as we go forward.
If you are driving to the venue, there is plenty of free parking space. Please refer to the attached parking map for information on where not to park however, just to be sure.
We look forward to seeing everyone there.
The evening agenda is as follows: 6:00 pm to 6:45 pm – Annual General Meeting [ Doors Open for Registration at 5:50 pm ] 7:00 pm – Start of the evening event with introductions & lecture by Dr. Silvia Scorza [ Doors Open for Registration at 6:45 pm ] ~8:00 pm – Q & A Period to follow – Mingling & Refreshments until about 9:30 pm If you have not already done so, please register for the event by visiting the EventBrite link or RSVPing to email@example.com.
Whispering in the Dark: Updates from Underground Scienc
Based at a depth of 2 km in the Vale Creighton mine near Sudbury, Ontario, SNOLAB is an underground scientific environment that provides the conditions necessary for experiments dealing with rare interactions that have to be shielded from external radiation. The lab hosts an international community involved in a number of fundamental physics (neutrino and dark matter) as well as new biology and genomic experiments making use of the unique facility. In this lecture, Dr. Scorza will offer an overview on the life of an “underground scientist” and the immense possibilities of discovery that facilities like SNOLAB make available to our society.
Dr. Silvia Scorza was born and raised in Genoa, Italy. She received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Physics from the University of Genoa in 2003 and 2006, respectively. She then moved to the University Claude Bernard Lyon1 (UCBL1), France, where she obtained her Ph.D. in 2009. She has then held postdoctoral positions in France at the Institut de Physique Nucléaire de Lyon, in the U.S. at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas (TX) and later in Germany at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Silvia is currently a research scientist at SNOLAB and adjunct professor at Laurentian University working on the SuperCDMS SNOLAB direct dark matter search experiment and the cryogenic test facility CUTE.
WHEN (AGM): Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 at 6:00pm (doors open at 5:50pm) WHEN (EVENT): Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:45pm) WHERE: Italian Cultural Centre – Museum & Art Gallery – 3075 Slocan St, Vancouver, BC, V5M 3E4
Tickets are FREE, but all individuals are requested to obtain “free-admission” tickets on EventBrite site due to limited seating at the venue. Organizers need accurate registration numbers to manage wait lists and prepare name tags.
All ARPICO events are 100% staffed by volunteer organizers and helpers, however, room rental, stationery, and guest refreshments are costs incurred and underwritten by members of ARPICO. Therefore to be fair, all audience participants are asked to donate to the best of their ability at the door or via EventBrite to “help” defray costs of the event.
FAQs Where can I contact the organizer with any questions? firstname.lastname@example.org Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event? No, you do not. Your name will be on our Registration List at the Check-in Desk. Is my registration/ticket transferrable? If you are unable to attend, another person may use your ticket. Please send us an email at email@example.com of this substitution to correct our audience Registration List and to prepare guest name tags. Can I update my registration information? Yes. If you have any questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org I am having trouble using EventBrite and cannot reserve my ticket(s). Can someone at ARPICO help me with my ticket reservation? Of course, simply send your ticket request to us at email@example.com so we help you.
What are my transport/parking options? Bus/Train: The Millenium Line Renfrew Skytrain station is a 5 minute walk from the Italian Cultural Centre. Parking: Free Parking is vastly available at the ICC’s own parking lot. …
A toy that’s been a plaything for 5,000 years and known as a whirligig (in English, anyway) has inspired a scientific tool for use by field biologists and students interested in creating state-of-the-art experiments. Exciting stuff, eh?
A 5,000-year-old toy still enjoyed by kids today has inspired an inexpensive, hand-powered scientific tool that could not only impact how field biologists conduct their research but also allow high-school students and others with limited resources to realize their own state-of-the-art experiments.
The device, a portable centrifuge for preparing scientific samples including DNA, is reported May 21  in the journal PLOS Biology. The co-first author of the paper is Gaurav Byagathvalli, a senior at Lambert High School in Georgia. His colleagues are M. Saad Bhamla, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Soham Sinha, a Georgia Tech undergraduate; Janet Standeven, Byagathvalli’s biology teacher at Lambert; and Aaron F. Pomerantz, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.
“I am exceptionally proud of this paper and will remember it 10, 20, 30 years from now because of the uniquely diverse team we put together,” said Bhamla, who is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
From a Rainforest to a High School
Together the team demonstrated the device, dubbed the 3D-Fuge because it is created through 3D printing, in two separate applications. In a rainforest in Peru the 3D-Fuge was an integral part of a “lab in a backpack” used to identify four previously-unknown plants and insects by sequencing their DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid]. Back in the United States, a slightly different design enabled a new approach to creating living bacterial sensors for the potential detection of disease. That work was conducted at Lambert High School for a synthetic biology competition.
Thanks to social media and a preprint of the PLOS Biology paper on BioRxiv, the 3D-Fuge has already generated interest from around the world, including emails from high-school teachers in Zambia and Kenya. “It’s awesome to see research not just remain isolated to one location but see it spread,” said Byagathvalli. “Through this, we’ve realized how much of an impact simple yet effective tools can have, and hope this technology motivates others to continue along the same path and innovate new solutions to global issues.”
