This news comes from the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technologies according to a May 4, 2020 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),
Here’s a new chapter in the story of the miniaturisation of machines: researchers in a laboratory in Singapore have shown that a single atom can function as either an engine or a fridge. Such a device could be engineered into future computers and fuel cells to control energy flows.
“Think about how your computer or laptop has a lot of things inside it that heat up. Today you cool that with a fan that blows air. In nanomachines or quantum computers, small devices that do cooling could be something useful,” says Dario Poletti from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).
This work gives new insight into the mechanics of such devices. The work is a collaboration involving researchers at the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) and Department of Physics at the National University of Singapore (NUS), SUTD and at the University of Augsburg in Germany. The results were published in the peer-reviewed journal npj Quantum Information (“Single-atom energy-conversion device with a quantum load”).
The researchers have included an exceptionally pretty illustration with the press release,
Engines and refrigerators are both machines described by thermodynamics, a branch of science that tells us how energy moves within a system and how we can extract useful work. A classical engine turns energy into useful work. A refrigerator does work to transfer heat, reducing the local temperature. They are, in some sense, opposites.
People have made small heat engines before using a single atom, a single molecule and defects in diamond. A key difference about this device is that it shows quantumness in its action. “We want to understand how we can build thermodynamic devices with just a few atoms. The physics is not well understood so our work is important to know what is possible,” says Manas Mukherjee, a Principal Investigator at CQT, NUS, who led the experimental work.
The researchers studied the thermodynamics of a single barium atom. They devised a scheme in which lasers move one of the atom’s electrons between two energy levels as part of a cycle, causing some energy to be pushed into the atom’s vibrations. Like a car engine consumes petrol to both move pistons and charge up its battery, the atom uses energy from lasers as fuel to increase its vibrating motion. The atom’s vibrations act like a battery, storing energy that can be extracted later. Rearrange the cycle and the atom acts like a fridge, removing energy from the vibrations.
In either mode of operation, quantum effects show up in correlations between the atom’s electronic states and vibrations. “At this scale, the energy transfer between the engine and the load is a bit fuzzy. It is no longer possible to simply do work on the load, you are bound to transfer some heat,” says Poletti. He worked out the theory with collaborators Jiangbin Gong at NUS Physics and Peter Hänggi in Augsburg. The fuzziness makes the process less efficient, but the experimentalists could still make it work.
Mukherjee and colleagues Noah Van Horne, Dahyun Yum and Tarun Dutta used a barium atom from which an electron (a negative charge) is removed. This makes the atom positively charged, so it can be more easily held still inside a metal chamber by electrical fields. All other air is removed from around it. The atom is then zapped with lasers to move it through a four-stage cycle.
The researchers measured the atom’s vibration after applying 2 to 15 cycles. They repeated a given number of cycles up to 150 times, measuring on average how much vibrational energy was present at the end. They could see the vibrational energy increasing when the atom was zapped with an engine cycle, and decreasing when the zaps followed the fridge cycle.
Understanding the atom-sized machine involved both complicated calculations and observations. The team needed to track two thermodynamic quantities known as ergotropy, which is the energy that can be converted to useful work, and entropy, which is related to disorder in the system. Both ergotropy and entropy increase as the atom-machine runs. There’s still a simple way of looking at it, says first author and PhD student Van Horne, “Loosely speaking, we’ve designed a little machine that creates entropy as it is filled up with free energy, much like kids when they are given too much sugar.”
The Universe in Verse event (poetry, music, science, and more) has been held annually by Pioneer Works in New York City since 2017. (It’s hard to believe I haven’t covered this event in previous years but it seems that’s so.)
A ticketed event usually held in a venue, in 2020, The Universe in Verse is being held free as a livestreamed event. Here’s more from the event page on the Pioneer Works website,
A LETTER FROM THE CURATOR AND HOST:
Dear Pioneer Works community,
Since 2017, The Universe in Verse has been celebrating science and the natural world — the splendor, the wonder, the mystery of it — through poetry, that lovely backdoor to consciousness, bypassing our habitual barricades of thought and feeling to reveal reality afresh. And now here we are — “survivors of immeasurable events,” in the words of the astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson, “small, wet miracles without instruction, only the imperative of change” — suddenly scattered six feet apart across a changed world, blinking with disorientation, disbelief, and no small measure of heartache. All around us, nature stands as a selective laboratory log of only the successes in the series of experiments we call evolution — every creature alive today, from the blooming magnolias to the pathogen-carrying bat, is alive because its progenitors have survived myriad cataclysms, adapted to myriad unforeseen challenges, learned to live in unimagined worlds.
The 2020 Universe in Verse is an adaptation, an experiment, a Promethean campfire for the collective imagination, taking a virtual leap to serve what it has always aspired to serve — a broadening of perspective: cosmic, creaturely, temporal, scientific, humanistic — all the more vital as we find the aperture of our attention and anxiety so contracted by the acute suffering of this shared present. Livestreaming from Pioneer Works at 4:30PM EST on Saturday, April 25, there will be readings of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, June Jordan, Mary Oliver, Audre Lorde, Wendell Berry, Hafiz, Rachel Carson, James Baldwin, and other titans of poetic perspective, performed by a largehearted cast of scientists and artists, astronauts and poets, Nobel laureates and Grammy winners: Physicists Janna Levin, Kip Thorne, and Brian Greene, musicians Rosanne Cash, Patti Smith, Amanda Palmer, Zoë Keating, Morley, and Cécile McLorin Salvant, poets Jane Hirshfield, Ross Gay, Marie Howe, and Natalie Diaz, astronomers Natalie Batalha and Jill Tarter, authors Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Gilbert, Masha Gessen, Roxane Gay, Robert Macfarlane, and Neil Gaiman, astronaut Leland Melvin, playwright and activist Eve Ensler, actor Natascha McElhone, entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, artists Debbie Millman, Dustin Yellin, and Lia Halloran, cartoonist Alison Bechdel, radio-enchanters Krista Tippett and Jad Abumrad, and composer Paola Prestini with the Young People’s Chorus. As always, there are some thrilling surprises in wait.
Every golden human thread weaving this global lifeline is donating their time and talent, diverting from their own work and livelihood, to offer this generous gift to the world. We’ve made this just because it feels important that it exist, that it serve some measure of consolation by calibration of perspective, perhaps even some joy. The Universe in Verse is ordinarily a ticketed charitable event, with all proceeds benefiting a chosen ecological or scientific-humanistic nonprofit each year. We offer this year’s livestream freely, but making the show exist and beaming it to you had significant costs. If you are so moved and able, please support this colossal labor with a donation to Pioneer Works — our doors are now physically closed to the public, but our hearts remain open to the world as we pirouette to find new ways of serving art, science, and perspective. Your donation is tax-deductible and appreciation-additive.
For anyone unfamiliar with Pioneer Works, here’s more from their About page,
Pioneer Works is an artist-run cultural center that opened its doors to the public, free of charge, in 2012. Imagined by its founder, artist Dustin Yellin, as a place in which artists, scientists, and thinkers from various backgrounds converge, this “museum of process” takes its primary inspiration from utopian visionaries such as Buckminster Fuller, and radical institutions such as Black Mountain College.
