Tag Archives: Stanford University

Using measurements to generate quantum entanglement and teleportation

Caption: The researchers at Google Quantum AI and Stanford University explored how measurements can fundamentally change the structure of quantum information in space-time. Credit: Google Quantum AI, designed by Sayo-Art

interesting approach to illustrating a complex scientific concept! This October 18, 2023 news item on phys.org describes the measurement problem,

Quantum mechanics is full of weird phenomena, but perhaps none as weird as the role measurement plays in the theory. Since a measurement tends to destroy the “quantumness” of a system, it seems to be the mysterious link between the quantum and classical world. And in a large system of quantum bits of information, known as “qubits,” the effect of measurements can induce dramatically new behavior, even driving the emergence of entirely new phases of quantum information.

This happens when two competing effects come to a head: interactions and measurement. In a quantum system, when the qubits interact with one another, their information becomes shared nonlocally in an “entangled state.” But if you measure the system, the entanglement is destroyed. The battle between measurement and interactions leads to two distinct phases: one where interactions dominate and entanglement is widespread, and one where measurements dominate, and entanglement is suppressed.

An October 18, 2023 Google Quantum AI news release, which originated the news item, on EurekAlert provides more information about a research collaboration between Google and Stanford University,

As reported today [October 18, 2023] in the journal Nature, researchers at Google Quantum AI and Stanford University have observed the crossover between these two regimes — known as a “measurement-induced phase transition” — in a system of up to 70 qubits. This is by far the largest system in which measurement-induced effects have been explored. The researchers also saw signatures of a novel form of “quantum teleportation” — in which an unknown quantum state is transferred from one set of qubits to another — that emerges as a result of these measurements. These studies could help inspire new techniques useful for quantum computing.

One can visualize the entanglement in a system of qubits as an intricate web of connections. When we measure an entangled system, the impact it has on the web depends on the strength of the measurement. It could destroy the web completely, or it could snip and prune selected strands of the web, but leave others intact. 

To actually see this web of entanglement in an experiment is notoriously challenging. The web itself is invisible, so researchers can only infer its existence by seeing statistical correlations between the measurement outcomes of qubits. Many, many runs of the same experiment are needed to infer the pattern of the web. This and other challenges have plagued past experiments and limited the study of measurement-induced phase transitions to very small system sizes. 

To address these challenges, the researchers used a few experimental sleights of hand. First, they rearranged the order of operations so that all the measurements could be made at the end of the experiment, rather than interleaved throughout, thus reducing the complexity of the experiment. Second, they developed a new way to measure certain features of the web with a single “probe” qubit. In this way, they could learn more about the entanglement web from fewer runs of the experiment than had been previously required. Finally, the probe, like all qubits, was susceptible to unwanted noise in the environment. This is normally seen as a bad thing, as noise can disrupt quantum calculations, but the researchers turned this bug into a feature by noting that the probe’s sensitivity to noise depended on the nature of the entanglement web around it. They could therefore use the probe’s noise sensitivity to infer the entanglement of the whole system.

The team first looked at this difference in sensitivity to noise in the two entanglement regimes and found distinctly different behaviors. When measurements dominated over interactions (the “disentangling phase”), the strands of the web remained relatively short. The probe qubit was only sensitive to the noise of its nearest qubits. In contrast, when the measurements were weaker and entanglement was more widespread (the “entangling phase”) the probe was sensitive to noise throughout the entire system. The crossover between these two sharply contrasting behaviors is a signature of the sought-after measurement-induced phase transition.

The team also demonstrated a novel form of quantum teleportation that emerged naturally from the measurements: by measuring all but two distant qubits in a weakly entangled state, stronger entanglement was generated between those two distant qubits. The ability to generate measurement-induced entanglement across long distances enables the teleportation observed in the experiment.

The stability of entanglement against measurements in the entangling phase could inspire new schemes to make quantum computing more robust to noise. The role that measurements play in driving new phases and physical phenomena is also of fundamental interest to physicists. Stanford professor and co-author of the study, Vedika Khemani, says, “Incorporating measurements into dynamics introduces a whole new playground for many-body physics where many fascinating and new types of non-equilibrium phases could be found. We explore a few of these striking and counter-intuitive measurement induced phenomena in this work, but there is much more richness to be discovered in the future.” 

Before getting to the citation for and link to the paper, I have an interview with some of the researchers that was written up by Holly Alyssa MacCormick (Associate Director of Public Relations. Science writer and news editor for Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences) in an October 18, 2023 article for Stanford University, Note 1: Some of this will be redundant; Note 2: Links have been removed,

Harnessing the “weirdness” of quantum mechanics to solve practical problems is the long-standing promise of quantum computing. But much like the state of the cat in Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment, quantum mechanics is still a box of unknowns. Similar to the solid, liquid, and gas phases of matter, the organization of quantum information, too, can assume different phases. Yet unlike the phases of matter we are familiar with in everyday life, the phases of quantum information are much harder to formulate and observe and as a result have been only a theoretical dream until recently.

Measurements are arguably the weirdest facet of quantum mechanics. Intuition tells us that a state has some definite property and measurement reveals that property. However, measurements in quantum mechanics produce intrinsically random results, and the act of measurement irreversibly changes the state itself. Unlike laptops, smartphones, and other classical computers that rely on binary “bits” to code in the state of 0 (off) or 1 (on), quantum computers use “qubits” of information that can be in the state of 0, 1, or 0 and 1 at the same time, a concept known as superposition. The act of measurement doesn’t just extract information, but also changes the state, randomly “collapsing” a superposition into a specific value (0 or 1).

Moreover, this collapse affects not just the qubit that was measured, but also potentially the entire system—an effect described by Einstein as “spooky action at a distance.” This is due to “entanglement,” a quantum property that allows multiple particles in different places to jointly be in superposition, which is a key ingredient for quantum computing. The collapse of an entangled state can also enable spooky phenomena such as “teleportation,” thereby irretrievably altering the “arrow of time” (the concept that time moves in one forward direction) that governs our everyday experience.

In other words, measurements can be used to fundamentally reorganize the structure of quantum information in space and time.

Now, a new collaboration between Stanford and Google Quantum AI investigates the effect of measurements on quantum systems of many particles on Google’s quantum computer and has obtained the largest experimental demonstration of novel measurement-induced phases of quantum information to date. The study was co-led by Jesse Hoke, a physics graduate student and fellow at Stanford’s Quantum Science and Engineering initiative (Q-FARM), Matteo Ippoliti, a former postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Physics, and senior author Vedika Khemani, associate professor of physics at the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences and Q-FARM. Their results were published Oct. 18 in the journal Nature.

Here, Hoke, Ippoliti, and Khemani discuss how they observed measurement-induced phases of quantum information—a feat once thought to be beyond the realm of what could be achieved in an experiment—and how their new insights could help pave the way for advancements in quantum science and engineering.

Question: What distinguishes the phases investigated in this study from one another, and what is teleportation?

Ippoliti: In the simplest case, there are two phases. In one phase, the structure of quantum information in the system forms a strongly connected web where qubits share a lot of entanglement, even at large spatial distances and/or temporal separations. In the other, the system is weakly connected, so correlations like entanglement decay quickly with distance or time. These are the two phases that we probed in our experiment. The strongly entangled phase enables teleportation, which occurs when the state of one qubit is instantly transmitted, or “teleported,” to another far away qubit by measuring all but those two qubits.

