Tag Archives: PBS

Three part TED Talks series premieres on US public broadcasting stations on March 30, 2016

From a March 29, 2016 announcement received via email,

A special hour of television is happening …, and I’m [Chris Anderson] thrilled to ask you to join me in watching …

On Wednesday night, March 30, we premiere TED Talks: Science & Wonder, a one-hour show on PBS television channels across the US at 10 p.m. Eastern time — and available soon afterward as a full episode online.

This one-hour show distills talks and performances from two full nights of talks on Broadway — featuring views from the frontier of cancer research, movie animation and the very code that defines life itself. It’s a celebration of the scientific spirit — its capacity to inspire wonder, hope and just a little bit of surprise!

It also features three very special short films that celebrate science — including the last ever interview with Dr. Oliver Sacks.

If you’re watching in North America, click here to find the TV station near you.

The US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Ted Talks webpage has more information about the three part series and a link to the series website,

TED Talks is a three part PBS series of one-hour television specials recorded at the Town Hall Theater in New York, and features TED Talks from some of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers. The programs also feature performances and short independent films. Hosted by author and comedian Baratunde Thurston, each program highlights speakers and films that focus on a different theme: Science and Wonder, War and Peace, and Education Revolution.


Should you be unfamiliar with TED (technology, entertainment, design), you can find out more here.

Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement

First the news, Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement is going to be broadcast on KCTS 9 (PBS [Public Broadcasting Service] station for Seattle/Yakima) on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015 at 7 pm PDT. From the KCTS 9 schedule,

From botox to bionic limbs, the human body is more “upgradeable” than ever. But how much of it can we alter and still be human? What do we gain or lose in the process? Award-winning documentary, Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, explores the social impact of human biotechnologies. Haunting and humorous, poignant and political, Fixed rethinks “disability” and “normalcy” by exploring technologies that promise to change our bodies and minds forever.

This 2013 documentary has a predecessor titled ‘Fixed’, which I wrote about in an August 3, 2010 posting. The director for both ‘Fixeds’ is Regan Brashear.

It seems the latest version of Fixed builds on the themes present in the first, while integrating the latest scientific work (to 2013) in the field of human enhancement (from my August 3, 2010 posting),

As for the film, I found this at the University of California, Santa Cruz,

Fixed is a video documentary that explores the burgeoning field of “human enhancement” technologies from the perspective of individuals with disabilities. Fixed uses the current debates surrounding human enhancement technologies (i.e. bionic limbs, brain machine interfaces, prenatal screening technologies such as PGD or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, etc.) to tackle larger questions about disability, inequality, and citizenship. This documentary asks the question, “Will these technologies ‘liberate’ humanity, or will they create even more inequality?”

You can find out more about the 2013 Fixed on its website or Facebook page (they list opportunities in the US, in Canada, and internationally to see the documentary). There is also a listing of PBS broadcasts available from the Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement Press page.

I recognized two names from the cast list on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) page for Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement, Gregor Wolbring (he also appeared in the first ‘Fixed’) and Hugh Herr.

Gregor has been mentioned here a few times in connection with human enhancement. A Canadian professor at the University of Calgary, he’s active in the field of bioethics and you can find out more about Gregor and his work here.

Hugh Herr was first mentioned here in a January 30, 2013 posting titled: The ultimate DIY: ‘How to build a robotic man’ on BBC 4. He is a robotocist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The two men offering contrasting perspectives, Gregor Wolbring, ‘we should re-examine the notion that some people are impaired and need to be fixed’,  and Hugh Herr, ‘we will eliminate all forms of impairment’. Hopefully, the 2013 documentary has managed to present more of the nuances than I have.

April 2015 (US) National Math festival; inside story on math tournaments; US tv programme: The Great Math Mystery; and the SET Award (tech women in the movies and on tv)

I have three math items for this posting and one women in technology item, here they are in an almost date order.


A British movie titled X+Y provides a fictionalized view of a team member on the British squad competing in an International Mathematics Olympiad.The Guardian’s science blog network hosted a March 11, 2015 review by Adam P. Goucher who also provides an insider’s view (Note: Links have been removed),

As a competition it is brutal and intense.