The three-story red brick building that houses Pioneer Works was built in 1866 for what was then Pioneer Iron Works. The factory, which manufactured railroad tracks and other large-scale machinery, was a local landmark after which Pioneer Street was named. Devastated by fire in 1881, the building was rebuilt, and remained in active use through World War II. Dustin Yellin acquired the building in 2011, and renovated it with Gabriel Florenz, Pioneer Works’ Founding Artistic Director, and a team of talented artists, supporters, and advisors. Together, they established Pioneer Works as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2012.
Since its inception, Pioneer Works has built science studios, a technology lab with 3-D printing, a virtual environment lab for VR and AR production, a recording studio, a media lab for content creation and dissemination, a darkroom, residency studios, galleries, gardens, a ceramics studio, a press, and a bookshop. Pioneer Works’ central hall is home to a rotating schedule of exhibitions, science talks, music performances, workshops, and innovative free public programming.
The Universe in Verse’s curator and host, Maria Popova is best known for her blog. Here’s more from her Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),
Maria Popova (Bulgarian: Мария Попова; born 28 July 1984)[not verified in body] is a Bulgarian-born, American-based writer of literary and arts commentary and cultural criticism that has found wide appeal (as of 2012, 3 million page views and more than 1 million monthly readers),[needs update] both for its writing and for the visual stylistics that accompany it.[needs update] She is most widely known for her blog, Brain Pickings [emphasis mine], an online publication that she has fought to maintain advertisement-free, which features her writing on books, and ideas from the arts, philosophy, culture, and other subjects. In addition to her writing and related speaking engagements, she has served as an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow,[when?] as the editorial director at the higher education social network Lore,[when?] and has written for The Atlantic, Wired UK, and other publications. As of 2012, she resided in Brooklyn, New York.[needs update]
There’s one more thing you might want to know about the event,
NOTE: For various artistic, legal, and technical reasons, the livestream will not be available in its entirety for later viewing, but individual readings will be released incrementally on Brain Pickings. As we are challenged to bend limitation into possibility as never before, may this meta-limitation too be an invitation— to be fully present, together across the space that divides us, for a beautiful and unrepeatable experience that animates a shared moment in time, all the more precious for being unrepeatable. “As if what exists, exists so that it can be lost and become precious,” in the words of the poet Lisel Mueller.
The celebrated painter Jackson Pollock created his most iconic works not with a brush, but by pouring paint onto the canvas from above, weaving sinuous filaments of color into abstract masterpieces. A team of researchers analyzing the physics of Pollock’s technique has shown that the artist had a keen understanding of a classic phenomenon in fluid dynamics — whether he was aware of it or not.
In a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers show that Pollock’s technique seems to intentionally avoid what’s known as coiling instability — the tendency of a viscous fluid to form curls and coils when poured on a surface.
“Like most painters, Jackson Pollock went through a long process of experimentation in order to perfect his technique,” said Roberto Zenit, a professor in Brown’s School of Engineering and senior author on the paper. “What we were trying to do with this research is figure out what conclusions Pollock reached in order to execute his paintings the way he wanted. Our main finding in this paper was that Pollock’s movements and the properties of his paints were such he avoided this coiling instability.”
Pollock’s technique typically involved pouring paint straight from a can or along a stick onto a canvas lying horizontally on the floor. It’s often referred to as the “drip technique,” but that’s a bit of a misnomer in the parlance of fluid mechanics, Zenit says. In fluid mechanics, “dripping” would be dispensing the fluid in a way that makes discrete droplets on the canvas. Pollock largely avoided droplets, in favor of unbroken filaments of paint stretching across the canvas.
In order to understand exactly how the technique worked, Zenit and colleagues from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico analyzed extensive video of Pollock at work, taking careful measure of how fast he moved and how far from the canvas he poured his paints. Having gathered data on how Pollock worked, the researchers used an experimental setup to recreate his technique. Using the setup, the researchers could deposit paint using a syringe mounted at varying heights onto a canvas moving at varying speeds. The experiments helped to zero in on the most important aspects of what Pollock was doing.
“We can vary one thing at a time so we can decipher the key elements of the technique,” Zenit said. “For example, we could vary the height from which the paint is poured and keep the speed constant to see how that changes things.”
The researchers found that the combination of Pollock’s hand speed, the distance he maintained from the canvas and the viscosity of his paint seem to be aimed at avoiding coiling instability. Anyone who’s ever poured a viscous fluid — perhaps some honey on toast — has likely seen some coiling instability. When a small amount of a viscous fluid is poured, it tends to stack up like a coil of rope before oozing across the surface.
In the context of Pollock’s technique, the instability can result in paint filaments making pigtail-like curls when poured from the can. Some prior research had concluded that that the curved lines in Pollock’s paintings were a result of this instability, but this latest research shows the opposite.
“What we found is that he moved his hand at a sufficiently high speed and a sufficiently short height such that this coiling would not occur,” Zenit said.
Zenit says the findings could be useful in authenticating Pollock’s works. Too many tight curls might suggest that a drip-style painting is not a Pollock. The work could also inform other settings in which viscous fluids are stretched into filaments, such as the manufacture of fiber optics. But Zenit says his main interest in the work is that it’s simply a fascinating way to explore interesting questions in fluid mechanics.
“I consider myself to be a fluid mechanics messenger,” he said. “This is my excuse to talk science. It’s fascinating to see that painters are really fluid mechanicians, even though they may not know it.”
I could not find any videos related to this research that I know how to embed but Palacios, Zetina, and Zenit have investigated Polock’s ‘physics’ before,
If you want to see Pollock dripping his painting in action, there’s a 10 min. 13 secs. film made in 1950 (Note: Links have been removed from text; link to 10 min. film is below),
In the summer of 1950, Hans Namuth approached Jackson Pollock and asked the abstract expressionist painter if he could photograph him in his studio, working with his “drip” technique of painting. When Namuth arrived, he found:
“A dripping wet canvas covered the entire floor. Blinding shafts of sunlight hit the wet canvas, making its surface hard to see. There was complete silence…. Pollock looked at the painting. Then unexpectedly, he picked up can and paintbrush and started to move around the canvas. It was as if he suddenly realized the painting was not finished. His movements, slow at first, gradually became faster and more dancelike as he flung black, white and rust-colored paint onto the canvas.”
The images from this shoot “helped transform Pollock from a talented, cranky loner into the first media-driven superstar of American contemporary art, the jeans-clad, chain-smoking poster boy of abstract expressionism,” one critic later wrote in The Washington Post.
You can find the film and accompanying Open Culture text intact with links here.
Time seems to be having a moment. (I couldn’t resist. 🙂 If Carlo Rovelli’s 2018 book, The Order of Time, is any indication the topic has attained a new level of interest. The only other evidence I have is that I stumble across essays about time in unlikely places.
Infinity, a play about time and more, has been produced and toured on and off since 2015 when it won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for best new play.
Here’s a clip from one of the productions,
Here’s what the publicists at the Cultch (Vancouver East Cultural Centre) have posted about the play on the Events webpage,
A surprising, funny, and revelatory new play about love, sex, and math.
The cynical, skeptical daughter of a theoretical physicist and a composer, Sarah Jean’s clinical approach to love meets with little success. In this absorbing drama infused with science and classical music, three exceptional minds collide like charged particles in an accelerator. Sarah Jean’s hugely talented, yet severely dysfunctional, family will learn that love and time itself are connected in unimaginable ways.