Question: How did you control when a phase transition occurred

Khemani: The competing forces at play are the interactions between qubits, which tend to build entanglement, and measurements of the qubits, which can destroy it. This is the famous “wave function collapse” of quantum mechanics—think of Schrödinger’s cat “collapsing” into one of two states (dead or alive) when we open the box. However, because of entanglement, the collapse is not restricted to the qubit we directly measure but affects the rest of the system too. By controlling the strength or frequency of measurements on the quantum computer, we can induce a phase transition between an entangled phase and a disentangled one.

Question: What were some of the challenges your team needed to overcome to measure quantum states, and how did you do it?

Ippoliti: Measurements in quantum mechanics are inherently random, which makes observing these phases notoriously challenging. This is because every repetition of our experiment produces a different, random-looking quantum state. This is a problem because detecting entanglement (the feature that sets our two phases apart) requires observations on many copies of the same state. To get around this difficulty, we developed a diagnostic that cross-correlates data from the quantum processor with the results of simulations on classical computers. This hybrid quantum-classical diagnostic allowed us to see evidence of the different phases on up to 70 qubits, making this one of the largest digital quantum simulations and experiments to date.

Hoke: Another challenge was that quantum experiments are currently limited by environmental noise. Entanglement is a delicate resource that is easily destroyed by interactions from the outside environment, which is the primary challenge in quantum computing. In our setup, we probe the entanglement structure between the system’s qubits, which is destroyed if the system is not perfectly isolated and instead gets entangled with the surrounding environment. We addressed this challenge by devising a diagnostic that uses noise as a feature rather than a bug—the two phases (weak and strong entanglement) respond to noise in different ways, and we used this as a probe of the phases.

Khemani: In addition, we used the fact that the “arrow of time” loses meaning with measurement-induced teleportation. This allowed us to reorganize the sequence of operations on the quantum computer in advantageous ways to mitigate the effects of noise and to devise new probes of the organization of quantum information in space-time.

Question: What do the findings mean?

Khemani: At the level of fundamental science, our experiments demonstrate new phenomena that extend our familiar concepts of “phase structure.” Instead of thinking of measurements merely as probes, we are now thinking of them as an intrinsic part of quantum dynamics, which can be used to create and manipulate novel quantum correlations. At the level of applications, using measurements to robustly generate structured entanglement is inspiring new ways to make quantum computing more robust against noise. More generally, our understanding of general phases of quantum information and dynamics is still nascent, and many exciting surprises await.

Acknowledgements

Hoke conducted research on this study while working as an intern at Google Quantum AI under the supervision of Xiao Mi and Pedram Roushan. Ippoliti is now an assistant professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin. Additional co-authors on this study include the Google Quantum AI team and researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Auburn University; University of Technology, Sydney; University of California, Riverside; and Columbia University. The full list of authors is available in the Nature paper.

Ippoliti was funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s EPiQS Initiative. Khemani was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; and the Packard Foundation.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper, Note: There are well over 100 contributors to the paper and I have not listed each one separately, You can find the list if you go to the Nature paper and click on Google Quantum AI and Collaborators in the author field,

Measurement-induced entanglement and teleportation on a noisy quantum processor by Google Quantum AI and Collaborators. Nature volume 622, pages 481–486 (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06505-7 Published online: 18 October 2023 Issue Date: 19 October 2023

This paper is open access.

Frog pants?

How would you go about tracking these frogs?

Six images of tiny frogs wearing little plastic trackers attached to wire harnesses on their back legs.
Researchers have fitted tiny trackable radio-pants to three species of South American frogs to test their ability to navigate through the rainforest. (Submitted by Andrius Pašukonis)

You can see how tiny they are when you compare one of the frogs to a leaf visible in one of the images (top left or top right).

The answer to the question, as you may have guessed, are frog pants (or G-strings).

Sheena Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article for the CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) As It Happens radio show explores the question and the research and includes an embedded 6:20 radio interview with researcher, Andrius Pašukonis,

How do you track a bunch of teeny-weeny frogs across the vast rainforests of South America? By putting teeny-weeny trackers on their teeny-weeny underwear, of course.

Biologist Andrius Pašukonis and his colleagues wanted to study the navigational capabilities of poisonous frogs that are too small for most animal tracking devices.

So he designed a Speedo-like harness that wraps around their back legs and props a tiny radio tracker on their backsides. The research team dubbed the invention “frog pants” — though Pašukonis says that’s “a bit of a misnomer.”

“My French colleagues like to call it a telemetric G-string,” Pašukonis, a senior scientist at Lithuania’s Vilnius University, told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

“It’s a lot of fine motor skills and a lot of practice in handling tiny frogs and sewing little frog harnesses. But we go find them in the rainforest, and we catch them, and we put the tags on.”

My favourite part is “… sewing little frog harnesses.” Note: The following video features a commercial and then, moves onto a 2:22 interview,

More from Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article, Note: A link has been removed,

Pašukonis was a PhD student at the University of Vienna when he first started experimenting with the frog pants design, and later put it to use while working as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in California.

He and is colleagues used the tracker pants to study the spatial skills of three frog species that range from three to five centimetres in length — diablito poison frogs in Ecuador, and brilliant-thighed poison frogs and dyeing poison frogs in French Guiana. The findings were published late last year in the journal e-Life [sic].

“The only way to study movements of animals is to be able to track them and follow them around, which nobody has managed to do or even tried to do with these tiny, tiny frogs in the rainforest,” he said.

“So that became my goal and challenge, where I spent a good part of my PhD trying different versions of different tags and different attachment methods, trial and error, to finally get to be able to put tags on and track them and study their behaviour.”

The frogs, he admits, didn’t particularly like the pants. But they didn’t seem to mind too much, and the team removed the trackers after four to six days. 

“Like any animal, they might scratch a little bit afterwards … like a dog with a new collar,” he said. “And then they just go on with their business.”

Other scientists have tried to track tiny frogs, from Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article, Note: Links have been removed,

The design caught the eye of Richard Essner, a biologist at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who studies animal locomotion, and has a particular interest in little frogs.

“Tracking small frogs with radio telemetry is not an easy thing to do,” Essner, who wasn’t involved in the Stanford research, told CBC in an email. 

About a decade ago, he says his lab attempted to use radio telemetry to track the movement of the threatened Illinois chorus frog using a transmitter attached via an elastic belt around the waist.

“Unfortunately, we had to abandon the study because we found that the transmitter apparatus was interfering with locomotion. If the belt was too tight, it caused abrasion. If it was too loose it slid down around the legs and left the frog immobilized and vulnerable to predation,” he said.

The frog pants, he says, seem to offer a solution to this conundrum. 

Lea Randall, a Calgary Zoo and Wilder Institute ecologist who specializes in amphibians and reptiles, ran into similar obstacles while trying to track northern leopard frogs at a reintroduction site in B.C. 

Like the Stanford researchers, her team experimented with several different designs before landing on one that worked — a belt-like attachment with some “very stylish” smooth glass beads to prevent abrasion. 

