Tag Archives: National Research Council of Canada (NRC)

Making graphite from coal and a few graphite facts

Canada is the 10th largest (1.2%) producer of graphite in the world with China leading the way in the top spot at 68.1%. That’s right, 1.2% can get you into the top 10.

If you’re curious about which countries fill out the other eight spots, The National Research Council of Canada has a handy webpage titled, Graphite Facts,

Graphite is a non-metallic mineral that has properties similar to metals, such as a good ability to conduct heat and electricity. Graphite occurs naturally or can be produced synthetically. Purified natural graphite has higher crystalline structure and offers better electrical and thermal conductivity than synthetic material.

Among the many applications, natural and synthetic graphite are used for electrodes, refractories, batteries and lubricants and by foundries. Coated spherical graphite is used to manufacture the anode in lithium-ion batteries. High-grade graphite is also used in fuel cells, semiconductors, LEDs and nuclear reactors.

The Lac des Iles mine is the only mine in Canada that is producing graphite. However, many other companies are working on graphite projects.

Canada’s graphite shipments reached 11,937 tonnes in 2020, up slightly from 11,045 tonnes in 2020 [sic].

Global production and demand for graphite are anticipated to increase in the coming years, largely because of the use of graphite in the batteries of electric vehicles. In 2020, global consumption of graphite reached 2.7 million tonnes. Synthetic graphite accounted for about two-thirds of the graphite consumption, which was largely concentrated in Asia.

In 2020, the value of Canada’s exports of graphite was $31.6 million, a 9% decrease compared to the previous year. Imports also decreased in 2020, by 33% to $20.9 million.

Natural graphite accounted for 46.7% ($14.8 million) of the value of Canada’s exports of graphite and 13.5% ($2.8 million) of Canada’s imports of graphite in 2020. Synthetic graphite accounted for 53.3% ($ 16.9 million) of Canada’s exports of graphite and 86.5% ($18.0 million) of Canada’s imports of graphite in 2020.

In 2020, the United States was the primary destination for Canada’s exports of natural and synthetic graphite, accounting for 85% and 42% of the total exports, respectively.

I think the writer meant that shipments were up slightly from 2019. The page was last updated on February 4, 2022.

The news from Ohio

A June 10, 2022 news item on Nanowerk about research into a new type of graphite (Note: A link has been removed),

As the world’s appetite for carbon-based materials like graphite increases, Ohio University researchers presented evidence this week for a new carbon solid they named “amorphous graphite.”

Physicist David Drabold and engineer Jason Trembly started with the question, “Can we make graphite from coal?”

“Graphite is an important carbon material with many uses. A burgeoning application for graphite is for battery anodes in lithium-ion batteries, and it is crucial for the electric vehicle industry — a Tesla Model S on average needs 54 kg of graphite. Such electrodes are best if made with pure carbon materials, which are becoming more difficult to obtain owing to spiraling technological demand,” they write in their paper that published in Physical Review Letters (“Ab initio simulation of amorphous graphite”).

Ab initio means from the beginning, and their work pursues novel paths to synthetic forms of graphite from naturally occurring carbonaceous material. What they found, with several different calculations, was a layered material that forms at very high temperatures (about 3000 degrees Kelvin). Its layers stay together due to the formation of an electron gas between the layers, but they’re not the perfect layers of hexagons that make up ideal graphene. This new material has plenty of hexagons, but also pentagons and heptagons. That ring disorder reduces the electrical conductivity of the new material compared with graphene, but the conductivity is still high in the regions dominated largely by hexagons.

A June 10, 2022 Ohio University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, delves further into the research (Note: Links have been removed),

Not all hexagons

“In chemistry, the process of converting carbonaceous materials to a layered graphitic structure by thermal treatment at high temperature is called graphitization. In this letter, we show from ab initio and machine learning molecular dynamic simulations that pure carbon networks have an overwhelming proclivity to convert to a layered structure in a significant density and temperature window with the layering occurring even for random starting configurations. The flat layers are amorphous graphene: topologically disordered three-coordinated carbon atoms arranged in planes with pentagons, hexagons and heptagons of carbon,” said Drabold, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University.

“Since this phase is topologically disordered, the usual ‘stacking registry’ of graphite is only statistically respected,” Drabold said. “The layering is observed without Van der Waals corrections to density functional (LDA and PBE) forces, and we discuss the formation of a delocalized electron gas in the galleries (voids between planes) and show that interplane cohesion is partly due to this low-density electron gas. The in-plane electronic conductivity is dramatically reduced relative to graphene.”

The researchers expect their announcement to spur experimentation and studies addressing the existence of amorphous graphite, which may be testable from exfoliation and/or experimental surface structural probes.

Trembly, Russ Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology at Ohio University, has been working in part on green uses of coal. He and Drabold — along with physics doctoral students Rajendra Thapa, Chinonso Ugwumadu and Kishor Nepal — collaborated on the research. Drabold also is part of the Nanoscale & Quantum Phenomena Institute at OHIO, and he has published a series of papers on the theory of amorphous carbon and amorphous graphene. Drabold also emphasized the excellent work of his graduate students in carrying out this research.

Surprising interplane cohesion

“The question that led us to this is whether we could make graphite from coal,” Drabold said. “This paper does not fully answer that question, but it shows that carbon has an overwhelming tendency to layer — like graphite, but with many ‘defects’ such as pentagons and heptagons (five- and seven-member rings of carbon atoms), which fit quite naturally into the network. We present evidence that amorphous graphite exists, and we describe its process of formation. It has been suspected from experiments that graphitization occurs near 3,000K, but the details of the formation process and nature of disorder in the planes was unknown,” he added.

The Ohio University researchers’ work is also a prediction of a new phase of carbon.

“Until we did this, it was not at all obvious that layers of amorphous graphene (the planes including pentagons and heptagons) would stick together in a layered structure. I find that quite surprising, and it is likely that experimentalists will go hunting for this stuff now that its existence is predicted,” Drabold said. “Carbon is the miracle element — you can make life, diamond, graphite, Bucky Balls, nanotubes, graphene, [emphasis mine] and now this. There is a lot of interesting basic physics in this, too — for example how and why the planes bind, this by itself is quite surprising for technical reasons.”

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

Ab Initio Simulation of Amorphous Graphite by R. Thapa, C. Ugwumadu, K. Nepal, J. Trembly, and D. A. Drabold. Phys. Rev. Lett. 128, 236402 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.128.236402 Published 10 June 2022 © 2022 American Physical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

There is an earlier version of the paper which is open access at ArXiv (hosted by Cornell University),

[Submitted on 22 Feb 2022 (v1), last revised 23 Apr 2022 (this version, v2)]

Ab initio simulation of amorphous graphite by Rajendra Thapa, Chinonso Ugwumadu, Kishor Nepal, Jason Trembly, David Drabold

About graphite and Canadian mines

A July 25, 2011 posting marks the earliest appearance of graphite on this blog. Titled, “Canadians as hewers of graphite?” It featured Northern Graphite Corporation, which today (June 21, 2022) is the largest North American graphite producer according to the company’s homepage,

  • Only North American producer
  • Will be 3rd largest non-Chinese producer
  • Two large development projects
  • All projects:
    • In politically stable countries
    • Have “battery quality” graphite
    • Close to infrastructure

There’s also this from the company’s homepage,

Northern owns the Lac des Iles (LDI) mine in Quebec, the only significant graphite producer in North America. Northern plans to increase production and extend the mine life.

Northern is currently upgrading its Okorusu processing plant in Namibia. It will be back on line in 1H 2023 and make Northern the third largest non Chinese graphite producer.

Northern plans to develop its advanced stage Bissett Creek project in Ontario which has a full Feasibility Study. It has been rated as the highest margin graphite deposit in the world.

The Okanjande deposit in Namibia has a very large measured and indicated resource. Northern intends to study building a 150,000tpa plant to supply battery markets in Europe.

I notice the involvement in Namibia. I hope this is a ‘good’ mining company. Canadian mining companies have been known to breach human rights and environmental regulations when operating internationally. There’s a recent tragedy described in this June 20, 2020 news article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) online news site (Note: A link has been removed),

Trevali Mining Corp. says it has recovered the bodies of the final two of eight workers killed after its Perkoa Mine in Burkina Faso flooded following heavy rainfall on Apr. 16 [2022].

The bodies of the other six workers were recovered by search teams late last month.

The Vancouver-based zinc miner says it is working alongside Burkinabe authorities to coordinate the dewatering and rehabilitation of the mine.

The flooding event is under investigation by the company and government authorities.

MiningWatch Canada, an Ottawa-based industry watchdog, has questioned how well the company was prepared for disaster and criticized the federal government’s lack of regulations on how Canadian mining companies operate internationally. [emphasis mine]

They say tighter rules are necessary for companies operating abroad. 

A May 10, 2022 article by Amanda Follett Hosgood about the disaster for The Tyee provides more details and asks some very pertinent and uncomfortable questions. (Yes, The Tyee is a very ‘left wing’ journalistic effort and they have a point where Canadian mining companies are concerned.)

Getting back to Northern Graphite, there’s this from their Governance page,

Northern Graphite is committed to conducting its activities in a manner that meets best international industry practices regardless of the country or location of operation.  The Company will operate with the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and ethical behaviour.  It will conduct its business in a manner that meets or exceeds all applicable laws, rules, and regulations and meets its social and moral obligations.  This policy applies to all Board members, officers and other employees, contractors, and other third parties working on behalf of or representing the Company.

The company gets more specific, from their Governance page,

  1. Taking all reasonable precautions to ensure the health and safety of workers and others affected by the Company’s operations.
  2. Managing and minimizing the environmental impact of the Company’s operations by following best international practices and standards and meeting stakeholder expectations while recognizing that mining will always have some unavoidable impacts on the environment. 
  3. Utilizing practices and technologies that minimize the Company’s water and carbon footprints.
  4. Respecting the rights, culture and development of local and Indigenous communities.
  5. The elimination of fraud, bribery, and corruption.
  6.  The protection and respect of human rights.
  7. Providing an adequate return to shareholders and investors while ensuring that all stakeholders benefit from the extraction of the earth’s resources through fair labour and compensation practices, local hiring and contracting, community support, and the payment of all applicable government taxes and royalties.

There are two other Canadian mining companies (that I know of) in pursuit of graphite, Lomiko Metals (British Columbia) and Focus Graphite (Ontario). All the mines in Canada, whether they are producing or not, are in either Québec or Ontario.

As for the research team in Ohio, congratulations on your very exciting work!

Canada, quantum technology, and a public relations campaign?

Stephanie Simmons’ October 31, 2022 essay on quantum technology and Canada for The Conversation (h/t Nov.1.22 news item on phys.org) was a bit startling—not due to the content—but for the chosen communications vehicle. It’s the kind of piece i expect to find in the Globe and Mail or the National Post not The Conversation, which aspires to present in depth, accessible academic research and informed news stories (or so I thought). (See The Conversation (website) Wikipedia entry for more.)

Simmons (who is an academic) seems to have ‘written’ a run-of-the-mill public relations piece (with a good and accessible description of quantum encryption and its future importance) about Canada and quantum technology aimed at influencing government policy makers while using some magic words (Note: Links have been removed),

Canada is a world leader in developing quantum technologies and is well-positioned to secure its place in the emerging quantum industry.

Quantum technologies are new and emerging technologies based on the unique properties of quantum mechanics — the science that deals with the physical properties of nature on an atomic and subatomic level.

In the future, we’ll see quantum technology transforming computing, communications, cryptography and much more. They will be incredibly powerful, offering capabilities that reach beyond today’s technologies.

The potential impact of these technologies on the Canadian economy [emphasis mine] will be transformative: the National Research Council of Canada has identified quantum technology as a $142 billion opportunity that could employ 229,000 Canadians by 2040 [emphasis mine].

Canada could gain far-reaching economic and social benefits from the rapidly developing quantum industry, but it must act now to secure them — before someone else [emphasis mine] delivers the first large-scale quantum computer, which will likely be sooner than expected.

