Tag Archives: Ira Flatow

Drag artists making science more accessible

I can remember kids describing science (and mathematics too) as a drag never imagining this, “Meet The Drag Artists Who Are Making Science More Accessible,” a 17 – 20 min. segment on the Science Friday (SciFri ) radio programme (broadcast on US National Public Radio).

Luckily, there’s a webpage devoted to the segment where you’ll find all kinds of interesting tidbits like this (Note: Links have been removed),

Each generation has had science communicators who brought a sometimes stuffy, siloed subject into homes, inspiring minds young and old. Scientists like Don Herbert, Carl Sagan, and Bill Nye are classic examples. But our modern age of social media has brought more diverse communicators into the forefront of science communication, including the wild, wonderful world of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] drag stars.

These are queer folk who mix the flashy fashions of the drag world with science education. Some, like Kyne, use TikTok as a medium to teach concepts like math. Others, like Pattie Gonia, use drag to attract more people to the great outdoors. The accessibility of the internet has made these personalities available to a wide audience.

Kyne and Pattie Gonia join Ira [SciFri host Ira Flatow] to talk about the magic drag can bring to science education, and why they think the future of SciComm looks more diverse than the past.

You’ll find images similar to this one of Pattie Gonia in the SciFri article,

This dress is trash—in a good way. With the help of recycling, one queen’s trash is Pattie Gonia’s treasure. Credit: Pattie Gonia [downloaded from https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/science-friday/segments/science-advisor-resigns-covid-drug-treatments-science-drag-artists-feb-11-2022-part-1]

You can listen to the segment, read transcripts, watch videos, and find more information on the “Meet The Drag Artists Who Are Making Science More Accessible” webpage.

Quantum; an upcoming dance performance in Vancouver, Canada (1 of 2)

Oct. 16 – 18, 2014 are the Vancouver (Canada) dates when you can catch Compagnie Gilles Jobin performing its piece, Quantum, based on choreographer Gilles Jobin’s residency CERN (Europe’s particle physics laboratory). The Vancouver stop is part of a world tour which seems to have started in New York City (US) and San Francisco (US).

News flash: There is a special lecture by Gilles Jobin at TRIUMF, Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics at 11 am on Oct. 15, 2014 in the auditorium. Instructions for getting to TRIUMF can be found here.

Back to the tour, here’s what the dance company has planned for the rest of October and November (Chile is Chili, Brazil is Brésil, Switzerland is Suisse and Peru is Pérou in French), from the gillesjobin.com Tour webpage,

– 21 octobre
Festival Danzalborde – Centro Cultural Matucana 100 – Santiago de Chile – Chili

– 23 octobre
Festival Danzalborde – Parque Cultural de Valparaiso, Valparaiso – Chili

– 26 octobre
Bienal Internacional de dança do Ceará – Fortaleza – Brésil

– 29 et 30 octobre
En collaboration avec swissnex Brésil au Forum Internacional de dança FID, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil – Belo Horizonte – Brésil

– 2 novembre
En collaboration avec swissnex Brésil au Festival Panorama, Teatro Carlos Gomes – Rio de Janeiro – Brésil

– Du 6 au 9 novembre
Arsenic – Lausanne – Suisse

– Du 13 au 15 novembre
Arsenic – Lausanne – Suisse

– 21 et 22 novembre
Festival de Artes Escenicas de Lima FAEL – Teatro Municipal, Lima – Pérou

As ambitious as this touring programme seems, it can’t be any more ambitious than trying to represent modern physics in dance. Here’s more about Quantum from the (Vancouver) Dance Centre’s events page,

Art and science collide in QUANTUM, the result of Gilles Jobin’s artistic residency at the largest particle physics laboratory in the world – CERN in Geneva, where he worked with scientists to investigate principles of matter, gravity, time and space in relation to the body. Six dancers power through densely textured, sculptural choreography, to evoke the subtle balance of forces that shape our world. Illuminated by Julius von Bismarck’s light-activated kinetic installation built from industrial lamps, and accompanied by an electronic score by Carla Scaletti which incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, QUANTUM epitomizes the adventurous, searching spirit of artistic and scientific inquiry.