I speak from experience; I was in the UK team in 2011.

So it was with great expectation that I went to see X+Y, a star-studded British film about the travails of a British IMO hopeful who is struggling against the challenges of romance, Asperger’s and really tough maths.

Obviously, there were a few oversimplifications and departures from reality necessary for a coherent storyline. There were other problems too, but we’ll get to them later.

In order to get chosen for the UK IMO team, you must sit the first round test of the British Mathematical Olympiad (BMO1). About 1200 candidates take this test around the country.

I sat BMO1 on a cold December day at my sixth form, Netherthorpe School in Chesterfield. Apart from the invigilator and me, the room was completely empty, although the surroundings became irrelevant as soon as I was captivated by the problems. The test comprises six questions over the course of three and a half hours. As is the case with all Olympiad problems, there are often many distinct ways to solve them, and correct complete solutions are maximally rewarded irrespective of the elegance or complexity of the proof.

The highest twenty scorers are invited to another training camp at Trinity College, Cambridge, and the top six are selected to represent the UK at an annual competition in Romania.

In Romania, there was much maths, but we also enjoyed a snowball fight against the Italian delegation and sampled the delights of Romanian rum-endowed chocolate. Since I was teetotal at this point in time, the rum content was sufficient to alter my perception in such a way that I decided to attack a problem using Cartesian coordinates (considered by many to be barbaric and masochistic). Luckily my recklessness paid off, enabling me to scrape a much-coveted gold medal by the narrowest of margins.

The connection between the UK and Eastern Europe is rather complicated to explain, being intimately entangled with the history of the IMO. The inaugural Olympiad was held in Romania in 1959, with the competition being only open to countries under the Soviet bloc. A Hungarian mathematician, Béla Bollobás, competed in the first three Olympiads, seizing a perfect score on the third. After his PhD, Bollobás moved to Trinity College, Cambridge, to continue his research, where he fertilised Cambridge with his contributions in probabilistic and extremal combinatorics (becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society in the process). Consequently, there is a close relationship between Hungarian and Cantabrigian mathematics.

Rafe Spall’s character was very convincing, and his eccentricities injected some much-needed humour into the film. Similarly, Asa Butterfield’s portrayal of a “typical mathmo” was realistic. On the other hand, certain characters such as Richard (the team leader) were unnatural and exaggerated. In particular, I was disappointed that all of the competitors were portrayed as being borderline-autistic, when in reality there is a much more diverse mixture of individuals.

X+Y is also a love story, and one based on a true story covered in Morgan Matthews’ earlier work, the documentary Beautiful Young Minds. This followed the 2006 IMO, in China, where one of the members of the UK team fell in love and married the receptionist of the hotel the team were staying at. They have since separated, although his enamourment with China persisted – he switched from studying Mathematics to Chinese Studies.

It is common for relationships to develop during maths Olympiads. Indeed after a member of our team enjoyed a ménage-a-trois at an IMO in the 1980s, the committee increased the security and prohibited boys and girls from entering each others’ rooms.

The film was given a general release March 13, 2015 in the UK and is on the festival circuit elsewhere. Whether or not you can get to see the film, I recommend Goucher’s engaging review/memoir.

The Great Math Mystery and the SET award for the Portrayal of a Female in Technology

David Bruggeman in a March 13, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog describes the upcoming première of a maths installment in the NOVA series presented on the US PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), Note: Links have been removed,

… PBS has announced a new math special.  Mario Livio will host a NOVA special called The Great Math Mystery, premiering April 15.  Livio is an astrophysicist, science and math writer, and fan of science/culture mashups.  The mystery of the title is whether math(s) is invented or was discovered.

You can find out more about The Great Math Mystery here.

David also mentions this,

The Entertainment Industries Council is seeking votes for its first SET Award for Portrayal of a Female in Technology. … Voting on the award is via a Google form, so you will need a Google account to participate.  The nominees appear to be most of the women playing characters with technical jobs in television programs or recent films.  They are:

  • Annedroids on Amazon
  • Arrow: “Felicity Smoak” played by Emily Bett Rickards
  • Bones: “Angela Montenegro” played by Michaela Conlin

Here’s a video describing the competition and the competitors,

More details about the competition are available in David’s March 13, 2015 post or here or here. The deadline for voting is April 6, 2015. Here’s one more link, this one’s to the SET Awards website.

