Tag Archives: Sweden

Science policy updates (INGSA in Canada and SCWIST)

I had just posted my Aug. 30, 2021 piece (4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA2021) August 30 – September 2, 2021) when the organization issued a news release, which was partially embargoed. By the time this is published (after 8 am ET on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021), the embargo will have lifted and i can announce that Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec (Canada), has been selected to replace Sir Peter Gluckman (New Zealand) as President of INGSA.

Here’s the whole August 30, 2021 International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) news release on EurekAlert, Note: This looks like a direct translation from a French language news release, which may account for some unusual word choices and turns of phrase,

What? 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments, INGSA2021.

Where? Palais des Congrès de Montréal, Québec, Canada and online at www.ingsa2021.org

When? 30 August – 2 September, 2021.

CONTEXT: The largest ever independent gathering of interest groups, thought-leaders, science advisors to governments and global institutions, researchers, academics, communicators and diplomats is taking place in Montreal and online. Organized by Prof Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec, speakers from over 50 countries[1] from Brazil to Burkina Faso and from Ireland to Indonesia, plus over 2000 delegates from over 130 countries, will spotlight what is really at stake in the relationship between science and policy-making, both during crises and within our daily lives. From the air we breathe, the food we eat and the cars we drive, to the medical treatments or the vaccines we take, and the education we provide to children, this relationship, and the decisions it can influence, matter immensely.  

Prof Rémi Quirion, Conference Organizer, Chief Scientist of Québec and incoming President of INGSA added: “For those of us who believe wholeheartedly in evidence and the integrity of science, the past 18 months have been challenging. Information, correct and incorrect, can spread like a virus. The importance of open science and access to data to inform our UN sustainable development goals discussions or domestically as we strengthen the role of cities and municipalities, has never been more critical. I have no doubt that this transparent and honest platform led from Montréal will act as a carrier-wave for greater engagement”.

Chief Science Advisor of Canada and Conference co-organizer, Dr Mona Nemer, stated that: “Rapid scientific advances in managing the Covid pandemic have generated enormous public interest in evidence-based decision making. This attention comes with high expectations and an obligation to achieve results. Overcoming the current health crisis and future challenges will require global coordination in science advice, and INGSA is well positioned to carry out this important work. Canada and our international peers can benefit greatly from this collaboration.”

Sir Peter Gluckman, founding Chair of INGSA stated that: “This is a timely conference as we are at a turning point not just in the pandemic, but globally in our management of longer-term challenges that affect us all. INGSA has helped build and elevate open and ongoing public and policy dialogue about the role of robust evidence in sound policy making”.

He added that: “Issues that were considered marginal seven years ago when the network was created are today rightly seen as central to our social, environmental and economic wellbeing. The pandemic highlights the strengths and weaknesses of evidence-based policy-making at all levels of governance. Operating on all continents, INGSA demonstrates the value of a well-networked community of emerging and experienced practitioners and academics, from countries at all levels of development. Learning from each other, we can help bring scientific evidence more centrally into policy-making. INGSA has achieved much since its formation in 2014, but the energy shown in this meeting demonstrates our potential to do so much more”.

Held previously in Auckland 2014, Brussels 2016, Tokyo 2018 and delayed for one year due to Covid, the advantage of the new hybrid and virtual format is that organizers have been able to involve more speakers, broaden the thematic scope and offer the conference as free to view online, reaching thousands more people. Examining the complex interactions between scientists, public policy and diplomatic relations at local, national, regional and international levels, especially in times of crisis, the overarching INGSA2021 theme is: “Build back wiser: knowledge, policy & publics in dialogue”.

The first three days will scrutinize everything from concrete case-studies outlining successes and failures in our advisory systems to how digital technologies and AI are reshaping the profession itself. The final day targets how expertize and action in the cultural context of the French-speaking world is encouraging partnerships and contributing to economic and social development. A highlight of the conference is the 2 September announcement of a new ‘Francophonie Science Advisory Network’.       

Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, a member of the World Health Organization’s Science Council, and the face of South Africa’s Covid-19 science, speaking in the opening plenary outlined that: “As a past anti-apartheid activist now providing scientific advice to policy-makers, I have learnt that science and politics share common features. Both operate at the boundaries of knowledge and uncertainty, but approach problems differently. We scientists constantly question and challenge our assumptions, constantly searching for empiric evidence to determine the best options. In contrast, politicians are most often guided by the needs or demands of voters and constituencies, and by ideology”.

He added: “What is changing is that grass-roots citizens worldwide are no longer ill-informed and passive bystanders. And they are rightfully demanding greater transparency and accountability. This has brought the complex contradictions between evidence and ideology into the public eye. Covid-19 is not just a disease, its social fabric exemplifies humanity’s interdependence in slowing global spread and preventing new viral mutations through global vaccine equity. This starkly highlights the fault-lines between the rich and poor countries, especially the maldistribution of life-saving public health goods like vaccines. I will explore some of the key lessons from Covid-19 to guide a better response to the next pandemic”.

Speaking on a panel analysing different advisory models, Prof. Mark Ferguson, Chair of the European Innovation Council’s Advisory Board and Chief Science Advisor to the Government of Ireland, sounded a note of optimism and caution in stating that: “Around the world, many scientists have become public celebrities as citizens engage with science like never before. Every country has a new, much followed advisory body. With that comes tremendous opportunities to advance the status of science and the funding of scientific research. On the flipside, my view is that we must also be mindful of the threat of science and scientists being viewed as a political force”.

Strength in numbers

What makes the 4th edition of this biennial event stand out is the perhaps never-before assembled range of speakers from all continents working at the boundary between science, society and policy willing to make their voices heard. In a truly ‘Olympics’ approach to getting all stakeholders on-board, organisers succeeded in involving, amongst others, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the United Nations Development Programme, UNESCO and the OECD. The in-house science services of the European Commission and Parliament, plus many country-specific science advisors also feature prominently.

As organisers foster informed debate, we get a rare glimpse inside the science advisory worlds of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, the World Economic Forum and the Global Young Academy to name a few. From Canadian doctors, educators and entrepreneurs and charitable foundations like the Welcome Trust, to Science Europe and media organisations, the programme is rich in its diversity. The International Organisation of the Francophonie and a keynote address by H.E. Laurent Fabius, President of the Constitutional Council of the French Republic are just examples of two major draws on the final day dedicated to spotlighting advisory groups working through French. 

INGSA’s Elections: New Canadian President and Three Vice Presidents from Chile, Ethiopia, UK

The International Network for Government Science Advice has recently undertaken a series of internal reforms intended to better equip it to respond to the growing demands for support from its international partners, while realising the project proposals and ideas of its members.