Response to the performances in New York City were interesting, that is to say, not rapturous but intriguing nonetheless. From an Oct. 3, 2014 review by Gia Kourlas for the New York Times,

Performed Thursday night [Oct. 2, 2014] at the Fishman Space at BAM Fisher — and included in the French Institute Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line festival — this spare 45-minute work is a duet of movement and light. Instead of dramaturges, there are scientific advisers. Jean-Paul Lespagnard’s jumpsuits reimagine particles as a densely patterned uniform of green, purple and white. (They’re cute in a space-camp kind of way.) Carla Scaletti’s crackling, shimmering score incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, CERN’s powerful particle accelerator.

But in “Quantum,” translating scientific ideas, however loosely, into dance vocabulary is where the trouble starts. A lunge is still a lunge.

Robert P Crease in an Oct. 7, 2014 posting (for Physics World on the Institute of Physics website) about one of the performances in New York City revealed something about his relationship to art/science and about Gilles Jobin’s work,

I’m fascinated by the interactions between science and culture, which is what led me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), which was hosting the US première of a dance piece called Quantum that had previously debuted where it had been created, at CERN. …

I ran into Gilles Jobin, who had choreographed Quantum during an artist’s residency at CERN. I asked him the following question: “If a fellow choreographer who knew nothing about the piece were to watch it, is there anything in the movement or structure of the work that might cause that person to say ‘That choreographer must have spent several months at a physics lab!’?” Gilles paused, then said “No.” The influence of the laboratory environment, he said, was in inspiring him to come up with certain kinds of what he called “movement generators”, or inspirations for the dancers to create their own movements. “For instance, all those symmetries – like ghost symmetries – that I didn’t even know existed!” he said. I asked him why he had chosen the work’s title. “I considered other names,” he said. “Basically, Quantum was just a convenient tag that referred to the context – the CERN laboratory environment – in which I had created the work.”

Jobin and Michael Doser (Senior research physicist at CERN) talked to Ira Flatow host of US National Public Radio’s (NPR) Science Friday programme in an Oct. 3, 2014 broadcast which is available as a podcast on the Dance and Physics Collide in ‘Quantum’ webpage. It’s fascinating to hear both the choreographer and one of the CERN scientists discussing Jobin’s arts residency and how they had to learn to talk to each other.

NPR also produced a short video highlighting moments from one of the performances and showcasing Jobin’s commentary,

Produced by Alexa Lim, Associate Producer (NPR, Science Friday)

The Dance Centre (Vancouver) has an Oct. 7, 2014 post featuring Jobin on its blog,

How did you get involved with dance?

I wanted to be an actor and thought it was a good idea to take dance classes. Later, back at acting classes I realized how comfortable I was with movement and uncomfortable with words. I must admit that I was a teenager at the time and the large majority of girls in the dance classes was also a great motivation…

Have you always been interested in science?

I was an arty kid that did not have any interest in science. I was raised in an artistic family – my father was a geometrical painter – I thought science was not for me. Art, literature, “soft” science, theatre, that was my thing. It was only at the age of 48, in one of the greatest laboratories there is, that I started to see that I could become “science able”. I realized that particle physics was not only about math, but also had great philosophical questions: that I could get the general sense of what was going down there and follow with passion the discovery. Science is like contemporary art, you need to find the door, but when you get in you can take everything on and make up your own mind about it without being a specialist or a geek.

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing?

Ski instructor!

Adding their own measure of excitement to this world tour of Quantum, the company’s dancers are producing videos of interviews with choreographers and dancers local to the city the company is visiting (from the What’s Up project page or the gillesjobin.com website),

WHAT’S UP est un projet des danseurs de la Cie Gilles Jobin : Catarina Barbosa, Ruth Childs, Susana Panadés Díaz, Bruno Cezario, Stanislas Charré et Denis Terrasse .

Dans chaque ville visitée pendant la tournée mondiale de QUANTUM, ils partent à la rencontre des danseurs/chorégraphes pour connaître le contexte de la danse contemporaine locale et partager leurs différentes réalités.

Retrouvez ici toutes les interviews

The latest interview is an Oct. 10, 2014 video (approximate 2 mins.) focusing on Katherine Hawthorne who in addition to being a dancer trained as a physicist.

Part 2 is based on an interview I had with Gilles Jobin on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014 an hour or so after his and his company’s flight landed in Vancouver.

Canadians and ‘smart’ Christmas trees

This isn’t my usual kind of thing but since it does involve Christmas trees, some science, and Canadians, why not? David Zax in his article, Scientists Build “Smart” Christmas Tree With Long-Lasting Needles and Fragrance (on the Fast Company website) writes,

We live in the era of smart grids, smart phones, smart entrepreneurs, and all other manners of smartness. It may be no surprise to learn, then, that we’re on our way towards having a “smart” Christmas tree–one capable of retaining its needles for twice the normal length of time.

