Tag Archives: Canadian

Canadian nano in Ontario; Germany’s position on labeling cosmetics as nano products; combing quantum tangles; 1st undergraduate nanoscale science studies programme in US

Today I have a lot of short news bits. First, there’s some Canadian nanotechnology news. The Ontario government is investing $3.8M in Vive Nano and its environmentally friendly process for creating nano materials and products. The funding is being disbursed through the Ontario government’s Innovation Demonstration Fund.

I took a look at Vive Nano’s website and it’s short on detail. They make the claim that their products are environmentally friendly without substantiating it. On the plus side, there’s a very descriptive video about their process for developing nanoparticles which you can access by selecting ‘our technology’ from the ‘what we do’ pulldown menu on the home page. (If you want to read more details from the news item on Nanowerk, go here.)

I was surprised to find out that Germany had resisted the European Union’s new requirements to label nanotechnology-derived ingredients in cosmetics and beauty products as such. From the news item on Nanwerk,

One of the key elements of the new streamlined laws is a clause requiring companies to print the word ‘nano’ in brackets after any ingredient which is smaller than 100 nanometres in size.
“All ingredients present in the form of nanomaterials shall be clearly indicated in the list of ingredients,” according to the new legislation.
However, Germany took the view (pdf download) that highlighting the fact that a product contains nanomaterials could be viewed by consumers as a warning.
German officials noted that cosmetic products that are for sale in the EU must already pass stringent safety tests, implying that the inclusion of nano-scale materials should not warrant additional scrutiny.

I believed there was more unanimity of thought regarding labeling and concerns about health and safety regarding emerging technologies in the European Union (EU). In hindsight, I suspect that’s because most of the material I read about the EU is written after the discussions and disagreements have been resolved or smoothed over in some way.

I’ve been wondering where the metaphors have disappeared to in the last few months as the nanotechnology announcements contain fewer and fewer of them. Happily I found a new one the other day. From the news item (Straightening messy correlations with a quantum comb) on Nanowerk,

Quantum computing promises ultra-fast communication, computation and more powerful ways to encrypt sensitive information. But trying to use quantum states as carriers of information is an extremely delicate business. Now two physicists have shown, mathematically, how to gently tease out unwanted knots in quantum communication, while keeping the information intact.

The scientist as a hairdresser? Teasing and combing out knots? It’s very different from the more usual science fiction reference and it hints at creativity (good hairdressers are creative).

The University of Albany is really pulling out all the stops lately. In addition to their NANOvember events they have just announced the first undergraduate programme for nanoscale science studies in the US. From the news item on Nanowerk,

The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (“CNSE”) of the University at Albany announced today that it is now accepting applications for admission to its groundbreaking undergraduate program, which represents the nation’s first comprehensive baccalaureate curriculum in Nanoscale Science.

As I commented in a previous posting (Nov.9.2009), IBM did invest $1.5B into New York state for a nano research centre and it would seem that this new university programme is very well set to provide future employees.

One more thing, girl scouts. 200 of them were hosted by the CNSE in a Nano Explorations Program. From the news item on Nanowerk,

The event was part of CNSE’s celebration of NANOvember, a month-long community and educational outreach initiative that includes a series of programs and activities highlighting the increasing impact of nanotechnology and the global leadership of the UAlbany NanoCollege in the most important science of the 21st century. The event included a presentation on the emerging science of nanotechnology and the career opportunities it offers; hands-on activities that showcased the role of nanotechnology research and development, with a special focus on clean and renewable energy technologies; a gowning demonstration that illustrated how researchers prepare to work in CNSE’s state-of-the-art cleanrooms; and tours of CNSE’s Albany NanoTech Complex, with tools and facilities that are unmatched at any university in the world.