Part of these reforms included the election in June, 2021 of a new President replacing Sir Peter Gluckman (2014 – 2021) and the creation of three new Vice President roles.

These results will be announced at 13h15 on Wednesday, 1st September during a special conference plenary and awards ceremony. While noting the election results below, media are asked to respect this embargo.

Professor Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec (Canada), replaces Sir Peter Gluckman (New Zealand) as President of INGSA.
 

Professor Claire Craig (United Kingdom), CBE, Provost of Queen’s College Oxford and a member of the UK government’s AI Council, has been elected by members as the inaugural Vice President for Evidence.
 

Professor Binyam Sisay Mendisu (Egypt), PhD, Lecture at the University of Addis Ababa and Programme Advisor, UNESCO Institute for Building Capacity in Africa, has been elected by members as the inaugural Vice President for Capacity Building.
 

Professor Soledad Quiroz Valenzuela (Chile), Science Advisor on Climate Change to the Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation of the government of Chile, has been elected by members as the Vice President for Policy.

Satellite Events: From 7 – 9 September, as part of INGSA2021, the conference is partnering with local,  national and international organisations to ignite further conversations about the science/policy/society interface. Six satellite events are planned to cover everything from climate science advice and energy policy, open science and publishing during a crisis, to the politicisation of science and pre-school scientific education. International delegates are equally encouraged to join in online. 

About INGSA: Founded in 2014 with regional chapters in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, INGSA has quicky established an important reputation as aa collaborative platform for policy exchange, capacity building and research across diverse global science advisory organisations and national systems. Currently, over 5000 individuals and institutions are listed as members. Science communicators and members of the media are warmly welcomed to join.

As the body of work detailed on its website shows (www.ingsa.org) through workshops, conferences and a growing catalogue of tools and guidance, the network aims to enhance the global science-policy interface to improve the potential for evidence-informed policy formation at sub-national, national and transnational levels. INGSA operates as an affiliated body of the International Science Council which acts as trustee of INGSA funds and hosts its governance committee. INGSA’s secretariat is based in Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Conference Programme: 4th International Conference on Science Advice to Government (ingsa2021.org)

Newly released compendium of Speaker Viewpoints: Download Essays From The Cutting Edge Of Science Advice – Viewpoints

[1] Argentina, Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, UK, USA. 

Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST)

As noted earlier this year in my January 28, 2021 posting, it’s SCWIST’s 40th anniversary and the organization is celebrating with a number of initiatives, here are some of the latest including as talk on science policy (from the August 2021 newsletter received via email),

SCWIST “STEM Forward Project”
Receives Federal Funding

SCWIST’s “STEM Forward for Economic Prosperity” project proposal was among 237 projects across the country to receive funding from the $100 million Feminist Response Recovery Fund of the Government of Canada through the Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE) federal department.

Read more. 

iWIST and SCWIST Ink Affiliate MOU [memorandum of understanding]

Years in planning, the Island Women in Science and Technology (iWIST) of Victoria, British Columbia and SCWIST finally signed an Affiliate MOU (memorandum of understanding) on Aug 11, 2021.

The MOU strengthens our commitment to collaborate on advocacy (e.g. grants, policy and program changes at the Provincial and Federal level), events (networking, workshops, conferences), cross promotion ( event/ program promotion via digital media), and membership growth (discounts for iWIST members to join SCWIST and vice versa).

Dr. Khristine Carino, SCWIST President, travelled to Victoria to sign the MOU in person. She was invited as an honoured guest to the iWIST annual summer picnic by Claire Skillen, iWIST President. Khristine’s travel expenses were paid from her own personal funds.

Discovery Foundation x SBN x SCWIST Business Mentorship Program: Enhancing Diversity in today’s Biotechnology Landscape

The Discovery Foundation, Student Biotechnology Network, and Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology are proud to bring you the first-ever “Business Mentorship Program: Enhancing Diversity in today’s Biotechnology Landscape”. 

The Business Mentorship Program aims to support historically underrepresented communities (BIPOC, Women, LGBTQIAS+ and more) in navigating the growth of the biotechnology industry. The program aims to foster relationships between individuals and professionals through networking and mentorship, providing education and training through workshops and seminars, and providing 1:1 consultation with industry leaders. Participants will be paired with mentors throughout the week and have the opportunity to deliver a pitch for the chance to win prizes at the annual Building Biotechnology Expo. 

This is a one week intensive program running from September 27th – October 1st, 2021 and is limited to 10 participants. Please apply early. 

Events

September 10

Art of Science and Policy-Making Go Together

Science and policy-making go together. Acuitas’ [emphasis mine] Molly Sung shares her journey and how more scientists need to engage in this important area.

September 23

Au-delà de l’apparence :

des femmes de courage et de résilience en STIM

Dans le cadre de la semaine de l’égalité des sexes au Canada, ce forum de la division québécoise de la Société pour les femmes canadiennes en science et technologie (la SCWIST) mettra en vedette quatre panélistes inspirantes avec des parcours variés qui étudient ou travaillent en science, technologie, ingénierie et mathématiques (STIM) au Québec. Ces femmes immigrantes ont laissé leurs proches et leurs pays d’origine pour venir au Québec et contribuer activement à la recherche scientifique québécoise. 

….

The ‘Art and Science Policy-Making Go Together’ talk seems to be aimed at persuasion and is not likely to offer any insider information as to how the BC life sciences effort is progressing. For a somewhat less rosy view of science and policy efforts, you can check out my August 23, 2021 posting, Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?; scroll down to ‘The BC biotech gorillas’ subhead for more about Acuitas and some of the other life sciences companies in British Columbia (BC).

For some insight into how competitive the scene is here in BC, you can see my August 20, 2021 posting (Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story) about Ian MacLachlan.

You can check out more at the SCWIST website and I’m not sure when the August issue will be placed there but they do have a Newsletter Archive.

4th International Conference on Science Advice to Governments (INGSA2021) August 30 – September 2, 2021

What I find most exciting about this conference is the range of countries being represented. At first glance, I’ve found Argentina, Thailand, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and more in a science meeting being held in Canada. Thank you to the organizers and to the organization International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA)

As I’ve noted many times here in discussing the science advice we (Canadians) get through the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), there’s far too much dependence on the same old, same old countries for international expertise. Let’s hope this meeting changes things.

The conference (with the theme Build Back Wiser: Knowledge, Policy and Publics in Dialogue) started on Monday, August 30, 2021 and is set to run for four days in Montréal, Québec. and as an online event The Premier of Québec, François Legault, and Mayor of Montréal, Valérie Plante (along with Peter Gluckman, Chair of INGSA and Rémi Quirion, Chief Scientist of Québec; this is the only province with a chief scientist) are there to welcome those who are present in person.