That’s according to Dr. Raj Lada [Dr. Rajasekaran Lada], a plant physiologist at the Christmas Tree Research Centre at Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro. “The cutting edge is that we should have to have a tree,” Dr. Lada said on NPR, “which I call a smart tree.”

The idea came a few years ago when a devastated small-business owner called on Lada. The man was ruined: his entire crop of Christmas trees had already lost their needles. As Lada began to investigate, he learned that it wasn’t a blight or a disease that was likely to have caused this crop’s loss. Rather, it was a disorder common to many Christmas tree producers: trees often shed their needles quickly, and there was no consensus over how to fix the problem.

You can find the original interview (audio and transcript) on US National Public Radio here. From the transcript of the interview,

FLATOW [Ira Flatow, Science Friday, radio program host]: Raj, you have a new study that’s out now in the journal Trees, where you were able to make trees keep their needles twice as long as usual. How did you do that?

Dr. LADA: That’s true. We started with – I think the problem itself is widespread, basically. Some people talk about it, some people don’t. And it started with the producer, who sent a shipment of trees to Vancouver, B.C., and turned out to be all the needless dropped, and he has not even paid the check. So that is a severe problem.

And we looked at it as a scientific approach. And any of these physiological things now, any of these abscission or flowering, everything is regulated by hormonal changes in plants or trees, basically. And this is one of it, basically. But nobody knows about it. We didn’t even know that there is such a regulatory process.

FLATOW: Right.

Dr. LADA: We from our other herbaceous plants, like cotton and cut flowers and banana ripening, we know that there is a hormone that triggers and – that ages the cell and triggers the hormone level. And once the hormone level reaches to a certain point, that induces the organ shed, basically, the leaves or the fruits or flower petals or whatever it is that can abscise from their tree or plant.

FLATOW: So this is a natural hormone in the tree that sort of signals the tree to shed its needles.

Dr. LADA: Exactly. This is a natural hormone. We just call it the gaseous hormone. It’s (unintelligible) natural gaseous hormone that is produced by the plant cells, basically, in response to various factors. It could be environment. It could be physical, mechanical manipulations, or any abuse, basically.

FLATOW: What’s the name of the hormone?

Dr. LADA: It’s called ethylene.

The interview is quite interesting but the work has yet to move from the laboratory into the field, i.e., you can’t get a ‘smart’ Christmas tree this year. Still, Dr. Lada does have a tip for this year’s Christmas trees,

FLATOW: I see. And you have studied the effect of Christmas lights on trees?

Dr. LADA: Exactly. And that’s another very interesting story to tell about, especially in the Christmas time. The lights, what we used, you know, people think – sometimes, we turn off the lights, and we put on all kinds of lights, sometimes incandescent lights and sometimes fluorescent lights just on top, sometimes halogen lights beaming on the trees. It looks great, but they – each one of those light spectrum is so different physiologically, and they could alter these metabolic functions critically.

So what we identified was we tried to use the recent technology, which is the LED technology, which people use it on Christmas trees all the time. We tested different spectrums – white, blue, red spectrums. And also, we had a control, which were sitting in dark, and also one other control, which were sitting in the gentle, fluorescent light and incandescent light situations.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Dr. LADA: And we found that the white light has got nearly 30, 35 days better needle retention capacity compared to the dark-retained ones, or the controls with the normal lighting.

FLATOW: Wow. So did you get a whole extra month?

Dr. LADA: Oh, we have a whole extra month, basically. Significant…

FLATOW: With the white – with white – would that be like a full-spectrum light?

Dr. LADA: It is a full-spectrum LED, I would say

FLATOW: Wow. And that’s the is that part of the lights you would string on the trees?

Dr. LADA: That’s important to spring, keep that white light in there, basically, especially from the LEDs. You should put more of the white lights in there, basically, rather than the other spectrum.

FLATOW: And so…

Dr. LADA: In fact, the worst performer in our experiment was the blue.

FLATOW: Wow. And so that would seem to say to me that you don’t want to turn your lights off at night. You want to keep them…

Dr. LADA: Absolutely. You should not turn your lights off at night, basically. Because the reason why I’m suggesting is, as you keep them in dark, it started respiring more. And then it’ll use all its carbohydrates that are in the trees, basically. And then it’s – it can be starved to death, (unintelligible).

There you have it.