To better share the work, the team has posted the 3D-Fuge designs, videos, and photos online available to anyone.
One focus of Bhamla’s lab at Georgia Tech is the development of tools for frugal science, or real research that just about anyone can afford. The tools behind state-of-the-art science often cost thousands of dollars that make them inaccessible to those without serious resources.
Centrifuges are a good example. A small benchtop unit costs between $3,000 and $5,000; larger units cost many times that. Yet the devices are necessary to produce concentrated amounts of, say, genomic materials like DNA. By rapidly spinning samples, they separate materials of interest from biological debris.
The Bhamla team found that the 3D-Fuge works as well as its more expensive cousins, but costs less than $1.
An Ancient Toy
The 3D-Fuge is based on earlier work by Bhamla and colleagues at Stanford University on a simple centrifuge made of paper. The “paperfuge,” in turn, was inspired by a toy composed of string and a button that Bhamla played with as a child. He later discovered that these toys, known as whirligigs, have existed for some 5,000 years.
They consist of a disk – like a button – with two holes, through which is threaded a length of flexible cord whose ends are knotted to create a single loop with the disk in the middle. That simple contraption is then swung with two hands until the button is spinning and whirring at very fast speeds.
The earlier paperfuge uses a disk of paper. To that disk Bhamla glued small plastic tubes filled with a sample. He and colleagues reported that the device did indeed create high-quality samples.
In late 2017 Bhamla was separately approached by the Lambert High team and Pomerantz to see if the paperfuge could be adapted for the larger samples they needed (the paperfuge is limited to small samples of ~1 microliter—or one drop of blood).
Together they came up with the 3D-Fuge, which includes cavities for tubes that can hold some 100 times more of a sample than the paperfuge. The team developed two equally effective designs: one for field biology (led by Pomerantz) and the other for the high-school’s synthetic biology project (led by Byagathvalli).
Bhamla notes that the 3D-Fuge has some limitations. For example, it can only process a few samples at a time (some applications require thousands of samples). Further, because it’s 10 times heavier than the paperfuge, it can’t reach the same speeds or produce the same forces of that device. That said, it still weighs only 20 grams, slightly less than a AA battery.
“But it works,” said Bhamla. “All you need is an [appropriate] application and some creativity.”
Here are a couple of images showing the 3D-Fuge in action,
As biologists have probed deeper into the molecular and genetic underpinnings of life, K-12 schools have struggled to provide a curriculum that reflects those advances. Hands-on learning is known to be more engaging and effective for teaching science to students, but even the most basic molecular and synthetic biology experiments require equipment far beyond an average classroom’s budget, and often involve the use of bacteria and other substances that can be difficult to manage outside a controlled lab setting.
Now, a collaboration between the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and Northwestern University has developed BioBits, new educational biology kits that use freeze-dried cell-free (FD-CF) reactions to enable students to perform a range of simple, hands-on biological experiments. The BioBits kits introduce molecular and synthetic biology concepts without the need for specialized lab equipment, at a fraction of the cost of current standard experimental designs. The kits are described in two papers published in Science Advances .
“The main motivation in developing these kits was to give students fun activities that allow them to actually see, smell, and touch the outcomes of the biological reactions they’re doing at the molecular level,” said Ally Huang, a co-first author on both papers who is an MIT graduate student in the lab of Wyss Founding Core Faculty member Jim Collins, Ph.D. “My hope is that they will inspire more kids to consider a career in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] and, more generally, give all students a basic understanding of how biology works, because they may one day have to make personal or policy decisions based on modern science.”
Synthetic and molecular biology frequently make use of the cellular machinery found in E. coli bacteria to produce a desired protein. But this system requires that the bacteria be kept alive and contained for an extended period of time, and involves several complicated preparation and processing steps. The FD-CF reactions pioneered in Collins’ lab for molecular manufacturing, when combined with innovations from the lab of Michael Jewett, Ph.D. at Northwestern University, offer a solution to this problem by removing bacteria from the equation altogether.
“You can think of it like opening the hood of a car and taking the engine out: we’ve taken the ‘engine’ that drives protein production out of a bacterial cell and given it the fuel it needs, including ribosomes and amino acids, to create proteins from DNA outside of the bacteria itself,” explained Jewett, who is the Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology, and co-corresponding author of both papers. This collection of molecular machinery is then freeze-dried into pellets so that it becomes shelf-stable at room temperature. To initiate the transcription of DNA into RNA and the translation of that RNA into a protein, a student just needs to add the desired DNA and water to the freeze-dried pellets.