You can find a PDF of the four day programme here or go to the INGSA 2021 website for the programme and more. Here’s a sample from the programme of what excited me, from Day 1 (August 30, 2021),

8:45 | Plenary | Roundtable: Reflections from Covid-19: Where to from here?

Moderator:
Mona Nemer – Chief Science Advisor of Canada

Speakers:
Joanne Liu – Professor, School of Population and Global Health, McGill University, Quebec, Canada
Chor Pharn Lee – Principal Foresight Strategist at Centre for Strategic Futures, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore
Andrea Ammon – Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Sweden
Rafael Radi – President of the National Academy of Sciences; Coordinator of Scientific Honorary Advisory Group to the President on Covid-19, Uruguay

9:45 | Panel: Science advice during COVID-19: What factors made the difference?

Moderator:

Romain Murenzi – Executive Director, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Italy

Speakers:

Stephen Quest – Director-General, European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), Belgium
Yuxi Zhang – Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Amadou Sall – Director, Pasteur Institute of Dakar, Senegal
Inaya Rakhmani – Director, Asia Research Centre, Universitas Indonesia

One last excerpt, from Day 2 (August 31, 2021),

Studio Session | Panel: Science advice for complex risk assessment: dealing with complex, new, and interacting threats

Moderator:
Eeva Hellström – Senior Lead, Strategy and Foresight, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Finland

Speakers:
Albert van Jaarsveld – Director General and Chief Executive Officer, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria
Abdoulaye Gounou – Head, Benin’s Office for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Analysis of Government Action
Catherine Mei Ling Wong – Sociologist, LRF Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk, National University of Singapore
Andria Grosvenor – Deputy Executive Director (Ag), Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Barbados

Studio Session | Innovations in Science Advice – Science Diplomacy driving evidence for policymaking

Moderator:
Mehrdad Hariri – CEO and President of the Canadian Science Policy Centre, Canada

Speakers:
Primal Silva – Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Chief Science Operating Officer, Canada
Zakri bin Abdul Hamid – Chair of the South-East Asia Science Advice Network (SEA SAN); Pro-Chancellor of Multimedia University in Malaysia
Christian Arnault Emini – Senior Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office in Cameroon
Florence Gauzy Krieger and Sebastian Goers – RLS-Sciences Network [See more about RLS-Sciences below]
Elke Dall and Angela Schindler-Daniels – European Union Science Diplomacy Alliance
Alexis Roig – CEO, SciTech DiploHub – Barcelona Science and Technology Diplomacy Hub, Spain

RLS-Sciences (RLS-Sciences Network) has this description for itself on the About/Background webpage,

RLS-Sciences works under the framework of the Regional Leaders Summit. The Regional Leaders Summit (RLS) is a forum comprising seven regional governments (state, federal state, or provincial), which together represent approximately one hundred eighty million people across five continents, and a collective GDP of three trillion USD. The regions are: Bavaria (Germany), Georgia (USA), Québec (Canada), São Paulo (Brazil), Shandong (China), Upper Austria (Austria), and Western Cape (South Africa). Since 2002, the heads of government for these regions have met every two years for a political summit. These summits offer the RLS regions an opportunity for political dialogue.

Getting back to the main topic of this post, INGSA has some satellite events on offer, including this on Open Science,

Open Science: Science for the 21st century |

Science ouverte : la science au XXIe siècle

Thursday September 9, 2021; 11am-2pm EST |
Jeudi 9 septembre 2021, 11 h à 14 h (HNE).

Places Limited – Registrations Required – Click to register now

This event will be in English and French (using simultaneous translation)  | 
Cet événement se déroulera en anglais et en français (traduction simultanée)

In the past 18 months we have seen an unprecedented level of sharing as medical scientists worked collaboratively and shared data to find solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has accelerated the ongoing cultural shift in research practices towards open science. 

This acceleration of the discovery/research process presents opportunities for institutions and governments to develop infrastructure, tools, funding, policies, and training to support, promote, and reward open science efforts. It also presents new opportunities to accelerate progress towards the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals through international scientific cooperation.

At the same time, it presents new challenges: rapid developments in open science often outpace national open science policies, funding, and infrastructure frameworks. Moreover, the development of international standard setting instruments, such as the future UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, requires international harmonization of national policies, the establishment of frameworks to ensure equitable participation, and education, training, and professional development.

This 3-hour satellite event brings together international and national policy makers, funders, and experts in open science infrastructure to discuss these issues. 

The outcome of the satellite event will be a summary report with recommendations for open science policy alignment at institutional, national, and international levels.

The event will be hosted on an events platform, with simultaneous interpretation in English and French.  Participants will be able to choose which concurrent session they participate in upon registration. Registration is free but will be closed when capacity is reached.

This satellite event takes place in time for an interesting anniversary. The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), also known as Montreal Neuro, declared itself as Open Science in 2016, the first academic research institute (as far as we know) to do so in the world (see my January 22, 2016 posting for details about their open science initiative and my December 19, 2016 posting for more about their open science and their decision to not pursue patents for a five year period).

The Open Science satellite event is organized by:

The Canadian Commission for UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization],

The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital),

The Knowledge Equity Lab [Note: A University of Toronto initiative with Leslie Chan as director, this website is currently under maintenance]

That’s all folks (for now)!

Spinning gold out of nanocellulose

If you’re hoping for a Rumpelstiltskin reference (there is more about the fairy tale at the end of this posting) and despite the press release’s headline, you won’t find it in this August 10, 2020 news item on Nanowerk,

When nanocellulose is combined with various types of metal nanoparticles, materials are formed with many new and exciting properties. They may be antibacterial, change colour under pressure, or convert light to heat.

“To put it simply, we make gold from nanocellulose”, says Daniel Aili, associate professor in the Division of Biophysics and Bioengineering at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology at Linköping University.

The research group, led by Daniel Aili, has used a biosynthetic nanocellulose produced by bacteria and originally developed for wound care. The scientists have subsequently decorated the cellulose with metal nanoparticles, principally silver and gold. The particles, no larger than a few billionths of a metre, are first tailored to give them the properties desired, and then combined with the nanocellulose.

An August 10, 2020 Linköping University press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,expands on a few details about the work (sob … without mentioning Rumpelstiltskin),

“Nanocellulose consists of thin threads of cellulose, with a diameter approximately one thousandth of the diameter of a human hair. The threads act as a three-dimensional scaffold for the metal particles. When the particles attach themselves to the cellulose, a material that consists of a network of particles and cellulose forms”, Daniel Aili explains.