What really impresses me with the NANOvember programming is the range and imagination they’ve used to communicate about nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology strategies everywhere except Canada; Visible Verse 2009; OECD workshops on nanotech in developing world

There’s an article by Michael Berger on Nanowerk titled, European strategy for nanotechnology and the nanotechnology Action Plan, where he outlines the European Union’s approach to creating a strategy, contrasts it in a few asides (launching potshots at the Europeans) with the US approach, and provides some handy links. Coincidentally there’s a news item on Nanowerk about RUSNANO (the Russian publicly funded nanotech investment agency) visiting Sweden. From the news item,

A RUSNANO delegation headed by CEO Anatoly Chubais will visit Sweden on November 19-20, 2009 to study the support that government offers for innovative developments, share with Sweden’s business and scientific communities the goals and principles that guide RUSNANO’s activities and discuss opportunities to collaborate in commercialization of nanotechnologies with their Swedish counterparts.

Canada hosted RUSNANO a few months back for similar purposes but interestingly there was no mention of studying “the support that government offers for innovative developments … ” and I’m not sure if it’s because there isn’t a support framework, official or otherwise, in Canada or if they failed to mention it in the news release. (I strongly suspect the former.) I blogged here about RUSNANO’s visit to Canada at the time.

Taking Sweden and the UK as examples, it would seem that European countries have both a European Union framework and an individual country framework for nanotechnology. The US has its National Nanotechnology Initiative (in place since 2000). China will provide some sort of insight into its nanotechnology plans via its road map series which I mentioned briefly here. Canada remains mute. You can view the National Institute of Nanotechnology’s website but you’d be hard pressed to find any details about an overall strategy for nanotechnology scientific research, public engagement, business support, education, social impact  etc. (Despite the institute’s name that’s probably not in their scope of responsibilities but I can’t find that information anywhere.) You will find a list of the institute’s research areas but you won’t find an overview of the Canadian nanotech research scene or much of anything else (to date they have distributed three news releases in 2009 and none in 2008 but 2007 was a banner year, there were four).

For a brief respite from the nano, Heather Haley’s See the Voice: Visible Verse 2009 (video poetry festival) is being held tonight (Thursday, November 19, 2009) at Pacific Cinematheque at 7:30 pm, 1131 Howe St. Vancouver, Canada. You can buy tickets or read more about it here.

Back to the international nanotechnology front: The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research) are holding joint nanotechnology awareness workshops for transitional and developing countries. You can read more about them in the news item on Nanowerk.

Edited at 3:05 pm PST, Nov. 19.09 to change electronic poetry to video poetry.

Pop culture, science communication, and nanotechnology

A few years back I wrote a paper for the  Cascadia Nanotech Symposium (March 2007 held in Vancouver) called: Engaging Nanotechnology: pop culture, media, and public awareness. I was reminded it of a few days ago when I saw a mention on Andrew Maynard’s, 2020 Science blog about a seminar titled, Biopolitics of Popular Culture being held in Irvine, California on Dec. 4, 2009 by the Institute of Ethics for Emerging Technologies. (You can read more of Andrew’s comments here or you can check out the meeting details here.) From the meeting website,

Popular culture is full of tropes and cliches that shape our debates about emerging technologies. Our most transcendent expectations for technology come from pop culture, and the most common objections to emerging technologies come from science fiction and horror, from Frankenstein and Brave New World to Gattaca and the Terminator.

Why is it that almost every person in fiction who wants to live a longer than normal life is evil or pays some terrible price? What does it say about attitudes towards posthuman possibilities when mutants in Heroes or the X-Men, or cyborgs in Battlestar Galactica or Iron Man, or vampires in True Blood or Twilight are depicted as capable of responsible citizenship?

Is Hollywood reflecting a transhuman turn in popular culture, helping us imagine a day when magical and muggle can live together in a peaceful Star Trek federation? Will the merging of pop culture, social networking and virtual reality into a heightened augmented reality encourage us all to make our lives a form of participative fiction?

During this day long seminar we will engage with culture critics, artists, writers, and filmmakers to explore the biopolitics that are implicit in depictions of emerging technology in literature, film and television.