An expansion of the BioBits Bright kit, called BioBits Explorer, includes experiments that engage the senses of smell and touch and allow students to probe their environment using designer synthetic biosensors. In the first experiment, the FD-CF reaction pellets contain a gene that drives the conversion of isoamyl alcohol to isoamyl acetate, a compound that produces a strong banana odor. In the second experiment, the FD-CF reactions contain a gene coding for the enzyme sortase, which recognizes and links specific segments of proteins in a liquid solution together to form a squishy, semi-solid hydrogel, which the students can touch and manipulate. The third module uses another Wyss technology, the toehold switch sensor, to identify DNA extracted from a banana or a kiwi. The sensors are hairpin-shaped RNA molecules designed such that when they bind to a “trigger” RNA, they spring open and reveal a genetic sequence that produces a fluorescent protein. When fruit DNA is added to the sensor-containing FD-CF pellets, only the sensors that are designed to open in the presence of each fruit’s RNA will produce the fluorescent protein.
The researchers tested their BioBits kits in the Chicago Public School system, and demonstrated that students and teachers were able to perform the experiments in the kits with the same success as trained synthetic biology researchers. In addition to refining the kits’ design so that they can one day provide them to classrooms around the world, the authors hope to create an open-source online database where teachers and students can share their results and ideas for ways to modify the kits to explore different biological questions.
“Synthetic biology is going to be one of the defining technologies of the century, and yet it has been challenging to teach the fundamental concepts of the field in K-12 classrooms given that such efforts often require expensive, complicated equipment,” said Collins, who is a co-corresponding author of both papers and also the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering & Science at MIT. “We show that it is possible to use freeze-dried, cell-free extracts along with freeze-dried synthetic biology components to conduct innovative educational experiments in classrooms and other low-resource settings. The BioBits kits enable us to expose young kids, older kids, and even adults to the wonders of synthetic biology and, as a result, are poised to transform science education and society.
“All scientists are passionate about what they do, and we are frustrated by the difficulty our educational system has had in inciting a similar level of passion in young people. This BioBits project demonstrates the kind of out-of-the-box thinking and refusal to accept the status quo that we value and cultivate at the Wyss Institute, and we all hope it will stimulate young people to be intrigued by science,” said Wyss Institute Founding Director Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “It’s exciting to see this project move forward and become available to biology classrooms worldwide and, hopefully some of these students will pursue a path in science because of their experience.”
Additional authors of the papers include Peter Nguyen, Ph.D., Nina Donghia, and Tom Ferrante from the Wyss Institute; Melissa Takahashi, Ph.D. and Aaron Dy from MIT; Karen Hsu and Rachel Dubner from Northwestern University; Keith Pardee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto; and a number of teachers and students in the Chicago school system including: Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Tom Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander Hill, Jemima Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzales, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, and TaRhonda Woods.
This research was supported by the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence Grant, The Defense Threat Reduction Agency Grant, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program, the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada. [emphases mine]
Well, that list of funding agencies is quite interesting. The US Army and Air Force but not the Navy? As for what the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada is doing on that list, I can only imagine why.
This is what they were doing in 2018,
Now for the latest update, a May 7, 2019 news item on phys.org announces the BioBits Kits have been expanded,
How can high school students learn about a technology as complex and abstract as CRISPR? It’s simple: just add water.
A Northwestern University-led team has developed BioBits, a suite of hands-on educational kits that enable students to perform a range of biological experiments by adding water and simple reagents to freeze-dried cell-free reactions. The kits link complex biological concepts to visual, fluorescent readouts, so students know—after a few hours and with a single glance—the results of their experiments.
After launching BioBits last summer, the researchers are now expanding the kit to include modules for CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats] and antibiotic resistance. A small group of Chicago-area teachers and high school students just completed the first pilot study for these new modules, which include interactive experiments and supplementary materials exploring ethics and strategies.
“After we unveiled the first kits, we next wanted to tackle current topics that are important for society,” said Northwestern’s Michael Jewett, principal investigator of the study. “That led us to two areas: antibiotic resistance and gene editing.”
Called BioBits Health, the new kits and pilot study are detailed in a paper published today (May 7 ) in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.
Jewett is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and co-director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology. Jessica Stark, a graduate student in Jewett’s laboratory, led the study.
Test in a tube
Instead of using live cells, the BioBits team removed the essential cellular machinery from inside the cells and freeze-dried them for shelf stability. Keeping cells alive and contained for an extended period of time involves several complicated, time-consuming preparation and processing steps as well as expensive equipment. Freeze-dried cell-free reactions bypass those complications and costs.
“These are essentially test-tube biological reactions,” said Stark, a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow. “We break the cells open and use their guts, which still contain all of the necessary biological machinery to carry out a reaction. We no longer need living cells to demonstrate biology.”
This method to harness biological systems without intact, living cells became possible over the last two decades thanks to multiple innovations, including many in cell-free synthetic biology by Jewett’s lab. Not only are these experiments doable in the classroom, they also only cost pennies compared to standard high-tech experimental designs.
“I’m hopeful that students get excited about engineering biology and want to learn more,” Jewett said.
One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs of the past decade, CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The powerful gene-editing technology uses enzymes to cut DNA in precise locations to turn off or edit targeted genes. It could be used to halt genetic diseases, develop new medicines, make food more nutritious and much more.