From award-winning playwright Hannah Moscovitch; featuring two of our country’s most esteemed actors, JonathonYoung and AmyRutherford, up-and-comer EmilyJaneKing, and violinist AndréaTyniec; with original music by visionary composer NjoKongKie.
“The play makes you feel as much as it makes you think.”—NOW Toronto
There is a December 23, 2019 preview article by Janet Smith for the Georgia Straight which gives you some insight into the playwright and her work (Note: There is some profanity in the second paragraph),
Albert Einstein once called time a “stubbornly persistent illusion”, but tell that to a busy playwright who’s juggling deadlines for TV scripts and stage openings with parenting a four-year-old-boy.
“I’m in an insane relationship with time as a mother—this agonized relationship with time,” writer Hannah Moscovitch laments with a laugh, speaking to the Straight from her Halifax home before her show Infinity opens here after the holidays. “This work-life balance: I was like, ‘What the fuck is everybody complaining about?’ Until I had to do it.
“I mean, if I don’t work less I will wreck his childhood. So it’s not like a theoretical ideal that I should have work-life balance,” she continues, sounding as self-effacing, funny, and candidly introspective as some of her best-known female stage characters. And then she reflects more seriously, “Writing Infinity gave me the chance to grapple with that. And now I’m in a constant existential relationship with time; I’m constantly thinking about it. Time is intricately linked to death, they’re inevitably linked. When you come back to time you come back to death.”
In 2008, Ross Manson, artistic director, of Toronto’s Volcano Theatre, approached Moscovitch with an article in Harper’s magazine about the history of timekeeping, with the idea of commissioning her to write on the theme. Moscovitch went on to read Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe , in which American theoretical physicist Lee Smolin, of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Ontario, challenges Einstein’s idea of time as illusion.
With Manson’s help, she would go on to meet Smolin as she worked on her play, turning to him as an expert source on the science she was trying to convey in her story. Along the way, she formed a friendship with the man she was once intimidated to meet.
“Oddly enough, while all the specifics are different about what we do, some of the generals are the same,” she explains. “We have no language in common, but we really enjoy hanging out with each other. There’s a critical endeavour in both of our work that is thought-based, and we both very much live in our minds.”
For a more jaundiced view, there’s Conrad Sweatman’s April 5, 2019 review of the play’s script in book form for prairiefire,
The uses and abuses of science in playwriting: a review of Hannah Moscovitch’s play Infinity
Hannah Moscovitch is an indie darling of Canadian theatre, and her Dora-winning play Infinity reaffirms her reputation as one of Canada’s brightest, most ambitious playwrights. If this sounds like the sort of detached praise one reads on a student report card, it’s partially because throughout my readings of Infinity I wrestled between admiration and annoyance at its rather academic cleverness. While ultimately it earns my letter of recommendation, Infinity sometimes feels like the dramatic equivalent of a class valedictorian’s graduation speech.
Back to Infinity. In his lively introduction to the play’s script, the famous physicist Lee Smolin, who consulted on the play, describes scientists and artists as“explorers of our common future” and pleads for a more open, friendly exchange between these two camps. (Smolin, vi). It comes off as a conciliatory remark after decades of the ‘science wars’ in academia, and Smolin also lauds Moscovitch for bucking the humanities’ postmodernist trend of knocking science and its practitioners. All fine sentiments. But what does this emphasis on the commonality between art and science mean, if anything, about the relationship between the subjective, social stuff of art and the objective, natural stuff of science? Does it suggest that the scientific method should by employed by playwrights and novelists in the fictional study of human nature, as some of the naturalist novelists of the 19th century believed?
I have no reason to think that either Smolin or Moscovitch really wish for science to colonize the arts and humanities. …
Infinity is a fine addition to the aforementioned genre of smart, humanistic plays about physicists and mathematicians that had its heyday around the turn of the Millennium. It has some of their same flaws and cerebral charms and belongs more, in spirit, to the comparatively untroubled moment, before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Global Recession, and Trump. If, like me, you spent your first years willingly reading serious literature and theatre at length in a humanities department where every text was filtered through the parallax perspectives of postmodern critical theory, you may find refreshing Infinity’s enthusiasm for science and its world of objectivism. You may feel the same way about its avoidance of the crude identity politics, inspired partially by such theory, that’s particularly in vogue in the arts right now: a kind of reactive agitprop in the age of Trump. But with the world staggering right now from one crisis to the next, a contemporary play about Ivy League intellectuals, their theories of time and struggles for authenticity, seems, well, a little untimely. …
Sweatman has identified one of the big problems with using concepts from mathematics and the sciences to inform fiction and art. The romantic poets ran into the same problem as Richard Holmes explores at length in his 2008 book, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. Shelley eventually abandoned his attempts at including science in his poems.
Interestingly, most of us don’t seem to realize that the arts and sciences have been intimately linked for millenia. For example, De rerum natura a multi-volume poem by Roman poet, Lucretius ( (c. 99 BCE – c. 55 BCE), is a philosophical treatise exploring mind, soul, and the principles of atomism (i.e., atoms).
I hope you enjoy the play, if you choose to go. According to the Events webpage (scroll down), the playwright will be present at two post-show talkbacks.
I don’t know the dates for the last ‘golden’ age of electronics but I can certainly understand why these Japanese researchers are excited about their work. In any event, I think the ‘golden age’ is more of a play on words. From a June 25, 2019 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),
One way that heat damages electronic equipment is it makes components expand at different rates, resulting in forces that cause micro-cracking and distortion. Plastic components and circuit boards are particularly prone to damage due to changes in volume during heating and cooling cycles. But if a material could be incorporated into the components that compensates for the expansion, the stresses would be reduced and their lifetime increased.
Everybody knows one material that behaves like this: liquid water expands when it freezes and ice contracts when it melts. But liquid water and electronics don’t mix well – instead, what’s needed is a solid with “negative thermal expansion” (NTE).
Although such materials have been known since the 1960s, a number of challenges had to be overcome before the concept would be broadly useful and commercially viable. In terms of both materials and function, these efforts have only had limited success.
The experimental materials had been produced under specialized laboratory conditions using expensive equipment; and even then, the temperature and pressure ranges in which they would exhibit NTE were well outside normal everyday conditions.
Moreover, the amount they expanded and contracted depended on the direction, which induced internal stresses that changed their structure, meaning that the NTE property would not last longer than a few heating and cooling cycles.
A research team led by Koshi Takenaka of Nagoya University has succeeded in overcoming these materials-engineering challenges (APL Materials, “Valence fluctuations and giant isotropic negative thermal expansion in Sm1–xRxS (R = Y, La, Ce, Pr, Nd)”).
Inspired by the series of work by Noriaki Sato, also of Nagoya University – whose discovery last year of superconductivity in quasicrystals was considered one of the top ten physics discoveries of the year by Physics World magazine – Professor Takenaka took the rare earth element samarium and its sulfide, samarium monosulfide (SmS), which is known to change phase from the “black phase” to the smaller-volume “golden phase”. The problem was to tune the range of temperatures at which the phase transition occurs. The team’s solution was to replace a small proportion of samarium atoms with another rare earth element, giving Sm1-xRxS, where “R” is any one of the rare earth elements cerium (Ce), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr) or yttrium (Y). The fraction x the team used was typically 0.2, except for yttrium. These materials showed “giant negative thermal expansion” of up to 8% at ordinary room pressure and a useful range of temperatures (around 150 degrees) including at room temperature and above … . Cerium is the star candidate here because it is relatively cheap.