I’m not sure what they mean by biopolitics, especially after the lecture I attended at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus last night (Nov. 12, 2009), Liminal Livestock. Last night’s lecture by Susan Squier highlighted (this is oversimplified) the relationship between women and chickens in the light of reproductive technologies.  From the lecture description,

Adapting SubRosa Art Collective’s memorable question, this talk asks: “What does it mean, to feminism and to agriculture, that women are like chickens and chickens are like women?” As liminal livestock, chickens play a central role in our gendered agricultural imaginary: the zone where we find the “speculative, propositional fabric of agricultural thought.” Analyzing several children’s stories, a novel, and a documentary film, the talk seeks to discover some of the factors that help to shape the role of women in agriculture, and the role of agriculture in women’s lives.

Squier did also discuss reproductive technologies at some length although it’s not obvious from the description that the topic will arise. She discussed the transition of chicken raising as a woman’s job to a man’s job which coincided with the rise of  chicken factory farms. Squier also noted the current interest in raising chickens in city and suburban areas without speculating on possible cultural impacts.

The lecture covered  selective breeding and the shift of university  poultry science departments from the study of science to the study of increasing chicken productivity, which led to tampering with genes and other reproductive technologies. One thing I didn’t realize is that chicken eggs are used for studies on human reproduction. Disturbingly, Squier talked to an American scientist, whose work concerns human reproduction, who moved to Britain because the chicken eggs are of such poor quality in the US.

The relationship between women and chickens was metaphorical and illustrated through popular children’s stories and pop culture artifacts (i.e. poultry beauty pageants featuring women not chickens) in a way that would require reproducing far more of the lecture than I can here. So if you are interested, I understand that Squier does have a book about women and chickens being published although I can’t find a publication date.

Squier’s lecture and the meeting for the Institute of Ethics for Emerging Technologies present different ways of integrating pop culture elements into the discussion about science and emerging technologies. Since I’m tooting my horn, I’m going to finish with my thoughts on the matter as written in my Cascadia Nanotechnology Symposium paper,

The process of accepting, rejecting, or changing new sciences and new technologies seems more akin to a freewheeling, creative conversation with competing narratives than a transfer of information from experts to nonexperts as per the science literacy model.

The focus on establishing how much awareness the public has about nanotechnology by measuring the number of articles in the newspaper or items in the broadcast media or even tracking the topic in the blogosphere is useful as one of a set of tools.

Disturbing as it is to think that it could be used for purely manipulative purposes, finding out how people develop their attitudes towards new technologies and the interplay between cognition, affect, and values has the potential to help us better understand ourselves and our relationship to the sciences. (In this paper, the terms science and technology are being used interchangeably, as is often the case with nanotechnology.)

Pop culture provides a valuable view into how nonexperts learn about science (books, television, etc.) and accept technological innovations (e.g. rejecting the phonograph as a talking book technology but accepting it for music listening).

There is a collaborative and interactive process at the heart of the nanotechnology ‘discussion’. For example, Drexler appears to be responding to some of his critics by revising some of his earlier suppositions about how nanotechnology would work. Interestingly, he also appears to be downplaying his earlier concerns about nanoassemblers running amok and unleashing the ‘goo’ scenario on us all. (BBC News, June 9, 2004)

In reviewing all of the material about communicating science, public attitudes, and values, one thing stands out: time. Electricity was seen by some as deeply disturbing to the cosmic forces of the universe. There was resistance to the idea for decades and, in some cases (the Amish), that resistance lives on. Despite all this, there is not a country in the world today that doesn’t have electricity.

One final note: I didn’t mean to suggest the inexorable adoption of any and all technologies, my intent was to point out the impossibility of determining a technology’s future adoption or rejection by measuring contemporary attitudes, hostile or otherwise.

’nuff said for today. Happy weekend!

Cloud project for London 2012 Olympics includes Umberto Eco?; University of Toronto researchers work on nano nose; Nano safety research centre in Scotland

Shades of the 19th century! One of the teams competing to build a 2012 Olympics tourist attraction for London’s east end has proposed digital clouds. According to the article (Digital cloud plan for city skies) by Jonathan Fildes, online here at BBC News,

The construction would include 120m- (400ft-) tall mesh towers and a series of interconnected plastic bubbles that can be used to display images and data.