BioBits Health uses three components required for CRISPR: an enzyme called the Cas9 protein, a target DNA sequence encoding a fluorescent protein and an RNA molecule that targets the fluorescent protein gene. When students add all three components — and water — to the freeze-dried cell-free system, it creates a reaction that edits, or cuts, the DNA for the fluorescent protein. If the DNA is cut, the system does not glow. If the DNA is not cut, the fluorescent protein is made, and the system glows fluorescent.
“We have linked this abstract, really advanced biological concept to the presence or absence of a fluorescent protein,” Stark said. “It’s something students can see, something they can visually understand.”
The curriculum also includes activities that challenge students to consider the ethical questions and dilemmas surrounding the use of gene-editing technologies.
“There is a lot of excitement about being able to edit genomes with these technologies,” Jewett said. “BioBits Health calls attention to a lot of important questions — not only about how CRISPR technology works but about ethics that society should be thinking about. We hope that this promotes a conversation and dialogue about such technologies.”
Jewett and Stark are both troubled by a prediction that, by the year 2050, drug-resistant bacterial infections could outpace cancer as a leading cause of death. This motivated them to help educate the future generation of scientists about how antibiotic resistance emerges and inspire them to take actions that could help limit the emergence of resistant bacteria. In this module, students run two sets of reactions to produce a glowing fluorescent protein — one set with an antibiotic resistance gene and one set without. Students then add antibiotics. If the experiment glows, the fluorescent protein has been made, and the reaction has become resistant to antibiotics. If the experiment does not glow, then the antibiotic has worked.
“Because we’re using cell-free systems rather than organisms, we can demonstrate drug resistance in a way that doesn’t create drug-resistant bacteria,” Stark explained. “We can demonstrate these concepts without the risks.”
A supporting curriculum piece challenges students to brainstorm and research strategies for slowing the rate of emerging antibiotic resistant strains.
Part of something cool
After BioBits was launched in summer 2018, 330 schools from around the globe requested prototype kits for their science labs. The research team, which includes members from Northwestern and MIT, has received encouraging feedback from teachers, students and parents.
“The students felt like scientists and doctors by touching and using the laboratory materials provided during the demo,” one teacher said. “Even the students who didn’t seem engaged were secretly paying attention and wanted to take their turn pipetting. They knew they were part of something really cool, so we were able to connect with them in a way that was new to them.”
“My favorite part was using the equipment,” a student said. “It was a fun activity that immerses you into what top scientists are currently doing.”
The study, “BioBits Health: Classroom activities exploring engineering, biology and human health with fluorescent readouts,” was supported by the Army Research Office (award number W911NF-16-1-0372), the National Science Foundation (grant numbers MCB-1413563 and MCB-1716766), the Air Force Research Laboratory Center of Excellence (grant number FA8650-15-2-5518), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (grant number HDTRA1-15-10052/P00001), the Department of Energy (grant number DE-SC0018249), the Human Frontiers Science Program (grant number RGP0015/2017), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (grant number DE-EE008343) and the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Program. [emphases mine]
This is an image you’ll find in the abstract for the 2019 paper,
Here are links and citations for the 2018 papers and the 2019 paper,
BioBits™ Explorer: A modular synthetic biology education kit by Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Jessica C. Stark, Melissa K. Takahashi, Nina Donghia, Tom Ferrante, Aaron J. Dy, Karen J. Hsu, Rachel S. Dubner, Keith Pardee, Michael C. Jewett, and James J. Collins. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5105 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5105
BioBits™ Bright: A fluorescent synthetic biology education kit by Jessica C. Stark, Ally Huang, Peter Q. Nguyen, Rachel S. Dubner, Karen J. Hsu, Thomas C. Ferrante, Mary Anderson, Ada Kanapskyte, Quinn Mucha, Jessica S. Packett, Palak Patel, Richa Patel, Deema Qaq, Tyler Zondor, Julie Burke, Thomas Martinez, Ashlee Miller-Berry, Aparna Puppala, Kara Reichert, Miriam Schmid, Lance Brand, Lander R. Hill, Jemima F. Chellaswamy, Nuhie Faheem, Suzanne Fetherling, Elissa Gong, Eddie Marie Gonzalzles, Teresa Granito, Jenna Koritsaris, Binh Nguyen, Sujud Ottman, Christina Palffy, Angela Patel, Sheila Skweres, Adriane Slaton, TaRhonda Woods, Nina Donghia, Keith Pardee, James J. Collins, and Michael C. Jewett. Science Advances 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 4, no. 8, eaat5107 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5107
Both of the 2018 papers appear to be open access while the 2019 paper is behind a paywall.
Should you be interested in acquiring a BioBits kit, you can check out the BioBits website. As for ‘conguering’ CRISPR, do we really need to look at it that way? Maybe a more humble appraoch could work just as well or even better, eh?