The nature of the phase transition is such that the materials can be powdered into very small crystal sizes around a micron on a side without losing their negative expansion property. This broadens the industrial applications, particularly within electronics.
While the Nagoya University group’s engineering achievement is impressive, how the negative expansion works is fascinating from a fundamental physics viewpoint. During the black-golden transition, the crystal structure stays the same but the atoms get closer together: the unit cell size becomes smaller because (as is very likely but perhaps not yet 100% certain) the electron structure of the samarium atoms changes and makes them smaller – a process of intra-atomic charge transfer called a “valence transition” or “valence fluctuation” within the samarium atoms … . “My impression,” says Professor Takenaka, “is that the correlation between the lattice volume and the electron structure of samarium is experimentally verified for this class of sulfides.”
More specifically, in the black (lower temperature) phase, the electron configuration of the samarium atoms is (4f)6, meaning that in their outermost shell they have 6 electrons in the f orbitals (with s, p and d orbitals filled); while in the golden phase the electronic configuration is (4f)5(5d)1 -an electron has moved out of a 4f orbital into a 5d orbital. Although a “higher” shell is starting to be occupied, it turns out – through a quirk of the Pauli Exclusion Principle – that the second case gives a smaller atom size, leading to a smaller crystal size and negative expansion.
But this is only part of the fundamental picture. In the black phase, samarium sulfide and its doped offshoots are insulators – they do not conduct electricity; while in the golden phase they turn into conductors (i.e. metals). This is suggesting that during the black-golden phase transition the band structure of the whole crystal is influencing the valance transition within the samarium atoms. Although nobody has done the theoretical calculations for the doped samarium sulfides made by Professor Takenaka’s group, a previous theoretical study has indicated that when electrons leave the samarium atoms’ f orbital, they leave behind a positively charged “hole” which itself interacts repulsively with holes in the crystal’s conduction band, affecting their exchange interaction. This becomes a cooperative effect that then drives the valence transition in the samarium atoms. The exact mechanism, though, is not well understood.
Nevertheless, the Nagoya University-led group’s achievement is one of engineering, not pure physics. “What is important for many engineers is the ability to use the material to reduce device failure due to thermal expansion,” explains Professor Takenaka. “In short, in a certain temperature range – the temperature range in which the intended device operates, typically an interval of dozens of degrees or more – the volume needs to gradually decrease with a rise in temperature and increase as the temperature falls. Of course, I also know that volume expansion on cooling during a phase transition [like water freezing] is a common case for many materials. However, if the volume changes in a very narrow temperature range, there is no engineering value. The present achievement is the result of material engineering, not pure physics.”
Perhaps it even heralds a new “golden” age for electronics.
I worked in a company for a data communications company that produced hardware and network management software. From a hardware perspective, heat was an enemy which distorted your circuit boards and cost you significant money not only for replacements but also when you included fans to keep the equipment cool (or as cool as possible).
Enough with the reminiscences, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
I’ve already written about October 2019 science and art/science events in Canada (see my Sept. 26, 2019 posting), but more event notices for Octoberhave come my way. These events are all art/science (or sciart as it’s sometimes called).
… on the future of life forms … a two-night (Oct./Nov.) discussion in Toronto, Canada
Here’s more from the ArtSci Salon’s October 3, 2019 announcement (received via email)
“…now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. That would be less wasteful, as it took a lot of food and care to grow a pigoon. A great deal of investment money had gone into OrganInc Farms…” (Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake 2003)
In Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood describes a not-too-distant future where humans have perfected the art of fabricating and modifying a variety of creatures to improve and prolongue their own lives and wellbeing.
As Atwood has stated in various occasions, this is not science fiction.
It is in fact already happening. New forms of life appear not only as the product of lab fabrication or gene editing, but also as the result of toxic pollutants and climate change induced adaptation.
what to make of them?
how to cope with a world where extinction, adaptation and mutation risk to make traditional categories and taxonomies obsolete?
Join us to this two-parts series to discuss the ethics and implications of these transformations with artists, scientists and bioethicists.
Part 1 Thursday, October 17, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Altered Inheritance: extinction, recreation or transformation? a dialogue and discussion on the implications of genome editing on humans and other organisms
with Francoise Baylis – Research Professor, Bioethicist, Dalhousie University
Karen Maxwell – Dept. of Biochemistry, Maxwell Lab, University of Toronto
emergent artists from OCADU [Ontario College of Art and Design University] and YorkU [York University, Toronto]
Part 2 Thursday, November 21, 6:00-8:00 pm The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences
Classifying the new? why do we classify? what is it good for? what is the limit of taxonomy and classification in a transforming world?
with Richard Pell – Centre for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh, PA
Laurence Packer – Mellitologist, Professor of biology and environmental studies, York University
Stefan Herda – earth science artist
Cole Swanson – artist and educator (Art Foundation and Visual and Digital Arts, Humber college)
Anna Marie O’Brien – Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs, University of Toronto
Françoise Baylis is University Research Professor at Dalhousie University. She is a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia, as well as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Baylis was one of the organizers of, and a key participant in, the 2015 International Summit on Human Gene Editing. She is a member of the WHO expert advisory committee on Developing Global Standards for Governance and Oversight of Human Genome Editing. Her new book “Altered Inheritance. CRISPR and the Ethics of Human Genome Editing” is published by Harvard University Press
Karen Maxwell is a research professor in the dept of biochemistry at the university of toronto, where she runs the Maxwell Lab. Among other topics, the lab’s three branches “Anti-CRISPR”, “Phage morons” and “Anti-Phage defences” study the interplay of phages with their bacterial hosts, with a focus on phage mediated bacterial virulence mechanisms and inhibitors of anti-phage bacterial defenses.
Richard Pell works at the intersections of science, engineering, and culture. He has worked in a variety of electronic media from documentary video to robotics to bioart to museum exhibition. He is the founder and director of the Center for PostNatural History (CPNH), an organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally and heritably altered through domestication, selective breeding, tissue culture or genetic engineering. The CPNH operates a permanent museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museums throughout Europe and the United States, including being the subject of a major exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London.
Laurence Packer is a mellitologist, ie a scholar whose main subject of study is wild bees. his research primarily involves the systematics of the bee subfamily Xeromelissinae – an obscure, but fascinating group of bees, restricted to the New World south of central Mexico. he has also expended considerable energy leading the global campaign to barcode the bees of the world. his work is concerned with promulgating the importance of bees: for genetic reasons, it seems that bees are more extinction prone than are almost all other organisms
Stefan Herda‘s practice explores our troubling relationship to the natural world through drawing, sculpture and video. Inspired by the earth sciences, Herda’s work navigates the space between truth and fiction. His material and process-based investigations fuse elements of authenticity, façade, the natural and the manufactured together. He received his BAH from the University of Guelph in 2010. His work in both sculpture and video has been included in exhibitions nationally and has been featured by CBC Arts and Daily VICE. Recently, Stefan has held solo shows at Patel Projects (Toronto) and Wil Kucey Gallery (Toronto), participated in group shows such as Cultivars: Possible Worlds at InterAccess (Toronto) and was featured as one of 12 artists in the Cabinet Project at the University of Toronto
Cole Swanson is an artist and educator based in Toronto, Canada. He has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and throughout international venues in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. At the heart of recent work is a cross-disciplinary exploration of materials and their sociocultural and biological histories. Embedded within art media and commonplace resources are complex relations between nature and culture, humans and other agents, consumers and the consumed. Swanson has engaged in a broad material practice using sound, installation, painting, and sculpture to explore interspecies relationships.