This is standard stuff, any professional business writer, after a little research, could have pulled the article together. But, it’s Stephanie Simmons whose academic titles (Associate Professor, SFU and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Silicon Quantum Technologies, Simon Fraser University) and position as founder and Chief Quantum Officer of Photonic, Inc. give her comments added weight. (For an academic, this is an unusual writing style [perhaps Simmons had some help?] and it better belongs in the newspapers I’ve previously cited.)

Simmons, having stoked a little anxiety with “it [Canada] must act now to secure them [economic and social benefits] — before someone else delivers the first large-scale quantum computer, which will likely be sooner than expected,” gets to her main points, from the October 31, 2022 essay,

To maintain its leadership, Canada needs to move beyond research and development and accelerate a quantum ecosystem that includes a strong talent pipeline, businesses supported by supply chains and governments and industry involvement. There are a few things Canada can do to drive this leadership:

Continue to fund quantum research: … The Canadian government has invested more than $1 billion since 2005 in quantum research and will likely announce a national quantum strategy soon [emphasis mine]. Canada must continue funding quantum research or risk losing its talent base and current competitive advantage. [Note: Canada has announced a national quantum strategy in both the 2021 and 2022 federal budgets See more under the ‘Don’t we already have a national quantum strategy? subhead]

Build our talent pipeline with more open immigration: …

Be our own best customers: Canadian companies are leading the way, but they need support [emphasis mine; by support, does she mean money?]. Quantum Industry Canada boasts of more than 30 member companies. Vancouver is home to the pioneering D-Wave and Photonic Inc., …

As noted in a previous post (July 26, 2022 titled “Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference [August 15 – 19, 2022] launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more”), all of this enthusiasm tends to come down to money, as in, ‘We will make money which will somehow benefit you but, first, we need more money from you’. As for the exhortation to loosen up immigration, that sounds like an attempt to exacerbate ‘brain drain’, i.e., lure people from other countries to settle in Canada. As a country whose brains were drained in the 1960s, 70s, etc., it should be noted those drives were deeply resented here and I expect that we will become objects of resentment should we resort to the same tactics although I thought we already had.

Same anxieties, same solution

Simmons concludes with a cautionary tale, from the October 31, 2022 essay, Note: Links have been removed,

Canada has an opportunity to break out of its pattern of inventing transformative technology, but not reaping the rewards. This is what happened with the invention of the transistor.

The first transistor patent was actually filed in Canada by Canadian-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld, 20 years before the Bell Labs demonstration. Canada was also one of the places where Alexander Graham Bell worked to develop and patent the telephone.

Despite this, the transistor was commercialized in the U.S. and led to the country’s US$63 billion semiconductor industry. Bell commercialized the telephone through The Bell Telephone Company, which eventually became AT&T.

Canada is poised to make even greater contributions to quantum technology. Much existing technology has been invented here in Canada — including quantum cryptography, which was co-invented by University of Montreal professor Gilles Brassard. Instead of repeating its past mistakes, Canada should act now to secure the success of the quantum technology industry.

I bought into this narrative too. It’s compelling and generally accepted (in short, it’s a part of Canadian culture) but somebody who’s smarter about business and economics than I am pointed out that Canada has a good standard of living and has had that standard for many years despite decades of worry over our ‘inability’ to commercialize our discoveries. Following on that thought, what’s so bad about our situation? Are we behind because we don’t have a huge semiconductor industry? I don’t know but perhaps we need to question this narrative a little more closely. Where some people see loss, others might see agility, inventiveness, and the ability to keep capitalizing on early stage technology, over and over again.

What I haven’t yet seen discussed as a problem is a Canadian culture that encourages technology entrepreneurs to create startups with the intention of selling them to a big US (or other country) corporation. I’m most familiar with the situation in the province of British Columbia where a 2003 British Columbia Techmap (developed by the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers [PWC]) provides a genealogy which stretched from the 1890s to 2003. The number of technology companies acquired by foreign corporations is astonishing. Our technology has been bought—over and over, since the 1890s.

(I believe there were three editions of the British Columbia Techmap: 1997, 2003 and 2012. PWC seems to have discontinued publication and the 2012 online edition is no longer available. For the curious, there’s a June 15, 2012 announcement, which provides a little information about and interesting facts from the 2012 digital edition.)

This ‘startup and sell’ story holds true at the national level as well. We have some large technology companies but none of them compare to these: Huawei (China), Ali Baba (China), Intel (US), Apple (US), Siemens (Germany), Sanofi (France; technically a pharmaceutical but heavily invested in technology), etc.

So, is this “… inventing transformative technology, but not reaping the rewards …” really a problem when Canadians live well? If so, we need to change our entrepreneurial and business culture.

Don’t we already have a national quantum strategy?

It’s a little puzzling to see Simmons appear to be arguing for a national quantum strategy given this (from my July 26, 2022 posting),

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

it gets even more puzzling when you know that Simmons is part of a Canadian Council of Academies (CCA) expert panel (announced in May 2022) to produce a report on Quantum Technologies,

Budget 2021 included a National Quantum Strategy [emphasis mine] to amplify Canada’s strength in quantum research, grow quantum-ready technologies, and solidify Canada’s global leadership in this area. A comprehensive exploration of the capabilities and potential vulnerabilities of these technologies will help to inform their future deployment across the society and the economy.

This assessment will examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for industry, governments, and people in Canada. [emphases mine]

The Sponsor:

National Research Council Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada [emphasis mine]

It’s possible someone else wrote the essay, someone who doesn’t know about the strategy or Simmons’ involvement in a CCA report on how to address the issues highlighted in her October 31, 2022 essay. It’s also possible that Simmons is trying to emphasize the need for a commercialization strategy for quantum technologies.

Given that the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) was asked to produce what looks like a comprehensive national strategy including commercialization, I prefer the second possibility.

*ETA December 29, 2022 1020 hours PT: On a purely speculative note, I just noticed involvement from a US PR agency in this project, from my “Bank of Canada and Multiverse Computing model complex networks & cryptocurrencies with quantum computing” July 25, 2022 posting,

As for the company that produced the news release, HKA Marketing Communications, based in Southern California, they claim this “Specialists in Quantum Tech PR: #1 agency in this space” on their homepage.

Simmons is on the CCA’s Quantum Technologies’ expert panel along with Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada. HKA’s involvement would certainly explain why the writer didn’t know there’s already a National Quantum Strategy and not know about Simmons’ membership in the expert panel. As I noted, this is pure speculation; I have no proof.*

At any rate, there may be another problem, our national quantum dilemma may be due to difficulties within the Canadian quantum community.

A fractious Canadian quantum community

I commented on the competitiveness within the quantum technologies community in my May 4, 2021 posting about the federal 2021 budget, “While the folks in the quantum world are more obviously competitive … ,” i.e., they are strikingly public in comparison to the genomic and artificial intelligence communities. Scroll down to the ‘National Quantum Strategy’ subhead in the May 4, 2021 posting for an example.

It can also be seen in my July 26, 2022 posting about the Vancouver (Canada) launch of the Quantum Gravity Institute where I noted the lack of Canadian physicists (not one from the CCA expert panel, the Perimeter Institute, or TRIUMF; Canada’s particle accelerator centre, or the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo) in the speaker list and the prominent role wealthy men who’ve taken up quantum science as a hobby played in its founding. BTW, it seems two Canadian physicists (in addition to Philip Stamp; all from the University of British Columbia) were added to the speaker list and D-Wave Systems was added to the institute’s/conference’s webpage sponsorship list (scroll down about 70% of the way) after I posted.

Hopefully the quantum science/research community will pull together, in public, at least.

Who is the audience?

Getting back to Simmons’ piece on The Conversation, her essay, especially one that appears to be part of a public relations campaign, can appeal to more than one audience. The trick, as all (script, news, business, public relations, science, etc.) writers will tell you, is to write for one audience. As counter-intuitive as that trick may seem, it works.

Canadian policy makers should already know that the federal government has announced a national quantum strategy in two different budgets. Additionally, affected scientists should already know about the national strategy, such as it is. Clearly, children are not the intended audience. Perhaps it’s intended for a business audience but the specific business case is quite weak and, as I’ve noted here and elsewhere, the ‘failure’ to take advantage of early developments is a well worn science business trope which ignores a Canadian business model focused on developing emerging technology then, selling it.

This leaves a ‘general’ audience as the only one left and that audience doesn’t tend to read The Conversation website. Here’s the description of the publisher from its Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

The Conversation is a network of not-for-profit media outlets publishing news stories and research reports online, with accompanying expert opinion and analysis.[1][2] Articles are written by academics and researchers [emphasis mine]under a free Creative Commons license, allowing reuse without modification.[3][2] Its model has been described as explanatory journalism.[4][5][6] [emphasis mine] Except in “exceptional circumstances”, it only publishes articles by “academics employed by, or otherwise formally connected to, accredited institutions, including universities and accredited research bodies”.[7]: 8 

Simmons’ piece is not so much explanatory as it is a plea for a policy on a website that newspapers use for free, pre-edited, and proofed content.

I imagine the hope was that a Canadian national newspaper such as the Globe & Mail and/or the National Post would republish it. That hope was realized when the National Post and, unexpectedly, a local paper, the Winnipeg Free Press, both republished it on November 1, 2022.

To sum up, it’s not clear to me what the goal for this piece was. Government policy makers don’t need it, the business case is not sufficiently supported, children are not going to care, and affected scientists are already aware of the situation. (Scientists who will be not affected by a national quantum policy will have their own agendas.) As for a member of the general audience, am I supposed to do something … other than care, that is?

The meaning of a banana

It is an odd piece which may or may not be part of a larger public relations campaign.

As a standalone piece, it reiterates the age old message regarding Canadian technology (“we don’t do a good job of commercializing our technology) to no great avail. As part of a strategy, it seems to be a misfire since we already have a national quantum strategy and Simmons is working on an expert panel that should be delivering the kind of policy she’s requesting.

In the end, all that can be said for certain is that Stephanie Simmons’ October 31, 2022 essay on quantum technology and Canada was published in The Conversation then republished elsewhere.

As Freud may or may not have said, “Sometimes a banana is just a banana.”

Are we spending money on the right research? Government of Canada launches Advisory Panel

it’s a little surprising that this is not being managed by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) but perhaps their process is not quite nimble enough (from an October 6, 2022 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release),

Government of Canada launches Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System

Members to recommend enhancements to system to position Canadian researchers for success

October 6, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario

Canada’s success is in large part due to our world-class researchers and their teams who are globally recognized for unleashing bold new ideas, driving technological breakthroughs and addressing complex societal challenges. The Government of Canada recognizes that for Canada to achieve its full potential, support for science and research must evolve as Canadians push beyond what is currently imaginable and continue to find Canadian-made solutions to the world’s toughest problems.

Today [October 6, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, launched the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System. Benefiting from the insights of leaders in the science, research and innovation ecosystem, the panel will provide independent, expert policy advice on the structure, governance and management of the federal system supporting research and talent. This will ensure that Canadian researchers are positioned for even more success now and in the future.

The panel will focus on the relationships among the federal research granting agencies—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research—and the relationship between these agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic and climate crisis have shown, addressing the world’s most pressing challenges requires greater collaboration within the Canadian research community, government and industry, as well as with the international community. A cohesive and agile research support system will ensure Canadian researchers can quickly and effectively respond to the questions of today and tomorrow. Optimizing Canada’s research support system will equip researchers to transcend disciplines and borders, seize new opportunities and be responsive to emerging needs and interests to improve Canadians’ health, well-being and prosperity.

