Tag Archives: Shohini Ghose

The poetry of physics from Canada’s Perimeter Institute

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.

dirac poetry

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 The Catcher 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.

james clerk maxwell poem

Read the full poem

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).

rankine physics poem

Richard Feynman was known for both his brilliance and his eclectic lifestyle, which included playing the bongos, safe-cracking, and, occasionally, writing poetry.

Read the full poem

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.

Shohini poem

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.

sylvester poem physics

Read the full poem

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.

sonali poem

Read the full poem

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.

hamilton poetry

Read the full poem

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.

storey poem

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.”

john preskill poems

Read the full poem

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).

chandrasekhar limit

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.

noether symmetries

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.

morin poems harvard

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.

katharine burr blodget

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.”

TED 2014 ‘pre’ opening with reclaimed river, reforesting the world, open source molecular animation software, and a quantum butterfly

Today, March 17, 2014 TED opened with the first of two sessions devoted to the 2014 TED fellows. The ones I’m choosing to describe in brief detail are those who most closely fall within this blog’s purview. My choices are not a reflection of my opinion about the speaker or the speaker’s topic or the importance of the topic.

First, here’s a list of the fellows* along with a link to their TED 2014 biography (list and links from the TED 2014 schedule),

Usman Riaz Percussive guitarist
Ziyah Gafić photographer + storyteller
Alexander McLean african prison activist
Dan Visconti composer + concert presenter
Aziza Chaouni architect + ecotourism specialist
Shubhendu Sharma reforestation expert
Bora Yoon Experimental musician
Aziz Abu Sarah entrepreneur + educator
Gabriella Gomez-Mont Creativity Officer, Guest Host
Jorge Mañes Rubio conceptual artist
Bora Yoon Experimental musician
Janet Iwasa molecular animator
Robert Simpson astronomer + web developer
Shohini Ghose quantum physicist + educator
Sergei Lupashin aerial robotics researcher + entrepreneur
Lars Jan director + media artist
Sarah Parcak Space archaeologist, TED Fellow [part of group presentation]
Tom Rielly Satirist [received a 5th anniversary gift, a muppet of himself from group]
Susie Ibarra composer + improviser + percussionist educator
Usman Riaz

Aziza Chaouni is an architect based in Morocco. From Fez (and I think she was born there), she is currently working to reclaim the Fez River, which she described as the ‘soul of the city’. As urbanization has taken over Fez, the river has been paved over as it has become more polluted with raw sewage being dumped into it along with industrial byproducts from tanning and other industries. As part of the project to reclaim the river, i.e., clean it and uncover it, Chaouni and her collaborators have created public spaces such as a playground which both cleanses the river and gives children a place to play which uncovering part of the city’s ‘soul’.

Shubhendu Sharma founded Afforestt with the intention of bringing forests which have been decimated not only in India but around the world. An engineer by training, he has adapted an industrial model used for car production to his forest-making endeavours. Working with his reforestation model, you can develop a forest with 300 trees in the space needed to park six cars and for less money than you need to buy an iPhone. The Afforestt project is about to go open-source meaning that anyone in the world can download the information necessary to create a forest.

Jorge Mañes Rubio spoke about his art project where he creates travel souvenirs, e.g., water from the near a submerged city in China. The city was submerged in the Three Gorges hydro dam project. For anyone not familiar with the project, from the Wikipedia Three Gorges Dam entry (Note: Links removed),

The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW). In 2012, the amount of electricity the dam generated was similar to the amount generated by the Itaipu Dam. [2][3]

Except for a ship lift, the dam project was completed and fully functional as of July 4, 2012,[4][5] when the last of the main turbines in the underground plant began production. Each main turbine has a capacity of 700 MW.[3][6] The dam body was completed in 2006. Coupling the dam’s 32 main turbines with two smaller generators (50 MW each) to power the plant itself, the total electric generating capacity of the dam is 22,500 MW.[3][7][8]

The one souvenir he showed from that project featured symbols from traditional Chinese art festooned around the edges of white plastic bottle containing water from above a submerged Chinese city.