I received this Café Scientifique April 30, 2018 notice (received via email),
Our next café will happen on TUESDAY, MAY 29TH at 7:30PM in the back
room at YAGGER'S DOWNTOWN (433 W Pender). Our speaker for the
evening will be DR. MICHELLE TSENG, Assistant Professor in the Zoology
department at UBC. Her topic will be:
INSECTS IN THE CITY: SHRINKING BEETLES AND DISAPPEARING BEES. HOW BUGS
HELP US LEARN ABOUT THE ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF URBANIZATION AND CLIMATE
Living in the city, we don’t always see the good bugs amongst the
pesky ones. In this presentation, I’ll take you on a trip down insect
lane and share with you the incredible diversity of insects that have
lived in Vancouver over the last 100 years. Many of these bugs have been
collected and preserved in museums and these collections provide us with
a historical snapshot of insect communities from the past. My students
and I have made some remarkable discoveries using museum insect
collections, and these findings help us understand how these fascinating
creatures are changing in response to warming climates and increased
Michelle Tseng is a professor of insect ecology at the UBC Biodiversity
Research Centre. She and her students study the impacts of habitat and
climate change on plankton and insects. Her group’s work has been
featured in national and international media, and on CBC’s Quirks and
Quarks. Michelle is also the zoologist on the award-winning CBC kids
show Scout and the Gumboot Kids.
The Tseng lab investigates ecological and evolutionary responses of populations and communities to novel environments. We test and refine theory related to predator-prey dynamics, body size variation, intra- and interspecific competition, and the maintenance of genetic variation, using laboratory and field experiments with freshwater plant and animal communities. We also use museum collections to investigate long term patterns in organism phenotype.
I check the library webpage listed in the above and found this artist’s statement,
Artist / Scientist Statement [Stephen Morris]
I am interested in self-organized, emergent patterns and textures. I make images of patterns both from the natural world and of experiments in my laboratory in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. Patterns naturally attract casual attention but are also the subject of serious scientific research. Some things just evolve all by themselves into strikingly regular shapes and textures. Why? These shapes emerge spontaneously from a dynamic process of growing, folding, cracking, wrinkling, branching, flowing and other kinds of morphological development. My photos are informed by the scientific aesthetic of nonlinear physics, and celebrate the subtle interplay of order and complexity in emergent patterns. They are a kind of “Scientific Folk Art” of the science of Emergence.
While the official opening is April 5, 2018, the event itself runs from April 1 – 30, 2018.
Next, there’s another March 27, 2018 announcement (received via email) from the Art/Sci Salon but this one concerns a series of talks about ’emergence’, Note: Some of the event information was a little difficult to decipher so I’ve added a note to the relevant section).
What is Emergent Form?
Nature teems with self-organized forms that seem to spring spontaneously from the smooth background of things, by mechanisms that are not always apparent. Think of rippled sand on a beach or regular stripes in the clouds. Plants, insects and animals exhibit spirals and spots and stripes in an exuberant riot of colours. Fluid flows in amazingly regular swirls and eddies. The emergence of form is ubiquitous, and presents a challenge and an inspiration to both artists and scientists. In mathematics, patterns appear as solutions of the nonlinear partial differential equations in the continuum limit of classical physics, chemistry and biology. In the arts and humanities, “emergent form” addresses the entangled ways in which humans, plants animals, microorganisms inevitably co-exist in the universe; the way that human intervention and natural transformation can generate new landscapes and new forms of life.
With Emergent Form, we want to question the idea of a fixed world.
For us, Emergent Form is not just a series of natural and human phenomena too complicated to understand, measure or predict, but also a concept to help us identify ways in which we can come to term with, and embrace their complexity as a source of inspiration.
Join us in Toronto and Ottawa for a series of interdisciplinary discussions, performances and exhibitions on Emergent Form on Apr 10, 11, 12 (Toronto) and Apr. 14  (Ottawa).
This series is the result of a collaboration among several parties. Each event of the series is different and has its dedicated RSVP
Tue. Apr 10 The Fields Institute, 222 College Street
Emergent form: an interdisciplinary concept 6:00-8:00 pm Pier Luigi Capucci, Accademia di Belle Arti Urbino. Founder and director, Noemalab*, Charles Sowers, Independent artist and exhibit designer, the Exploratorium, Stephen Morris, Professor of of Physics University of Toronto, Ron Wild, smART Maps
Thu. Apr 12 (Note: I believe that from 5 – 6 pm, you’re invited to see Pevere’s exhibit and then proceed to Luella Massey Studio Theatre for performances)
5:00 pm Cabinets in the Koffler Student Centre [I believe this is at the University of Toronto] Anatomy of an Interconnected System An exhibition by Margherita Pevere
6:00 pm Luella Massey Studio Theatre, 4 Glen Morris Ave., Toronto biopoetriX – conFiGURing AI
6:00-8:00 pm Performance:
6:00pm Performance “Corpus Nil. A Ritual of Birth for a Modified Body” conceived and performed by Marco Donnarumma
6.30pm LAB dance: Blitz media posters on labs in the arts, sciences and engineering
7.10pm Panel: Performing AI, hybrid media and humans in/as technologyMarco Donnarumma, Doug van Nort (Dispersion Lab, York U.), Jane Tingley (Stratford User Research & Gameful Experiences Lab –SURGE-, U of Waterloo), Angela Schoellig (Dynamic Systems Lab, U of T)
Panel animators: Antje Budde (Digital Dramaturgy Lab) and Roberta Buiani (ArtSci Salon)
8.15pm Reception at the Italian Cultural Institute, 496 Huron St, Toronto
This event would not be possible without the support of The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Science, The Italian Embassy, the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto, the Digital Dramaturgy Lab, and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura. Many thanks to our community partner BYOR (Bring your own Robot)
I wonder if some of the funding from Italy is in support of Italian Research in World Day. This is the inaugural year for the event, which will be held annually on April 15.