Anna Marie O’Brien is a post doc in the Frederickson, Rochman, and Sinton labs at University of Toronto, working on duckweeds, microbes, urban contaminants, and phenotypes.her PhD work was at Davis, with thesis advisors Dr. Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra and Dr. Sharon Strauss. she also collaborated closely with Dr. Ruairidh Sawers at LANGEBIO-CINVESTAV in Guanajuato, Mexico.
The first highlighted speaker, Françoise Baylis, has been mentioned here twice before, in a May 17, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Global plea for moratorium on heritable genome editing’ subheading) and in an April 26, 2019 posting (scroll down to the ‘Finally’ subheading, the second paragraph). Both postings touch on the topic of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) and germline editing (genetic editing that will affect all of your descendents).
Cartooney in New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) starting October 18, 2019
I like physics but I love cartoons Stephen Hawking
There you have it from one of the 20th/early 21st century’s most famous physicists. The quote is the opening line for the New Westminster (near Vancouver, Canada) New Media Gallery’s latest event webpage, Cartooney,
The impact of animated cartoons has been profound. In the early 20th century, we began exploiting the possibilities of the animated frame. The seven artists in this exhibition don’t create cartoons, they deconstruct those that already exist; from Looney Tunes, to The Simpsons to Charlie Brown. They exploit this potent material to reveal the inner and outer workings of our human world. The original cartoon is ever-present, haunting us with suggestive content.
The artists in this exhibition reframe our world. Here we are asked to consider the laws, systems and iconographies of the cartoon world while drawing parallels with our human world; physical laws, the laws of gravitation, matter + light, the physics of motion, and societal psychologies & behaviours. We are presented with fascinating catalogues and overlaying systems of symbolic language. The purposeful demolition of expectation in these works, mirrors the instabilities and dreams of modern life. They remind us that the pervasive medium of the cartoon can reflect and influence how we navigate the world. If there is a paradox here, it might be that dismantling a cartoon can throw open the doors of perception.
The New Westminster New Media Gallery’s next exhibition is exploring the impact of animated cartoons.
Cartooney opens at the gallery on Friday, Oct. 18 and runs until Dec. 8 , then again from Jan. 7 to Feb. 2 .
Artist Kevin McCoy, one-half of the duo of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, will be on hand for an artist talk on opening night, Friday, Oct. 18. The talk will run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a reception and open exhibition from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape, by Andy Holden (U.K.):
In his two-channel audiovisual installation, 57 minutes long, Holden becomes a cartoon avatar, giving both a lecture on cartoons and a cartoon lecture, describing how our world is best now understood as a cartoon. The project incorporates Greek philosophy, Stephen Hawking, critical theory, physics, art, the financial crisis and Donald Trump, while adapting 10 laws of cartoon physics to create a theory of the world and a prophetic glimpse of the world we live in.
CB-MMXVIII (I’ve been thinking of giving sleeping lessons), by Patten (U.K.):
In this multi-screen audiovisual installation, the artist duo Patten subjects Charlie Brown to all the digital stresses, distortions and manipulations available in 2018, testing his plasticity.
“Sampled texts from philosophy, science and critical theory criss-cross the screens and are linked with scrolling images related to the natural world, DNA, systems, multiples; all serving to influence our reading of the cartoon character and the texts,” says the release. The ambient soundtrack is a dramatically slowed down Linus and Lucy theme.
You can find the New Westminster New Media Gallery on the third floor at the Anvil Centre, 777 Columbia St. See www.newmediagallery.ca for more details.
Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems in Vancouver, November 2019
Curiosity Collider, a Vancouver-based not-for-profit organization, will be hosting its inaugural art-science Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems at the VIVO Media Arts Centre from November 8 to 10, 2019. The festival features an art-science exhibition showcasing independent works and collaborative works by artist/scientist pairs, a hands-on DNA sonification workshop, an opening reception with performances, and guided discussions and tours.
Curated by Curiosity Collider’s Creative Director Char Hoyt, the theme of the festival focuses on the “invasive systems” that surround us – from technology and infections, to pollution and invasive species. “We want to create a space to explore the influence of the invasive aspects of our world on our inner and outer lives” said Char. “We will examine our observations from both scientific and artistic perspectives- are these influences beneficial, inevitable, or preventable?” Attendees can anticipate a deep dive into the delicate and complicated nature of how both living and inanimate things redefine our lives and environments – through visual art, multimedia installations, and interactive experiences.
“I am not a scientist and do not come from a family of scientists, but I have always appreciated knowing how things work, how things are connected and how things evolve – collaboration between art and science feel natural to me,” said Vancouver artist Dzee Lousie. “Both artists and scientists are curious, perform experiments and are driven by questions.” Dzee’s work Crossing, an interactive puzzle painting that examines how microbial colonies can impact our behaviours and processes in our body, is the result of a collaboration with UBC PhD candidate Linda Horianopoulos. “As scientists, we often want people to take notice of our work and engage with it. I think that art attracts people to do exactly that,” said Linda.
The sculptural work Invasion by Prince George artist Twyla Exner explores the remnants of technology. “My artworks propose hybrids of technological structures and living organisms. They take form as abandoned technologies that have sprouted with new life, clever artificialities that imitate nature, or biotechnological fixtures of the not-so-distant future,” Twyla shared. Like Dzee, she feels that artists and scientists share the sense of curiosity, experimentation, and creative problem solving. “Both art and science have the ability to tell stories and shape how people see and interpret the world around them.”
The festival is hosted in collaboration with the VIVO Media Arts Centre (2625 Kaslo Street, Vancouver, BC V5M 3G9). It will open on the evening of November 8th, with a reception and a live performance by local sound artist Edzi’u, during which her sculptural installation Moose are Life will be brought to life. On Saturday, artist Laara Cerman will co-host a DNA sonification workshop with scientist Scott Pownall. Their work Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major – a hand-cranked music box that plays a tune created from the DNA of local invasive plants – will be on exhibit during the festival. The festival will also include tours by the curator at 3:30pm and guided discussions at 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Visit https://collisionsfestival2019.eventbrite.ca for festival tickets and http://bit.ly/collisionsfestival2019 for festival information.
Curiosity Collider and VIVO Media Arts Centre gratefully acknowledge the support of BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Regional Cultural Project Grants Program, UBC Faculty of Science, and our printing sponsor Jukebox, for making Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems possible.
About Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation
Curiosity Collider Art-Science Foundation is a Vancouver based non-profit organization that is committed to providing opportunities for artists whose work expresses scientific concepts and scientists who collaborate with artists. We challenge the perception and experience of science in our culture, break down the walls between art and science, and engage our growing community to bringing life to the concepts that describe our world.
In this DNA sonification workshop, participants will learn the process of DNA barcoding of invasive plant species, and how to sonify DNA sequences with basic music theory and MIDI freeware. Participants will also get hands-on experience in amplying specific genetic regions in plants through polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a step necessary in preparing samples for DNA barcoding.
This workshop will be led by artist Laara Cerman and scientist Scott Pownall, whose art-science collaborative work “Flora’s Song No. 1 in C Major” will be on exhibit during Collisions Festival: Invasive Systems. Laara and Scott will also share their process of working together, and how decisions were made to arrive at their collaborative work of art and science.