The Cloud, as it is known, would also be used [as] an observation deck and park

The idea of displaying images and data on clouds isn’t entirely new,

… the prospect of illuminated messages on the slate of the heavens … most fascinated experts and layman. “Imagine the effect,” speculated the Electrical Review [Dec. 31, 1892], “if a million people saw in gigantic characters across the clouds such words as ‘BEWARE OF PROTECTION’ and “FREE TRADE LEADS TO H–L!”

(The passage is from Carolyn Marvin’s book, When old technologies were new.) I’m not sure what protection refers to but the reference to free trade still feels fresh.

I always find technology connections to the past quite interesting as similar ideas pop up independently from time to time and I’d be willing to bet the 2012 cloud team has no idea that displaying messages on clouds had been proposed as far back as the 1890s.

The current project has some interesting twists. The team is proposing to fund it with micro-donations from millions of people. From the BBC article,

“It’s really about people coming together to raise the Cloud,” Carlo Ratti, one of the architects behind the design from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) told BBC News.

“We can build our Cloud with £5m or £50m. The flexibility of the structural system will allow us to tune the size of the Cloud to the level of funding that is reached.”

The size of the structure will evolve depending on the number of contributions, he said.

The cloud will not consume power from the city’s grid.

“Many tall towers have preceded this, but our achievement is the high degree of transparency, the minimal use of material and the vast volume created by the spheres,” said professor Joerg Schleich, the structural engineer behind the towers.

Professor Schleich was responsible for the Olympic Stadium in Munich as well as numerous lightweight towers built to the same design as the Cloud.

The structure would also be used to harvest all the energy it produces according to Professor Ratti.

“It would be a zero power cloud,” he said.

The team in addition to designers, scientists, and engineers includes Umberto Eco, a philosopher, semiotician, novelist, medievalist, and literary critic.

Yes, they have a writer on the team for a truly interdisciplinary approach. Or not. Eco may have lent his name to the project and not been an active participant. Still, I’m much encouraged by Eco’s participation (regardless of the amount or type) in this project as I think writers have, for the most part, been fusty and slow to engage with the changes we’re all experiencing.

At the University of Toronto (U of T), researchers are working on a project that they hope will be of interest to NASA ([US] National Aeronautics and Space Administration). From the news item on Azonano,

Thankfully, there is no failure to launch at U of T’s new electron beam nanolithography facility where researchers are already developing smaller-than-tiny award-winning devices to improve disease diagnoses and enhance technology that impacts fields as varied as space exploration, the environment, health care and information and media technologies.

One of these novel nano-devices, being developed by PhD student Muhammad Alam, is an optical nose that is capable of detecting multiple gases. Alam hopes it will be used by NASA one day.

Alam is working on a hydrogen sensor which can be used to detect the gas. Hydrogen is used in many industries and its use is rising so there is great interest in finding ways to handle it more safely and effectively. As for NASA, sometimes those rockets don’t get launched because they detect a hydrogen leak that didn’t actually happen. The U of T ‘nose’ promises to be more reliable than the current sensors in use.

Scotland is hosting one of the first nanomaterials research centres in the UK. From the news item on Nanowerk,

Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland officially launched the new centre today (Wednesday, November 11) at Edinburgh Napier’s Craighouse Campus.
She said: “Given the widespread use of nanomaterials in [a] variety of everyday products, it is essential for us to fully understand them and their potential impacts. This centre is one of the first in the UK to bring together nano-science research across human, environment, reproductive health and microbiology to ensure the safe and sustainable ongoing use of nanotechnology.”
Director of the Centre for Nano Safety, Professor Vicki Stone said: “Nanomaterials are used in a diverse range of products from medicines and water purifiers to make-up, food, paints, clothing and electronics. It is therefore essential that we fully understand their longterm impact. We are dedicated to understanding the ongoing health and environmental affects of their use and then helping shape future policy for their development. The launch of this new centre is a huge step forward in this important area of research.”

It’s hard to see these initiatives (I mentioned more in yesterday’s [Nov. 10, 2009] posting) in the UK and Europe and not contrast them harshly with the Canadian scene. There may be large scale public engagement, public awareness, safety initiatives, etc. for nanotechnology in Canada but nobody is giving out any information about it.