The Society of Italian Researchers and Professionals in Western Canada (ARPICO) is hosting an event in Vancouver (from a March 22, 2018 ARICO announcement received via email),
Our second speaking event of the year, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver, has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at the Roundhouse Community Centre. Professor Vesna Sossi’s talk will be examining how positron emission tomography (PET) imaging has contributed to better understanding of the brain function and disease with particular focus on Parkinson’s disease. You can read a summary of Prof. Sossi’s lecture as well as her short professional biography at the bottom of this message.
This event is organized in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver to celebrate the newly instituted Italian Research in the World Day, as part of the Piano Straordinario “Vivere all’Italiana” – Giornata della ricerca Italiana nel mondo. You can read more on our website event page.
Brain illness, comprising neurological disorders, mental illness and addiction, is considered the major health challenge in the 21st century with a socio-economic cost greater than cancer and cardiovascular disease combined. There are at least three unique challenges hampering brain disease management: relative inaccessibility, disease onset often preceding the onset of clinical symptoms by many years and overlap between clinical and pathological symptoms that makes accurate disease identification often difficult. This talk will give examples of how positron emission tomography (PET) imaging has contributed to better understanding of the brain function and disease with particular focus on Parkinson’s disease. Emphasis will be placed on the interplay between scientific discoveries and instrumentation and data analysis development as exemplified by the current understanding of the brain function as comprised by interactions between connectivity networks and neurochemistry and advancement in multi-modal imaging such as simultaneous PET and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Vesna Sossi is a Professor in the University of British Columbia (UBC) Physics and Astronomy Department and at the UBC Djavad Mowafaghian Center for Brain Health. She directs the UBC Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging centre, which is known for its use of imaging as applied to neurodegeneration with emphasis on Parkinson’s disease. Her main areas of interest comprise development of imaging methods to enhance the investigation of neurochemical mechanisms that lead to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD) and mechanisms that contribute to treatment-related complications. She uses PET imaging to explore how alterations of the different neurotransmitter systems contribute to different trajectories of disease progression. Her other areas of interest are PET image analysis, instrumentation and multi-modal, multi-parameter data analysis. She published more than 180 peer review papers, is funded by several granting agencies, including the Michael J Fox Foundation, and sits on several national and international review panels.
WHEN: Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:45pm) WHERE: Roundhouse Community Centre, Room B – 181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2W3 RSVP: Please RSVP at EventBrite (https://imaging-a-window-into-the-brain.eventbrite.ca) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets are Needed
Tickets are FREE, but all individuals are requested to obtain “free-admission” tickets on EventBrite site due to limited seating at the venue. Organizers need accurate registration numbers to manage wait lists and prepare name tags.
All ARPICO events are 100% staffed by volunteer organizers and helpers, however, room rental, stationery, and guest refreshments are costs incurred and underwritten by members of ARPICO. Therefore to be fair, all audience participants are asked to donate to the best of their ability at the door or via EventBrite to “help” defray costs of the event.
I have one idle question. What’s going to happen these groups if Canadians change their use of Facebook or abandon the platform as they are threatening to do in the face of Cambridge Analytica’s use of their data? A March 25, 2018 article on huffingtonpost.ca outlines the latest about Canadians’ reaction to the Cambridge Analytical news according to an Angus Reid poll,
A survey by Angus Reid Institute suggests 73 per cent of Canadian Facebook users say they will make changes, while 27 per cent say it will be “business as usual.”
Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said they would use Facebook less in the future, and 41 per cent of users said they would check and/or change their privacy settings.
The survey also found that one in 10 say they plan to abandon the platform, at least temporarily.
Facebook has been under fire for its ability to protect user privacy after Cambridge Analytica was accused of lifting the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.
There you have it.
*Well, a bit more information about one of the “Emergent’ speakers was received in an April 4, 2018 ArtSci Salon email announcement,
Do make sure to check out Pier Luigi Capucci’s EU-based (but with international breadth) Noemalab platform. https://noemalab.eu/ since the mid-nineties, this platform has been an important node of information for New Media Art and the relation between the arts and science.
noemalab’s blog regularly hosts reviews of events and conferences occurring around the world, including the Subtle Technologies Festival between 2007 and 2014. you can search its archives here http://blogs.noemalab.eu/
What great timing, I just found out about a musical science parody featuring evolution and biology and learned of the latest news about the study of evolution on one of the islands in the Galapagos (where Charles Darwin made some of his observations). Thanks to Stacey Johnson for her November 24, 2017 posting on the Signals blog for featuring Evo-Devo (Despacito Biology Parody), an A Capella Science music video from Tim Blais,
The arrival 36 years ago of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago has provided direct genetic evidence of a novel way in which new species arise.