“Unfortunately, due to the weight of the radio transmitters at the time we couldn’t study smaller individuals,” she said. 

“We didn’t use leg straps, but I can see the advantages of that to help keep the transmitters in place. The creative thinking and problem solving that goes into developing these kinds of studies always amazes me.”

Finally, frogs may be smarter than we think, from Goodyear’s June 13, 2023 article,

When it comes to animal cognition and behaviour, Pašukonis says frogs are understudied —  and he believes, underestimated — compared to birds and mammals.

The poisonous rainforest frogs, he says, may be only a few centimetres in size, but when they breed, they carry their tadpoles between 200 to 300 metres across the rainforest to find them the perfect puddle to grow in.

Then they turn right around, and make their way home again. 

“How could a little frog — frogs typically are not thought to be very smart — learn to navigate on such a big scale? And how do they find their way around more on a fundamental scientific level?” Pašukonis said.

“We’re uncovering that overall amphibians, for example, might be smarter or have more complicated cognitive abilities than we thought.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper published by Pašukonis and his colleagues,

Contrasting parental roles shape sex differences in poison frog space use but not navigational performance by Andrius Pašukonis, Shirley Jennifer Serrano-Rojas, Marie-Therese Fischer, Matthias-Claudio Loretto, Daniel A Shaykevich, Bibiana Rojas, Max Ringler, Alexandre B Roland, Alejandro Marcillo-Lara, Eva Ringler, Camilo Rodríguez, Luis A Coloma, Lauren A O’Connell. eLife DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.80483 Version of Record Published: Nov 15, 2022

This paper appears to be open access.

International conference “Living Machines” dedicated to technology inspired by nature in Genoa, Italy (July 10 – 13, 2023)

I love the look and the theme for this “Living Machines” conference, which seems to be water,

A June 28, 2023 Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) press release (also on EurekAlert) provides more detail about the conference,

Now in its twelfth year, the international conference “Living Machines”, organised by Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology, IIT), returns to Italy and comes to Genoa for the first time, from 10 to 13 July. Around one hundred experts from all over the world are expected, and they will present their achievements in the field of bio-inspired science and technology. The conference will take place in an exceptional venue, the Acquario di Genova (Genoa Aquarium), which, having reached its 30th birthday, is the ideal location at which to bring together various subject areas, from biology to artificial intelligence and robotics, with a focus on sustainability and environmental protection.

The scientific organiser of the event is Barbara Mazzolai, Associate Director for Robotics and head of the Bioinspired Soft Robotics Lab at IIT, along with Fabian Meder, researcher in the Bioinspired Soft Robotics Lab group and co-chair of the conference programme.

The conference will include two events open to the public: an exhibition area, which will be accessible from 11 to 13 July in the afternoon (from 2 to 4.30 pm); and a scientific café, which will take place on the 12 July at 5 pm. The conference will be an opportunity for international guests to appreciate the region’s beauty and talents, and it will also include the participation of students from the Niccolò Paganini Conservatory of Music. In addition, a satellite event of the conference will be the ISPA – Italian Sustainability Photo Award – exhibition, which will open at Palazzo Ducale on 10 July at 6 p.m.

The “Living Machines” conference is the landmark event for the international scientific community which bases its research on living organisms, such as human beings and other animal species – terrestrial, marine, and airborne – in addition to plants, fungi, and bacteria, in order to create so-called “living machines”, in other words, forms of technology capable of replicating their structure and mechanisms of operation.

“The conference is rooted in the union between robotics and neuroscience, using man and other animal species as a model for the study of intelligence and control systems,” said Barbara Mazzolai, Associate Director for Robotics at IIT. “This year the conference will focus on the role of biomimicry in the creation of robots that are more sustainable, with applications for the challenges of environmental protection and human health. Discussions will revolve around the development of robots with a lower energy impact, made using recyclable and biodegradable materials, and that can be used in emergency situations or extreme environments, such as deep sea, soil, space, or environmental disasters, but also for precision agriculture, environmental surveillance, infrastructure monitoring, human care and medical-surgical assistance.

In the conference programme, experts will take part in a first day of parallel workshop and tutorial sessions (on 10 July), during which the topics of bioinspiration and biohybrid technology in the fields of medicine and the marine environment will be addressed. This first day will be followed by three days of plenary sessions, featuring talks by internationally-renowned scientists. More specifically: Oussama Khatib, one of the pioneers of robotics and director of the Robotics Laboratory at Stanford University; Marco Dorigo, professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and one of the pioneers of collective intelligence; Peter Fratzl, director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, working on research into osteoporosis and tissue regeneration; Eleni Stavrinidou, coordinator of the “Electronic Plants” group at Linköping University and an expert in bioelectronic and biohybrid systems; Olga Speck, Principal Researcher at the University of Freiburg, specialising in biomimetic materials and the regenerative capabilities of plants; and Kyu-Jin Cho, director of the Research Centre for Soft Robotics and the Biorobotics Laboratory at Seoul National University, one of the world’s leading experts on soft robotics.

For conference participants only, the programme includes: a visit to the Acquario, guided by the facility’s scientific staff, who will illustrate the work and practices needed for the protection and conservation of marine species and the undergoing research projects; an exhibition area for prototypes and products by research groups and companies operating in this field; and a dinner at Villa Lo Zerbino, with a musical contribution by students from the Niccolò Paganini Conservatory.

Open to the general public, on 12 July from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. there will be a round table entitled “Living Machines: The Origin and the Future” chaired by science journalist Nicola Nosengo, Chief Editor of Nature Italy. Speakers will include Cecilia Laschi from the National University of Singapore, Vickie Webster-Wood from Carnegie Mellon University, Thomas Speck from the University of Freiburg and Paul Verschure from Radboud University Nijmegen.

A satellite initiative of the conference will be the exhibition for ISPA, the Italian Sustainability Photo Award, which will open at Palazzo Ducale on 10 July at 6.00 p.m. ISPA is the photographic award created by the Parallelozero agency in cooperation with the main sponsor PIMCO, to raise public awareness of environmental, social, and governance sustainability issues, encapsulated in the acronym ESG. The works of the winning photographers and finalists in the last three editions will be on display in Genoa: a selection of images that depict the emblematic stories of Italy, a nation moving towards a more sustainable future, a visual narrative that makes it easier to understand the country’s progress in research and innovation.

The organisations supporting the event include, in addition to the principal organiser Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (Italian Institute of Technology), the international Convergent Science Network [emphasis mine], the Office of Naval Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, and the Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems Cluster of Excellence in Freiburg.

Event website: https://livingmachinesconference.eu/2023/

I was particularly struck by this quote, “The conference is rooted in the union between robotics and neuroscience [emphasis mine], using man and other animal species as a model for the study of intelligence and control systems,” from Barbara Mazzolai as I have an as yet unpublished post for a UNESCO neurotechnology event coming up on July 13, 2023. These events come on the heels of a May 16, 2023 Canadian Science Policy Centre panel discussion on responsible neurotechnology (see my May 12, 2023 posting).

For the curious, you can find the Convergent Science Network here.

Need to improve oversight on chimeric human-animal research

It seems chimeras are of more interest these days. In all likelihood that has something to do with the fellow who received a transplant of a pig’s heart in January 2022 (he died in March 2022).