(US) National Math Festival

H/t to David Bruggeman again. This time it’s a Feb. 6, 2015 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog which announces (Note: Links have been removed),

On April 18 [2015], the Smithsonian Institution will host the first National Math Festival in Washington, D.C.  It will be the culmination of a weekend of events in the city to recognize outstanding math research, educators and books.

On April 16 there will be a morning breakfast briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss mathematics education.  It will be followed by a policy seminar in the Library of Congress and an evening gala to support basic research in mathematics and science.

You can find out more about the 2015 National Math Festival here (from the homepage),

On Saturday, April 18th, experience mathematics like never before, when the first-of-its-kind National Math Festival comes to Washington, D.C. As the country’s first national festival dedicated to discovering the delight and power of mathematics, this free and public celebration will feature dozens of activities for every age—from hands-on magic and Houdini-like getaways to lectures with some of the most influential mathematicians of our time.

The National Math Festival is organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) and the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution.

There you have it.

Intelligence, computers, and robots

Starting tonight, Feb. 14, 2011, you’ll be able to watch a computer compete against two former champions on the US television quiz programme, Jeopardy.  The match between the IBM computer, named Watson, and the most accomplished champions that have ever played on Jeopardy, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, has been four years in the making. From the article by Julie Beswald on physorg.com,

“Let’s finish, ‘Chicks Dig Me’,” intones the somewhat monotone, but not unpleasant, voice of Watson, IBM’s new supercomputer built to compete on the game show Jeopardy!

The audience chuckles in response to the machine-like voice and its all-too-human assertion. But fellow contestant Ken Jennings gets the last laugh as he buzzes in and garners $1,000.

This exchange is part of a January 13 practice round for the world’s first man vs. machine game show. Scheduled to air February 14-16, the match pits Watson against the two best Jeopardy! players of all time. Jennings holds the record for the most consecutive games won, at 74. The other contestant, Brad Rutter, has winnings totaling over $3.2 million.

On Feb. 9, 2011, PBS’s NOVA science program broadcast a documentary about Watson whose name is derived from the company founder, Paul Watson, and not Sherlock Holmes’s companion and biographer, Dr. Watson. Titled the Smartest Machine on Earth, the show highlighted Watson’s learning process and some of the principles behind artificial intelligence. PBS’s website is featuring a live blogging event of tonight’s and the Feb. 15 and 16 matches. From the website,

On Monday [Feb. 14, 2011], our bloggers will be Nico Schlaefer and Hideki Shima, two Ph.D. students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute who worked on the Watson project.

At the same time that the ‘Watson’ event was being publicized last week, another news item on artificial intelligence and learning was making the rounds. From a Feb. 9, 2011 article by Mark Ward on BBC News ,

Robots could soon have an equivalent of the internet and Wikipedia.

European scientists have embarked on a project to let robots share and store what they discover about the world.

Called RoboEarth it will be a place that robots can upload data to when they master a task, and ask for help in carrying out new ones.

Researchers behind it hope it will allow robots to come into service more quickly, armed with a growing library of knowledge about their human masters. [emphasis mine]

You can read a first person account of the RoboEarth project on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering) Spectrum’s Automaton Robotics blog in a posting by Markus Waibel,

As part of the European project RoboEarth, I am currently one of about 30 people working towards building an Internet for robots: a worldwide, open-source platform that allows any robot with a network connection to generate, share, and reuse data. The project is set up to deliver a proof of concept to show two things:

* RoboEarth greatly speeds up robot learning and adaptation in complex tasks.

* Robots using RoboEarth can execute tasks that were not explicitly planned for at design time.

The vision behind RoboEarth is much larger: Allow robots to encode, exchange, and reuse knowledge to help each other accomplish complex tasks. This goes beyond merely allowing robots to communicate via the Internet, outsourcing computation to the cloud, or linked data.