In this week’s issue of the journal Science, researchers from Princeton University and Uppsala University in Sweden report that the newcomer belonging to one species mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals.
The study comes from work conducted on Darwin’s finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The remote location has enabled researchers to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection.
The direct observation of the origin of this new species occurred during field work carried out over the last four decades by B. Rosemary and Peter Grant, two scientists from Princeton, on the small island of Daphne Major.
“The novelty of this study is that we can follow the emergence of new species in the wild,” said B. Rosemary Grant, a senior research biologist, emeritus, and a senior biologist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “Through our work on Daphne Major, we were able to observe the pairing up of two birds from different species and then follow what happened to see how speciation occurred.”
In 1981, a graduate student working with the Grants on Daphne Major noticed the newcomer, a male that sang an unusual song and was much larger in body and beak size than the three resident species of birds on the island.
“We didn’t see him fly in from over the sea, but we noticed him shortly after he arrived. He was so different from the other birds that we knew he did not hatch from an egg on Daphne Major,” said Peter Grant, the Class of 1877 Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, emeritus.
The researchers took a blood sample and released the bird, which later bred with a resident medium ground finch of the species Geospiz fortis, initiating a new lineage. The Grants and their research team followed the new “Big Bird lineage” for six generations, taking blood samples for use in genetic analysis.
In the current study, researchers from Uppsala University analyzed DNA collected from the parent birds and their offspring over the years. The investigators discovered that the original male parent was a large cactus finch of the species Geospiza conirostris from Española island, which is more than 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) to the southeast in the archipelago.
The remarkable distance meant that the male finch was not able to return home to mate with a member of his own species and so chose a mate from among the three species already on Daphne Major. This reproductive isolation is considered a critical step in the development of a new species when two separate species interbreed.
The offspring were also reproductively isolated because their song, which is used to attract mates, was unusual and failed to attract females from the resident species. The offspring also differed from the resident species in beak size and shape, which is a major cue for mate choice. As a result, the offspring mated with members of their own lineage, strengthening the development of the new species.
Researchers previously assumed that the formation of a new species takes a very long time, but in the Big Bird lineage it happened in just two generations, according to observations made by the Grants in the field in combination with the genetic studies.
All 18 species of Darwin’s finches derived from a single ancestral species that colonized the Galápagos about one to two million years ago. The finches have since diversified into different species, and changes in beak shape and size have allowed different species to utilize different food sources on the Galápagos. A critical requirement for speciation to occur through hybridization of two distinct species is that the new lineage must be ecologically competitive — that is, good at competing for food and other resources with the other species — and this has been the case for the Big Bird lineage.
“It is very striking that when we compare the size and shape of the Big Bird beaks with the beak morphologies of the other three species inhabiting Daphne Major, the Big Birds occupy their own niche in the beak morphology space,” said Sangeet Lamichhaney, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and the first author on the study. “Thus, the combination of gene variants contributed from the two interbreeding species in combination with natural selection led to the evolution of a beak morphology that was competitive and unique.”
The definition of a species has traditionally included the inability to produce fully fertile progeny from interbreeding species, as is the case for the horse and the donkey, for example. However, in recent years it has become clear that some closely related species, which normally avoid breeding with each other, do indeed produce offspring that can pass genes to subsequent generations. The authors of the study have previously reported that there has been a considerable amount of gene flow among species of Darwin’s finches over the last several thousands of years.
One of the most striking aspects of this study is that hybridization between two distinct species led to the development of a new lineage that after only two generations behaved as any other species of Darwin’s finches, explained Leif Andersson, a professor at Uppsala University who is also affiliated with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Texas A&M University. “A naturalist who came to Daphne Major without knowing that this lineage arose very recently would have recognized this lineage as one of the four species on the island. This clearly demonstrates the value of long-running field studies,” he said.
It is likely that new lineages like the Big Birds have originated many times during the evolution of Darwin’s finches, according to the authors. The majority of these lineages have gone extinct but some may have led to the evolution of contemporary species. “We have no indication about the long-term survival of the Big Bird lineage, but it has the potential to become a success, and it provides a beautiful example of one way in which speciation occurs,” said Andersson. “Charles Darwin would have been excited to read this paper.”
I received a June 12, 2017 notice (via email) from the Wilson Center (also know as the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars) about a book examining patents and policies in the United States and in Europe and its upcoming launch,
Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe
Over the past thirty years, the world’s patent systems have experienced pressure from civil society like never before. From farmers to patient advocates, new voices are arguing that patents impact public health, economic inequality, morality—and democracy. These challenges, to domains that we usually consider technical and legal, may seem surprising. But in Patent Politics, Shobita Parthasarathy argues that patent systems have always been deeply political and social.