The researchers can determine with high precision how many particles will attach, and their identities. They can also mix particles of different metals and with different shapes – spherical, elliptical and triangular.

In the first part of a scientific article published in Advanced Functional Materials, the group describes the process and explains why it works as it does. The second part focusses on several areas of application.

One exciting phenomenon is the way in which the properties of the material change when pressure is applied. Optical phenomena arise when the particles approach each other and interact, and the material changes colour. As the pressure increases, the material eventually appears to be gold.

“We saw that the material changed colour when we picked it up in tweezers, and at first we couldn’t understand why”, says Daniel Aili.

The scientists have named the phenomenon “the mechanoplasmonic effect”, and it has turned out to be very useful. A closely related application is in sensors, since it is possible to read the sensor with the naked eye. An example: If a protein sticks to the material, it no longer changes colour when placed under pressure. If the protein is a marker for a particular disease, the failure to change colour can be used in diagnosis. If the material changes colour, the marker protein is not present.

Another interesting phenomenon is displayed by a variant of the material that absorbs light from a much broader spectrum visible light and generates heat. This property can be used for both energy-based applications and in medicine.

“Our method makes it possible to manufacture composites of nanocellulose and metal nanoparticles that are soft and biocompatible materials for optical, catalytic, electrical and biomedical applications. Since the material is self-assembling, we can produce complex materials with completely new well-defined properties,” Daniel Aili concludes.

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

Self‐Assembly of Mechanoplasmonic Bacterial Cellulose–Metal Nanoparticle Composites by Olof Eskilson, Stefan B. Lindström, Borja Sepulveda, Mohammad M. Shahjamali, Pau Güell‐Grau, Petter Sivlér, Mårten Skog, Christopher Aronsson, Emma M. Björk, Niklas Nyberg, Hazem Khalaf, Torbjörn Bengtsson, Jeemol James, Marica B. Ericson, Erik Martinsson, Robert Selegård, Daniel Aili. Advanced Functional Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.202004766 First published: 09 August 2020

This paper is open access.

As for Rumpelstiltskin, there’s this abut the story’s origins and its cross-cultural occurrence, from its Wikipedia entry,

“Rumpelstiltskin” (/ˌrʌmpəlˈstɪltskɪn/ RUMP-əl-STILT-skin[1]) is a fairy tale popularly associated with Germany (where it is known as Rumpelstilzchen). The tale was one collected by the Brothers Grimm in the 1812 edition of Children’s and Household Tales. According to researchers at Durham University and the NOVA University Lisbon, the story originated around 4,000 years ago.[2][3] However, many biases led some to take the results of this study with caution.[4]

The same story pattern appears in numerous other cultures: Tom Tit Tot in England (from English Fairy Tales, 1890, by Joseph Jacobs); The Lazy Beauty and her Aunts in Ireland (from The Fireside Stories of Ireland, 1870 by Patrick Kennedy); Whuppity Stoorie in Scotland (from Robert Chambers’s Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 1826); Gilitrutt in Iceland; جعيدان (Joaidane “He who talks too much”) in Arabic; Хламушка (Khlamushka “Junker”) in Russia; Rumplcimprcampr, Rampelník or Martin Zvonek in the Czech Republic; Martinko Klingáč in Slovakia; “Cvilidreta” in Croatia; Ruidoquedito (“Little noise”) in South America; Pancimanci in Hungary (from A Csodafurulya, 1955, by Emil Kolozsvári Grandpierre, based on the 19th century folktale collection by László Arany); Daiku to Oniroku (大工と鬼六 “A carpenter and the ogre”) in Japan and Myrmidon in France.

An earlier literary variant in French was penned by Mme. L’Héritier, titled Ricdin-Ricdon.[5] A version of it exists in the compilation Le Cabinet des Fées, Vol. XII. pp. 125-131.

The Cornish tale of Duffy and the Devil plays out an essentially similar plot featuring a “devil” named Terry-top.

All these tales are Aarne–Thompson type 500, “The Name of the Helper”.[6]

Should you be curious about the story as told by the Brothers Grimm, here’s the beginning to get you started (from the grimmstories.com Rumpelstiltskin webpage),

There was once a miller who was poor, but he had one beautiful daughter. It happened one day that he came to speak with the king, and, to give himself consequence, he told him that he had a daughter who could spin gold out of straw. The king said to the miller: “That is an art that pleases me well; if thy daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to my castle to-morrow, that I may put her to the proof.”

When the girl was brought to him, he led her into a room that was quite full of straw, and gave her a wheel and spindle, and said: “Now set to work, and if by the early morning thou hast not spun this straw to gold thou shalt die.” And he shut the door himself, and left her there alone. And so the poor miller’s daughter was left there sitting, and could not think what to do for her life: she had no notion how to set to work to spin gold from straw, and her distress grew so great that she began to weep. Then all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, who said: “Good evening, miller’s daughter; why are you crying?”

Enjoy! BTW, should you care to, you can find three other postings here tagged with ‘Rumpelstiltskin’. I think turning dross into gold is a popular theme in applied science.

Living with a mind-controlled prosthetic

This could be described as the second half of an October 10, 2014 post (Mind-controlled prostheses ready for real world activities). Five and a half years later, Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology has announced mind-controlled prosthetics in daily use that feature the sense of touch. From an April 30, 2020 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert but published April 29, 2020) by Johanna Wilde,

For the first time, people with arm amputations can experience sensations of touch in a mind-controlled arm prosthesis that they use in everyday life. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports on three Swedish patients who have lived, for several years, with this new technology – one of the world’s most integrated interfaces between human and machine.

See the film: “The most natural robotic prosthesis in the world” [Should you not have Swedish language skills, you can click on the subtitle option in the video’s settings field]

The advance is unique: the patients have used a mind-controlled prosthesis in their everyday life for up to seven years. For the last few years, they have also lived with a new function – sensations of touch in the prosthetic hand. This is a new concept for artificial limbs, which are called neuromusculoskeletal prostheses – as they are connected to the user’s nerves, muscles, and skeleton.

The research was led by Max Ortiz Catalan, Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology, in collaboration with Sahlgrenska University Hospital, University of Gothenburg, and Integrum AB, all in Gothenburg, Sweden. Researchers at Medical University of Vienna in Austria and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA were also involved.

“Our study shows that a prosthetic hand, attached to the bone and controlled by electrodes implanted in nerves and muscles, can operate much more precisely than conventional prosthetic hands. We further improved the use of the prosthesis by integrating tactile sensory feedback that the patients use to mediate how hard to grab or squeeze an object. Over time, the ability of the patients to discern smaller changes in the intensity of sensations has improved,” says Max Ortiz Catalan.