For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a chimera is an entity with two different DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) identities. In short, if you get a DNA sample from the heart, it’s different from a DNA sample obtained from a cheek swab. This contrasts with a hybrid such as a mule (donkey/horse) whose DNA samples show a consisted identity throughout its body.

A December 12, 2022 The Hastings Center news release (also on EurekAlert) announces a special report,

A new report on the ethics of crossing species boundaries by inserting human cells into nonhuman animals – research surrounded by debate – makes recommendations clarifying the ethical issues and calling for improved oversight of this work.

The report, “Creating Chimeric Animals — Seeking Clarity On Ethics and Oversight,” was developed by an interdisciplinary team, with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Principal investigators are Josephine Johnston and Karen Maschke, research scholars at The Hastings Center, and Insoo Hyun, director of the Center for Life Sciences and Public Learning at the Museum of Life Sciences in Boston, formerly of Case Western Reserve University.

Advances in human stem cell science and gene editing enable scientists to insert human cells more extensively and precisely into nonhuman animals, creating “chimeric” animals, embryos, and other organisms that contain a mix of human and nonhuman cells.

Many people hope that this research will yield enormous benefits, including better models of human disease, inexpensive sources of human eggs and embryos for research, and sources of tissues and organs suitable for transplantation into humans. 

But there are ethical concerns about this type of research, which raise questions such as whether the moral status of nonhuman animals is altered by the insertion of human stem cells, whether these studies should be subject to additional prohibitions or oversight, and whether this kind of research should be done at all.

The report found that:

Animal welfare is a primary ethical issue and should be a focus of ethical and policy analysis as well as the governance and oversight of chimeric research.

Chimeric studies raise the possibility of unique or novel harms resulting from the insertion and development of human stem cells in nonhuman animals, particularly when those cells develop in the brain or central nervous system.

Oversight and governance of chimeric research are siloed, and public communication is minimal. Public communication should be improved, communication between the different committees involved in oversight at each institution should be enhanced, and a national mechanism created for those involved in oversight of these studies. 

Scientists, journalists, bioethicists, and others writing about chimeric research should use precise and accessible language that clarifies rather than obscures the ethical issues at stake. The terms “chimera,” which in Greek mythology refers to a fire-breathing monster, and “humanization” are examples of ethically laden, or overly broad language to be avoided.

The Research Team

The Hastings Center

• Josephine Johnston
• Karen J. Maschke
• Carolyn P. Neuhaus
• Margaret M. Matthews
• Isabel Bolo

Case Western Reserve University
• Insoo Hyun (now at Museum of Science, Boston)
• Patricia Marshall
• Kaitlynn P. Craig

The Work Group

• Kara Drolet, Oregon Health & Science University
• Henry T. Greely, Stanford University
• Lori R. Hill, MD Anderson Cancer Center
• Amy Hinterberger, King’s College London
• Elisa A. Hurley, Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research
• Robert Kesterson, University of Alabama at Birmingham
• Jonathan Kimmelman, McGill University
• Nancy M. P. King, Wake Forest University School of Medicine
• Geoffrey Lomax, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine
• Melissa J. Lopes, Harvard University Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee
• P. Pearl O’Rourke, Harvard Medical School
• Brendan Parent, NYU Grossman School of Medicine
• Steven Peckman, University of California, Los Angeles
• Monika Piotrowska, State University of New York at Albany
• May Schwarz, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
• Jeff Sebo, New York University
• Chris Stodgell, University of Rochester
• Robert Streiffer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
• Lorenz Studer, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
• Amy Wilkerson, The Rockefeller University

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

Creating Chimeric Animals: Seeking Clarity on Ethics and Oversight edited by Karen J. Maschke, Margaret M. Matthews, Kaitlynn P. Craig, Carolyn P. Neuhaus, Insoo Hyun, Josephine Johnston, The Hastings Center Report Volume 52, Issue S2 (Special Report), November‐December 2022 First Published: 09 December 2022

This report is open access.

“The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto” from Jan. 27 to July 9, 2023 at The Block Museum of Art (Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois)

I’m sorry to be late. Thankfully this show extends into July 2023, so, there’s still plenty of time to get to Chicago’s The Block Museum of Art (at Northwestern University) art/science exhibition. I found this on the museum’s exhibition page for “The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto” show,

What do we owe to the memories of one another’s hearts?

For American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972), artists and scientists share a common aspiration: to increase the sensitivity of their observations. Throughout the history of scientific invention, instruments like the cardiograph and the telescope have extended the reach of perception from the tiniest stirrings of the human body to the farthest reaches of space. In his prints, sculptures, and video and sound installations, Robleto contemplates the emotional significance of these technologies, bringing us closer to the latent traces of life buried in the scientific record.

The Hearts Knowledge concentrates on the most recent decade of Robleto’s creative practice, a period of deepening engagement with histories of medicine, biomedical engineering, sound recording, and space exploration. The exhibition organizes the artist’s conceptually ambitious, elegantly wrought artworks as a series of multisensory encounters between art and science.  Each work seeks to attune viewers to the material traces of life at scales ranging from the intimate to the universal, returning always to the question: Does empathy extend beyond the boundaries of time and space?

Banner image for “The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto” exhibition page. Courtesy of The Block Museum of Art (Northwestern University) and artist, Dario Robleto

Here’s more from a January 27, 2023 Northwestern University news release (received via email),

Exhibition searches for meaning at the limits of science and perception

“The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto” is on view Jan. 27 to July 9 [2023] at The Block Museum of Art

  • Works are informed by dialogue with Northwestern Engineering researchers during five-year residency  
  • Exhibition a tribute to NASA Golden Record creator, ‘whose heart has left the solar system’
  • Opening conversation with the artist will take place at 2 p.m. on [Saturday] Feb. 4 [2023]

American artist Dario Robleto (b. 1972) believes artists and scientists share a common aspiration: to increase the sensitivity of their observations.

From understanding the human body’s pulses and brainwaves to viewing the faintest glimmers of light from the edge of the observable universe, groundbreaking science pushes the limits of perception. Similarly, the perceptive work of artists can extend the boundaries of empathy and understanding.

Since 2018, Robleto served as an artist-at-large at the McCormick School of Engineering. This unique partnership between The Block Museum and McCormick gave the artist an open “hall pass” to learn from, collaborate with and question scientists, engineers and experts from across the University.

Robleto’s five-year residency concludes with the exhibition “The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto.” Co-presented by The Block Museum and McCormick, the exhibition is on view from Jan. 27 to July 9 [2023] at The Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. [emphasis mine]

A free opening conversation with the artist will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4 [2023], in Norris University Center’s McCormick Auditorium, 1999 Campus Drive in Evanston.

About the Exhibition: “The Heart’s Knowledge”

Throughout the history of scientific invention, instruments like the cardiograph and the telescope have extended the reach of perception from the tiniest stirrings of the human body to the farthest reaches of space.

Robleto’s prints, sculptures and video and sound installations contemplate the emotional significance of these technologies, bringing viewers closer to the latent traces of life buried in the scientific record.

“The Heart’s Knowledge” represents a decade of Robleto’s creative practice, from 2012 to 2022, a period marked by a deepening engagement with science, including astronomy, synthetic biology and exobiology, and a widening embrace of new materials and creative forms, from 3D-printed objects to film.