But before you yell “Skynet!,” think again. While the most similar things science fiction writers have imagined may well be the artificial intelligences in Terminator, the Space Odyssey series, or the Ender saga, I think those analogies are flawed. [emphasis mine] RoboEarth is about building a knowledge base, and while it may include intelligent web services or a robot app store, it will probably be about as self-aware as Wikipedia.

That said, my colleagues and I believe that if robots are to move out of the factories and work alongside humans, they will need to systematically share data and build on each other’s experience.

Unfortunately, Markus Waibel doesn’t explain why he thinks the analogies are flawed but he does lay out the reasoning for why robots should share information. For a more approachable and much briefer account, you can check out Ariel Schwartz’s Feb. 10, 2011 article on the Fast Company website,

The EU-funded [European Union] RoboEarth project is bringing together European scientists to build a network and database repository for robots to share information about the world. They will, if all goes as planned, use the network to store and retrieve information about objects, locations (including maps), and instructions about completing activities. Robots will be both the contributors and the editors of the repository.

With RoboEarth, one robot’s learning experiences are never lost–the data is passed on for other robots to mine. As RedOrbit explains, that means one robot’s experiences with, say, setting a dining room table could be passed on to others, so the butler robot of the future might know how to prepare for dinner guests without any prior programming.

There is a RoboEarth website, so we humans can get more information and hopefully keep up with the robots.

Happily and as there is with increasing frequency, there’s a Youtube video. This one features a robot downloading information from RoboEarth and using that information in a quasi hospital setting,

I find this use of popular entertainment, particularly obvious with Watson, to communicate about scientific advances quite interesting. On this same theme of popular culture as a means of science communication, I featured a Lady Gaga parody by a lab working on Alzheimer’s in my Jan. 28, 2011 posting.  I also find the reference to “human masters” in the BBC article along with Waibel’s flat assertion that some science fiction analogies about artificial intelligence are flawed indicative of some very old anxieties as expressed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

ETA Feb. 14, 2011: The latest posting on the Pasco Phronesis blog, I, For One, Welcome Our Robot Game Show Overlords, features another opinion about the Watson appearances on Jeopardy. From the posting,

What will this mean? Given that a cursory search suggests opinion is divided on whether Watson will win this week, I have no idea. While it will likely be entertaining, and does represent a significant step forward in computing capabilities, I can’t help but think about the supercomputing race that makes waves only when a new computational record is made. It’s nice, and might prompt government action should they lose the number one standing. But what does it mean? What new outcomes do we have because of this? The conversation is rarely about what, to me, seems more important.

Thoughts on part 4 of (PBS) Nova’s Making Stuff series

Last night (Feb.9.11) PBS aired the final part of the Making Stuff  series as part of its Nova tv programming. It was titled Making Stuff Smarter and did not feature a single bot of any kind or any nanoscale computers or labs on chips thereby frustrating (not in a bad way) some of my expectations but I should have become accustomed to that by now.

There was a focus on something called biomimicry, a term I did not hear used while I was watching (confession: I didn’t watch every single minute of the show), where researchers try to make materials that mimic a process or ability observed in nature. They used sharkskin as an example for making a ‘smarter’ material. Scientists have observed that nanoscale structures on a shark’s skin have antibacterial properties. This is especially important when we have a growing problem with bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. David Pogue’s (the program host) interviewed scientists at Sharklet and highlighted their work producing a plastic with nanostructures similar to those found on sharkskin for use in hospitals, restaurants, etc.  I found this on the Sharklet website (from a rotating graphic on the home page),

The World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance a leading threat to human health.

Sharkjet provides a non-toxic approach to bacterial control and doesn’t create resistance.

The reason that the material does not create resistance is that it doesn’t kill the bacteria (antibiotics kill most bacteria but cannot kill all of them with the consequence that only the resistant survive and reproduce). Excerpted from Sharklet’s technology page,

While the Sharklet pattern holds great promise to improve the way humans co-exist with microorganisms, the pattern was developed far outside of a laboratory. In fact, Sharklet was discovered via a seemingly unrelated problem: how to keep algae from coating the hulls of submarines and ships. In 2002, Dr. Anthony Brennan, a materials science and engineering professor at the University of Florida, was visiting the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Oahu as part of Navy-sponsored research. The U.S. Office of Naval Research solicited Dr. Brennan to find new antifouling strategies to reduce use of toxic antifouling paints and trim costs associated with dry dock and drag.