“The most important contribution of this study was to demonstrate that this new type of prosthesis is a clinically viable replacement for a lost arm. No matter how sophisticated a neural interface becomes, it can only deliver real benefit to patients if the connection between the patient and the prosthesis is safe and reliable in the long term. Our results are the product of many years of work, and now we can finally present the first bionic arm prosthesis that can be reliably controlled using implanted electrodes, while also conveying sensations to the user in everyday life”, continues Max Ortiz Catalan.

Since receiving their prostheses, the patients have used them daily in all their professional and personal activities.

The new concept of a neuromusculoskeletal prosthesis is unique in that it delivers several different features which have not been presented together in any other prosthetic technology in the world:

[1] It has a direct connection to a person’s nerves, muscles, and skeleton.

[2] It is mind-controlled and delivers sensations that are perceived by the user as arising from the missing hand.

[3] It is self-contained; all electronics needed are contained within the prosthesis, so patients do not need to carry additional equipment or batteries.

[4] It is safe and stable in the long term; the technology has been used without interruption by patients during their everyday activities, without supervision from the researchers, and it is not restricted to confined or controlled environments.

The newest part of the technology, the sensation of touch, is possible through stimulation of the nerves that used to be connected to the biological hand before the amputation. Force sensors located in the thumb of the prosthesis measure contact and pressure applied to an object while grasping. This information is transmitted to the patients’ nerves leading to their brains. Patients can thus feel when they are touching an object, its characteristics, and how hard they are pressing it, which is crucial for imitating a biological hand.

“Currently, the sensors are not the obstacle for restoring sensation,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “The challenge is creating neural interfaces that can seamlessly transmit large amounts of artificially collected information to the nervous system, in a way that the user can experience sensations naturally and effortlessly.”
The implantation of this new technology took place at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, led by Professor Rickard Brånemark and Doctor Paolo Sassu. Over a million people worldwide suffer from limb loss, and the end goal for the research team, in collaboration with Integrum AB, is to develop a widely available product suitable for as many of these people as possible.

“Right now, patients in Sweden are participating in the clinical validation of this new prosthetic technology for arm amputation,” says Max Ortiz Catalan. “We expect this system to become available outside Sweden within a couple of years, and we are also making considerable progress with a similar technology for leg prostheses, which we plan to implant in a first patient later this year.”

More about: How the technology works:

The implant system for the arm prosthesis is called e-OPRA and is based on the OPRA implant system created by Integrum AB. The implant system anchors the prosthesis to the skeleton in the stump of the amputated limb, through a process called osseointegration (osseo = bone). Electrodes are implanted in muscles and nerves inside the amputation stump, and the e-OPRA system sends signals in both directions between the prosthesis and the brain, just like in a biological arm.

The prosthesis is mind-controlled, via the electrical muscle and nerve signals sent through the arm stump and captured by the electrodes. The signals are passed into the implant, which goes through the skin and connects to the prosthesis. The signals are then interpreted by an embedded control system developed by the researchers. The control system is small enough to fit inside the prosthesis and it processes the signals using sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms, resulting in control signals for the prosthetic hand’s movements.

The touch sensations arise from force sensors in the prosthetic thumb. The signals from the sensors are converted by the control system in the prosthesis into electrical signals which are sent to stimulate a nerve in the arm stump. The nerve leads to the brain, which then perceives the pressure levels against the hand.

The neuromusculoskeletal implant can connect to any commercially available arm prosthesis, allowing them to operate more effectively.

More about: How the artificial sensation is experienced:

People who lose an arm or leg often experience phantom sensations, as if the missing body part remains although not physically present. When the force sensors in the prosthetic thumb react, the patients in the study feel that the sensation comes from their phantom hand. Precisely where on the phantom hand varies between patients, depending on which nerves in the stump receive the signals. The lowest level of pressure can be compared to touching the skin with the tip of a pencil. As the pressure increases, the feeling becomes stronger and increasingly ‘electric’.

I have read elsewhere that one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a prosthetic is the loss of touch. This has to be exciting news for a lot of people. Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Self-Contained Neuromusculoskeletal Arm Prostheses by Max Ortiz-Catalan, Enzo Mastinu, Paolo Sassu, Oskar Aszmann, and Rickard Brånemark. N Engl J Med 2020; 382:1732-1738 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1917537 Published: April 30, 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Replacing human tissue with nanostructured rubber-like material?

The scientists started out with an idea for creating a bone-like material)and ended up with something completely different. A March 16, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily announces news about a new material that could be used to replace human tissue,

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have created a new, rubber-like material with a unique set of properties, which could act as a replacement for human tissue in medical procedures. The material has the potential to make a big difference to many people’s lives. The research was recently published in the highly regarded scientific journal ACS Nano.

In the development of medical technology products, there is a great demand for new naturalistic materials suitable for integration with the body. Introducing materials into the body comes with many risks, such as serious infections, among other things. Many of the substances used today, such as Botox, are very toxic. There is a need for new, more adaptable materials.

In the new study, the Chalmers researchers developed a material consisting solely of components that have already been shown to work well in the body.

A March 17, 2020 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert but published on March 16, 2020), which originated the news item, describes the scientists’ surprising discovery and how they shifted their focus,

The foundation of the material is the same as plexiglass, a material which is common in medical technology applications. Through redesigning its makeup, and through a process called nanostructuring, they gave the newly patented material a unique combination of properties. The researchers’ initial intention was to produce a hard bone-like material, but they were met with surprising results.

“We were really surprised that the material turned to be very soft, flexible and extremely elastic. It would not work as a bone replacement material, we concluded. But the new and unexpected properties made our discovery just as exciting,” says Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, PhD in Materials Science and one of the researchers behind the study.

The results showed that the new rubber-like material may be appropriate for many applications which require an uncommon combination of properties – high elasticity, easy processability, and suitability for medical uses.

“The first application we are looking at now is urinary catheters. The material can be constructed in such a way that prevents bacteria from growing on the surface, meaning it is very well suited for medical uses,” says Martin Andersson, research leader for the study and Professor of Chemistry at Chalmers.

The structure of the new nano-rubber material allows its surface to be treated so that it becomes antibacterial, in a natural, non-toxic way. This is achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides – small proteins which are part of our innate immune system – onto its surface. This can help reduce the need for antibiotics, an important contribution to the fight against growing antibiotic resistance.

Because the new material can be injected and inserted via keyhole surgery, it can also help reduce the need for drastic surgery and operations to rebuild parts of the body. The material can be injected via a standard cannula as a viscous fluid, so that it forms its own elastic structures within the body. Or, the material can also be 3D printed into specific structures as required.