Robleto dedicates the exhibition to Ann Druyan, the creative director of NASA’s Golden Record for the Voyager 1 and 2 projects. The record includes Druyan’s brainwaves and heartbeats, recorded as she reflected on her secret love for famed astronomer and future husband Carl Sagan. The act of sneaking “love on board the Voyager” inspired Robleto to compose a love letter to the only human whose “heart has left the solar system.”

Robleto sees Druyan’s act to include her emotions on the record as the central inspiration of his work. “I consider it the greatest work of subversive, avant-garde art not yet given its due,” Robleto said. “The Golden Record and Ann’s radical act brought us all together to think about what it means to be human — to one another and to unknown beings on other worlds.”

The exhibition organizes the artist’s conceptually ambitious, elegantly wrought artworks as a series of multisensory encounters between art and science. Each asks viewers to seek out the material traces of life in scales ranging from the intimate to the universal, and to question: Does empathy extend beyond the boundaries of time and space?

“Whether he’s addressing the most minute phenomena of the body or the horizons of the known universe, Robleto binds the rigor of scientific inquiry with artistic expression,” said exhibition curator Michael Metzger, The Block’s Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts.

“Straining at the bounds of observation, Robleto discovers unity at the limits; the common endeavor of art and science to achieve a form of knowledge that language alone cannot speak,” Metzger said.

The exhibition includes three sections:

Heartbeats
Rooted in the artist’s longstanding fascination with the clinical and cultural history of the human heart, “Heartbeats” draws inspiration from 19th-century pioneers of cardiography, whose instruments graphically measured heart activity for the first time, leaving behind poignant records of human subjectivity. In “The First Time, the Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913)” (2017), Robleto transforms early measurements of heartbeats into photolithographs executed on paper hand-sooted with candle flames. For the installation “The Pulse Armed with a Pen (An Unknown History of the Human Heartbeat)” (2014), Robleto collaborated with sound historian Patrick Feaster to digitally resurrect these heartbeats in audio form, giving visitors access to intimate pulses of life recorded before the invention of sound playback.

Wavelengths
Robleto has recently embraced digital video to create works that narrate transformational episodes in the recording and study of wave phenomena. “Wavelengths” comprises two hour-long immersive video installations. “The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed” (2019) is inspired by NASA’s Voyager Golden Record, a gold-plated phonographic disc launched into space onboard the Voyager I and II space probes in 1977. In “The Aorta of an Archivist” (2020-2021), Robleto investigates three breakthroughs in the history of recording: the first recording of a choral performance made with an Edison wax cylinder, the first heartbeat captured while listening to music and the first effort to transcribe the brain wave activity of a dreaming subject.

Horizons
In the final section, “Horizons,” Robleto evokes the spirit of the Hubble telescope and the search for extraterrestrial life, gazing out at the boundaries of the observable universe. Inspired by his time as an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and as artistic consultant to the Breakthrough Initiatives, his intricate sculptures, such as “Small Crafts on Sisyphean Seas” (2018), give shape to the speculative search for intelligent life in the universe. Other works like “The Computer of Jupiter” (2019) are framed as “gifts for extraterrestrials” offering an alternative view of the best way to begin a dialogue with alien intelligences.

The Artist-at-Large Program at Northwestern

Lisa Corrin, the Ellen Philips Katz Executive Director of The Block Museum of Art, and Julio M. Ottino, dean of McCormick School of Engineering, envisioned the possibilities of this unconventional partnership between scientist and artist when they launched the artist-at-large initiative together. The work is part of an ongoing Art + Engineering initiative and a part of the whole-brain engineering philosophy at Northwestern Engineering.

“Here, a university’s school of engineering and its art museum come together in the shared belief that transformative innovation can happen at the intersections of usually distinct academic disciplines and modes of creativity and inquiry,” Corrin said. “We had faith that something meaningful would emerge organically if we merely provided structures in which informal interactions might take place.”

“We wanted to model for young engineers the value of embracing uncertainty as part of the journey that leads to innovation and opens pathways within the imagination — as artists do,” Ottino said. “We are grateful to Dario Robleto for accepting our invitation to come to Northwestern and to enter the unknown with us. He has taught us that our shared future resides in our capacity for compassion and for empathy, the ethos at the heart of his work that holds the most promise for those at the forefront of science in the interest of humankind.”

More information about Robleto’s residency can be found in the article “Dario is our Socrates” on the Block Museum website and by viewing the Northwestern Engineering video “Artist-at-Large Program: Dario Robleto.”

Exhibition Events

“The Heart’s Knowledge” will include six months of events and dialogues that will illuminate the intersections in Robleto’s practice. All events are free and open to the public. For current program information, visit The Block Museum website.

Program highlights for February and March include:

Science, Art and the Search for Meaning: Opening Conversation with Dario Robleto
Saturday, Feb. 4 [2023], 2 p.m.
Norris University Center, McCormick Auditorium
1999 Campus Drive

The Block Museum hosts a discussion that reaches across boundaries to examine the shared pursuit that binds artists and scientists. The conversation features artist Dario Robleto; Jennifer Roberts, professor of the humanities at Harvard University; Lucianne Walkowicz, astronomer and co-founder of the JustSpace Alliance; and Michael Metzger, Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts and curator of “The Heart’s Knowledge.”

“X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes” (1963)
Friday, Feb. 10 [2023], 7 p.m.
Block Cinema
40 Arts Circle Drive

A Science on Screen program with Catherine Belling, associate professor of medical education at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“First Man” (2018)
Saturday Feb. 18 [2023], 1 p.m.
Block Cinema
40 Arts Circle Drive

A Science on Screen program featuring history researcher Jordan Bimm of the University of Chicago, who will discuss the military origins of “space medicine.”

Exhibition Conversation: Interstellar Aesthetics and Acts of Translation in Art and Science
Wednesday, Feb. 22 [2023], 6 p.m.
Block Museum

Joining artist Dario Robleto in conversation are Elizabeth Kessler, exhibition publication contributor and a lecturer in American Studies at Stanford University, and Shane Larson, research professor of physics and astronomy and associate director of CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics) at Northwestern.

Gallery Talk: Stillness, Wonder and Gifts for Extraterrestrials
Thursday, Feb. 23 [2023], 12:30 p.m.
Block Museum

Elizabeth Kessler of Stanford University will discuss Robleto’s “gifts for extraterrestrials” series.

Online Conversation: Ann Druyan, The Golden Record and the Memory of Our Hearts
Wednesday, March 8 [2023], 6 p.m. [ET]
Block Cinema

Ann Druyan, creative director for NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Messaging Project and writer and producer of the PBS television series “Cosmos,” joins Robleto and art historian Jennifer Roberts for a conversation about the Golden Record and the heart’s memory.

Exhibition Publication

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Block Museum of Art and the McCormick School of Engineering are proud to announce the publication of “The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto,” (Artbook, D.A.P., 2023).

The publication is edited by Michael Metzger with contributions by Metzger, Robert M. Brain, Daniel K. L. Chua, Patrick Feaster, Stefan Helmreich, Elizabeth A. Kessler ,Julius B. Lucks, Elizabeth Kathleen Mitchell, Alexander Rehding, Jennifer L. Roberts, Claire Isabel Webb and Dario Robleto.