Quotes

“Canada is known for world-class research thanks to the enormous capabilities of our researchers. Canadian researchers transform curiosity into bold new ideas that can significantly enhance Canadians’ lives and well-being. With this advisory panel, our government will ensure our support for their research is just as cutting-edge as Canada’s science and research community.”
– The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry

“Our priority is to support Canada’s world-class scientific community so it can respond effectively to the challenges of today and the future. That’s why we are leveraging the expertise and perspectives of a newly formed advisory panel to maximize the impact of research and downstream innovation, which contributes significantly to Canadians’ well-being and prosperity.”
– The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health

Quick facts

The Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System has seven members, including the Chair. The members were selected by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry and the Minister of Health. The panel will consult with experts and stakeholders to draw on their diverse experiences, expertise and opinions. 

Since 2016, the Government of Canada has committed more than $14 billion to support research and science across Canada. 

Here’s a list of advisory panel members I’ve assembled from the Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System: Member biographies webpage,

  • Frédéric Bouchard (Chair) is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Université de Montréal, where he has been a professor of philosophy of science since 2005.
  • Janet Rossant is a Senior Scientist Emeritus in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Program, the Hospital for Sick Children and a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Department of Molecular Genetics.
  • [Gilles Patry] is Professor Emeritus and President Emeritus at the University of Ottawa. Following a distinguished career as a consulting engineer, researcher and university administrator, Gilles Patry is now a consultant and board director [Royal Canadian Mint].
  • Yolande E. Chan joined McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management as Dean and James McGill Professor in 2021. Her research focuses on innovation, knowledge strategy, digital strategy, digital entrepreneurship, and business-IT alignment.
  • Laurel Schafer is a Professor at the Department of Chemistry at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on developing novel organometallic catalysts to carry out difficult transformations in small molecule organic chemistry.
  • Vianne Timmons is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Memorial University of Newfoundland since 2020. She is a nationally and internationally recognized researcher and advocate in the field of inclusive education.
  • Dr. Baljit Singh is a highly accomplished researcher, … . He began his role as Vice-President Research at the University of Saskatchewan in 2021, after serving as Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (2016 – 2020), and as Associate Dean of Research at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan (2010 – 2016).

Nobody from the North. Nobody who’s worked there or lived there or researched there. It’s not the first time I’ve noticed a lack of representation for the North.

Canada’s golden triangle (Montréal, Toronto, Ottawa) is well represented and, as is often the case, there’s representation for other regions: one member from the Prairies, one member from the Maritimes or Atlantic provinces, and one member from the West.

The mandate indicates they could have five to eight members. With seven spots filled, they could include one more member, one from the North.

Even if they don’t add an eighth member, I’m not ready to abandon all hope for involvement from the North when there’s this, from the mandate,

Communications and deliverables

In pursuing its mandate, and to strengthen its advice, the panel may engage with experts and stakeholders to expand access [emphasis mine] to diverse experience, expertise and opinion, and enhance members’ understanding of the topics at hand.

To allow for frank and open discussion, internal panel deliberations among members will be closed.

The panel will deliver a final confidential report by December 2022 [emphasis mine] to the Ministers including recommendations and considerations regarding the modernization of the research support system. A summary of the panel’s observations on the state of the federal research support system may be made public once its deliberations have concluded. The Ministers may also choose to seek confidential advice and/or feedback from the panel on other issues related to the research system.

The panel may also be asked to deliver an interim confidential report to the Ministers by November 2022 [emphases mine], which will provide the panel’s preliminary observations up to that point.

it seems odd there’s no mention of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. It’s my understanding that the funding goes directly from the federal government to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR), which then distributes the funds. There are other unmentioned science funding agencies, e.g., the National Research Council of Canada and Genome Canada, which (as far as I know) also receive direct funding. It seems that the panel will not be involved in a comprehensive review of Canada’s research support ecosystem.

Plus, I wonder why everything is being kept ‘confidential’. According the government news release, the panel is tasked with finding ways of “optimizing Canada’s research support system.” Do they have security concerns or is this a temporary state of affairs while the government analysts examine the panel’s report?

Quantum Mechanics & Gravity conference (August 15 – 19, 2022) launches Vancouver (Canada)-based Quantum Gravity Institute and more

I received (via email) a July 21, 2022 news release about the launch of a quantum science initiative in Vancouver (BTW, I have more about the Canadian quantum scene later in this post),

World’s top physicists unite to tackle one of Science’s greatest
mysteries


Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Society leads international quest to
discover Theory of Quantum Gravity

Vancouver, B.C. (July 21, 2022): More than two dozen of the world’s
top physicists, including three Nobel Prize winners, will gather in
Vancouver this August for a Quantum Gravity Conference that will host
the launch a Vancouver-based Quantum Gravity Institute (QGI) and a
new global research collaboration that could significantly advance our
understanding of physics and gravity and profoundly change the world as
we know it.

For roughly 100 years, the world’s understanding of physics has been
based on Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GR), which
explored the theory of space, time and gravity, and quantum mechanics
(QM), which focuses on the behaviour of matter and light on the atomic
and subatomic scale. GR has given us a deep understanding of the cosmos,
leading to space travel and technology like atomic clocks, which govern
global GPS systems. QM is responsible for most of the equipment that
runs our world today, including the electronics, lasers, computers, cell
phones, plastics, and other technologies that support modern
transportation, communications, medicine, agriculture, energy systems
and more.

While each theory has led to countless scientific breakthroughs, in many
cases, they are incompatible and seemingly contradictory. Discovering a
unifying connection between these two fundamental theories, the elusive
Theory of Quantum Gravity, could provide the world with a deeper
understanding of time, gravity and matter and how to potentially control
them. It could also lead to new technologies that would affect most
aspects of daily life, including how we communicate, grow food, deliver
health care, transport people and goods, and produce energy.

“Discovering the Theory of Quantum Gravity could lead to the
possibility of time travel, new quantum devices, or even massive new
energy resources that produce clean energy and help us address climate
change,” said Philip Stamp, Professor, Department of Physics and
Astronomy, University of British Columbia, and Visiting Associate in
Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech [California Institute of Technology]. “The potential long-term ramifications of this discovery are so incredible that life on earth 100
years from now could look as miraculous to us now as today’s
technology would have seemed to people living 100 years ago.”

The new Quantum Gravity Institute and the conference were founded by the
Quantum Gravity Society, which was created in 2022 by a group of
Canadian technology, business and community leaders, and leading
physicists. Among its goals are to advance the science of physics and
facilitate research on the Theory of Quantum Gravity through initiatives
such as the conference and assembling the world’s leading archive of
scientific papers and lectures associated with the attempts to reconcile
these two theories over the past century.

Attending the Quantum Gravity Conference in Vancouver (August 15-19 [2022])
will be two dozen of the world’s top physicists, including Nobel
Laureates Kip Thorne, Jim Peebles and Sir Roger Penrose, as well as
physicists Baron Martin Rees, Markus Aspelmeyer, Viatcheslav Mukhanov
and Paul Steinhardt. On Wednesday, August 17, the conference will be
open to the public, providing them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to attend keynote addresses from the world’s pre-eminent physicists.
… A noon-hour discussion on the importance of the
research will be delivered by Kip Thorne, the former Feynman Professor
of physics at Caltech. Thorne is well known for his popular books, and
for developing the original idea for the 2014 film “Interstellar.” He
was also crucial to the development of the book “Contact” by Carl Sagan,
which was also made into a motion picture.

“We look forward to welcoming many of the world’s brightest minds to
Vancouver for our first Quantum Gravity Conference,” said Frank
Giustra, CEO Fiore Group and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society. “One
of the goals of our Society will be to establish Vancouver as a
supportive home base for research and facilitate the scientific
collaboration that will be required to unlock this mystery that has
eluded some of the world’s most brilliant physicists for so long.”

“The format is key,” explains Terry Hui, UC Berkley Physics alumnus
and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity Society [and CEO of Concord Pacific].
“Like the Solvay Conference nearly 100 years ago, the Quantum Gravity
Conference will bring top scientists together in salon-style gatherings. The
relaxed evening format following the conference will reduce barriers and
allow these great minds to freely exchange ideas. I hope this will help accelerate
the solution of this hundred-year bottleneck between theories relatively
soon.”

“As amazing as our journey of scientific discovery has been over the
past century, we still have so much to learn about how the universe
works on a macro, atomic and subatomic level,” added Paul Lee,
Managing Partner, Vanedge Capital, and Co-Founder, Quantum Gravity
Society. “New experiments and observations capable of advancing work
on this scientific challenge are becoming increasingly possible in
today’s physics labs and using new astronomical tools. The Quantum
Gravity Society looks forward to leveraging that growing technical
capacity with joint theory and experimental work that harnesses the
collective expertise of the world’s great physicists.”

About Quantum Gravity Society

Quantum Gravity Society was founded in Vancouver, Canada in 2020 by a
group of Canadian business, technology and community leaders, and
leading international physicists. The Society’s founding members
include Frank Giustra (Fiore Group), Terry Hui (Concord Pacific), Paul
Lee and Moe Kermani (Vanedge Capital) and Markus Frind (Frind Estate
Winery), along with renowned physicists Abhay Ashtekar, Sir Roger
Penrose, Philip Stamp, Bill Unruh and Birgitta Whaley. For more
information, visit Quantum Gravity Society.

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


The inaugural Quantum Gravity Conference (August 15-19 [2022]) is presented by
Quantum Gravity Society, Fiore Group, Vanedge Capital, Concord Pacific,
The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver and Frind Estate Winery. For conference
information, visit conference.quantumgravityinstitute.ca. To
register to attend the conference, visit Eventbrite.com.

The front page on the Quantum Gravity Society website is identical to the front page for the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment conference website. It’s probable that will change with time.

This seems to be an in-person event only.

The site for the conference is in an exceptionally pretty location in Coal Harbour and it’s close to Stanley Park (a major tourist attraction),

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver
1601 Bayshore Drive
Vancouver, BC V6G 2V4
View map

Assuming that most of my readers will be interested in the ‘public’ day, here’s more from the Wednesday, August 17, 2022 registration page on Eventbrite,

Tickets:

  • Corporate Table of 8 all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $1,100
  • Ticket per person all day access – includes VIP Luncheon: $129
  • Ticket per person all day access (no VIP luncheon): $59
  • Student / Academia Ticket – all day access (no VIP luncheon): $30

Date:

Wednesday, August 17, 2022 @ 9:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. (PT)

Schedule:

  • Registration Opens: 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
  • VIP Lunch: 12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • Afternoon Program: 2:30 p.m. – 4:20 p.m.
  • Public Discussion / Debate: 4:20 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Program:

9:00 a.m. Session 1: Beginning of the Universe

  • Viatcheslav Mukhanov – Theoretical Physicist and Cosmologist, University of Munich
  • Paul Steinhardt – Theoretical Physicist, Princeton University

Session 2: History of the Universe

  • Jim Peebles, 2019 Nobel Laureate, Princeton University
  • Baron Martin Rees – Cosmologist and Astrophysicist, University of Cambridge
  • Sir Roger Penrose, 2020 Nobel Laureate, University of Oxford (via zoom)

12:30 p.m. VIP Lunch Session: Quantum Gravity — Why Should We Care?

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

2:30 p.m. Session 3: What do Experiments Say?

  • Markus Aspelmeyer – Experimental Physicist, Quantum Optics and Optomechanics Leader, University of Vienna
  • Sir Roger Penrose – 2020 Nobel Laureate (via zoom)

Session 4: Time Travel

  • Kip Thorne – 2017 Nobel Laureate, Executive Producer of blockbuster film “Interstellar”

Event Partners

  • Quantum Gravity Society
  • Westin Bayshore
  • Fiore Group
  • Concord Pacific
  • VanEdge Capital
  • Frind Estate Winery

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

Please note that Sir Roger Penrose will be present via Zoom but all the others will be there in the room with you.

Given that Kip Thorne won his 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics (with Rainer Weiss and Barry Barish) for work on gravitational waves, it’s surprising there’s no mention of this in the publicity for a conference on quantum gravity. Finding gravitational waves in 2016 was a very big deal (see Josh Fischman’s and Steve Mirsky’s February 11, 2016 interview with Kip Thorne for Scientific American).

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

This conference has a fascinating collection of players. Even I recognized some of the names, e.g., Penrose, Rees, Thorne.