Janet Iwasa, a PhD in biochemistry, professor at the University of Utah and a molecular animator, talked about the animating molecular movement in and around cells. She showed an animation of a clathrin cage (there’s more about clathrin, a protein in a Wikipedia entry; looks a lot like a buckyball or buckminster fullerene except it’s not carbon) which provides a completely different understanding of how these are formed than is possible from still illustrations. She, along with her team, has created an open source software, Molecular Flipbook, which is available in in beta as of today, March 17, 2014.

The next session is starting. I’ll try and get back here to include more about Robert Simpson and Shohini Ghose.

ETa March 17, 2014 at 1521 PST:

Robert Simpson talked about citizen science, the Zooniverse project, and astronomy.  I have mentioned Zooniverse here (a Jan. 17, 2012 posting titled: Champagne galaxy, drawing bubbles for science and a Sept. 17, 2013 posting titled: Volunteer on the Plankton Portal and help scientists figure out ways to keep the ocean healthy.  Simpson says there are 1 million people participating in various Zooniverse projects and he mentioned that in addition to getting clicks and time from people, they’ve also gotten curiosity. That might seem obvious but he went on to describe a project (the Galaxy Zoo project) where the citizen scientists became curious about certain phenomena they were observing and as a consequence of their curiosity an entirely new type of galaxy was discovered, a pea galaxy. From the Pea Galaxy Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

A Pea galaxy, also referred to as a Pea or Green Pea, might be a type of Luminous Blue Compact Galaxy which is undergoing very high rates of star formation.[1] Pea galaxies are so-named because of their small size and greenish appearance in the images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

Pea Galaxies were first discovered in 2007 by the volunteer users within the forum section of the online astronomy project Galaxy Zoo (GZ).[2]

My final entry for this first TED fellow session is about Shohini Ghose, as associate professor of physics, at Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Canada). She spoke beautifully and you** think you understand while the person’s speaking but aren’t all that sure afterwards. She was talking about chaos at the macro and at the quantum levels. The butterfly effect (a butterfly beats its wings in one part of the world and eventually that disturbance which is repeated is felt as a hurricane in another part of the world) can also occur at the quantum level. In fact, quantum entanglement is generated by chaos at the quantum scale. She was accompanied by a video representing chaos and movement at the quantum scale.

* ‘fellow’ changed to ‘fellows’ March 17, 2013 1606 hours PST
** ‘iyou’ changed to ‘you’ Nov. 19, 2014.

TED2014 Fellows announced and more about TED in Vancouver (Canada)

Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED), which is moving to Vancouver for two years starting in 2014, has announced its 21 2014 Fellows., I’ve excerpted biographies and links from just a few fellows, all of whom will be in Vancouver,

Andrew Bastawrous (Kenya | UK) – Eye surgeon + innovator
Kenya-based ophthalmologist who has created PEEK, a low-cost smartphone ophthalmic tool that delivers eye care in some of the world’s most challenging places, to those who need it most.

Steve Boyes (South Africa) – Conservation biologist
South African conservation biologist passionate about protecting African parrots and their forest habitat within the continent’s last remaining wilderness areas.

Aziza Chaouni (Morocco) – Architect + ecotourism specialist
Moroccan civil engineer and architect creating sustainable, built environments in the developing world, particularly in the deserts of the Middle East.

Shohini Ghose (Canada + India) – Quantum physicist + educator
Theoretical physicist who examines how the laws of quantum mechanics may be harnessed to develop next-generation computers and novel protocols like teleportation.

Erine Gray (USA) – Software developer
American software developer and founder of Aunt Bertha, a platform that instantly helps people find social services such as food banks, health care, housing and educational programs.

Shih Chieh Huang (Taiwan | USA) – Artist
Taiwanese-American artist who dissects and disassembles the mundane detritus of our lives – household appliances, lights, computer parts, toys, plastic objects – transforming them into surreal, animated “living” organisms.

Janet Iwasa (USA) – Molecular animator
Biochemist who uses 3D animation software to create molecular and cellular visualizations – such as how the HIV virus hijacks human cells – allowing researchers to visualize, explore and communicate their hypotheses.

Sergei Lupashin (Russia | USA | Switzerland) – Aerial robotics researcher + entrepreneur
Swiss-based engineer developing the Fotokite, an easy-to-use flying robotic camera. His work also includes unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous cars.