About Dario Robleto

Dario Robleto was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1972 and received his BFA from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1997. He lives and works in Houston, Texas. The artist has had numerous solo exhibitions since 1997, most recently at the Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, Kansas (2021); the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University (2019); the McNay Museum, San Antonio, Texas (2018); Menil Collection, Houston, Texas (2014); the Baltimore Museum of Art (2014); the New Orleans Museum of Art (2012); and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2011).

He is currently working on his first book, “Life Signs: The Tender Science of the Pulsewave,” co-authored with art historian Jennifer Roberts, the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities at Harvard (University of Chicago Press).

Exhibition Credits

“The Heart’s Knowledge: Science and Empathy in the Art of Dario Robleto” exhibition is made possible through a partnership with the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. Major support also was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is contributed by the Dorothy J. Speidel Fund; the Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund; the Barry and Mary Ann MacLean Fund for Art and Engineering; the Illinois Arts Council Agency; and the Alumnae of Northwestern University. The exhibition publication is made possible in part by the Sandra L. Riggs Publications Fund.

Should you be in the Chicago area and interested in the exhibit, you can find all the information for your visit here.

New chip for neuromorphic computing runs at a fraction of the energy of today’s systems

An August 17, 2022 news item on Nanowerk announces big (so to speak) claims from a team researching neuromorphic (brainlike) computer chips,

An international team of researchers has designed and built a chip that runs computations directly in memory and can run a wide variety of artificial intelligence (AI) applications–all at a fraction of the energy consumed by computing platforms for general-purpose AI computing.

The NeuRRAM neuromorphic chip brings AI a step closer to running on a broad range of edge devices, disconnected from the cloud, where they can perform sophisticated cognitive tasks anywhere and anytime without relying on a network connection to a centralized server. Applications abound in every corner of the world and every facet of our lives, and range from smart watches, to VR headsets, smart earbuds, smart sensors in factories and rovers for space exploration.

The NeuRRAM chip is not only twice as energy efficient as the state-of-the-art “compute-in-memory” chips, an innovative class of hybrid chips that runs computations in memory, it also delivers results that are just as accurate as conventional digital chips. Conventional AI platforms are a lot bulkier and typically are constrained to using large data servers operating in the cloud.

In addition, the NeuRRAM chip is highly versatile and supports many different neural network models and architectures. As a result, the chip can be used for many different applications, including image recognition and reconstruction as well as voice recognition.

..

An August 17, 2022 University of California at San Diego (UCSD) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail than usually found in a news release,

“The conventional wisdom is that the higher efficiency of compute-in-memory is at the cost of versatility, but our NeuRRAM chip obtains efficiency while not sacrificing versatility,” said Weier Wan, the paper’s first corresponding author and a recent Ph.D. graduate of Stanford University who worked on the chip while at UC San Diego, where he was co-advised by Gert Cauwenberghs in the Department of Bioengineering. 

The research team, co-led by bioengineers at the University of California San Diego, presents their results in the Aug. 17 [2022] issue of Nature.

Currently, AI computing is both power hungry and computationally expensive. Most AI applications on edge devices involve moving data from the devices to the cloud, where the AI processes and analyzes it. Then the results are moved back to the device. That’s because most edge devices are battery-powered and as a result only have a limited amount of power that can be dedicated to computing. 

By reducing power consumption needed for AI inference at the edge, this NeuRRAM chip could lead to more robust, smarter and accessible edge devices and smarter manufacturing. It could also lead to better data privacy as the transfer of data from devices to the cloud comes with increased security risks. 

On AI chips, moving data from memory to computing units is one major bottleneck. 

“It’s the equivalent of doing an eight-hour commute for a two-hour work day,” Wan said. 

To solve this data transfer issue, researchers used what is known as resistive random-access memory, a type of non-volatile memory that allows for computation directly within memory rather than in separate computing units. RRAM and other emerging memory technologies used as synapse arrays for neuromorphic computing were pioneered in the lab of Philip Wong, Wan’s advisor at Stanford and a main contributor to this work. Computation with RRAM chips is not necessarily new, but generally it leads to a decrease in the accuracy of the computations performed on the chip and a lack of flexibility in the chip’s architecture. 

“Compute-in-memory has been common practice in neuromorphic engineering since it was introduced more than 30 years ago,” Cauwenberghs said.  “What is new with NeuRRAM is that the extreme efficiency now goes together with great flexibility for diverse AI applications with almost no loss in accuracy over standard digital general-purpose compute platforms.”

A carefully crafted methodology was key to the work with multiple levels of “co-optimization” across the abstraction layers of hardware and software, from the design of the chip to its configuration to run various AI tasks. In addition, the team made sure to account for various constraints that span from memory device physics to circuits and network architecture. 

“This chip now provides us with a platform to address these problems across the stack from devices and circuits to algorithms,” said Siddharth Joshi, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Notre Dame , who started working on the project as a Ph.D. student and postdoctoral researcher in Cauwenberghs lab at UC San Diego. 

Chip performance

Researchers measured the chip’s energy efficiency by a measure known as energy-delay product, or EDP. EDP combines both the amount of energy consumed for every operation and the amount of times it takes to complete the operation. By this measure, the NeuRRAM chip achieves 1.6 to 2.3 times lower EDP (lower is better) and 7 to 13 times higher computational density than state-of-the-art chips. 

Researchers ran various AI tasks on the chip. It achieved 99% accuracy on a handwritten digit recognition task; 85.7% on an image classification task; and 84.7% on a Google speech command recognition task. In addition, the chip also achieved a 70% reduction in image-reconstruction error on an image-recovery task. These results are comparable to existing digital chips that perform computation under the same bit-precision, but with drastic savings in energy. 

Researchers point out that one key contribution of the paper is that all the results featured are obtained directly on the hardware. In many previous works of compute-in-memory chips, AI benchmark results were often obtained partially by software simulation. 

Next steps include improving architectures and circuits and scaling the design to more advanced technology nodes. Researchers also plan to tackle other applications, such as spiking neural networks.

“We can do better at the device level, improve circuit design to implement additional features and address diverse applications with our dynamic NeuRRAM platform,” said Rajkumar Kubendran, an assistant professor for the University of Pittsburgh, who started work on the project while a Ph.D. student in Cauwenberghs’ research group at UC San Diego.

In addition, Wan is a founding member of a startup that works on productizing the compute-in-memory technology. “As a researcher and  an engineer, my ambition is to bring research innovations from labs into practical use,” Wan said. 

New architecture 

The key to NeuRRAM’s energy efficiency is an innovative method to sense output in memory. Conventional approaches use voltage as input and measure current as the result. But this leads to the need for more complex and more power hungry circuits. In NeuRRAM, the team engineered a neuron circuit that senses voltage and performs analog-to-digital conversion in an energy efficient manner. This voltage-mode sensing can activate all the rows and all the columns of an RRAM array in a single computing cycle, allowing higher parallelism. 

In the NeuRRAM architecture, CMOS neuron circuits are physically interleaved with RRAM weights. It differs from conventional designs where CMOS circuits are typically on the peripheral of RRAM weights.The neuron’s connections with the RRAM array can be configured to serve as either input or output of the neuron. This allows neural network inference in various data flow directions without incurring overheads in area or power consumption. This in turn makes the architecture easier to reconfigure. 