We acknowledge that Collisions Festival and its events take place on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land.
I asked the Curiosity Collider folks (@CCollider on Twitter) if you needed to bring any equipment or have any knowledge of music. The answer was: no, you don’t need to bring anything (unless you want to) and you don’t need to know about music.
Uncorked at Science World at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver on November 14, 2019
This is not a cheap night out. An October 10, 2019 article by Lindsay William-Ross for the Daily Hive website gives you reasons to go anyway (Note: Links have been removed),
A new wine-themed event will have Vancouverites swirling with nerdy glee. Uncorked: A Celebration of the Science of Wine is an evening of sipping and learning that will bring together world-renown winemakers, chefs, and science experts for an unforgettable event.
Participating wineries are:
Mission Hill Family Estate CedarCreek Estate Winery CheckMate Artisanal Winery Martin’s Lane Winery Road 13 Vineyards
The wines will be paired with bites from Chef Patrick Gayler from Mission Hill’s Terrace Restaurant and Chef Neil Taylor from CedarCreek’s new Home Block Restaurant.
Programming for the evening includes seminars on the science of blending wine, the science of aging wine, the role of technology at modern vineyards, and the science of soil and terroir.
Proceeds from Uncorked will support Science World’s On the Road program, which last year brought live science performances to 41,500 students throughout B.C. who otherwise might not have had a chance to visit TELUS World of Science.
Tickets are $89 and can be purchased here. You may also want to reserve some money for the silent auction. Don’t forget, it’s November 14, 2019 from 7 pm to 10 pm at Science World in Vancouver. You can find directions and a map here.
… on June 12th, 2019 at the Italian Cultural Centre. ARPICO is proud to host Dr. Silvia Scorza, who will be presenting on the topic of underground science (literally underground) at SNOLAB, where research is conducted in fields of fundamental science that require shielding from external radiation such as cosmic rays. SNOLAB (SNO stands for Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) is a Canadian research laboratory located 2 km underground in Sudbury, Ontario. This presentation will give a unique and interesting perspective into the research that is conducted mostly out of the public view and discussion, but contributes critically to our scientific advances. Applications found in medicine, national security, industry, computing, science, and workforce development, illustrate a long and growing list of beneficial practical applications with contributions from particle physics.
Please read below to learn more about our speaker and topic.
Ahead of the speaking event, ARPICO will be holding its 2019 Annual General Meeting in the same location. We encourage everyone to participate in the AGM, have their say on ARPICO’s matters and possibly volunteer for the Board of Directors. ARPICO is made by all of its members, not just the Board, and it is therefore paramount that you all come, let us know what your wishes are for the Society and tell us how we can do better together as we go forward.
If you are driving to the venue, there is plenty of free parking space. Please refer to the attached parking map for information on where not to park however, just to be sure.
We look forward to seeing everyone there.
The evening agenda is as follows: 6:00 pm to 6:45 pm – Annual General Meeting [ Doors Open for Registration at 5:50 pm ] 7:00 pm – Start of the evening event with introductions & lecture by Dr. Silvia Scorza [ Doors Open for Registration at 6:45 pm ] ~8:00 pm – Q & A Period to follow – Mingling & Refreshments until about 9:30 pm If you have not already done so, please register for the event by visiting the EventBrite link or RSVPing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whispering in the Dark: Updates from Underground Scienc
Based at a depth of 2 km in the Vale Creighton mine near Sudbury, Ontario, SNOLAB is an underground scientific environment that provides the conditions necessary for experiments dealing with rare interactions that have to be shielded from external radiation. The lab hosts an international community involved in a number of fundamental physics (neutrino and dark matter) as well as new biology and genomic experiments making use of the unique facility. In this lecture, Dr. Scorza will offer an overview on the life of an “underground scientist” and the immense possibilities of discovery that facilities like SNOLAB make available to our society.
Dr. Silvia Scorza was born and raised in Genoa, Italy. She received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Physics from the University of Genoa in 2003 and 2006, respectively. She then moved to the University Claude Bernard Lyon1 (UCBL1), France, where she obtained her Ph.D. in 2009. She has then held postdoctoral positions in France at the Institut de Physique Nucléaire de Lyon, in the U.S. at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas (TX) and later in Germany at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Silvia is currently a research scientist at SNOLAB and adjunct professor at Laurentian University working on the SuperCDMS SNOLAB direct dark matter search experiment and the cryogenic test facility CUTE.
WHEN (AGM): Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 at 6:00pm (doors open at 5:50pm) WHEN (EVENT): Wednesday, June 12th, 2019 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:45pm) WHERE: Italian Cultural Centre – Museum & Art Gallery – 3075 Slocan St, Vancouver, BC, V5M 3E4
Tickets are FREE, but all individuals are requested to obtain “free-admission” tickets on EventBrite site due to limited seating at the venue. Organizers need accurate registration numbers to manage wait lists and prepare name tags.
All ARPICO events are 100% staffed by volunteer organizers and helpers, however, room rental, stationery, and guest refreshments are costs incurred and underwritten by members of ARPICO. Therefore to be fair, all audience participants are asked to donate to the best of their ability at the door or via EventBrite to “help” defray costs of the event.
FAQs Where can I contact the organizer with any questions? email@example.com Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event? No, you do not. Your name will be on our Registration List at the Check-in Desk. Is my registration/ticket transferrable? If you are unable to attend, another person may use your ticket. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org of this substitution to correct our audience Registration List and to prepare guest name tags. Can I update my registration information? Yes. If you have any questions, contact us at email@example.com I am having trouble using EventBrite and cannot reserve my ticket(s). Can someone at ARPICO help me with my ticket reservation? Of course, simply send your ticket request to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we help you.
What are my transport/parking options? Bus/Train: The Millenium Line Renfrew Skytrain station is a 5 minute walk from the Italian Cultural Centre. Parking: Free Parking is vastly available at the ICC’s own parking lot. …
When two atomically thin two-dimensional layers are stacked on top of each other and one layer is made to rotate against the second layer, they begin to produce patterns — the familiar moiré patterns — that neither layer can generate on its own and that facilitate the passage of light and electrons, allowing for materials that exhibit unusual phenomena. For example, when two graphene layers are overlaid and the angle between them is 1.1 degrees, the material becomes a superconductor.
“It’s a bit like driving past a vineyard and looking out the window at the vineyard rows. Every now and then, you see no rows because you’re looking directly along a row,” said Nathaniel Gabor, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Riverside. “This is akin to what happens when two atomic layers are stacked on top of each other. At certain angles of twist, everything is energetically allowed. It adds up just right to allow for interesting possibilities of energy transfer.”
This is the future of new materials being synthesized by twisting and stacking atomically thin layers, and is still in the “alchemy” stage, Gabor added. To bring it all under one roof, he and physicist Justin C. W. Song of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, have proposed this field of research be called “electron quantum metamaterials” and have just published a perspective article in Nature Nanotechnology.
“We highlight the potential of engineering synthetic periodic arrays with feature sizes below the wavelength of an electron. Such engineering allows the electrons to be manipulated in unusual ways, resulting in a new range of synthetic quantum metamaterials with unconventional responses,” Gabor said.