Dr. Brennan was convinced that using an engineered topography could be a key to new antifouling technologies. Clarity struck as he and several colleagues watched an algae-coated nuclear submarine return to port. Dr. Brennan remarked that the submarine looked like a whale lumbering into the harbor. In turn, he asked which slow moving marine animals don’t foul. The only one? The shark.

Dr. Brennan was inspired to take an actual impression of shark skin, or more specifically, its dermal denticles. Examining the impression with scanning electron microscopy, Dr. Brennan confirmed his theory. Shark skin denticles are arranged in a distinct diamond pattern with tiny riblets. Dr. Brennan measured the ribs’ width-to-height ratios which corresponded to his mathematical model for roughness – one that would discourage microorganisms from settling. The first test of Sharklet yielded impressive results. Sharklet reduced green algae settlement by 85 percent compared to smooth surfaces.

There’s more to the story so I encourage you to take a look at the page. What I find compelling about biomimicry is that we are learning from nature and mimicking it rather than try to control or destroy what we view as dangerous to us or, in some cases, not valuable. Interestingly, this program featured the military quite prominently in other segments while, as far as I’m aware, failing to mention biomimcry  which suggests (I’m putting on my semiotic hat) that our ideas about controlling nature and using warlike metaphors to describe scientific and medical efforts are still dominant socially and being reproduced.

I enjoyed (with qualifications regarding some of the subtext) the program series (all three of the shows I managed to watch) but, as I’ve noted previously, I’m not the target market so some of it was a bit too fluffy for me.

I found this fourth installment the most interesting and I was delighted to see that they featured climbing robots (based on geckos and mentioned in my Aug. 2, 2010 posting) and invisibility (mentioned most recently in my Jan. 26, 2011 posting although that features a different approach than the one mentioned in the program) along with a few items that were new to me.

Coincidentally the National Film Board of Canada is featuring a film short titled, Magic Molecule in its Feb. 9, 2011 newsletter. Produced in 1964, it introduces us to the fabulous world of plastics. In some ways, it’s very similar to the Making Stuff series. The tone is upbeat and very much pro plastics and its wonders.

Science outreach and Nova’s Making Stuff series on PBS

The February 2011 NISE (Nanoscale Informal Science Education) Net newsletter pointed me towards a video interview with Amy Moll, a materials scientist (Boise State University) being interviewed by Joe McEntee, group editor IOP Publishing, for the physicsworld.com video series,

Interesting discussion, yes? The Making Stuff series on PBS is just part of their (materials scientists’ working through their professional association, the Materials Research Society) science outreach effort. The series itself has been several years in the planning but is just one piece of a much larger effort.

All of which puts another news item into perspective. From the Feb. 7, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

The Arizona Science Center is enlisting the expertise of professors in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in showcasing the latest advances in materials science and engineering.

The engineering schools are among organizations collaborating with the science center to present the Making Stuff Festival Feb. 18-20. [emphasis mine]

The event will explore how new kinds of materials are shaping the future of technology – in medicine, computers, energy, space travel, transportation and an array of personal electronic devices.

No one is making a secret of the connection,

The festival is being presented in conjunction with the broadcast of “Making Stuff”, a multi-part television series of the Public Broadcasting Service program NOVA that focuses on advances in materials technologies. It’s airing locally on KAET-Channel 8.

Channel 8 is another collaborator on the Making Stuff Festival, along with ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, the Arizona Technology Council, Medtronic, Intel and Science Foundation Arizona.

I highlight these items to point out how much thought, planning, and effort can go into science outreach.