“There are many diseases where the cartilage breaks down and friction results between bones, causing great pain for the affected person. This material could potentially act as a replacement in those cases,” Martin Andersson continues.

A further advantage of the material is that it contains three-dimensionally ordered nanopores. This means it can be loaded with medicine, for various therapeutic purposes such as improving healing and reducing inflammation. This allows for localised treatment, avoiding, for example, having to treat the entire body with drugs, something that could help reduce problems associated with side effects. Since it is non-toxic, it also works well as a filler – the researchers see plastic surgery therefore as another very interesting potential area of application for the new material.

“I am now working full time with our newly founded company, Amferia, to get the research out to industry. I have been pleased to see a lot of real interest in our material. It’s promising in terms of achieving our goal, which is to provide real societal benefit,” Anand concludes.

The path of the research to societal benefit and commercialisation, through start-up company Amferia and Chalmers Ventures

In order for the discovery of the new material to be useful and commercialised, the researchers patented their innovation before the study was published. The patent is owned by start-up company Amferia, which was founded by Martin Andersson and Anand Kumar Rajasekharan, two of the researchers behind the study, as well as researcher Saba Atefyekta who recently completed a PhD in Materials Science at Chalmers. Anand is now CEO of Amferia and will drive the application of the new material and development of the company.

Amferia has previously been noted for an antibacterial wound patch developed by the same team. Amferia now has the innovation of both the new nano-rubber and the antibacterial wound patch. The development of the company and the innovations’ path to making profit are now being carried out in collaboration with Chalmers Ventures, a subsidiary of Chalmers University of Technology.

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

Tough Ordered Mesoporous Elastomeric Biomaterials Formed at Ambient Conditions by Anand K. Rajasekharan, Christoffer Gyllensten, Edvin Blomstrand, Marianne Liebi, Martin Andersson. ACS Nano 2020, 14, 1, 241-254 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.9b01924 Publication Date:December 17, 2019 Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

CARESSES your elders (robots for support)

Culturally sensitive robots for elder care! It’s about time. The European Union has funded the Culture Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support (CARESSES) project being coordinated in Italy. A December 13, 2018 news item on phys.org describes the project,

Researchers have developed revolutionary new robots that adapt to the culture and customs of the elderly people they assist.

Population ageing has implications for many sectors of society, one of which is the increased demand on a country’s health and social care resources. This burden could be greatly eased through advances in artificial intelligence. Robots have the potential to provide valuable assistance to caregivers in hospitals and care homes. They could also improve home care and help the elderly live more independently. But to do this, they will have to be able to respond to older people’s needs in a way that is more likely to be trusted and accepted.
The EU-funded project CARESSES has set out to build the first ever culturally competent robots to care for the elderly. The groundbreaking idea involved designing these robots to adapt their way of acting and speaking to match the culture and habits of the elderly person they’re assisting.

“The idea is that robots should be capable of adapting to human culture in a broad sense, defined by a person’s belonging to a particular ethnic group. At the same time, robots must be able to adapt to an individual’s personal preferences, so in that sense, it doesn’t matter if you’re Italian or Indian,” explained researcher Alessandro Saffiotti of project partner Örebro University, Sweden, …

A December 13, 2018 (?) CORDIS press release, which originated the news item, adds more detail about the robots and their anticipated relationship to their elderly patients,

Through its communication with an elderly person, the robot will fine-tune its knowledge by adapting it to that person’s cultural identity and individual characteristics. Using this knowledge, it will be able to remind the elderly person to take their prescribed medication, encourage them to eat healthily and be active, or help them stay in touch with family and friends. The robot will also be able to make suggestions about the appropriate clothing for specific occasions and remind people of upcoming religious and other celebrations. It doesn’t replace a care home worker. Nevertheless, it will play a vital role in helping to make elderly people’s lives less lonely and reducing the need to have a caregiver nearby at all times.

Scientists are testing the first CARESSES robots in care homes in the United Kingdom and Japan. They’re being used to assist elderly people from different cultural backgrounds. The aim is to see if people feel more comfortable with robots that interact with them in a culturally sensitive manner. They’re also examining whether such robots improve the elderly’s quality of life. “The testing of robots outside of the laboratory environment and in interaction with the elderly will without a doubt be the most interesting part of our project,” added Saffiotti.

The innovative CARESSES (Culture Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support) robots may pave the way to more culturally sensitive services beyond the sphere of elderly care, too. “It will add value to robots intended to interact with people. Which is not to say that today’s robots are completely culture-neutral. Instead, they unintentionally reflect the culture of the humans who build and program them.”

Having had a mother who recently died in a care facility, I can testify to the importance of cultural and religious sensitivity on the part of caregivers. As for this type of robot not replacing anyone, I take that with a grain of salt. They always say that and I expect it’s true in the initial stages but once the robots are well established and working well? Why not? After all, they’re cheaper in many, many ways and with the coming tsunami of elders in many countries around the world, it seems to me that displacement by robots is an inevitability.

Human lung enzyme can degrade graphene

Caption: A human lung enzyme can biodegrade graphene. Credit: Fotolia Courtesy: Graphene Flagship

The big European Commission research programme, Grahene Flagship, has announced some new work with widespread implications if graphene is to be used in biomedical implants. From a August 23, 2018 news item on ScienceDaily,

Myeloperoxidase — an enzyme naturally found in our lungs — can biodegrade pristine graphene, according to the latest discovery of Graphene Flagship partners in CNRS, University of Strasbourg (France), Karolinska Institute (Sweden) and University of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain). Among other projects, the Graphene Flagship designs based like flexible biomedical electronic devices that will interfaced with the human body. Such applications require graphene to be biodegradable, so our body can be expelled from the body.

An August 23, 2018 Grapehene Flagship press release (mildly edited version on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

To test how graphene behaves within the body, researchers analysed how it was broken down with the addition of a common human enzyme – myeloperoxidase or MPO. If a foreign body or bacteria is detected, neutrophils surround it and secrete MPO, thereby destroying the threat. Previous work by Graphene Flagship partners found that MPO could successfully biodegrade graphene oxide.

However, the structure of non-functionalized graphene was thought to be more resistant to degradation. To test this, the team looked at the effects of MPO ex vivo on two graphene forms; single- and few-layer.

Alberto Bianco, researcher at Graphene Flagship Partner CNRS, explains: “We used two forms of graphene, single- and few-layer, prepared by two different methods in water. They were then taken and put in contact with myeloperoxidase in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. This peroxidase was able to degrade and oxidise them. This was really unexpected, because we thought that non-functionalized graphene was more resistant than graphene oxide.”