To demonstrate this, Parthasarathy takes readers through a particularly fierce and prolonged set of controversies over patents on life forms linked to important advances in biology and agriculture and potentially life-saving medicines. Comparing battles over patents on animals, human embryonic stem cells, human genes, and plants in the United States and Europe, she shows how political culture, ideology, and history shape patent system politics. Clashes over whose voices and which values matter in the patent system, as well as what counts as knowledge and whose expertise is important, look quite different in these two places. And through these debates, the United States and Europe are developing very different approaches to patent and innovation governance. Not just the first comprehensive look at the controversies swirling around biotechnology patents, Patent Politics is also the first in-depth analysis of the political underpinnings and implications of modern patent systems, and provides a timely analysis of how we can reform these systems around the world to maximize the public interest.
Join us on June 23  from 4-6 pm [elsewhere the time is listed at 4-7 pm] for a discussion on the role of the patent system in governing emerging technologies, on the launch of Shobita Parthasarathy’s Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe (University of Chicago Press, 2017).
You can find more information such as this on the Patent Politics event page,
Award-Winning Journalist National Public Radio Author of “Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions”
For those who cannot attend in person, there will be a live webcast. If you can be there in person, you can RSVP here (Note: The time frame for the event is listed in some places as 4-7 pm.) I cannot find any reason for the time frame disparity. My best guess is that the discussion is scheduled for two hours with a one hour reception afterwards for those who can attend in person.
A classicist, biologist and computer scientist all walk into a room — what comes next isn’t the punchline but a new method to analyze relationships among ancient Latin and Greek texts, developed in part by researchers from The University of Texas at Austin.
Their work, referred to as quantitative criticism, is highlighted in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper identifies subtle literary patterns in order to map relationships between texts and more broadly to trace the cultural evolution of literature.
“As scholars of the humanities well know, literature is a system within which texts bear a multitude of relationships to one another. Understanding what is distinctive about one text entails knowing how it fits within that system,” said Pramit Chaudhuri, associate professor in the Department of Classics at UT Austin. “Our work seeks to harness the power of quantification and computation to describe those relationships at macro and micro levels not easily achieved by conventional reading alone.”
In the study, the researchers create literary profiles based on stylometric features, such as word usage, punctuation and sentence structure, and use techniques from machine learning to understand these complex datasets. Taking a computational approach enables the discovery of small but important characteristics that distinguish one work from another — a process that could require years using manual counting methods.
“One aspect of the technical novelty of our work lies in the unusual types of literary features studied,” Chaudhuri said. “Much computational text analysis focuses on words, but there are many other important hallmarks of style, such as sound, rhythm and syntax.”
Another component of their work builds on Matthew Jockers’ literary “macroanalysis,” which uses machine learning to identify stylistic signatures of particular genres within a large body of English literature. Implementing related approaches, Chaudhuri and his colleagues have begun to trace the evolution of Latin prose style, providing new, quantitative evidence for the sweeping impact of writers such as Caesar and Livy on the subsequent development of Roman prose literature.
“There is a growing appreciation that culture evolves and that language can be studied as a cultural artifact, but there has been less research focused specifically on the cultural evolution of literature,” said the study’s lead author Joseph Dexter, a Ph.D. candidate in systems biology at Harvard University. “Working in the area of classics offers two advantages: the literary tradition is a long and influential one well served by digital resources, and classical scholarship maintains a strong interest in close linguistic study of literature.”
Unusually for a publication in a science journal, the paper contains several examples of the types of more speculative literary reading enabled by the quantitative methods introduced. The authors discuss the poetic use of rhyming sounds for emphasis and of particular vocabulary to evoke mood, among other literary features.
“Computation has long been employed for attribution and dating of literary works, problems that are unambiguous in scope and invite binary or numerical answers,” Dexter said. “The recent explosion of interest in the digital humanities, however, has led to the key insight that similar computational methods can be repurposed to address questions of literary significance and style, which are often more ambiguous and open ended. For our group, this humanist work of criticism is just as important as quantitative methods and data.”
The paper is the work of the Quantitative Criticism Lab (www.qcrit.org), co-directed by Chaudhuri and Dexter in collaboration with researchers from several other institutions. It is funded in part by a 2016 National Endowment for the Humanities grant and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, awarded in 2016 to Chaudhuri to further his education in statistics and biology. Chaudhuri was one of 12 scholars selected for the award, which provides humanities researchers the opportunity to train outside of their own area of special interest with a larger goal of bridging the humanities and social sciences.
Here’s another link to the paper along with a citation,
Quantitative criticism of literary relationships by Joseph P. Dexter, Theodore Katz, Nilesh Tripuraneni, Tathagata Dasgupta, Ajay Kannan, James A. Brofos, Jorge A. Bonilla Lopez, Lea A. Schroeder, Adriana Casarez, Maxim Rabinovich, Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, and Pramit Chaudhuri. PNAS Published online before print April 3, 2017, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1611910114