To make sure that accuracy of the AI computations can be preserved across various neural network architectures, researchers developed a set of hardware algorithm co-optimization techniques. The techniques were verified on various neural networks including convolutional neural networks, long short-term memory, and restricted Boltzmann machines. 

As a neuromorphic AI chip, NeuroRRAM performs parallel distributed processing across 48 neurosynaptic cores. To simultaneously achieve high versatility and high efficiency, NeuRRAM supports data-parallelism by mapping a layer in the neural network model onto multiple cores for parallel inference on multiple data. Also, NeuRRAM offers model-parallelism by mapping different layers of a model onto different cores and performing inference in a pipelined fashion.

An international research team

The work is the result of an international team of researchers. 

The UC San Diego team designed the CMOS circuits that implement the neural functions interfacing with the RRAM arrays to support the synaptic functions in the chip’s architecture, for high efficiency and versatility. Wan, working closely with the entire team, implemented the design; characterized the chip; trained the AI models; and executed the experiments. Wan also developed a software toolchain that maps AI applications onto the chip. 

The RRAM synapse array and its operating conditions were extensively characterized and optimized at Stanford University. 

The RRAM array was fabricated and integrated onto CMOS at Tsinghua University. 

The Team at Notre Dame contributed to both the design and architecture of the chip and the subsequent machine learning model design and training.

The research started as part of the National Science Foundation funded Expeditions in Computing project on Visual Cortex on Silicon at Penn State University, with continued funding support from the Office of Naval Research Science of AI program, the Semiconductor Research Corporation and DARPA [{US} Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] JUMP program, and Western Digital Corporation. 

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

A compute-in-memory chip based on resistive random-access memory by Weier Wan, Rajkumar Kubendran, Clemens Schaefer, Sukru Burc Eryilmaz, Wenqiang Zhang, Dabin Wu, Stephen Deiss, Priyanka Raina, He Qian, Bin Gao, Siddharth Joshi, Huaqiang Wu, H.-S. Philip Wong & Gert Cauwenberghs. Nature volume 608, pages 504–512 (2022) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04992-8 Published: 17 August 2022 Issue Date: 18 August 2022

This paper is open access.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Quantum Gravity Society

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

About the Quantum Gravity Conference (Vancouver 2022)


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

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

This seems to be an in-person event only.

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

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

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

Tickets:

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

Date:

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

Schedule:

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

Program:

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

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

Session 2: History of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

Session 4: Time Travel

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

Event Partners

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

Marketing Partners

  • BC Business Council
  • Greater Vancouver Board of Trade

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

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

Some thoughts on this conference and the Canadian quantum scene

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

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

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

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

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

Canadian quantum scene

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

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

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

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

Quick facts

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

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

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

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

Bank of Canada, cryptocurrency, and quantum computing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quantum Technologies and the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA)

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

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

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

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

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

The Expert Panel on Quantum Technologies:

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

Sally Daub, Founder and Managing Partner, Pool Global Partners

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

Paul Gulyas, Senior Innovation Executive, IBM Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Santor, Advisor to the Governor, Bank of Canada

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

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

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

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

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

Does it mean anything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2D materials for a computer’s artificial brain synapses

A January 28, 2022 news item on Nanowerk describes for some of the latest work on hardware that could enable neuromorphic (brainlike) computing. Note: A link has been removed,

Researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology [Sweden] and Stanford University [US] have fabricated a material for computer components that enable the commercial viability of computers that mimic the human brain (Advanced Functional Materials, “High-Speed Ionic Synaptic Memory Based on 2D Titanium Carbide MXene”).

A January 31, 2022 KTH Royal Institute of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert but published January 28, 2022), which originated the news item, delves further into the research,

Electrochemical random access (ECRAM) memory components made with 2D titanium carbide showed outstanding potential for complementing classical transistor technology, and contributing toward commercialization of powerful computers that are modeled after the brain’s neural network. Such neuromorphic computers can be thousands times more energy efficient than today’s computers.

These advances in computing are possible because of some fundamental differences from the classic computing architecture in use today, and the ECRAM, a component that acts as a sort of synaptic cell in an artificial neural network, says KTH Associate Professor Max Hamedi.

“Instead of transistors that are either on or off, and the need for information to be carried back and forth between the processor and memory—these new computers rely on components that can have multiple states, and perform in-memory computation,” Hamedi says.

The scientists at KTH and Stanford have focused on testing better materials for building an ECRAM, a component in which switching occurs by inserting ions into an oxidation channel, in a sense similar to our brain which also works with ions. What has been needed to make these chips commercially viable are materials that overcome the slow kinetics of metal oxides and the poor temperature stability of plastics.                   

The key material in the ECRAM units that the researchers fabricated is referred to as MXene—a two-dimensional (2D) compound, barely a few atoms thick, consisting of titanium carbide (Ti3C2Tx). The MXene combines the high speed of organic chemistry with the integration compatibility of inorganic materials in a single device operating at the nexus of electrochemistry and electronics, Hamedi says.

Co-author Professor Alberto Salleo at Stanford University, says that MXene ECRAMs combine the speed, linearity, write noise, switching energy, and endurance metrics essential for parallel acceleration of artificial neural networks.

“MXenes are an exciting materials family for this particular application as they combine the temperature stability needed for integration with conventional electronics with the availability of a vast composition space to optimize performance, Salleo says”

While there are many other barriers to overcome before consumers can buy their own neuromorphic computers, Hamedi says the 2D ECRAMs represent a breakthrough at least in the area of neuromorphic materials, potentially leading to artificial intelligence that can adapt to confusing input and nuance, the way the brain does with thousands time smaller energy consumption. This can also enable portable devices capable of much heavier computing tasks without having to rely on the cloud.

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

High-Speed Ionic Synaptic Memory Based on 2D Titanium Carbide MXene by
Armantas Melianas, Min-A Kang, Armin VahidMohammadi, Tyler James Quill, Weiqian Tian, Yury Gogotsi, Alberto Salleo, Mahiar Max Hamedi. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202109970 First published: 21 November 2021

This paper is open access.

Brain surgery with no scalpel or incisions

A December 3, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announces some very exciting work from the University of Virginia UVA) and Stanford University,

University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have developed a noninvasive way to remove faulty brain circuits that could allow doctors to treat debilitating neurological diseases without the need for conventional brain surgery.

The UVA team, together with colleagues at Stanford University, indicate that the approach, if successfully translated to the operating room, could revolutionize the treatment of some of the most challenging and complex neurological diseases, including epilepsy, movement disorders and more. The approach uses low-intensity focused ultrasound waves combined with microbubbles to briefly penetrate the brain’s natural defenses and allow the targeted delivery of a neurotoxin. This neurotoxin kills the culprit brain cells while sparing other healthy cells and preserving the surrounding brain architecture.

A November 22, 2021 University of Virginia news release (also on EurekAlert but published on December 3, 2021), which originated the news item, offers technical details (Note: Links have been removed),

“This novel surgical strategy has the potential to supplant existing neurosurgical procedures used for the treatment of neurological disorders that don’t respond to medication,” said researcher Kevin S. Lee of UVA’s Departments of Neuroscience and Neurosurgery and the Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, or BIG. “This unique approach eliminates the diseased brain cells, spares adjacent healthy cells and achieves these outcomes without even having to cut into the scalp.”