Metamaterials are a class of material engineered to produce properties that do not occur naturally. Examples include optical cloaking devices and super-lenses akin to the Fresnel lens that lighthouses use. Nature, too, has adopted such techniques – for example, in the unique coloring of butterfly wings – to manipulate photons as they move through nanoscale structures.
“Unlike photons that scarcely interact with each other, however, electrons in subwavelength structured metamaterials are charged, and they strongly interact,” Gabor said. “The result is an enormous variety of emergent phenomena and radically new classes of interacting quantum metamaterials.”
Gabor and Song were invited by Nature Nanotechnology to write a review paper. But the pair chose to delve deeper and lay out the fundamental physics that may explain much of the research in electron quantum metamaterials. They wrote a perspective paper instead that envisions the current status of the field and discusses its future.
“Researchers, including in our own labs, were exploring a variety of metamaterials but no one had given the field even a name,” said Gabor, who directs the Quantum Materials Optoelectronics lab at UCR. “That was our intent in writing the perspective. We are the first to codify the underlying physics. In a way, we are expressing the periodic table of this new and exciting field. It has been a herculean task to codify all the work that has been done so far and to present a unifying picture. The ideas and experiments have matured, and the literature shows there has been rapid progress in creating quantum materials for electrons. It was time to rein it all in under one umbrella and offer a road map to researchers for categorizing future work.”
In the perspective, Gabor and Song collect early examples in electron metamaterials and distil emerging design strategies for electronic control from them. They write that one of the most promising aspects of the new field occurs when electrons in subwavelength-structure samples interact to exhibit unexpected emergent behavior.
“The behavior of superconductivity in twisted bilayer graphene that emerged was a surprise,” Gabor said. “It shows, remarkably, how electron interactions and subwavelength features could be made to work together in quantum metamaterials to produce radically new phenomena. It is examples like this that paint an exciting future for electronic metamaterials. Thus far, we have only set the stage for a lot of new work to come.”
Dedicated to foundational theoretical physics, the Perimeter Institute (PI) has an active outreach programme. In their latest ‘newsletter’ (received via email on September 19, 2018) highlights poetry written by scientists, (from the ’12 poignant poems’ webpage),
It can be said that science and poetry share the common purpose of revealing profound truths about the universe and our place in it.
Physicist Paul Dirac, a known curmudgeon, would have dismissed that idea as hogwash.
“The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way,” Dirac grouched to a colleague. “The two are incompatible.”
The colleague to whom Dirac was grumbling, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was a lover of poetry who dabbled in it himself — as did, it turns out, quite a few great physicists, past and present. Physicists have often turned to poetry to express ideas for which there are no equations.
Here’s a look at some of the loveliest stanzas from physicists past and present, plus a few selections of rhyming silliness that get an A+ for effort.
Considering his reported distaste for poetry, it seems Dirac may have committed a few lines to verse. A four-line poem credited to Dirac laments the belief that, once past the age of 30, physicists have already passed their peak intellectual years.
Perhaps the most prolific of all the poetic physicists was the Scottish genius [James Clerk Maxwell] whose equations for electromagnetism have been called “the second great unification in physics” (second to Isaac Newton’s marriage of physics and astronomy).
Maxwell’s best-known poetic composition is “Rigid Body Sings,” a ditty he used to sing while playing guitar, which is based on the classic Robbie Burns poem “Comin’ Through the Rye” (the inspiration for the title of J.D. Salinger’s TheCatcher in the Rye). In terms of melding poetry and physics, however, Maxwell’s geekiest composition might be “A Problem in Dynamics,” which shows both his brilliance and sense of humour.
If Maxwell’s “A Problem in Dynamics,” is a little too technical for your mathematical comfort level, his fellow Scottish physicist William J.M. Rankine penned poetry requiring only a rudimentary understanding of algebra (and a peculiar understanding of love).
Richard Feynman was known for both his brilliance and his eclectic lifestyle, which included playing the bongos, safe-cracking, and, occasionally, writing poetry.
Although theoretical physics is her specialty, Shohini Ghose is a true polymath. Born in India, educated in the US, and now a multi-award-winning professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ghose has delivered popular talks on subjects ranging from climate change to sexism in science. She recently joined Perimeter Institute as an affiliate researcher and an Equity, Inclusion & Diversity Specialist. On top of all that, she is a poet too.
English mathematician James Joseph Sylvester was a prolific scholar whose collected works on matrix theory, number theory, and combinatorics fill four (large) volumes. In his honour, the Royal Society of London bestows the Sylvester Medal every two years to an early-career mathematician who shows potential to make major breakthroughs, just as the medal’s namesake did. It is only fitting that Sylvester’s best known work of poetry is an ode to a missing part of an algebraic formula.
Sonali Mohapatra is a Chancellor’s PhD Student at the University of Sussex and an alumna of the Perimeter Scholars International master’s program (during which she sang on the nationally broadcast CBC Radio program Ideas). She’s also the author of the poetry compilation Leaking Ink and runs an international magazine on creative resistance called Carved Voices. In her spare time — which, remarkably, she occasionally has — she delivers motivational talks on physics, feminism, and the juxtaposition of the personal and the professional.
William Rowan Hamilton was an extraordinary mathematician whose research had long-lasting implications for modern physics. As a poet, he was a bit of a hack, at least in the eyes of his friend and renowned poet William Wordsworth. Hamilton often sent his poems to Wordsworth for feedback, and Wordsworth went to great pains to provide constructive criticism without hurting his friend’s feelings. Upon reading one of Hamilton’s poems, Wordsworth replied: “I do venture to submit to your consideration, whether the poetical parts of your nature would not find a field more favourable to their exercise in the regions of prose.” Translation: don’t quit your day job, Bill. Here’s one of Hamilton’s better works — a tribute to another giant of mathematics and physics, Joseph Fourier.
For some lyrical physicists, poetry is not always a hobby separate from scientific research. For some (at least one), poetry is a way to present scientific findings. In 1984, Australian physicist J.W.V. Storey published a research paper — The Detection of Shocked Co/ Emission from G333.6-0.2 — as a 38-stanza poem. To any present-day researchers reading this: we dare you to try it.
Caltech physicist John Preskill is one of the world’s leading researchers exploring quantum information and the application of quantum computing to big questions about spacetime. Those are extremely complex topics, but Preskill also has a knack for explaining complicated subjects in accessible (and, occasionally, rhyming) terms. Here’s a snippet from a poem he wrote called “Quantum Cryptography.”
Nitica Sakharwade is a PhD student who, when not tackling foundational puzzles in quantum mechanics and quantum information, writes poetry and performs spoken word. In fact, she’s performing at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in October 2018. Though her poems don’t always relate to physics, when they do, they examine profound ideas like the Chandrasekhar limit (the mass threshold that determines whether a white dwarf star will explode in a cataclysmic supernova).
David Morin is a physics professor at Harvard who has become somewhat legendary for sprucing up his lessons with physics-based limericks. Some are quite catchy and impressively whittle a complex subject down to a set of simple rhyming verses, like the one below about Emmy Noether’s landmark theorem.
Other poems by Morin — such as this one, explaining how a medium other than a vacuum would affect a classic experiment — border on the absurd.
Lastly, we can’t resist sharing a poem by the brilliant Katharine Burr Blodgett, a physicist and chemist who, among other achievements, invented non-reflective “invisible” glass. That glass became very useful in filmmaking and was first put to use by Hollywood in a little movie called Gone With the Wind. After she retired from a long and successful career at General Electric (where she also pioneered materials to de-ice airplane wings, among many other innovations), she amused herself by writing quirky poetry.