Nano haikus (from the Feb. 2011 issue of the NISE Net Newsletter,

We received two Haikus from Michael Flynn expressing his hopes and fears for nanotechnology:

Miracle fibers
Weave a new reality
Built from the ground up

Too Small to be seen
This toxin is nanoscale
Can’t tell if it spilled

Thoughts on part 3 of (PBS) Nova’s Making Stuff series

Since the title of the programme was Making Stuff Cleaner, my hopes were up. Anyone who reads me with any frequency knows that I’m obsessed with windows, especially the self-cleaning type. Sadly, my hopes for part 3 of (PBS) Nova’s Making Stuff series were frustrated as the focus was largely on cars (with Jay Leno being prominently featured) and petroleum products as they pertain to climate change and energy requirements.

Leno, for anyone who may not know, is a serious car collector and, as one could see, he’s also well informed about the history of the car and alternatives to the car’s current reliance on petroleum products.

As I’m learning to expect, they didn’t talk about the nanotechnology research for several minutes. I didn’t time it for part three but in part one it was roughly 30 minutes before they got to it.

There was a lot of discussion about the various kinds of batteries that are available and new, more environmentally clean batteries being developed, while we got to watch a lot of people driving cars.

The car companies are also working on materials to replace the plastics that are used in car interiors. Fascinatingly, one project involves growing a car part from bacteria. (This reminds of a visual artist who grows clothing from bacteria as mentioned in my Bacteria as couture and transgenic salmon? posting, July 12, 2010.)

It was a very upbeat, positive take on the work being done to find new energy sources and to deal with climate change issues. I think that someone using this programme as a primary source of information might be persuaded we are much closer to replacing our use of petroleum with more environmentally sound practices than is the case. The Friends of the Earth (FoE), civil society group, released a fairly pointed report in November 2010 titled, Nanotechnology, climate and energy: Over-heated promises and hot air?, which suggests otherwise. I’m given to understand that there is good research in this report but anything not supporting their main thesis has been omitted.

The two agendas: Making Stuff Cleaner programme and FOE’s report, curiously enough, mirror each other with their relentless insistence on interpreting the information in a light that highlights their perspective only. Let’s not discount either; let’s refer to both, judiciously.

I did miss part 2 of the series, Making Stuff Smaller and cannot view it on the PBS website since I’m  not living in the right region. Next week, the fourth and final part: Making Stuff Smarter.

ETA Feb.4.11: According my NISE Net newsletter for Feb. 2011, tonight’s episode of tv programme Jeopardy will feature Making Stuff  as a full category. (For anyone not familiar Je0pardy,  it’s a quiz show where contestants choose categories of answers for which they must determine the questions. E.g. The category ‘Whose Bob?’ might feature the clue ‘birds’ to which the contestant would reply, ‘What kind of animal are bobolinks?’)  I’m not sure how including the category ‘Making Stuff’ will work given that there’s one more episode to be broadcast. From the newsletter,

For those of you Jeopardy! fans out there, Making Stuff will be a full category on the program airing Friday, February 4th.

Making Stuff (nanotechnology) on PBS’s Nova tonight

Tonight, PBS’s Nova tv series will broadcast part one of its four-part series on nanotechnology. I first mentioned the programme in my Jan. 7, 2011 posting where I noted that Andrew Maynard (2020 Science blog) had seen a preview and had some reservations about one item in the four-part series. (The host, David Pogue, in a bit intended to be amusing, drinks some milk from a goat that has been injected with spider genes.) I will be watching eagerly tonight (and subsequent nights) to see if the producers have made any changes after receiving some feedback about the ‘humourous’ bit. You can read more about the PBS nanotechnology series here on their Making Stuff page.

Since this seem to be my week for television, I did watch Chuck on Monday night (as per my Jan. 17, 2011 posting) and the nanotechnology part of the story was unexceptional largely because it had very little to do with the story. The nanochip everyone was chasing was a ‘McGuffin’ (from the Wikipedia essay),

A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is “a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction”. The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is. In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot.

Bumper crop of nano news from NISE Net

The January issue of the NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) newsletter features information about a new resource for scientists who need to talk or communicate about their work, Mastering Science and Public Presentations is a video. This talk was given by Tim Masters of Spoken Science at Duke University in the summer of 2010.