Industrial production of carbon nanotubes?; Portland Art Museum’s China exhibit; scientific business not a good idea

We hear a lot of hype about all the new products and materials that nanotechnology will make possible for us but it’s always at some unspecified future date or  something like ‘it will come to market in three to five years or, five to seven years’.  I’m still waiting for self-cleaning windows which, as far as I know, no one has promised to bring market at any time (sigh). There is a ray of light regarding new carbon nanotube-based materials according to an article by Michael Berger on Nanowerk. From the article,

For years now, nanotechnology researchers have been promising us carbon nanotubes as the basis for numerous breakthrough applications such as multifunctional high-strength fibres, coatings and transparent conducting films. Not to mention as a cure for cancer (see “Horeradish, carbon nanotubes and cancer therapy”) and a solution to the energy crisis. … CNTs are notoriously difficult to work with and, because researchers haven’t found efficient ways yet to assemble them, the resulting materials demonstrate only a small fraction of the possible single-object properties of CNTs. …

New research reported this week has now established an industrially relevant process for assembling carbon nanotubes that allows them to efficiently be made into fibers, coatings and films – the basic forms of material that can be used in engineering applications.

With the possibility of producing carbon nanotubes on a large scale, I would imagine some folks will be curious about health & safety and environmental issues. On occasion I’ve included information about research on carbon nanotubes and their resemblance to asbestos fibres. These carbon nanotubes are multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) and the ones being made ready for industrial purposes in Berger’s article are single-walled CNTs. I have not come across anything yet which suggests that single-walled CNTs resemble asbestos fibres.

Back to China. The Portland (Oregon) Art Museum has a major exhibit called China Design Now according to an article by Steve McCallion, The Portland Art Museum Transforms an Art Exhibition into a Social Platform, in Fast Company. From the article,

As I mentioned in previous posts, the Portland Art Museum brought China Design Now, the London Victoria & Albert exhibit, to Portland to attract a new audience and elevate Portland’s cultural discourse to a global level. The exhibition documents China’s impressive advancement in graphics, fashion and design over the last 20 years. In my last post  I discussed how the Portland Art Museum used story and metaphor to make the exhibition even more meaningful. The museum’s most significant innovation, however, is not in the content of the exhibition–it’s the museum experience itself.

I’m very enthused about this and would dearly love to get to Portland to experience the various shows, that’s right plural–shows not show. The museum folks encouraged artists and people working in galleries to put on their own shows as part of a larger dialog for Portland. The art museum also extended itself online,

To extend community involvement online, the museum created CDNPDX.org where sixteen different blog editors from the community contribute content and editorial perspectives daily. They are not museum employees, but people from the community that have insight into China and/or design, and are willing to contribute to the discourse for free.

While including potentially offensive underground comics and “amateur” art may make some traditional museum-goers uncomfortable, the museum believes that inviting people to be part of the experience is necessary to remain relevant and worth the risk.

Meanwhile at the Vancouver Art Gallery, we continue with the traditional art museum experience (sigh).

Following my concerns about introducing scientific methods into government bureaucracies, I found this somewhat related article by Linda Tischler (in Fast Company) about scientific methods in business. From the article, a portion of the interview with Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto,

Martin: Well, yes. With every good thing in life, there’s often a dark shadow. The march of science is good, and corporations are being run more scientifically. But what they analyze is the past. And if the future is not exactly like the past, or there are things happening that are hard to measure scientifically, they get ignored. Corporations are pushing analytical thinking so far that it’s become unproductive. The future has no legitimacy for analytical thinkers.

Fast Company: What’s the alternative?

Martin: New ideas must come from a new kind of thinking. The American pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce called it abductive logic. It’s a logical leap of the mind that you can’t prove from past data.

Fast Company: I can’t see many CEOs being comfortable with that!

Martin: Why not? The scientific method starts with a hypothesis. It’s often what happens in the shower or when an apple hits you on the head. It’s what we call ‘intuitive thinking.’ Its purpose is to know without explicit reasoning.