David Sengeh (USA | Sierra Leone) – Biomechatronics engineer
Inventor of next-generation wearable mechanical interfaces that improve prosthetic comfort for amputees while simultaneously reducing costs, making the devices affordable in the developing world.

Shubhendu Sharma (India) – Reforestation expert
Indian industrial engineer restoring natural forests with his company, Afforestt, which offers a way to plant maintenance-free, wild and highly biodiverse forests using specialized afforestation methodology, research and cutting-edge technologies.

Robert Simpson (UK) – Astronomer + web developer
British astronomer who creates online platforms to cultivate a community of citizen science volunteers worldwide – crowdsourcing science. Projects cover a wide range of disciplines, from hunting for exoplanets to decoding whale language to mapping the Milky Way.

Bora Yoon (USA | South Korea) – Musician + sound architect
Korean-American vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer who creates immersive audiovisual soundscapes using digital devices, voice, and found objects and instruments from a variety of cultures and centuries. She evokes memory and association to formulate a cinematic storytelling through music and sound design.

I focused mostly on the people involved in science and technology but for more inspiration do go visit the TED2014 Fellows page. You can find out more about the Fellows program and find links to the application form here.

Earlier this year (2013), there was a great deal of excitement when the announcement was made that TED would be moving  from its longtime home (five years) in Long Beach, California to Vancouver, British Columbia for two years starting in 2014 from the Feb. 5, 2013 Vancouver Sun article by Jeff Lee,

For nearly three decades the conference — known for its motto of “Ideas Worth Spreading” and its popular TED Talks interviews — has called California home. That it was considering leaving the United States to come to Canada was, for Klassen [Greg Klassen, the senior vice-president of marketing for the Canadian Tourism Commission and Antonson [Rick Antonson, Tourism Vancouver CEO], stunning. This was the Holy Grail of conferences, so big in fact that it might even be viewed on the same level as the idea for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics — whose birth, ironically, had taken place 15 years earlier around the same table.

“I turned to Katherine and said ‘I thought I was coming for Oprah. I never thought it was this big,’” Klassen recalled Monday [February 4, 2013].

To the uninitiated, bringing the 1,400-delegate TED conference to Vancouver may not seem like much. After all, this is an Olympic city that knows how to put on a show.

But then, TED is so rarefied, with its agenda of provocative leaders and speakers, that each of the attendees — many of them influencers and thought-changers in their own right — have to submit an essay on why they should be allowed to buy a $7,500 ticket.

The conference, one of the world’s most influential incubators of ideas about technology, entertainment and design (thus, TED), has become so popular that more than 1,000 of its speeches, which since 2006 are now indexed online, have received more than one billion views.

The main conference and a second global conference based in Edinburgh, Scotland, have featured everyone from presidents of countries and leading scientists to business leaders and social innovators.

In Frances Bula’s Feb. 4, 2013 article for the Globe and Mail, she described the response at Vancouver’s City Hall this way,

The Monday announcement caused a visible bubble of euphoria among city officials. “This is a game-changer for Vancouver. We’re known as a world-class tourism destination but this shows we’re breaking through in thought leadership,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said. “I’d like to explore how we can best leverage the opportunity to vault Vancouver into the spotlight and endear us to the leading thinkers who come here.”

While his [owner Chris Anderson] organization had been looking at various locales, Vancouver won their hearts. The city, where TED staff know several people already, was welcoming. (The organization, which has its main offices in New York, has had its conference-organizing staff based in Vancouver for a decade.)

As Bula notes in her article, there have been some criticisms of TED. Her Globe and Mail colleague, Gary Mason in his Feb. 7, 2013 article expounds further on that theme (Note: Links have been removed),

Until recently, TED – whose credo is Ideas Worth Spreading – enjoyed mostly fawning treatment from the popular press. Lately, however, the organization has been the recipient of some withering critiques. It has been skewered for lectures that are formulaic in design, that emphasize style over substance and that come across as little more than crass sales pitches for whatever book the presenter happens to be flogging.

Alex Pareene, writing in Salon.com, said the standard TED talk is modelled on a recipe popularized by author Malcolm Gladwell. Common tropes, he suggested, include oversimplified explanations of complex problems, idealistic solutions to said dilemmas, unconventional explanations for origins of identified vexing issues and “staggeringly obvious observations presented as mind-blowing new insights.”