The academics were to be expected and every presenter is an academic, often with their own Wikipedia page. Weirdly, there’s no one from the Perimeter Institute Institute for Theoretical Physics or TRIUMF (a national physics laboratory and centre for particle acceleration) or from anywhere else in Canada, which may be due to their academic specialty rather than an attempt to freeze out Canadian physicists. In any event, the conference academics are largely from the US (a lot of them from CalTech and Stanford) and from the UK.

The business people are a bit of a surprise. The BC Business Council and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade? Frank Giustra who first made his money with gold mines, then with Lionsgate Entertainment, and who continues to make a great deal of money with his equity investment company, Fiore Group? Terry Hui, Chief Executive Office of Concord Pacific, a real estate development company? VanEdge Capital, an early stage venture capital fund? A winery? Missing from this list is D-Wave Systems, Canada’s quantum calling card and local company. While their area of expertise is quantum computing, I’d still expect to see them present as sponsors. *ETA December 6, 2022: I just looked at the conference page again and D-Wave is now listed as a sponsor.*

The academics? These people are not cheap dates (flights, speaker’s fees, a room at the Bayshore, meals). This is a very expensive conference and $129 for lunch and a daypass is likely a heavily subsidized ticket.

Another surprise? No government money/sponsorship. I don’t recall seeing another academic conference held in Canada without any government participation.

Canadian quantum scene

A National Quantum Strategy was first announced in the 2021 Canadian federal budget and reannounced in the 2022 federal budget (see my April 19, 2022 posting for a few more budget details).. Or, you may find this National Quantum Strategy Consultations: What We Heard Report more informative. There’s also a webpage for general information about the National Quantum Strategy.

As evidence of action, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced new grant programmes made possible by the National Quantum Strategy in a March 15, 2022 news release,

Quantum science and innovation are giving rise to promising advances in communications, computing, materials, sensing, health care, navigation and other key areas. The Government of Canada is committed to helping shape the future of quantum technology by supporting Canada’s quantum sector and establishing leadership in this emerging and transformative domain.

Today [March 15, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is announcing an investment of $137.9 million through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) grants and Alliance grants. These grants are an important next step in advancing the National Quantum Strategy and will reinforce Canada’s research strengths in quantum science while also helping to develop a talent pipeline to support the growth of a strong quantum community.

Quick facts

Budget 2021 committed $360 million to build the foundation for a National Quantum Strategy, enabling the Government of Canada to build on previous investments in the sector to advance the emerging field of quantum technologies. The quantum sector is key to fuelling Canada’s economy, long-term resilience and growth, especially as technologies mature and more sectors harness quantum capabilities.

Development of quantum technologies offers job opportunities in research and science, software and hardware engineering and development, manufacturing, technical support, sales and marketing, business operations and other fields.

The Government of Canada also invested more than $1 billion in quantum research and science from 2009 to 2020—mainly through competitive granting agency programs, including Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada programs and the Canada First Research Excellence Fund—to help establish Canada as a global leader in quantum science.

In addition, the government has invested in bringing new quantum technologies to market, including investments through Canada’s regional development agencies, the Strategic Innovation Fund and the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

My July 25, 2022 posting features a special project, Note: All emphases are mine,

… (from an April 14, 2022 HKA Marketing Communications news release on EurekAlert),

Multiverse Computing, a global leader in quantum computing solutions for the financial industry and beyond with offices in Toronto and Spain, today announced it has completed a proof-of-concept project with the Bank of Canada through which the parties used quantum computing to simulate the adoption of cryptocurrency as a method of payment by non-financial firms.

“We are proud to be a trusted partner of the first G7 central bank to explore modelling of complex networks and cryptocurrencies through the use of quantum computing,” said Sam Mugel, CTO [Chief Technical Officer] at Multiverse Computing. “The results of the simulation are very intriguing and insightful as stakeholders consider further research in the domain. Thanks to the algorithm we developed together with our partners at the Bank of Canada, we have been able to model a complex system reliably and accurately given the current state of quantum computing capabilities.”

Multiverse Computing conducted its innovative work related to applying quantum computing for modelling complex economic interactions in a research project with the Bank of Canada. The project explored quantum computing technology as a way to simulate complex economic behaviour that is otherwise very difficult to simulate using traditional computational techniques.

By implementing this solution using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer, the simulation was able to tackle financial networks as large as 8-10 players, with up to 2^90 possible network configurations. Note that classical computing approaches cannot solve large networks of practical relevance as a 15-player network requires as many resources as there are atoms in the universe.

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

In a May 26, 2022 blog posting the CCA announced its Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies (they will be issuing a Quantum Technologies report),

The emergence of quantum technologies will impact all sectors of the Canadian economy, presenting significant opportunities but also risks. At the request of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine the impacts, opportunities, and challenges quantum technologies present for Canadian industry, governments, and Canadians. Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information and Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to transform computing, sensing, communications, healthcare, navigation and many other areas,” said Dr. Laflamme. “But a close examination of the risks and vulnerabilities of these technologies is critical, and I look forward to undertaking this crucial work with the panel.”

As Chair, Dr. Laflamme will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in quantum technologies, economics, innovation, ethics, and legal and regulatory frameworks. The Panel will answer the following question:

In light of current trends affecting the evolution of quantum technologies, what impacts, opportunities and challenges do these present for Canadian industry, governments and Canadians more broadly?

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

Raymond Laflamme, O.C., FRSC (Chair), Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information; the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis John von Neumann Chair in Quantum Information; Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Waterloo

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

Shohini Ghose, Professor, Physics and Computer Science, Wilfrid Laurier University; NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

Mark W. Johnson, Senior Vice-President, Quantum Technologies and Systems Products, D-Wave Systems

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Quantum Computing, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh; Directeur de recherche au CNRS, LIP6 Sorbonne Université

Mauritz Kop, Fellow and Visiting Scholar, Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Dominic Martin, Professor, Département d’organisation et de ressources humaines, École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal

Darius Ornston, Associate Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto

Barry Sanders, FRSC, Director, Institute for Quantum Science and Technology, University of Calgary

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

Christian Sarra-Bournet, Quantum Strategy Director and Executive Director, Institut quantique, Université de Sherbrooke

Stephanie Simmons, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics, and CIFAR Quantum Information Science Fellow, Department of Physics, Simon Fraser University

Jacqueline Walsh, Instructor; Director, initio Technology & Innovation Law Clinic, Dalhousie University

You’ll note that both the Bank of Canada and D-Wave Systems are represented on this expert panel.

The CCA Quantum Technologies report (in progress) page can be found here.

Does it mean anything?

Since I only skim the top layer of information (disparagingly described as ‘high level’ by the technology types I used to work with), all I can say is there’s a remarkable level of interest from various groups who are self-organizing. (The interest is international as well. I found the International Society for Quantum Gravity [ISQG], which had its first meeting in 2021.)

I don’t know what the purpose is other than it seems the Canadian focus seems to be on money. The board of trade and business council have no interest in primary research and the federal government’s national quantum strategy is part of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada’s mandate. You’ll notice ‘science’ is sandwiched between ‘innovation’, which is often code for business, and economic development.

The Bank of Canada’s monetary interests are quite obvious.

The Perimeter Institute mentioned earlier was founded by Mike Lazaridis (from his Wikipedia entry) Note: Links have been removed,

… a Canadian businessman [emphasis mine], investor in quantum computing technologies, and founder of BlackBerry, which created and manufactured the BlackBerry wireless handheld device. With an estimated net worth of US$800 million (as of June 2011), Lazaridis was ranked by Forbes as the 17th wealthiest Canadian and 651st in the world.[4]

In 2000, Lazaridis founded and donated more than $170 million to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.[11][12] He and his wife Ophelia founded and donated more than $100 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo in 2002.[8]

That Institute for Quantum Computing? There’s an interesting connection. Raymond Laflamme, the chair for the CCA expert panel, was its director for a number of years and he’s closely affiliated with the Perimeter Institute. (I’m not suggesting anything nefarious or dodgy. It’s a small community in Canada and relationships tend to be tightly interlaced.) I’m surprised he’s not part of the quantum mechanics and gravity conference but that could have something to do with scheduling.

One last interesting bit about Laflamme, from his Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed)

As Stephen Hawking’s PhD student, he first became famous for convincing Hawking that time does not reverse in a contracting universe, along with Don Page. Hawking told the story of how this happened in his famous book A Brief History of Time in the chapter The Arrow of Time.[3] Later on Laflamme made a name for himself in quantum computing and quantum information theory, which is what he is famous for today.

Getting back to the Quantum Mechanics & Gravity: Marrying Theory & Experiment, the public day looks pretty interesting and when is the next time you’ll have a chance to hobnob with all those Nobel Laureates?

Gerhard Herzberg , the University of Saskatchewan, and the 1971 Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Half a century ago, a scientist won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry for work he’d done at the University of Saskatchewan and, later, at a National Research Council of Canada laboratory. The Nobel Prize was an unlikely event for more than one reason.

The history description I like the best is also the clunkiest (due to links and citations). From the essay by Denisa Popa for the Defining Moments Canada website (Note 1: I have removed the links; Note 2: NSERC is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada),

Gerhard Herzberg was born in Hamburg, Germany on December 25th, 1904. From an early age Herzberg developed a keen interest in the sciences, particularly astronomy, physics and chemistry (Stoicheff, 2002). … Herzberg initially considered a career in astronomy, but lacked the funds to pursue it any further (NSERC). In 1924, he ultimately decided to pursue engineering physics and enrolled in the Technical University at Darmstadt (NSERC). By the time he was 24 years old, he was well established in his field, publishing a number of academic papers on the topics of atomic and molecular physics, as well as obtaining a Doctorate in Engineering Physics in 1928 (NSERC).

Following his graduation, he entered a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Göttingen (University of Saskatchewan). Following that, Herzberg returned to Darmstadt where he spent five years conducting research on spectroscopy (University of Saskatchewan).  Spectroscopy is used to analyze the ability of molecules and compounds to emit and absorb different wavelengths of light and electromagnetic radiation (Herschbach, 1999). Through understanding the properties of the light/radiation that is emitted (or absorbed) scientists can learn more about the characteristics of molecules and compounds, including their structure and the types of chemical bonds they contain (Herschbach, 1999). 

While completing his postdoctoral fellowship, Herzberg met Luise Hedwig Oettinger, a university student also focusing on spectroscopic research (Stoicheff, 2002). The pair grew close and eventually married on December 30th, 1929 (Stoicheff, 2002). Over the years Luise, who received her Ph.D from the University of Frankfurt in 1933, co-authored a number of scientific papers with her husband (Stoicheff, 2002). The Herzbergs’ academic life in Germany would soon end in 1934 when the Nazi regime rose to power and began implementing new restrictions against Jewish scholars in academic institutions (Stoicheff, 2002). Herzberg received notice that he would no longer be permitted to teach at Darmstadt because of Luise’s Jewish heritage (Stoicheff, 2002; University of Saskatchewan). With the help of John W. T. Spinks (a chemist who visited and became closely acquainted with Herzberg in Darmstadt) and Walter C. Murray at the University of Saskatchewan, as well as funding from the Carnegie Foundation (as the university’s budget was limited during the depression era), the Herzbergs moved to Saskatoon that following year (NSERC). 

From 1935 to 1945 Herzberg established himself at the University of Saskatchewan, where he continued his research on molecular and atomic spectroscopy, publishing three new books (NSERC). He then spent the following three years at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory investigating “the absorption spectra of many molecules of astrophysical interest.” (NSERC) In 1948, the Herzbergs relocated back to Canada when Herzberg was invited to “establish a laboratory for fundamental research in spectroscopy” at the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. (NSERC) It was during his time at the NRC that one of his key discoveries was made–the observation of the spectra of methylene radical (CH2) (Stoicheff, 2002). Scientists describe free radicals as chemical species that have an unpaired electron in the outer valence shell (Winnewisser, 2004). Free radicals can be found as intermediates in a variety of chemical reactions (Herschbach, 1999). It was Herzberg’s contribution to the understanding of free radicals that contributed to his Nobel Prize win in 1971 (NSERC). Dr. Gerhard Herzberg had two children and passed away on March 3rd, 1999 at the age of 94 (Herschbach, 1999). 