Rajendra Kurapati, first author on the study and researcher at Graphene Flagship Partner CNRS, remarks how “the results emphasize that highly dispersible graphene could be degraded in the body by the action of neutrophils. This would open the new avenue for developing graphene-based materials.”

With successful ex-vivo testing, in-vivo testing is the next stage. Bengt Fadeel, professor at Graphene Flagship Partner Karolinska Institute believes that “understanding whether graphene is biodegradable or not is important for biomedical and other applications of this material. The fact that cells of the immune system are capable of handling graphene is very promising.”

Prof. Maurizio Prato, the Graphene Flagship leader for its Health and Environment Work Package said that “the enzymatic degradation of graphene is a very important topic, because in principle, graphene dispersed in the atmosphere could produce some harm. Instead, if there are microorganisms able to degrade graphene and related materials, the persistence of these materials in our environment will be strongly decreased. These types of studies are needed.” “What is also needed is to investigate the nature of degradation products,” adds Prato. “Once graphene is digested by enzymes, it could produce harmful derivatives. We need to know the structure of these derivatives and study their impact on health and environment,” he concludes.

Prof. Andrea C. Ferrari, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship, and chair of its management panel added: “The report of a successful avenue for graphene biodegradation is a very important step forward to ensure the safe use of this material in applications. The Graphene Flagship has put the investigation of the health and environment effects of graphene at the centre of its programme since the start. These results strengthen our innovation and technology roadmap.”

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

Degradation of Single‐Layer and Few‐Layer Graphene by Neutrophil Myeloperoxidase by Dr. Rajendra Kurapati, Dr. Sourav P. Mukherjee, Dr. Cristina Martín, Dr. George Bepete, Prof. Ester Vázquez, Dr. Alain Pénicaud, Prof. Dr. Bengt Fadeel, Dr. Alberto Bianco. Angewandte Chemie https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201806906 First published: 13 July 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

Preserving art canvases (think Van Gogh, Picasso, Vermeer, and others) with nanomaterials

It has to be disconcerting to realize that your precious paintings are deteriorating day by day.  In a June 22, 2017 posting titled ‘Art masterpieces are turning into soap‘,

This piece of research has made a winding trek through the online science world. First it was featured in an April 20, 2017 American Chemical Society news release on EurekAlert,

A good art dealer can really clean up in today’s market, but not when some weird chemistry wreaks havoc on masterpieces [emphasis mine]. Art conservators started to notice microscopic pockmarks forming on the surfaces of treasured oil paintings that cause the images to look hazy. It turns out the marks are eruptions of paint caused, weirdly, by soap that forms via chemical reactions. Since you have no time to watch paint dry, we explain how paintings from Rembrandts to O’Keefes are threatened by their own compositions — and we don’t mean the imagery.

Here’s the video,


Now, for the latest: canavases are deteriorating too. A May 23, 2018 news item on Nanowerk announces the latest research on the ‘canvas issue’ (Note: A link has been removed),

Paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Johannes Vermeer have been delighting art lovers for years. But it turns out that these works of art might be their own worst enemy — the canvases they were painted on can deteriorate over time.

In an effort to combat this aging process, one group is reporting in ACS Applied Nano Materials (“Combined Nanocellulose/Nanosilica Approach for Multiscale Consolidation of Painting Canvases”) that nanomaterials can provide multiple layers of reinforcement.

A May 23, 2018 American Chemical Society (ACS) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item,  expands on the theme,

One of the most important parts of a painting is the canvas, which is usually made from cellulose-based fibers. Over time, the canvas ages, resulting in discoloration, wrinkles, tears and moisture retention, all greatly affecting the artwork. To combat aging, painting conservators currently place a layer of adhesive and a lining on the back of a painting, but this treatment is invasive and difficult to reverse. In previous work, Romain Bordes and colleagues from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, investigated nanocellulose as a new way to strengthen painting canvases on their surfaces. In addition, together with Krzysztof Kolman, they showed that silica nanoparticles can strengthen individual paper and cotton fibers. So, they next wanted to combine these two methods to see if they could further strengthen aging canvas.

The team combined polyelectrolyte-treated silica nanoparticles (SNP) with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) for a one-step treatment. The researchers first treated canvases with acid and oxidizing conditions to simulate aging. When they applied the SNP-CNF treatment, the SNP penetrated and strengthened the individual fibers of the canvas, making it stiffer compared to untreated materials. The CNF strengthened the surface of the canvas and increased the canvas’s flexibility. The team notes that this treatment could be a good alternative to conventional methods.

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

Combined Nanocellulose/Nanosilica Approach for Multiscale Consolidation of Painting Canvases by Krzysztof Kolman, Oleksandr Nechyporchuk, Michael Persson, Krister Holmberg, and Romain Bordes. ACS Appl. Nano Mater., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsanm.8b00262 Publication Date (Web): April 26, 2018

Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society

This image illustrating the researchers’ solution accompanies the article,

Courtesy: ACS

The European Union’s NanoRestART project was mentioned here before they’d put together this introductory video, which provides a good overview of the research,

For more details about the problems with contemporary and modern art, there’s my April 4, 2016 posting when the NanoRestART project was first mentioned here and there’s my Jan. 10, 2017 posting which details research into 3D-printed art and some of the questions raised by the use of 3D printing and other emerging technologies in the field of contemporary art.

Killer graphene spikes to kill bacteria on medical implants

Implants of all kinds (hip replacements, knee replacements, etc.) seem to be on the rise and along with that an increasing number of infections. A Swedish research team announces a technology that could make implants safer in an April 16, 2018 news item on Nanowerk,

A tiny layer of graphene flakes becomes a deadly weapon and kills bacteria, stopping infections during procedures such as implant surgery. This is the findings of new research from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, recently published in the scientific journal Advanced Materials Interfaces (“Vertically Aligned Graphene Coating is Bactericidal and Prevents the Formation of Bacterial Biofilms”).

An April 16, 2018 Chalmers University of Technology press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail about the scope of the problem and the proposed solution (Note: A link has been removed),

Operations for surgical implants, such as hip and knee replacements or dental implants, have increased in recent years. However, in such procedures, there is always a risk of bacterial infection. In the worst case scenario, this can cause the implant to not attach to the skeleton, meaning it must be removed.

Bacteria travel around in fluids, such as blood, looking for a surface to cling on to. Once in place, they start to grow and propagate, forming a protective layer, known as a biofilm.

A research team at Chalmers has now shown that a layer of vertical graphene flakes forms a protective surface that makes it impossible for bacteria to attach. Instead, bacteria are sliced apart by the sharp graphene flakes and killed. Coating implants with a layer of graphene flakes can therefore help protect the patient against infection, eliminate the need for antibiotic treatment, and reduce the risk of implant rejection. The osseointegration – the process by which the bone structure grow to attach the implant – is not disturbed. In fact, the graphene has been shown to benefit the bone cells.