The most devastating review of what TED has become was penned by a former conference presenter, Evgeny Morozov. Writing in The New Republic, he said TED was no longer a curator of ideas worth spreading but, instead, something quite menacing. “Today TED is an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering – a place where ideas, regardless of their quality, go to seek celebrity, to live in the form of videos, tweets, and now e-books. In the world of TED … books become talks, talks become memes, memes become projects, projects become talks, talks become books – and so it goes ad infinitum in the sizzling Stakhanovite cycle of memetics, until any shade of depth or nuance disappears into the virtual void.”

All of this is not to say TED doesn’t have something to offer. Many of the lectures – including one by Sir Ken Robinson on how schools are killing creativity – are terrific.

Nathan Heller critiqued TED at length in a July 9, 2012 article for New Yorker Magazine (excerpted from the abstract; the full article is behind a paywall),

… Abroad, “TEDx” events run at a global rate of about five per day, in a hundred and thirty-three countries. [Describes the TED lecture of Lior Zoref, an Israeli Ph.D. student whose aim was to deliver a crowd-sourced talk, on the idea that a group of networked minds can shape a better product than an individual imagination.] TED’s closely governed editorial process begins with the concept: the conference’s “curators” feel out a speaker’s interests, looking for material that’s new and counterintuitive. … Critics tend to regard TED as a rogue force of idiocy, chasing ideas with a meat grinder while serious thinkers chew their leafy greens. … The TED talk is today a sentimental form. Once, searching for transport, people might have read Charles Dickens, rushed the dance floor, watched the Oscars, put on the Smiths. Now there is TED. The appeal of TED comes as much from its presentation as from its substance. Establishing intellectual credentials in order to break past them helps give TED a somewhat vaporous tone. … TED’s attendee list looks like something a Harvard development officer might hallucinate after huffing too much envelope glue. By most measures, TED shapes its style against the mores of academia. [emphasis mine] It’s a recourse for college-educated adults who want to close the gap between academic thought and the lives they live now.

Following up on the reference to academia, I found this June 18, 2013 Indiana University news release about academics and their TED talks (Note: Links have been removed),

Academics earn street cred with TED Talks but no points from peers, IU research shows

Though fewer in number, presentations by academics preferred by public

TED Talks, the most popular conference and events website in the world with over 1 billion informational videos viewed, provides academics with increased popular exposure but does nothing to boost citations of their work by peers, new research led by Indiana University [IU] has found.

In the comprehensive study of over 1,200 TED Talks videos and their presenters, lead author Cassidy R. Sugimoto, an assistant professor in IU Bloomington’s Department of Information and Library Science, and a team of researchers from Great Britain and Canada, also looked at the demographic make-up of TED Talks presenters — only 21 percent were academics, and of those only about one-quarter were women — and the relationship between a presenter’s credentials and a video’s popularity.

Data gathered from the TED website and from YouTube also found that male-authored videos on YouTube were more popular and more liked than those authored by women — possibly because research has shown that females are less likely to comment on YouTube than males — and that videos by academics were commented upon more often than those presented by non-academics. While YouTube videos by male presenters were more viewed than those by women, this was not true of the TED website.

“Overall, academic presenters were in the minority, yet their videos were preferred,” Sugimoto said. “This runs counter to past research that has argued that the public, because of a lack of literacy on the subject, has a negative perception of science and technology that has been fostered by the media.”

The new work instead finds positive associations with science and technology information and possibly, Sugimoto noted, some discerning characteristics in the public between presentations by academics and non-academics.

Co-authors with Sugimoto on “Scientists Popularizing Science: Characteristics and Impact of TED Talk Presenters,” were IU doctoral student Andrew Tsou; Mike Thelwall of University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom; Vincent Lariviere and Benoit Macaluso of Universite de Montreal and the Universite du Quebec a Montreal; and Philippe Mongeon, Universite de Montreal. The new research appeared in PLoS ONE.