Kathryn Warden’s Saskatechwan-forward article was first published in August 2021 in the University of Saskatchewan’s Green & White magazine (Note: A link has been removed),

When Gerhard Herzberg was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry 50 years ago for ground-breaking discoveries in a lifelong exploration of the structure of matter, he publicly thanked the University of Saskatchewan.

“It is obvious that the work that has earned me the Nobel Prize was not done without a great deal of help,” Herzberg said in his acceptance speech, acknowledging “the full and understanding support” of successive USask presidents and faculty who “did their utmost to make it possible for me to proceed with my scientific work.”

Herzberg’s brilliance in studying the spectra of atoms and molecules to understand their physical properties significantly advanced astronomy, chemistry and physics—enhancing knowledge of the atmospheres of stars and planets and determining the existence of some molecules never before imagined.

“He was certainly a pioneer,” said USask PhD student Natasha Vetter, winner of both the 2014 Herzberg Scholarship and the 2018 Herzberg Fellowship. “Without his work, the fundamental tools we use as chemists and biochemists wouldn’t exist. I feel pretty honoured to be part of that legacy and to have received those awards.”

While at USask from 1935 to 1945, Herzberg made discoveries that laid the groundwork for his work at Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory and then at the National Research Council (NRC), culminating in his celebrated work on free radicals—highly unstable, short-lived molecules that are everywhere: in our bodies, in materials and in space. They help important reactions take place but an imbalance can cause damage such as cancer or age-related illness. Knowledge of their structure is now used to make pharmaceuticals, medical radiation tests, light sensors, and a wide range of innovative materials.

“This was the beginning of molecular spectroscopy, and it was an exciting time because it was all so new,” said Alexander Moewes, Canada Research Chair in Materials Science with Synchrotron Radiation.

“Herzberg was unravelling the structure of molecules, specifically free radicals. Many of today’s drugs and human biochemistry processes are governed by these molecules. So much that we have developed today would not have been discovered if Herzberg hadn’t done this fundamental research. This can’t be overstated.”

In honour of Herzberg, the University of Saskatchewan is naming both a hall and a lecture theatre at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Canada’s synchrotron facility, after Herzberg, from a November 10, 2021 University of Saskatchewan news release,

As part of a national initiative to mark the 50th anniversary of Gerhard Herzberg’s Nobel Prize, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) is naming the main experimental hall of the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and a prominent physics lecture theatre on campus after the renowned scientist.

“Canada and the University of Saskatchewan welcomed Herzberg and his wife when no other country or university did,” said Stoicheff [USask President Peter Stoicheff]. “His legacy is evident today in so many ways, including at our Canadian Light Source where scientists from across Canada and around the world continue to unravel the mysteries of atomic structure.”

The Herzberg Experimental Hall is at the heart of the CLS, “the brightest light in Canada.” The enormous hall the size of a football field houses the synchrotron which supplies light to the many beamlines where wide-ranging experiments are conducted. The naming was endorsed by both the CLS board of directors and the CLS Users’ Executive Committee, and subsequently approved by the President’s Advisory Committee on Naming University Assets.

“As the father of modern spectroscopy, Herzberg conducted experiments that fundamentally changed scientific understanding of how molecules absorb and emit light,” said CLS board chair Pierre Lapointe.

“So it is very fitting that we honour his legacy at the Canadian Light Source where scientists from across Canada and around the world carry on the important work of using light to investigate the structure of matter—work that is leading to discoveries in fields as diverse as health, environment and new materials.” 

In his 2020 co-authored book on the history of the CLS, former CLS director Michael Bancroft said Herzberg’s fundamental research program in spectroscopy at USask in the 1930s paved the way for Canada’s only synchrotron.  He states that the close friendship that developed between USask chemistry researcher John Spinks and Herzberg in 1933 and 1934 in Germany, along with Herzberg’s subsequent hiring by USask President Walter Murray in 1935, “were the most important events in eventually landing the Canadian Light Source over 60 years later.” 

As Herzberg was a member of the USask physics department for a decade, the Physics 107 Lecture Theatre, across from a display dedicated to Herzberg, will be named the Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Lecture Theatre.

Chris Putnam’s December 10, 2021 article for the University of Saskatchewan highlights Herzberg’s other interests such as music and humanitarian work.

Finally, Herzberg gave an interview to Mary Christine King on May 5, 1986 (audio file and text) for the Science History Institute. Here’s a little more about Ms. King who died months after the interview,

“… born in China and educated in Ireland. She obtained a BSc degree in chemistry from the University of London in 1968, which was followed by an MSc in polymer and fiber science (1970) and a PhD for a thesis on the hydrodynamic properties of paraffins in solution (1973), both from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. After working with Joseph Needham at Cambridge, she received a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from the Open University (1980) and thereafter worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Ottawa, … King died in an automobile accident in late 1987 …”

The interview is an oral history as recounted by Herzberg.

Council of Canadian Academies and its expert panel for the AI for Science and Engineering project

There seems to be an explosion (metaphorically and only by Canadian standards) of interest in public perceptions/engagement/awareness of artificial intelligence (see my March 29, 2021 posting “Canada launches its AI dialogues” and these dialogues run until April 30, 2021 plus there’s this April 6, 2021 posting “UNESCO’s Call for Proposals to highlight blind spots in AI Development open ’til May 2, 2021” which was launched in cooperation with Mila-Québec Artificial Intelligence Institute).

Now there’s this, in a March 31, 2020 Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) news release, four new projects were announced. (Admittedly these are not ‘public engagement’ exercises as such but the reports are publicly available and utilized by policymakers.) These are the two projects of most interest to me,

Public Safety in the Digital Age

Information and communications technologies have profoundly changed almost every aspect of life and business in the last two decades. While the digital revolution has brought about many positive changes, it has also created opportunities for criminal organizations and malicious actors to target individuals, businesses, and systems.

This assessment will examine promising practices that could help to address threats to public safety related to the use of digital technologies while respecting human rights and privacy.

Sponsor: Public Safety Canada

AI for Science and Engineering

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in science and engineering has the potential to radically transform the nature of scientific inquiry and discovery and produce a wide range of social and economic benefits for Canadians. But, the adoption of these technologies also presents a number of potential challenges and risks.

This assessment will examine the legal/regulatory, ethical, policy and social challenges related to the use of AI technologies in scientific research and discovery.

Sponsor: National Research Council Canada [NRC] (co-sponsors: CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research], CIHR [Canadian Institutes of Health Research], NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council], and SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council])

For today’s posting the focus will be on the AI project, specifically, the April 19, 2021 CCA news release announcing the project’s expert panel,

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine a broad range of factors related to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in scientific research and discovery in Canada. Teresa Scassa, SJD, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa, will serve as Chair of the Panel.  

“AI and machine learning may drastically change the fields of science and engineering by accelerating research and discovery,” said Dr. Scassa. “But these technologies also present challenges and risks. A better understanding of the implications of the use of AI in scientific research will help to inform decision-making in this area and I look forward to undertaking this assessment with my colleagues.”

As Chair, Dr. Scassa will lead a multidisciplinary group with extensive expertise in law, policy, ethics, philosophy, sociology, and AI technology. The Panel will answer the following question:

What are the legal/regulatory, ethical, policy and social challenges associated with deploying AI technologies to enable scientific/engineering research design and discovery in Canada?

“We’re delighted that Dr. Scassa, with her extensive experience in AI, the law and data governance, has taken on the role of Chair,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “I anticipate the work of this outstanding panel will inform policy decisions about the development, regulation and adoption of AI technologies in scientific research, to the benefit of Canada.”

The CCA was asked by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), along with co-sponsors CIFAR, CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC, to address the question. More information can be found here.

The Expert Panel on AI for Science and Engineering:

Teresa Scassa (Chair), SJD, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Policy, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law (Ottawa, ON)

Julien Billot, CEO, Scale AI (Montreal, QC)

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media and Professor of Communication, Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, BC)

Marc Antoine Dilhac, Professor (Philosophy), University of Montreal; Director of Ethics and Politics, Centre for Ethics (Montréal, QC)

B. Courtney Doagoo, AI and Society Fellow, Centre for Law, Technology and Society, University of Ottawa; Senior Manager, Risk Consulting Practice, KPMG Canada (Ottawa, ON)

Abhishek Gupta, Founder and Principal Researcher, Montreal AI Ethics Institute (Montréal, QC)

Richard Isnor, Associate Vice President, Research and Graduate Studies, St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, NS)

Ross D. King, Professor, Chalmers University of Technology (Göteborg, Sweden)

Sabina Leonelli, Professor of Philosophy and History of Science, University of Exeter (Exeter, United Kingdom)

Raymond J. Spiteri, Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, SK)

Who is the expert panel?

Putting together a Canadian panel is an interesting problem especially so when you’re trying to find people of expertise who can also represent various viewpoints both professionally and regionally. Then, there are gender, racial, linguistic, urban/rural, and ethnic considerations.

Statistics

Eight of the panelists could be said to be representing various regions of Canada. Five of those eight panelists are based in central Canada, specifically, Ontario (Ottawa) or Québec (Montréal). The sixth panelist is based in Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia), the seventh panelist is based in the Prairies (Saskatchewan), and the eighth panelist is based in western Canada, (Vancouver, British Columbia).

The two panelists bringing an international perspective to this project are both based in Europe, specifically, Sweden and the UK.

(sigh) It would be good to have representation from another part of the world. Asia springs to mind as researchers in that region are very advanced in their AI research and applications meaning that their experts and ethicists are likely to have valuable insights.

Four of the ten panelists are women, which is closer to equal representation than some of the other CCA panels I’ve looked at.

As for Indigenous and BIPOC representation, unless one or more of the panelists chooses to self-identify in that fashion, I cannot make any comments. It should be noted that more than one expert panelist focuses on social justice and/or bias in algorithms.

Network of relationships

As you can see, the CCA descriptions for the individual members of the expert panel are a little brief. So, I did a little digging and In my searches, I noticed what seems to be a pattern of relationships among some of these experts. In particular, take note of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada.

Individual panelists

Teresa Scassa (Ontario) whose SJD designation signifies a research doctorate in law chairs this panel. Offhand, I can recall only one or two other panels being chaired by women of the 10 or so I’ve reviewed. In addition to her profile page at the University of Ottawa, she hosts her own blog featuring posts such as “How Might Bill C-11 Affect the Outcome of a Clearview AI-type Complaint?” She writes clearly (I didn’t seen any jargon) for an audience that is somewhat informed on the topic.

Along with Dilhac, Teresa Scassa is a member of the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada. More about that group when you read Dilhac’s description.

Julien Billot (Québec) has provided a profile on LinkedIn and you can augment your view of M. Billot with this profile from the CreativeDestructionLab (CDL),

Mr. Billot is a member of the faculty at HEC Montréal [graduate business school of the Université de Montréal] as an adjunct professor of management and the lead for the CreativeDestructionLab (CDL) and NextAi program in Montreal.

Julien Billot has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Yellow Pages Group Corporation (Y.TO) in Montreal, Quebec. Previously, he was Executive Vice President, Head of Media and Member of the Executive Committee of Solocal Group (formerly PagesJaunes Groupe), the publicly traded and incumbent local search business in France. Earlier experience includes serving as CEO of the digital and new business group of Lagardère Active, a multimedia branch of Lagardère Group and 13 years in senior management positions at France Telecom, notably as Chief Marketing Officer for Orange, the company’s mobile subsidiary.

Mr. Billot is a graduate of École Polytechnique (Paris) and from Telecom Paris Tech. He holds a postgraduate diploma (DEA) in Industrial Economics from the University of Paris-Dauphine.