I’m relieved to see that Martin points out that scientific thinking does require creativity but his point that things which are hard to measure scientifically get ignored is well taken. While scientific breakthroughs often arise from a creative leap, the work (using the scientific method) to achieve that leap is painstaking and the narratives within the field tend to ignore the creative element. This is almost the opposite of an artistic or creative endeavour which also requires a creative leap and painstaking work to achieve but where narrative focuses primarily on the creative.

The scientific method for many is considered to be  rigorously objective and inspires a certain faith (at times, religious in its intensity). It is a tool and a very effective tool in some, not all, situations. After all, you use a hammer ti build something with a nail, you don’t use it to paint your walls.

As for the Thomson Reuters report on China, I tried but had no joy when trying to retrieve it.

Butterfly wings inspire nanotechnology; Canadian nanoscience and business breakthrough?; Visible Verse

The iridescence and colours that you see on butterflies and other insects result from  nanoscale structures not pigment as was believed previously. From a news item on Azonano,

Insects’ colours and their iridescence (the ability to change colours depending on the angle) or their ability to appear metallic are determined by tiny nano-sized photonic structures (1 nanometre=10-9 m) which can be found in their cuticle. Scientists have focused on these biostructures to develop devices with light emitting properties that they have just presented in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

A joint team of researchers from the State University of Pennsylvania and the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid have developed a new technique for replicating these structures. From another news item on Azonano about the same research,

Up to now, the methods used to replicate biostructures on a nanometric scale have been limited, often damaging the original biostructure because of the high temperatures and toxic, corrosive substances that were applied.

The new method uses a normal temperature and avoids toxins.

Potential uses for this material (if and when it comes to market) include covers that maximize solar light cell absorption and optical diffusers, as well as, other optically active structures. What I found most intriguing is that the scientists have replicated the colours and iridescence that we see on butterfly wings and insects. I would imagine then that these structures will be quite beautiful (assuming the materials retain those properties at sizes much larger than butterflies and insects) and the aesthetics could help to increase consumer interest in solar cells.

There’s an interesting article (Canada strikes nanotech gold)  in Canadian Business by Rosie Lombardi about FP Innovations and a new material, NanoCrystalline Cellulose, which the company is readying for the market. I suspect FP could stand for ‘forest products although I couldn’t confirm it from viewing their website although the company tag line is highly suggestive, Creating forest sector solutions.

From the article,

Although the concept of NCC has been around for decades and its source — any kind of tree — is abundant, Berry and his team have cracked the code in developing a process to produce large-scale quantities economically.

NCC has many unusual properties, in addition to having all the biodegradable attributes associated with its cellulose source.  Materials scientists are in awe of NCC’s extraordinary potential due to its strength, optical properties, conductivity, reactivity, self-assembling, anti-microbial, self-cleaning and bio-compatibility characteristics. “NCC is beautiful,” says Orlando Rojas, chair of the American Chemical Society.

Design plans for a plant have been developed by NORAM Engineering +  Constructors,  a Vancouver-based company, and three Canadian forestry companies are currently vying for the right to host the federally-funded facility (competition results should be announced by the end of 2009).

Why all the excitement from forest companies? From the article,

But it’s hard-nosed economic imperatives, not just green goodwill, that are driving the battered forestry sector to pour millions into research for new products that may ensure its survival.

Over the past two years, the Canadian forestry sector lost 50,000 jobs and more than 250 mills closed or suspended operations, according to Avrim Lazar, CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

The sector has been bleeding red ink since 2006, says Craig Campbell, leader of the Canadian forestry group at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “It’s been hard hit by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Most of our lumber goes to the U.S. but housing starts were down 75% last winter. And newsprint is another key area: demand has been contracting every quarter since 9/11.”

As a result, the forestry industry is looking to transform itself by switching its focus beyond tissue paper and two-by-fours to producing higher-value materials with advanced technology.

I’ve commented before about Canadians being seen as ‘drawers of water and hewers of wood’ and so I find this development is very much in line with our history.  From the article,

Having conquered the science and start-up issues, Canadian researchers now have yet another mountain to climb. The real hurdles in developing NCC’s potential lie in economics, and the complicated realm of working with other industries outside the familiar confines of the forestry sector to develop new industrial applications.