The work was funded by the Digging Into Data initiative, a multinational funding program to promote “big data” research. Teams must be composed of scholars from at least two countries and receive funding from one of a number of potential national scholars. The U.S. portion of this grant was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the published paper, which is open access,

Scientists Popularizing Science: Characteristics and Impact of TED Talk Presenters by Cassidy R. Sugimoto, Mike Thelwall, Vincent Larivière, Andrew Tsou, Philippe Mongeon, & Benoit Macaluso. Published: Apr 30, 2013  PLoS ONE 8(4): e62403. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062403

Say what you will about TED, it cannot be denied that it has captured attention and has influence. I think it’s a good sign that it’s being criticized and critiqued, one doesn’t bother with the unimportant and the irrelevant. For anyone who’s thinking of attending March 17-21, 2014 in Vancdouver, (as of 2013, you needed $7500US and you had to write an essay), here’s more from TED2014’s program overview (this is the organization’s 30th anniversary year),

4 exciting changes

First and foremost, we’re moving to a spectacular location: Vancouver, Canada, one of the world’s great cities, combining a thriving culture of innovation, with glorious nature. There’s a new convention center there in the harbor that takes our breath away. It’s across the street from three terrific hotels, with more options within a short walk, and offers majestic 360-degree views of water and mountains.

Second, we’re reducing the audience size. You heard that right. From 1,400 in Long Beach, we’ll reduce to just 1,200 attendees. Every successful conference has to find a balance between scale and intimacy, and we think this is the year to nudge back a little smaller, so that in-depth human connection will be easier.

Third, we’re inviting back to TED2014 some of the best TED speakers of all time. Not necessarily for the main stage … but to join us in the audience, and contribute to breakout groups, lunches and dinners. TED2014 will feel like a glorious reunion, and a wonderful opportunity to connect one on one with the people who’ve done so much to shape how we see the world.

Finally, we’re pulling in some of TED’s greatest design talents to help us create a new kind of theater space. The convention center includes a beautiful open area that is perfect for us to install a custom-designed-for-talk-theater we have long dreamed of — one whose sole goal is connect speaker with audience as powerfully as possible. Nothing quite like this currently exists.

The TED2014 experience includes:
  • Starting Monday at 6pm, the famous TED mainstage program full of 18-minute talks, plus music, comedy, dance, short talks, video and other surprises.
  • TED Fellows Talks, where you’ll hear about projects and visions of the next generation of world-changers.
  • TED University, where TEDsters share their own expertise, from “How to negotiate a term sheet” to “How to break a board with your bare hands.”
  • Evening events, art exhibits, tech demos and other immersive experiences
  • Caffeine-fueled conversation breaks between sessions
  • Spaces to watch TED in an informal setting — on couches, beds, beanbag chairs; while blogging, tweeting, eating, networking …
  • The TED Gift Bag
  • Online tools for connecting with other attendees, before and after the conference
  • TED Book Club mailings

Enjoy either in person or via the podcasts that will be posted. Finally, congratulations to the 2014TED Fellows.

Canadian science and society symposium in Ottawa (Oct. 21 – 23, 2013)

The Science and Society 2013: Emerging Agendas for Citizens and the Sciences symposium (featured previously in my Aug. 16,, 2013 posting) is being held in Ottawa, Ontario from Oct. 21-23, 2013 according to the symposium homepage,

Co-organized by the Situating Science SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster (www.situsci.ca) and the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy (www.issp.uottawa.ca), the Science and Society 2013 symposium aims to understand and address the key issues at the interface of science, technology, society and policy.

The event will connect disparate themes and bring different groups with shared interests together to brainstorm solutions to common challenges. It will demonstrate that collaboration among academics, students, policy makers, stakeholders and the public at large can lead to new insights and a deeper understanding of the social and cultural contexts of science and technology.

The symposium aims to make the discussion of science and technology and their place in society more prominent in the national dialogue, notably through the publication of a symposium report containing recommendations on how to understand and improve the science-society interface and improve science policy.  This document will be distributed among media and key decision makers.

There are three events for the public:

The Transformations in the Relations Between Science, Policy and Citizens

Date: Mon. Oct. 21, 2013
Time: 19:00 – 20:30
Location: Desmarais Building, Rm. 12-102 (12th floor), University of Ottawa, 55 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa
Price: Free (registration required)
Reception and Student Poster Display to follow
Out of town? Watch live online (link TBD)

The traditional relations between scientists, policy makers and citizens have been transformed over the last fifteen years. Scientists were used to providing science for policy makers who were eager to listen, while citizens were relatively confident in the judgments of scientists. Using recent cases of scientific and public controversies, we will show that citizens have more power now than ever before to influence policies in matters relating to scientific research. This raises the pressing issue for us as citizens: How do we give a central place to a scientific culture that is adapted to the 21st century?