I’d usually edit a bit in an effort to drive readers over to the Perimeter website but I just can’t bear to cut this up. Thank you to Colin Hunter for compiling the poems and the write ups. For anyone who wants to investigate the Perimeter Institute further and doesn’t have a PhD in physics, there’s the Slices of PI webpage featuring “fun, monthly dispatches about science designed for social sharing.”
Caption: As of 2013, there were 7.8 million researchers globally, according to UNESCO. This means that 0.1 percent of the people in the world professionally do science. Their work is largely financed by governments, yet public officials are not themselves researchers. To help governments make sense of the scientific community, Russian mathematicians have devised a researcher typology. The authors initially identified three clusters, which they tentatively labeled as “leaders,” “successors,” and “toilers.” Credit: Lion_on_helium/MIPT Press Office
Researchers in various fields, from psychology to economics, build models of human behavior and reasoning to categorize people. But it does not happen as often that scientists undertake an analysis to classify their own kind.
However, research evaluation, and therefore scientist stratification as well, remain highly relevant. Six years ago, the government outlined the objective that Russian scientists should have 50 percent more publications in Web of Science- and Scopus-indexed journals. As of 2011, papers by researchers from Russia accounted for 1.66 percent of publications globally. By 2015, this number was supposed to reach 2.44%. It did grow but this has also sparked a discussion in the scientific community about the criteria used for evaluating research work.
The most common way of gauging the impact of a researcher is in terms of his or her publications. Namely, whether they are in a prestigious journal and how many times they have been cited. As with any good idea, however, one runs the risk of overdoing it. In 2005, U.S. physicist Jorge Hirsch proposed his h-index, which takes into account the number of publications by a given researcher and the number of times they have been cited. Now, scientists are increasingly doubting the adequacy of using bibliometric data as the sole independent criterion for evaluating research work. One obvious example of a flaw of this metric is that a paper can be frequently cited to point out a mistake in it.
Scientists are increasingly under pressure to publish more often. Research that might have reasonably been published in one paper is being split up into stages for separate publication. This calls for new approaches to the evaluation of work done by research groups and individual authors. Similarly, attempts to systematize the existing methods in scientometrics and stratify scientists are becoming more relevant, too. This is arguably even more important for Russia, where the research reform has been stretching for years.
One of the challenges in scientometrics is identifying the prominent types of researchers in different fields. A typology of scientists has been proposed by Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology Professor Pavel Chebotarev, who also heads the Laboratory of Mathematical Methods for Multiagent Systems Analysis at the Institute of Control Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Ilya Vasilyev, a master’s student at MIPT.
In their paper, the two authors determined distinct types of scientists based on an indirect analysis of the style of research work, how papers are received by colleagues, and what impact they make. A further question addressed by the authors is to what degree researcher typology is affected by the scientific discipline.
“Each science has its own style of work. Publication strategies and citation practices vary, and leaders are distinguished in different ways,” says Chebotarev. “Even within a given discipline, things may be very different. This means that it is, unfortunately, not possible to have a universal system that would apply to anyone from a biologist to a philologist.”
“All of the reasonable systems that already exist are adjusted to particular disciplines,” he goes on. “They take into account the criteria used by the researchers themselves to judge who is who in their field. For example, scientists at the Institute for Nuclear Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences are divided into five groups based on what research they do, and they see a direct comparison of members of different groups as inadequate.”
The study was based on the citation data from the Google Scholar bibliographic database. To identify researcher types, the authors analyzed citation statistics for a large number of scientists, isolating and interpreting clusters of similar researchers.
Chebotarev and Vasilyev looked at the citation statistics for four groups of researchers returned by a Google Scholar search using the tags “Mathematics,” “Physics,” and “Psychology.” The first 515 and 556 search hits were considered in the case of physicists and psychologists, respectively. The authors studied two sets of mathematicians: the top 500 hits and hit Nos. 199-742. The four sets thus included frequently cited scientists from three disciplines indicating their general field of research in their profiles. Citation dynamics over each scientist’s career were examined using a range of indexes.
The authors initially identified three clusters, which they tentatively labeled as “leaders,” “successors,” and “toilers.” The leaders are experienced scientists widely recognized in their fields for research that has secured an annual citation count increase for them. The successors are young scientists who have more citations than toilers. The latter earn their high citation metrics owing to yearslong work, but they lack the illustrious scientific achievements.
Among the top 500 researchers indicating mathematics as their field of interest, 52 percent accounted for toilers, with successors and leaders making up 25.8 and 22.2 percent, respectively.
For physicists, the distribution was slightly different, with 48.5 percent of the set classified as toilers, 31.7 percent as successors, and 19.8 percent as leaders. That is, there were more successful young scientists, at the expense of leaders and toilers. This may be seen as a confirmation of the solitary nature of mathematical research, as compared with physics.
Finally, in the case of psychologists, toilers made up 47.7 percent of the set, with successors and leaders accounting for 18.3 and 34 percent. Comparing the distributions for the three disciplines investigated in the study, the authors conclude that there are more young achievers among those doing mathematical research.
A closer look enabled the authors to determine a more fine-grained cluster structure, which turned out to be remarkably similar for mathematicians and physicists. In particular, they identified a cluster of the youngest and most successful researchers, dubbed “precocious,” making up 4 percent of the mathematicians and 4.3 percent of the physicists in the set, along with the “youth” — successful researchers whose debuts were somewhat less dramatic: 29 and 31.7 percent of scientists doing math and physics research, respectively. Two further clusters were interpreted as recognized scientific authorities, or “luminaries,” and experienced researchers who have not seen an appreciable growth in the number of citations recently. Luminaries and the so-called inertia accounted for 52 and 15 percent of mathematicians and 50 and 14 percent of physicists, respectively.
There is an alternative way of clustering physicists, which recognizes a segment of researchers, who “caught the wave.” The authors suggest this might happen after joining major international research groups.
Among psychologists, 18.3 percent have been classified as precocious, though not as young as the physicists and mathematicians in the corresponding group. The most experienced and respected psychology researchers account for 22.5 percent, but there is no subdivision into luminaries and inertia, because those actively cited generally continue to be. Relatively young psychologists make up 59.2 percent of the set. The borders between clusters are relatively blurred in the case of psychology, which might be a feature of the humanities, according to the authors.
“Our pilot study showed even more similarity than we’d expected in how mathematicians and physicists are clustered,” says Chebotarev. “Whereas with psychology, things are noticeably different, yet the breakdown is slightly closer to math than physics. Perhaps, there is a certain connection between psychology and math after all, as some people say.”
“The next stage of this research features more disciplines. Hopefully, we will be ready to present the new results soon,” he concludes.
I think that they are attempting to create a new way of measuring scientific progress (scientometrics) by establishing a more representative means of measuring individual contributions based on the analysis they provide of the ways in which these ‘typologies’ are expressed across various disciplines.
For anyone who wants to investigate further, you will need to be able to read Russian. You can download the paper from here on MathNet.ru,.
Here’s my best attempt at a citation for the paper,
I’m glad to see this as there is a fair degree of dissatisfaction about the current measures for scientific progress used in any number of reports on the topic. As far as I can tell, this dissatisfaction is felt internationally.