To facilitate cross-industry development, a new R&D network called ArboraNano was set up this year through Industry Canada’s Business-led Centres of Excellence program. The initiative received $8.9 million in funding over four years, and is working with industry partners such as Bell Helicopter and Kruger, and scientists at McGill and other universities to develop and test new materials made with NCC for various industries.

Canada is doing a lot of things right, says Jones. [Phil Jones, Atlanta-based director of new ventures at IMERYS Mineral Ltd.] “Supporting the application development side is the critical bit. People talk about the valley of death: university guys spin out ideas, and then industry has to commercialize them. But that part is enormously expensive, and the five-year payback is usually low. Anyone in industry doing this is punished by Wall Street.”

I think Canadians support companies through their ‘valley of death’ stage quite well. We just don’t grow the companies afterward; we sell them, which contributes in part to the lack of  industrial innovation in Canada. No company gets big enough to support a large industrial laboratory.

Kudos to Rosie Lombardi for an exciting and hopeful article. Do read the article, there’s a lot I couldn’t include here.

My nitpicks have nothing to do with the writer but I would like to have seen some information about health and safety and environmental issues as per NCC production and some scientific information about NCC. I expect the magazine, Canadian Business, does not encourage forays into topics that are not usually considered part of the business scene but if business is based on economics, then health, safety, and environmental concerns are important and ignored economic issues in many business magazines. As for more science information, I have to admit that’s my personal preference.

Heather Haley’s annual videopoetry festival, See the Voice: Visible Verse 2009 will take place on November 19, 2009, 7:30 pm at Pacific Cinematheque (1131 Howe St., Vancouver, Canada). You can read more about the festival here. This year, in addition to the short videos, the festival features a live performance by Gabrielle Everall from Australia.

Is science superior?

In yesterday’s posting (Oct. 29, 2009), I started to dissect a comment from Bruce Alberts’ (keynote speaker) speech at the Canadian Science Policy Conference that’s taking place this week in Toronto (find link to conference in yesterday’s posting). He suggested that more scientists should be double-trained, e.g. as scientist-journalists; scientist-lawyers; etc. He also pointed to China as a shining example of how scientists and engineers can be integrated into the government bureaucracy and their use of scientific methods to run their departments.

Speaking as someone who is fascinated by science, I am taken aback.  Science and scientists have done some wonderful things but they’ve also created some awful problems. The scientific method in and of itself is not perfect and it cannot be applied to all of life’s problems. Let’s take for example, economics. That’s considered a science and given the current state of the world economy, it would seem that this science has failed. The former head of the US Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, admitted that in all his figurings he failed to take into account human nature. That’s a problem in economics–all those beautiful algorithms don’t include behaviour as a factor.

Even sciences that study behaviour, social sciences, have a far from perfect understanding of human behaviour. Marketers who draw heavily from the social sciences have yet to find the perfect formula for selling products.

As for China appointing a world-renown molecular biologist (Chen Zhu) as their Minister of Health, I hope he does well but it won’t be because he has applied the techniques and managements skills he’s used successfully in laboratories. In medicine, any clinician will tell you that there’s a big difference between the results from research done in a laboratory (and in controlled human clinical trials) and the outcome when that research is applied to a general population. As for management skills, directing people who have similar training is a lot easier than directing people who have wildly dissimilar educational backgrounds and perspectives. (Professional vocabularies can provide some distinct challenges.)

I guess it’s the lack of humility in the parts of the speech Rob Annan (Don’t leave Canada behind blog) has posted that troubles me. (I’ve been to these types of conferences and have observed this lack on previous occasions and with different speakers.)

As for scientists becoming double-trained, that’s not unreasonable but I think it should go the other way as well. I think science and scientists have something to learn from society. What Alberts is describing is an unequal relationship, where one form of knowledge and thought process is privileged over another.

I’ll get started on Day 2 of this conference (Preston Manning was one of the keynote speakers) on Monday, Nov. 2, 2009.