Yves Gingras
Canada Research Chair in the History and Sociology of Science
Université du Québec à Montréal

UNCERTAIN SCIENCE, UNCERTAIN TIMES
Selections and discussion of Michael Frayn’s Tony Award-winning play, Copenhagen
Moderated by Jay Ingram
Directed by Kevin Orr
Tuesday Oct. 22, 2013, 7:30 pm
Alumni Auditorium, Jock-Turcot University Centre, 85 University, University of Ottawa
Free
Donations accepted at the door
Reception to follow
“Join” our Facebook event page:
https://www.facebook.com/events/455270781259464/?ref=22Limited seating!  Register online by Sunday Oct. 20:
www.ScienceAndSociety2013.ca    

The Situating Science national Strategic Knowledge Cluster with the University of Ottawa Institute for Science, Society and Policy invite you to join us for a professionally staged reading of selections from Michael Frayn’s acclaimed play Copenhagen, which will be interwoven with expert panel discussions moderated by science broadcaster and author, Jay Ingram.

Copenhagen is based on the final meeting of Nobel-Prize winning physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in the midst of the 1940s War effort. The issues it raises concerning science, ethics and politics are as pressing as ever.

Stage readings by: Tibor Egervari, Peter Hawaorth, and Beverly Wolfe

Panelists:
Dr. Ted Hsu, Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, Science and Technology Critic for the Liberal Party of Canada

Dr. Shohini Ghose, Associate Professor, Department of Physics & Computer Science; Affiliate member, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Director, Centre for Women in Science, Wilfred Laurier University

Dr. Robert Smith, Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta

Influencers Panel
Panel of influential decision-makers discussing results of the symposium

Date: Wed. Oct. 23, 2013
Time: 17:30 – 19:00
Location: Desmarais Building, Rm. 12-102 (12th floor), University of Ottawa, 55 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa
Price: Free (registration required)
Reception to follow.
Out of town? Watch live online! (link TBD)

Yves St-Onge
Vice-President, Public Affairs and Marketing, Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation

Scott Findlay
Associate Professor, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa
Evidence for Democracy

Pat Mooney
Executive Director, ETC Group

Louise Vandelac
Professor, Department of Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal

Denise Amyot
President and CEO, Association of Canadian Community Colleges

Register today to attend the 3 public evening events …
Not in Ottawa? Some select symposium events will be availble to watch online live (no registration needed). Stay tuned to the event website for more.

This symposium, save for the three public evening events, appears to be for invitees only (there’s no symposium registration page). Presumably nobody wants any members of the public or strangers present when the invitees discuss such topics as these (from the symposium programme):

Science and Its Publics: Dependence, Disenchantment, and Deliverance [emphasis mins]

Desmarais Building Rm. 12
102
Chair: Dr. Gordon McOuat, Situating Science
Speaker: Dr. Sheila Jasanoff, Harvard Kennedy School
Session 1a: Science and Democracy [emphasis mine]
Desmarais Building Rm. 12
102
Chair/Speaker: Dr. Heather Douglas, Waterloo
Speakers:
Dr. Frédéric Bouchard, U. de Montréal
Dr. Patrick Feng, U. Calgary
Science, Policy and Citizens: How to improve the Science/Society interface [emphasis mine]
Desmarais Building Rm. 12 – 102
Chairs: Dr. Marc Saner, ISSP and Dr. Gordon McOuat, Situating Science
Speakers: Rapporteurs from previous sessions

It seems odd to be discussing democracy, citizenship, and science without allowing the public to attend any of the sessions. Meanwhile, the symposium’s one and only science and media session features two speakers, Penny Park of the Science Media Centre of Canada and Ivan Semeniuk of the Globe and Mail, who are firmly ensconced members of the mainstream media with no mention of anything else (science blogs?). Arguably, science bloggers could be considered relevant to these discussions since research suggests that interested members of the public are searching for science information online (in blogs and elsewhere) in in increasing numbers. I hope to get a look at the documentation once its been published, assuming there will be public access.