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (British Columbia) has a profile on the Simon Fraser University (SFU) website, which provided one of the more interesting (to me personally) biographies,

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun is the Canada 150 Research Chair in New Media at Simon Fraser University, and leads the Digital Democracies Institute which was launched in 2019. The Institute aims to integrate research in the humanities and data sciences to address questions of equality and social justice in order to combat the proliferation of online “echo chambers,” abusive language, discriminatory algorithms and mis/disinformation by fostering critical and creative user practices and alternative paradigms for connection. It has four distinct research streams all led by Dr. Chun: Beyond Verification which looks at authenticity and the spread of disinformation; From Hate to Agonism, focusing on fostering democratic exchange online; Desegregating Network Neighbourhoods, combatting homophily across platforms; and Discriminating Data: Neighbourhoods, Individuals and Proxies, investigating the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality [emphasis mine] to big data and network analytics.

I’m glad to see someone who has focused on ” … the centrality of race, gender, class and sexuality to big data and network analytics.” Even more interesting to me was this from her CV (curriculum vitae),

Professor, Department of Modern Culture and Media, Brown University, July 2010-June 2018

.•Affiliated Faculty, Multimedia & Electronic Music Experiments (MEME), Department of Music,2017.

•Affiliated Faculty, History of Art and Architecture, March 2012-

.•Graduate Field Faculty, Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, Sept 2008-.[sic]

….

[all emphases mine]

And these are some of her credentials,

Ph.D., English, Princeton University, 1999.
•Certificate, School of Criticism and Theory, Dartmouth College, Summer 1995.

M.A., English, Princeton University, 1994.

B.A.Sc., Systems Design Engineering and English, University of Waterloo, Canada, 1992.
•first class honours and a Senate Commendation for Excellence for being the first student to graduate from the School of Engineering with a double major

It’s about time the CCA started integrating some of kind of arts perspective into their projects. (Although, I can’t help wondering if this was by accident rather than by design.)

Marc Antoine Dilhac, an associate professor at l’Université de Montréal, he, like Billot, graduated from a French university, in his case, the Sorbonne. Here’s more from Dilhac’s profile on the Mila website,

Marc-Antoine Dilhac (Ph.D., Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) is a professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Université de Montréal and an associate member of Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute. He currently holds a CIFAR [Canadian Institute for Advanced Research] Chair in AI ethics (2019-2024), and was previously Canada Research Chair in Public Ethics and Political Theory 2014-2019. He specialized in theories of democracy and social justice, as well as in questions of applied ethics. He published two books on the politics of toleration and inclusion (2013, 2014). His current research focuses on the ethical and social impacts of AI and issues of governance and institutional design, with a particular emphasis on how new technologies are changing public relations and political structures.

In 2017, he instigated the project of the Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of AI and chaired its scientific committee. In 2020, as director of Algora Lab, he led an international deliberation process as part of UNESCO’s consultation on its recommendation on the ethics of AI.

In 2019, he founded Algora Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory advancing research on the ethics of AI and developing a deliberative approach to the governance of AI and digital technologies. He is co-director of Deliberation at the Observatory on the social impacts of AI and digital technologies (OBVIA), and contributes to the OECD Policy Observatory (OECD.AI) as a member of its expert network ONE.AI.

He sits on the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada and co-chair its Working Group on Public Awareness.

Formerly known as Mila only, Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute is a beneficiary of the 2017 Canadian federal budget’s inception of the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which named CIFAR as an agency that would benefit as the hub and would also distribute funds for artificial intelligence research to (mainly) three agencies: Mila in Montréal, the Vector Institute in Toronto, and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII; Edmonton).

Consequently, Dilhac’s involvement with CIFAR is not unexpected but when added to his presence on the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada and his role as co-chair of its Working Group on Public Awareness, one of the co-sponsors for this future CCA report, you get a sense of just how small the Canadian AI ethics and public awareness community is.

Add in CIFAR’s Open Dialogue: AI in Canada series (ongoing until April 30, 2021) which is being held in partnership with the AI Advisory Council of the Government of Canada (see my March 29, 2021 posting for more details about the dialogues) amongst other familiar parties and you see a web of relations so tightly interwoven that if you could produce masks from it you’d have superior COVID-19 protection to N95 masks.

These kinds of connections are understandable and I have more to say about them in my final comments.

B. Courtney Doagoo has a profile page at the University of Ottawa, which fills in a few information gaps,

As a Fellow, Dr. Doagoo develops her research on the social, economic and cultural implications of AI with a particular focus on the role of laws, norms and policies [emphasis mine]. She also notably advises Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, CLTS Director, in the development of a new research initiative on those topical issues, and Dr. Jason Millar in the development of the Canadian Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Ethical Design Lab (CRAiEDL).

Dr. Doagoo completed her Ph.D. in Law at the University of Ottawa in 2017. In her interdisciplinary research, she used empirical methods to learn about and describe the use of intellectual property law and norms in creative communities. Following her doctoral research, she joined the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Coordination Office in New York as a legal intern and contributed to developing the joint initiative on gender and innovation in collaboration with UNESCO and UN Women. She later joined the International Law Research Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, where she conducted research in technology and law focusing on intellectual property law, artificial intelligence and data governance.

Dr. Doagoo completed her LL.L. at the University of Ottawa, and LL.M. in Intellectual Property Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law [a law school at Yeshiva University in New York City].  In between her academic pursuits, Dr. Doagoo has been involved with different technology start-ups, including the one she is currently leading aimed at facilitating access to legal services. She’s also an avid lover of the arts and designed a course on Arts and Cultural Heritage Law taught during her doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.

It’s probably because I don’t know enough but this “the role of laws, norms and policies” seems bland to the point of meaningless. The rest is more informative and brings it back to the arts with Wendy Hui Kyong Chun at SFU.

Doagoo’s LinkedIn profile offers an unexpected link to this expert panel’s chairperson, Teresa Scassa (in addition to both being lawyers whose specialties are in related fields and on faculty or fellow at the University of Ottawa),

Soft-funded Research Bursary

Dr. Teresa Scassa

2014

I’m not suggesting any conspiracies; it’s simply that this is a very small community with much of it located in central and eastern Canada and possible links into the US. For example, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, prior to her SFU appointment in December 2018, worked and studied in the eastern US for over 25 years after starting her academic career at the University of Waterloo (Ontario).

Abhishek Gupta provided me with a challenging search. His LinkedIn profile yielded some details (I’m not convinced the man sleeps), Note: I have made some formatting changes and removed the location, ‘Montréal area’ from some descriptions

Experience

Microsoft Graphic
Software Engineer II – Machine Learning
Microsoft

Jul 2018 – Present – 2 years 10 months

Machine Learning – Commercial Software Engineering team

Serves on the CSE Responsible AI Board

Founder and Principal Researcher
Montreal AI Ethics Institute

May 2018 – Present – 3 years

Institute creating tangible and practical research in the ethical, safe and inclusive development of AI. For more information, please visit https://montrealethics.ai

Visiting AI Ethics Researcher, Future of Work, International Visitor Leadership Program
U.S. Department of State

Aug 2019 – Present – 1 year 9 months

Selected to represent Canada on the future of work

Responsible AI Lead, Data Advisory Council
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Jun 2020 – Present – 11 months

Faculty Associate, Frankfurt Big Data Lab
Goethe University

Mar 2020 – Present – 1 year 2 months

Advisor for the Z-inspection project

Associate Member
LF AI Foundation

May 2020 – Present – 1 year

Author
MIT Technology Review

Sep 2020 – Present – 8 months

Founding Editorial Board Member, AI and Ethics Journal
Springer Nature

Jul 2020 – Present – 10 months

Education

McGill University Bachelor of Science (BS)Computer Science

2012 – 2015

Exhausting, eh? He also has an eponymous website and the Montreal AI Ethics Institute can found here where Gupta and his colleagues are “Democratizing AI ethics literacy.” My hat’s off to Gupta getting on an expert panel for CCA is quite an achievement for someone without the usual academic and/or industry trappings.

Richard Isnor, based in Nova Scotia and associate vice president of research & graduate studies at St. Francis Xavier University (StFX), seems to have some connection to northern Canada (see the reference to Nunavut Research Institute below); he’s certainly well connected to various federal government agencies according to his profile page,

Prior to joining StFX, he was Manager of the Atlantic Regional Office for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), based in Moncton, NB.  Previously, he was Director of Innovation Policy and Science at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa and also worked for three years with the National Research Council of Canada [NRC] managing Biotechnology Research Initiatives and the NRC Genomics and Health Initiative.

Richard holds a D. Phil. in Science and Technology Policy Studies from the University of Sussex, UK; a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Dalhousie University [Nova Scotia]; and a B. Sc. (Hons) in Biochemistry from Mount Allison University [New Burnswick].  His primary interest is in science policy and the public administration of research; he has worked in science and technology policy or research administrative positions for Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Privy Council Office, as well as the Nunavut Research Institute. [emphasis mine]

I don’t know what Dr. Isnor’s work is like but I’m hopeful he (along with Spiteri) will be able to provide a less ‘big city’ perspective to the proceedings.

(For those unfamiliar with Canadian cities, Montreal [three expert panelists] is the second largest city in the country, Ottawa [two expert panelists] as the capital has an outsize view of itself, Vancouver [one expert panelist] is the third or fourth largest city in the country for a total of six big city representatives out of eight Canadian expert panelists.)

Ross D. King, professor of machine intelligence at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology, might be best known for Adam, also known as, Robot Scientist. Here’s more about King, from his Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

King completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology at the University of Aberdeen in 1983 and went on to study for a Master of Science degree in Computer Science at the University of Newcastle in 1985. Following this, he completed a PhD at The Turing Institute [emphasis mine] at the University of Strathclyde in 1989[3] for work on developing machine learning methods for protein structure prediction.[7]

King’s research interests are in the automation of science, drug design, AI, machine learning and synthetic biology.[8][9] He is probably best known for the Robot Scientist[4][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17] project which has created a robot that can:

hypothesize to explain observations

devise experiments to test these hypotheses

physically run the experiments using laboratory robotics

interpret the results from the experiments

repeat the cycle as required

The Robot Scientist Wikipedia entry has this to add,

… a laboratory robot created and developed by a group of scientists including Ross King, Kenneth Whelan, Ffion Jones, Philip Reiser, Christopher Bryant, Stephen Muggleton, Douglas Kell and Steve Oliver.[2][6][7][8][9][10]

… Adam became the first machine in history to have discovered new scientific knowledge independently of its human creators.[5][17][18]

Sabina Leonelli, professor of philosophy and history of science at the University of Exeter, is the only person for whom I found a Twitter feed (@SabinaLeonelli). Here’s a bit more from her Wikipedia entry Note: Links have been removed),

Originally from Italy, Leonelli moved to the UK for a BSc degree in History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science at University College London and a MSc degree in History and Philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics. Her doctoral research was carried out in the Netherlands at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with Henk W. de Regt and Hans Radder. Before joining the Exeter faculty, she was a research officer under Mary S. Morgan at the Department of Economic History of the London School of Economics.

Leonelli is the Co-Director of the Exeter Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences (Egenis)[3] and a Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute [emphases mine] in London.[4] She is also Editor-in-Chief of the international journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences[5] and Associate Editor for the Harvard Data Science Review.[6] She serves as External Faculty for the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research.[7]

Notice that Ross King and Sabina Leonelli both have links to The Alan Turing Institute (“We believe data science and artificial intelligence will change the world”), although the institute’s link to the University of Strathclyde (Scotland) where King studied seems a bit tenuous.

Do check out Leonelli’s profile at the University of Exeter as it’s comprehensive.

Raymond J. Spiteri, professor and director of the Centre for High Performance Computing, Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan, has a profile page at the university the likes of which I haven’t seen in several years perhaps due to its 2013 origins. His other university profile page can best be described as minimalist.