Larry Bell on his NISE Net blog discusses some of the meetings (National Science Foundation and National Nanotechnology Initiative) he attended in Washington, DC. I found the one about a Periodic Table of Nanoparticles particularly interesting as it includes an image which features the particles in 3 dimensions representing shape, size, and composition.

There’s a very good nanotechnology article by Corinna Wu in the American Association for Engineering Education (ASEE) magazine, PRISM, Peril in Small Places; What dangers lurk in our expanding use of nanotechnology? It does have an ominous title but the writer does a good job of covering the positive and exciting aspects as well as the risks. From the article,

The wonder of nanotechnology is the abundance of materials, devices, and systems made possible by controlling and manipulating matter at the atomic and molecular levels. But with that wonder comes concern that these now ubiquitous nanoparticles could spread new hazardous pollutants that threaten health and the environment. “We’re trying to say, ‘These are new materials. We don’t know if there’s a problem, so let’s ask now,’” says Sally Tinkle, senior science adviser at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. With prodding from the National Research Council and other institutions, inquiry into the health and environmental effects of nanotechnology has gone hand in hand with research on potential applications. The work is interdisciplinary, and engineers play a critical role. By helping to figure out what makes a nanoparticle toxic, they can, for instance, design nanoparticles that kill cancer cells yet don’t harm healthy tissues, or that remove pollutants from soil without poisoning wildlife.

It’s focused on the US scene and, one quibble, I’m not sure about some of the numbers. (For example, Wu gives a value for the number of nanotechnology products on the market but offers no details as to how this number was derived or where it came from.)

There’s a four-part series, Making Stuff, that’s going to be broadcast as part of the NOVA program on PBS. It starts Jan. 19, 2010. From the website,

Invisibility cloaks. Spider silk that is stronger than steel. Plastics made of sugar that dissolve in landfills. Self-healing military vehicles. Smart pills and micro-robots that zap diseases. Clothes that monitor your mood. What will the future bring, and what will it be made of? In NOVA’s four-hour series, “Making Stuff,” popular New York Times technology reporter David Pogue takes viewers on a fun-filled tour of the material world we live in, and the one that may lie ahead. Get a behind-the-scenes look at scientific innovations ushering in a new generation of materials that are stronger, smaller, cleaner, and smarter than anything we’ve ever seen.

Beginning January 19, 2011, NOVA will premiere the new four-hour series on consecutive Wednesday nights at 9 pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings): “Making Stuff: Stronger, Smaller, Cleaner, Smarter.”

I wonder if they’ve made any changes to the series. After previewing it a few months ago, Andrew Maynard at 2020 Science featured the program in his Nov. 2, 2010 posting and it provoked a bit of a discussion about how to present science. From the posting,

Last week while at the NISE Net network-wide meeting, I was fortunate enough to see a preview of part of NOVA’s forthcoming series Making Stuff. The series focuses on the wonders of modern materials science. But rather than coming away enthralled by the ingenuity of scientists, I found myself breaking out in a cold sweat as I watched something that set my science-engagement alarm-bells ringing: New York Times tech reporter and host David Pogue enthusing about splicing spider genes into a goat so it produces silk protein-containing milk, then glibly drinking the milk while joking about transforming into Spider Man.

I was sitting there thinking, “You start with a spider – not everyone’s favorite creature. And you genetically cross it with a goat – dangerous territory at the best of times. Then you show a middle aged dude drinking the modified milk from a transgenic animal and having a laugh about it. And all this without any hint of a question over the wisdom or ramifications of what’s going on? Man, this is going to go down well!”

Andrew goes on to ask if his reaction was justified. Comments ensued including one from the producer of the series, Chris Schmidt.

Now, the nano haiku. Again this month there are two:

Asian hornets are
powered by nano solar
at the sun’s zenith.

by Frank Kusiak of the Lawrence Hall of Science. This Haiku relates to the BBC article Oriental hornets powered by ‘solar energy’.

After reading about the use of cinnamon in the production of gold nanoparticles, Vrylena Olney got hungry – and creative:

Cinnamon: good for
pumpkin pie, Moroccan stew,