The Power of PING

The new approach, called “PING,” has already demonstrated exciting potential in laboratory studies. For instance, one of the promising applications for PING could be for the surgical treatment of epilepsies that do not respond to medication. Approximately a third of patients with epilepsy do not respond to anti-seizure drugs, and surgery can reduce or eliminate seizures for some of them. Lee and his team, along with their collaborators at Stanford, have shown that PING can reduce or eliminate seizures in two research models of epilepsy. The findings raise the possibility of treating epilepsy in a carefully targeted and noninvasive manner without the need for traditional brain surgery. 

Another important potential advantage of PING is that it could encourage the surgical treatment of appropriate patients with epilepsy who are reluctant to undergo conventional invasive or ablative surgery.

In a scientific paper newly published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, Lee and his collaborators detail the ability of PING to focally eliminate neurons in a brain region, while sparing non-target cells in the same area. In contrast, currently available surgical approaches damage all cells in a treated brain region. 

A key advantage of the approach is its incredible precision. PING harnesses the power of magnetic-resonance imaging to let scientists peer inside the skull so that they can precisely guide sound waves to open the body’s natural blood-brain barrier exactly where needed. This barrier is designed to keep harmful cells and molecules out of the brain, but it also prevents the delivery of potentially beneficial treatments.

The UVA group’s new paper concludes that PING allows the delivery of a highly targeted neurotoxin, cleanly wiping out problematic neurons, a type of brain cell, without causing collateral damage. 

Another key advantage of the precision of this approach is that it can be used on irregularly shaped targets in areas that would be extremely difficult or impossible to reach through regular brain surgery. “If this strategy translates to the clinic,” the researchers write in their new paper, “the noninvasive nature and specificity of the procedure could positively influence both physician referrals for, and patient confidence in, surgery for medically intractable neurological disorders.”

“Our hope is that the PING strategy will become a key element in the next generation of very precise, noninvasive, neurosurgical approaches to treat major neurological disorders,” said Lee, who is part of the UVA Brain Institute.

About the Research

Lee’s groundbreaking research has been supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Chester Fund and the Charlottesville-based Focused Ultrasound Foundation. The work is part of an expansive effort at UVA Health to explore the potential of scalpel-free focused ultrasound to treat complex diseases throughout the body.

UVA’s pioneering research has already paved the way for the federal Food and Drug Administration to approve focused ultrasound for the treatment of essential tremor, a common movement disorder, and Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Research is underway on its potential applications for many more conditions, including breast cancer and glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain tumor. Learn more about UVA’s focused ultrasound research.

The research team included Yi Wang, Matthew J. Anzivino, Yanrong Zhang, Edward H. Bertram, James Woznak, Alexander L. Klibanov, Erik Dumont and Max Wintermark. 

An application to patent the PING procedure has been submitted by members of the research group. 

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, grants R01 NS102194 and R01 CA217953-01; the Chester Fund; and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation.

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog at http://makingofmedicine.virginia.edu.

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

Noninvasive disconnection of targeted neuronal circuitry sparing axons of passage and nonneuronal cells by Yi Wang, Matthew J. Anzivino, Yanrong Zhang, Edward H. Bertram, James Woznak, Alexander L. Klibanov, Erik Dumont, Max Wintermark, and Kevin S. Lee. Journal of Neurosurgery DOI: https://doi.org/10.3171/2021.7.JNS21123 Online Publication Date: 19 Nov 2021

This paper is behind a paywall.

Organic neuromorphic electronics

A December 13, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily describes some research from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research,

The human brain works differently from a computer – while the brain works with biological cells and electrical impulses, a computer uses silicon-based transistors. Scientists have equipped a toy robot with a smart and adaptive electrical circuit made of soft organic materials, similarly to the biological matter. With this bio-inspired approach, they were able to teach the robot to navigate independently through a maze using visual signs for guidance.

A December 13, 2021 Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, fills in a few details,

The processor is the brain of a computer – an often-quoted phrase. But processors work fundamentally differently than the human brain. Transistors perform logic operations by means of electronic signals. In contrast, the brain works with nerve cells, so-called neurons, which are connected via biological conductive paths, so-called synapses. At a higher level, this signaling is used by the brain to control the body and perceive the surrounding environment. The reaction of the body/brain system when certain stimuli are perceived – for example, via the eyes, ears or sense of touch – is triggered through a learning process. For example, children learn not to reach twice for a hot stove: one input stimulus leads to a learning process with a clear behavioral outcome.

Scientists working with Paschalis Gkoupidenis, group leader in Paul Blom’s department at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, have now applied this basic principle of learning through experience in a simplified form and steered a robot through a maze using a so-called organic neuromorphic circuit. The work was an extensive collaboration between the Universities of Eindhoven [Eindhoven University of Technology; Netherlands], Stanford [University; California, US], Brescia [University; Italy], Oxford [UK] and KAUST [King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia].

“We wanted to use this simple setup to show how powerful such ‘organic neuromorphic devices’ can be in real-world conditions,” says Imke Krauhausen, a doctoral student in Gkoupidenis’ group and at TU Eindhoven (van de Burgt group), and first author of the scientific paper.

To achieve the navigation of the robot inside the maze, the researchers fed the smart adaptive circuit with sensory signals coming from the environment. The path of maze towards the exit is indicated visually at each maze intersects. Initially, the robot often misinterprets the visual signs, thus it makes the wrong “turning” decisions at the maze intersects and loses the way out. When the robot takes these decisions and follows wrong dead-end paths, it is being discouraged to take these wrong decisions by receiving corrective stimuli. The corrective stimuli, for example when the robot hits a wall, are directly applied at the organic circuit via electrical signals induced by a touch sensor attached to the robot. With each subsequent execution of the experiment, the robot gradually learns to make the right “turning” decisions at the intersects, i. e. to avoid receiving corrective stimuli, and after a few trials it finds the way out of the maze. This learning process happens exclusively on the organic adaptive circuit. 

“We were really glad to see that the robot can pass through the maze after some runs by learning on a simple organic circuit. We have shown here a first, very simple setup. In the distant future, however, we hope that organic neuromorphic devices could also be used for local and distributed computing/learning. This will open up entirely new possibilities for applications in real-world robotics, human-machine interfaces and point-of-care diagnostics. Novel platforms for rapid prototyping and education, at the intersection of materials science and robotics, are also expected to emerge.” Gkoupidenis says.

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

Organic neuromorphic electronics for sensorimotor integration and learning in robotics by Imke Krauhausen, Dimitrios A. Koutsouras, Armantas Melianas, Scott T. Keene, Katharina Lieberth, Hadrien Ledanseur, Rajendar Sheelamanthula, Alexander Giovannitti, Fabrizio Torricelli, Iain Mcculloch, Paul W. M. Blom, Alberto Salleo, Yoeri van de Burgt and Paschalis Gkoupidenis. Science Advances • 10 Dec 2021 • Vol 7, Issue 50 • DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abl5068

This paper is open access.