His Canadian Applied and Industrial Mathematics Society (CAIMS) biography page could be described as less charming (to me) than the 2013 profile but it is easier to read,

Raymond Spiteri is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan. He performed his graduate work as a member of the Institute for Applied Mathematics at the University of British Columbia. He was a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University and held faculty positions at Acadia University and Dalhousie University before joining USask in 2004. He serves on the Executive Committee of the WestGrid High-Performance Computing Consortium with Compute/Calcul Canada. He was a MITACS Project Leader from 2004-2012 and served in the role of Mitacs Regional Scientific Director for the Prairie Provinces between 2008 and 2011.

Spiteri’s areas of research are numerical analysis, scientific computing, and high-performance computing. His area of specialization is the analysis and implementation of efficient time-stepping methods for differential equations. He actively collaborates with scientists, engineers, and medical experts of all flavours. He also has a long record of industry collaboration with companies such as IBM and Boeing.

Spiteri has been lifetime member of CAIMS/SCMAI since 2000. He helped co-organize the 2004 Annual Meeting at Dalhousie and served on the Cecil Graham Doctoral Dissertation Award Committee from 2005 to 2009, acting as chair from 2007. He has been an active participant in CAIMS, serving several times on the Scientific Committee for the Annual Meeting, as well as frequently attending and organizing mini-symposia. Spiteri believes it is important for applied mathematics to play a major role in the efforts to meet Canada’s most pressing societal challenges, including the sustainability of our healthcare system, our natural resources, and the environment.

A last look at Spiteri’s 2013 profile gave me this (Note: Links have been removed),

Another biographical note: I obtained my B.Sc. degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Ontario [also known as, Western University] in 1990. My advisor was Dr. M.A.H. (Paddy) Nerenberg, after whom the Nerenberg Lecture Series is named. Here is an excerpt from the description, put here is his honour, as a model for the rest of us:

The Nerenberg Lecture Series is first and foremost about people and ideas. Knowledge is the true treasure of humanity, accrued and passed down through the generations. Some of it, particularly science and its language, mathematics, is closed in practice to many because of technical barriers that can only be overcome at a high price. These technical barriers form part of the remarkable fractures that have formed in our legacy of knowledge. We are so used to those fractures that they have become almost invisible to us, but they are a source of profound confusion about what is known.

The Nerenberg Lecture is named after the late Morton (Paddy) Nerenberg, a much-loved professor and researcher born on 17 March– hence his nickname. He was a Professor at Western for more than a quarter century, and a founding member of the Department of Applied Mathematics there. A successful researcher and accomplished teacher, he believed in the unity of knowledge, that scientific and mathematical ideas belong to everyone, and that they are of human importance. He regretted that they had become inaccessible to so many, and anticipated serious consequences from it. [emphases mine] The series honors his appreciation for the democracy of ideas. He died in 1993 at the age of 57.

So, we have the expert panel.

Thoughts about the panel and the report

As I’ve noted previously here and elsewhere, assembling any panels whether they’re for a single event or for a longer term project such as producing a report is no easy task. Looking at the panel, there’s some arts representation, smaller urban centres are also represented, and some of the members have experience in more than one region in Canada. I was also much encouraged by Spiteri’s acknowledgement of his advisor’s, Morton (Paddy) Nerenberg, passionate commitment to the idea that “scientific and mathematical ideas belong to everyone.”

Kudos to the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) organizers.

That said, this looks like an exceptionally Eurocentric panel. Unusually, there’s no representation from the US unless you count Chun who has spent the majority of her career in the US with only a little over two years at Simon Fraser University on Canada’s West Coast.

There’s weakness to a strategy (none of the ten or so CCA reports I’ve reviewed here deviates from this pattern) that seems to favour international participants from Europe and/or the US (also, sometimes, Australia/New Zealand). This leaves out giant chunks of the international community and brings us dangerously close to an echo chamber.

The same problem exists regionally and with various Canadian communities, which are acknowledged more in spirit than in actuality, e.g., the North, rural, indigenous, arts, etc.

Getting back to the ‘big city’ emphsais noted earlier, two people from Ottawa and three from Montreal; half of the expert panel lives within a two hour train ride of each other. (For those who don’t know, that’s close by Canadian standards. For comparison, a train ride from Vancouver to Seattle [US] is about four hours, a short trip when compared to a 24 hour train trip to the closest large Canadian cities.)

I appreciate that it’s not a simple problem but my concern is that it’s never acknowledged by the CCA. Perhaps they could include a section in the report acknowledging the issues and how the expert panel attempted to address them , in other words, transparency. Coincidentally, transparency, which has been related to trust, have both been identified as big issues with artificial intelligence.

As for solutions, these reports get sent to external reviewers and, prior to the report, outside experts are sometimes brought in as the panel readies itself. That would be two opportunities afforded by their current processes.

Anyway, good luck with the report and I look forward to seeing it.

The University of British Columbia, ZEN, and graphene research

A company from Ontario (Canada) has signed a memorandum of unterstanding (MOU) for graphene research with the University of British Columbia (Canada, Okanagan Campus). From a June 20, 2019 news item on Azonano,

ZEN Graphene Solutions has announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with the University of British Columbia (UBC), Okanagan Campus, School of Engineering, where ZEN will contribute a minimum of $300,000 over three years in support of graphene research and application development.

A June 10, 2019 ZEN Graphene Solutions news release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about the MOU,

The main initial objectives defined in the MOU are:

(a) To formalize a collaborative research program utilizing expertise and capabilities from both ZEN and UBC and, where applicable, utilizing additional support and resources from government agencies such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Mitacs and the National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP); and,

(b) To structure an initial three-year research program with a committed minimum contribution by ZEN of $100,000 per year in support of UBC-based research projects.

ZEN has already supplied samples of its graphene and graphene oxide to UBC where it has undergone preliminary testing in the following applications:
In multiple battery technologies;
As an additive in cement-based composites;
As an additive to aluminum and aluminum alloys; and,
As a diesel and jet fuel additive.

“UBC has become a strong partner for ZEN over the last year bringing top quality researchers from multiple fields and connecting us with potential industrial partners. We wish to recognize the excellent research contributions made to date by Prof. Lukas Bichler and his team, and we look forward to formalizing our relationship with this agreement,” commented Dr. Francis Dubé.

“The three-year project, slated to begin this summer, challenges UBC engineering researchers to develop the next generation of stronger and lighter composite materials. The partnership with ZEN Graphene will allow for a transformational approach to composite materials development utilizing the unique properties of the Albany Graphite product. This will result in new composite materials with performance characteristics long beyond the reach of engineers and scientists using traditional material processing techniques. Linking to R&D activities at UBC will in turn enable ZEN to develop the Albany Graphite Deposit and get its graphene product to market more rapidly with a clear focus on high-impact real-world applications,” commented Dr. Bichler, associate professor of engineering at UBC’s Okanagan campus and research supervisor.
Click here for video

About ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd

ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. is an emerging graphene technology company with a focus on development of the unique Albany Graphite Project. This precursor graphene material provides the company with a competitive advantage in the potential graphene market as independent labs in Japan, UK, Israel, USA and Canada have demonstrated that ZEN’s Albany Graphite/Naturally PureTM easily converts (exfoliates) to graphene, using a variety of simple mechanical and chemical methods.

For further information:
Francis Dubé, Chief Executive Officer
Tel: +1 (289) 821-2820
Email: drfdube@zengraphene.com

To find out more on ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd., please visit our website at www.ZENGraphene.com. A copy of this news release and all material documents in respect of the Company may be obtained on ZEN’s SEDAR profile at www.sedar.ca

Forward Looking Statements

This news release includes certain “forward-looking statements”, which often, but not always, can be identified by the use of words such as “potential”, “believes”, “anticipates”, “expects”, “estimates”, “may”, “could”, “would”, “will”, or “plan”. These statements are based on information currently available to ZEN and ZEN provides no assurance that actual results will meet management’s expectations. Although the Company believes that the expectations reflected in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, undue reliance should not be placed on them because the Company can give no assurance that they will prove to be correct. Since forward-looking statements address future events and conditions, by their very nature they involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Although ZEN believes that the assumptions and factors used in preparing the forward-looking information in this news release are reasonable, undue reliance should not be placed on such information, which only applies as of the date of this news release, and no assurance can be given that such events will occur in the disclosed time frames or at all. ZEN disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, other than as required by law. Neither the TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release. The Company’s full disclosure can be found at https://zengraphene.com/disclaimer/

About Zenyatta

Zenyatta’s Albany Graphite Project hosts a large and unique deposit of highly crystalline graphite. Independent labs in Japan, UK, Israel, USA and Canada have demonstrated that Zenyatta’s Albany Graphite/Naturally PureTM easily converts (exfoliates) to graphene, using a variety of simple mechanical and chemical methods. The deposit is located in Northern Ontario, just 30km north of the Trans-Canada Highway, near the communities of Constance Lake First Nation and Hearst. Important nearby infrastructure includes hydro-power, natural gas pipeline, a rail line 50 km away, and an all-weather road just 10 km from the deposit.

For more information on Zenyatta Ventures Ltd., please visit our website at www.zenyatta.ca. A copy of this press release and all material documents with respect of the Company are available on Zenyatta’s SEDAR profile at www.sedar.ca.

CAUTIONARY STATEMENT: Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release. This news release may contain forward looking information and Zenyatta cautions readers that forward-looking information is based on certain assumptions and risk factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from the expectations of Zenyatta included in this news release. This news release includes certain “forward-looking statements”, which often, but not always, can be identified by the use of words such as “potential”, “believes”, “anticipates”, “expects”, “estimates”, “may”, “could”, “would”, “will”, or “plan”. These statements are based on information currently available to Zenyatta and Zenyatta provides no assurance that actual results will meet management’s expectations. Forward-looking statements include estimates and statements with respect to Zenyatta’s future plans, objectives or goals, to the effect that Zenyatta or management expects a stated condition or result to occur, including the expected uses for graphite or graphene in the future, and the future uses of the graphite from Zenyatta’s Albany deposit. Since forward-looking statements are based on assumptions and address future events and conditions, by their very nature they involve inherent risks and uncertainties. Actual results relating to, among other things, results of metallurgical processing, ongoing exploration, project development, reclamation and capital costs of Zenyatta’s mineral properties, and Zenyatta’s financial condition and prospects, could differ materially from those currently anticipated in such statements for many reasons such as, but are not limited to: failure to convert estimated mineral resources to reserves; the preliminary nature of metallurgical test results; the inability to identify target markets and satisfy the product criteria for such markets; the inability to complete a prefeasibility study; the inability to enter into offtake agreements with qualified purchasers; delays in obtaining or failures to obtain required governmental, environmental or other project approvals; political risks; uncertainties relating to the availability and costs of financing needed in the future; changes in equity markets, inflation, changes in exchange rates; fluctuations in commodity prices; delays in the development of projects; capital and operating costs varying significantly from estimates and the other risks involved in the mineral exploration and development industry; and those risks set out in Zenyatta’s public documents filed on SEDAR. This list is not exhaustive of the factors that may affect any of Zenyatta’s forward-looking statements. These and other factors should be considered carefully and readers should not place undue reliance on Zenyatta’s forward-looking statements. Although Zenyatta believes that the assumptions and factors used in preparing the forward-looking information in this news release are reasonable, undue reliance should not be placed on such information, which only applies as of the date of this news release, and no assurance can be given that such events will occur in the disclosed time frames or at all. Zenyatta disclaims any intention or obligation to update or revise any forward-looking information, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, other than as required by law.

Looking at the June 10, 2019 news release, it seems that they’ve split the company in two with Zenyatta being the corporate name for the mining interests and ZEN Graphene for applications.

Oddly, UBC has not issued its own news release with this happy announcement.

Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology and cellphone breathalyzers

First a soap opera, of sorts and then the science.

Canada’s ‘morphing’ National Institute of Nanotechnology

It seems we in Canada no longer have a National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) as such. (sigh) The NINT been downsized and rebranded. Always part of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), the NINT has been languishing for a number of years. The downsizing/rebranding has resulted in two new ‘entities’: the NRC Nanotechnology Research Centre and the NRC-UAlberta [University of Alberta] Nanotechnology Initiative. The original NINT was a joint venture between the Canadian federal government’s NRC and the province of Alberta, which was a co-funder with the institute (now initiative/research centre) itself being located at the University of Alberta. You can see the latest description of these agencies on this NRC Nanotechnology webpage.

For scandal mongers, the date the NRC Nanotechnology webpage was last updated is an interesting one:  March 14, 2018. My first posting about the ‘Montemagno affair’ was on March 5, 2018. Briefly, Carlo Montemagno was a US ressearcher and academic who was enticed to work at the University of Alberta with $100M of federal and provincial funding to be paid out over a 10-year period. His salary when he left about 1/2 way through his term was approximately $500,00 CAD per year. Departing in July/August 2017, Dr. Montemagno who headed up the “ingenuity Lab,” a kind of nanotechnology research and incubator project, moved to the Southern Illinois University (SIU) where he ran into some problems some of which seemed to stretch backwards to his time in Alberta. I did a followup two-part posting (April 26, 201 8 (part 1) after a student reporter from SIU dug up more material. This downsizing/rebranding seems to have been quite the cleanup job. By the way, Canada’s NanoPortal (mentioned in the March 5, 2018 posting) has currently ‘disappeared’.

Finally, the science

There is finally (it has been years) some sort of nanotechnology research from Alberta and the ‘initiative’. From a June 15, 2018 article by Jamie Sarkonak for the Edmonton Herald (in Alberta),

Cellphone breathalyzers may be on the horizon with the breakthrough by an Edmonton-based nanotechnology team.

The special sensors, called nano-optomechanical systems, are normally studied in airtight conditions. But the research of nanotechnologist Wayne Hiebert, published in the journal Science on Friday [June 15, 2018], has found the sensors work better in the open air — making them candidates for everyday use.

Hiebert, a researcher at the Nanotechnology Research Centre [emphasis mine] at the University of Alberta, said this means the sensors may one day run metabolic readings, cancer screenings and other tests that currently have to be done in laboratories. The sensors could also improve GPS and clock accuracy once the technology is more developed, Hiebert said.

Scientists have always believed that sensors on the nanoscale work better when they’re in a space sealed off from any air, Hiebert said. Readings taken in vacuums are much “sharper” than readings taken in regular air, which was always thought to be more useful in nanotechnology.

Four years of Hiebert’s work has found the opposite. The “duller” readings taken in the open gave the scientists a more accurate reading of what was in the air.

For the interested, there are more details in Sarkonak’s article.

For those who can read the science, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Improving mechanical sensor performance through larger damping by Swapan K. Roy, Vincent T. K. Sauer, Jocelyn N. Westwood-Bachman, Anandram Venkatasubramanian, Wayne K. Hiebert. Science 15 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6394, eaar5220 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5220

This paper is behind a paywall.

smARTcities SALON in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada on March 22, 2018

Thank goodness for the March 15, 2018 notice from the Art/Sci Salon in Toronto (received via email) announcing an event on smart cities being held in the nearby city of Vaughan (it borders Toronto to the north). It’s led me on quite the chase as I’ve delved into a reference to Smart City projects taking place across the country and the results follow after this bit about the event.

smARTcities SALON

From the announcement,

SMARTCITIES SALON

Smart City projects are currently underway across the country, including
Google SideWalk at Toronto Harbourfront. Canada’s first Smart Hospital
is currently under construction in the City of Vaughan. It’s an example
of the city working towards building a reputation as one of the world’s
leading Smart Cities, by adopting new technologies consistent with
priorities defined by citizen collaboration.

Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua, P.C., Mayor chairs the Smart City Advisory
Task Force leading historic transformation in Vaughan. Working to become
a Smart City is a chance to encourage civic engagement, accelerate
economic growth, and generate efficiencies. His opening address will
outline some of the priorities and opportunities that our panel will
discuss.

PANELISTS

Lilian Radovac, PhD., Assistant Professor, Institute of Communication,
Culture, Information & Technology, University of Toronto. Lilian is a
historian of urban sounds and cultures and has a critical interest in
SmartCity initiatives in two of the cities she has called home: New York
City and Toronto..

Oren Berkovich is the CEO of Singularity University in Canada, an
educational institution and a global network of experts and
entrepreneurs that work together on solving the world’s biggest
challenges. As a catalyst for long-term growth Oren spends his time
connecting people with ideas to facilitate strategic conversations about
the future.

Frank Di Palma, the Chief Information Officer for the City of Vaughan,
is a graduate of York University with more than 20 years experience in
IT operations and services. Frank leads the many SmartCity initiatives
already underway at Vaughan City Hall.

Ron Wild, artist and Digital Art/Science Collaborator, will moderate the
discussion.

Audience Participation opportunities will enable attendees to forward
questions for consideration by the panel.

You can register for the smARTcities SALON here on Eventbrite,

Art Exhibition Reception

Following the panel discussion, the audience is invited to view the art exhibition ‘smARTcities; exploring the digital frontier.’ Works commissioned by Vaughan specifically for the exhibition, including the SmartCity Map and SmartHospital Map will be shown as well as other Art/Science-themed works. Many of these ‘maps’ were made by Ron in collaboration with mathematicians, scientists, and medical researchers, some of who will be in attendance. Further examples of Ron’s art can be found HERE

Please click through to buy a FREE ticket so we know how many guests to expect. Thank you.

This event can be reached by taking the subway up the #1 west line to the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre terminal station. Take the #20 bus to the Vaughan Mills transfer loop; transfer there to the #4/A which will take you to the stop right at City Hall. Free parking is available for those coming by car. Car-pooling and ride-sharing is encouraged. The facility is fully accessible.

Here’s one of Wild’s pieces,

144×96″ triptych, Vaughan, 2018 Artist: mrowade (Ron Wild?)

I’m pretty sure that mrowade is Ron Wild.

Smart Cities, the rest of the country, and Vancouver

Much to my surprise, I covered the ‘Smart Cities’ story in its early (but not earliest) days (and before it was Smart Cities) in two posts: January 30, 2015 and January 27,2016 about the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and its cities and technology public engagement exercises.

David Vogt in a July 12, 2016 posting on the Urban Opus website provides some catch up information,

Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) has identified Cities of the Future as a game-changing technology and economic opportunity.  Following a national dialogue, an Executive Summit was held in Toronto on March 31, 2016, resulting in an important summary report that will become the seed for Canadian R&D strategy in this sector.

The conclusion so far is that the opportunity for Canada is to muster leadership in the following three areas (in order):

  1. Better Infrastructure and Infrastructure Management
  2. Efficient Transportation; and
  3. Renewable Energy

The National Research Council (NRC) offers a more balanced view of the situation on its “NRC capabilities in smart infrastructure and cities of the future” webpage,

Key opportunities for Canada

North America is one of the most urbanised regions in the world (82 % living in urban areas in 2014).
With growing urbanisation, sustainable development challenges will be increasingly concentrated in cities, requiring technology solutions.
Smart cities are data-driven, relying on broadband and telecommunications, sensors, social media, data collection and integration, automation, analytics and visualization to provide real-time situational analysis.
Most infrastructure will be “smart” by 2030 and transportation systems will be intelligent, adaptive and connected.
Renewable energy, energy storage, power quality and load measurement will contribute to smart grid solutions that are integrated with transportation.
“Green”, sustainable and high-performing construction and infrastructure materials are in demand.

Canadian challenges

High energy use: Transportation accounts for roughly 23% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions, followed closely by the energy consumption of buildings, which accounts for 12% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions (Canada’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report).
Traffic congestion in Canadian cities is increasing, contributing to loss of productivity, increased stress for citizens as well as air and noise pollution.
Canadian cities are susceptible to extreme weather and events related to climate change (e.g., floods, storms).
Changing demographics: aging population (need for accessible transportation options, housing, medical and recreational services) and diverse (immigrant) populations.
Financial and jurisdictional issues: the inability of municipalities (who have primary responsibility) to finance R&D or large-scale solutions without other government assistance.

Opportunities being examined
Living lab

Test bed for smart city technology in order to quantify and demonstrate the benefits of smart cities.
Multiple partnering opportunities (e.g. municipalities, other government organizations, industry associations, universities, social sciences, urban planning).

The integrated city

Efficient transportation: integration of personal mobility and freight movement as key city and inter-city infrastructure.
Efficient and integrated transportation systems linked to city infrastructure.
Planning urban environments for mobility while repurposing redundant infrastructures (converting parking to the food-water-energy nexus) as population shifts away from personal transportation.

FOOD-WATER-ENERGY NEXUS

Sustainable urban bio-cycling.
‎System approach to the development of the technology platforms required to address the nexus.

Key enabling platform technologies
Artificial intelligence

Computer vision and image understanding
Adaptive robots; future robotic platforms for part manufacturing
Understanding human emotions from language
Next generation information extraction using deep learning
Speech recognition
Artificial intelligence to optimize talent management for human resources

Nanomaterials

Nanoelectronics
Nanosensing
Smart materials
Nanocomposites
Self-assembled nanostructures
Nanoimprint
Nanoplasmonic
Nanoclay
Nanocoating

Big data analytics

Predictive equipment maintenance
Energy management
Artificial intelligence for optimizing energy storage and distribution
Understanding and tracking of hazardous chemical elements
Process and design optimization

Printed electronics for Internet of Things

Inks and materials
Printing technologies
Large area, flexible, stretchable, printed electronics components
Applications: sensors for Internet of Things, wearables, antenna, radio-frequency identification tags, smart surfaces, packaging, security, signage

If you’re curious about the government’s plan with regard to implementation, this NRC webpage provides some fascinating insight into their hopes if not the reality. (I have mentioned artificial intelligence and the federal government before in a March 16, 2018 posting about the federal budget and science; scroll down approximately 50% of the way to the subsection titled, Budget 2018: Who’s watching over us? and scan for Michael Karlin’s name.)

As for the current situation, there’s a Smart Cities Challenge taking place. Both Toronto and Vancouver have webpages dedicated to their response to the challenge. (You may want to check your own city’s website to find if it’s participating.)I have a preference for the Toronto page as they immediately state that they’re participating in this challenge and they provide an explanation for what they want from you. Vancouver’s page is by comparison a bit confusing with two videos being immediately presented to the reader and from there too many graphics competing for your attention. They do, however, offer something valuable, links to explanations for smart cities and for the challenge.

Here’s a description of the Smart Cities Challenge (from its webpage),

The Smart Cities Challenge

The Smart Cities Challenge is a pan-Canadian competition open to communities of all sizes, including municipalities, regional governments and Indigenous communities (First Nations, Métis and Inuit). The Challenge encourages communities to adopt a smart cities approach to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology.

  • One prize of up to $50 million open to all communities, regardless of population;
  • Two prizes of up to $10 million open to all communities with populations under 500,000 people; and
  • One prize of up to $5 million open to all communities with populations under 30,000 people.

Infrastructure Canada is engaging Indigenous leaders, communities and organizations to finalize the design of a competition specific to Indigenous communities that will reflect their unique realities and issues. Indigenous communities are also eligible to compete for all the prizes in the current competition.

The Challenge will be an open and transparent process. Communities that submit proposals will also post them online, so that residents and stakeholders can see them. An independent Jury will be appointed to select finalists and winners.

Applications are due by April 24, 2018. Communities interested in participating should visit the
Impact Canada Challenge Platform for the applicant guide and more information.

Finalists will be announced in the Summer of 2018 and winners in Spring 2019 according to the information on the Impact Canada Challenge Platform.

It’s not clear to me if she’s leading Vancouver’s effort to win the Smart Cities Challenge but Jessie Adcock’s (City of Vancouver Chief Digital Officer) Twitter feed certainly features information on the topic and, I suspect, if you’re looking for the most up-to-date information on Vancovuer’s participation, you’re more likely to find it on her feed than on the City of Vancouver’s Smart Cities Challenge webpage.