Chalmers University is a leader in the area of graphene research, but the biological applications did not begin to materialise until a few years ago. The researchers saw conflicting results in earlier studies. Some showed that graphene damaged the bacteria, others that they were not affected.

“We discovered that the key parameter is to orient the graphene vertically. If it is horizontal, the bacteria are not harmed” says Ivan Mijakovic, Professor at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering.

The sharp flakes do not damage human cells. The reason is simple: one bacterium is one micrometer – one thousandth of a millimeter – in diameter, while a human cell is 25 micrometers. So, what constitutes a deadly knife attack for a bacterium, is therefore only a tiny scratch for a human cell.

“Graphene has high potential for health applications. But more research is needed before we can claim it is entirely safe. Among other things, we know that graphene does not degrade easily” says Jie Sun, Associate Professor at the Department of Micro Technology and Nanoscience.

Good bacteria are also killed by the graphene. But that’s not a problem, as the effect is localised and the balance of microflora in the body remains undisturbed.

“We want to prevent bacteria from creating an infection. Otherwise, you may need antibiotics, which could disrupt the balance of normal bacteria and also enhance the risk of antimicrobial resistance by pathogens” says Santosh Pandit, postdoc at Biology and Biological Engineering.

Vertical flakes of graphene are not a new invention, having existed for a few years. But the Chalmers research teams are the first to use the vertical graphene in this way. The next step for the research team will be to test the graphene flakes further, by coating implant surfaces and studying the effect on animal cells.

Chalmers cooperated with Wellspect Healthcare, a company which makes catheters and other medical instruments, in this research. They will now continue with a second study.

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

Vertically Aligned Graphene Coating is Bactericidal and Prevents the Formation of Bacterial Biofilms by Santosh Pandit, Zhejian Cao, Venkata R. S. S. Mokkapati, Emanuele Celauro, Avgust Yurgens, Martin Lovmar, Fredrik Westerlund, Jie Sun, Ivan Mijakovic. Advanced Materials Interfaces Volume5, Issue7 April 9, 2018 Pages 1701331 [sic] https://doi.org/10.1002/admi.201701331 First published [online]: 2 February 2018

This paper is behind a paywall.

Finally, here’s a ‘killer spikes’ video made available by Chalmers University of Technology,

Equality doesn’t necessarily lead to greater women’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) participation?

It seems counter-intuitive but societies where women have achieved greater equality see less participation by women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) than countries where women are treated differently. This rather stunning research was released on February 14, 2018 (yes, Valentine’s Day).

Women, equality, STEM

Both universities involved in this research have made news/press releases available. First, there’s the February 14, 2018 Leeds Beckett University (UK) press release,

Countries with greater gender equality see a smaller proportion of women taking degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), a new study by Leeds Beckett has found.

Dubbed the ‘gender equality paradox’, the research found that countries such as Albania and Algeria have a greater percentage of women amongst their STEM graduates than countries lauded for their high levels of gender equality, such as Finland, Norway or Sweden.

The researchers, from Leeds Beckett’s School of Social Sciences and the University of Missouri, believe this might be because countries with less gender equality often have little welfare support, making the choice of a relatively highly-paid STEM career more attractive.

The study, published in Psychological Science, also looked at what might motivate girls and boys to choose to study STEM subjects, including overall ability, interest or enjoyment in the subject and whether science subjects were a personal academic strength.

Using data on 475,000 adolescents across 67 countries or regions, the researchers found that while boys’ and girls’ achievement in STEM subjects was broadly similar, science was more likely to be boys’ best subject.

Girls, even when their ability in science equalled or excelled that of boys, were often likely to be better overall in reading comprehension, which relates to higher ability in non-STEM subjects.

Girls also tended to register a lower interest in science subjects. These differences were near-universal across all the countries and regions studied.

This could explain some of the gender disparity in STEM participation, according to Leeds Beckett Professor in Psychology Gijsbert Stoet.

“The further you get in secondary and then higher education, the more subjects you need to drop until you end with just one.

“We are inclined to choose what we are best at and also enjoy. This makes sense and matches common school advice.

“So, even though girls can match boys in terms of how well they do at science and mathematics in school, if those aren’t their best subjects and they are less interested in them, then they’re likely to choose to study something else.”

The researchers also looked at how many girls might be expected to choose further study in STEM based on these criteria.

They took the number of girls in each country who had the necessary ability in STEM and for whom it was also their best subject and compared this to the number of women graduating in STEM.

They found there was a disparity in all countries, but with the gap once again larger in more gender equal countries.

In the UK, 29 per cent of STEM graduates are female, whereas 48 per cent of UK girls might be expected to take those subjects based on science ability alone. This drops to 39 per cent when both science ability and interest in the subject are taken into account.

Countries with higher gender equality tend also to be welfare states, providing a high level of social security for their citizens.

Professor Stoet said: “STEM careers are generally secure and well-paid but the risks of not following such a path can vary.

“In more affluent countries where any choice of career feels relatively safe, women may feel able to make choices based on non-economic factors.

“Conversely, in countries with fewer economic opportunities, or where employment might be precarious, a well-paid and relatively secure STEM career can be more attractive to women.”

Despite extensive efforts to increase participation of women in STEM, levels have remained broadly stable for decades, but these findings could help target interventions to make them more effective, say the researchers.

“It’s important to take into account that girls are choosing not to study STEM for what they feel are valid reasons, so campaigns that target all girls may be a waste of energy and resources,” said Professor Stoet.

“If governments want to increase women’s participation in STEM, a more effective strategy might be to target the girls who are clearly being ‘lost’ from the STEM pathway: those for whom science and maths are their best subjects and who enjoy it but still don’t choose it.

“If we can understand their motivations, then interventions can be designed to help them change their minds.”

Then, there’s the February 14, 2018 University of Missouri news release, some of which will be repetitive,

The underrepresentation of girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields occurs globally. Although women currently are well represented in life sciences, they continue to be underrepresented in inorganic sciences, such as computer science and physics. Now, researchers from the University of Missouri and Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom have found that as societies become wealthier and more gender equal, women are less likely to obtain degrees in STEM. The researchers call this a “gender-equality paradox.” Researchers also discovered a near-universal sex difference in academic strengths and weaknesses that contributes to the STEM gap. Findings from the study could help refine education efforts and policies geared toward encouraging girls and women with strengths in science or math to participate in STEM fields.

The researchers found that, throughout the world, boys’ academic strengths tend to be in science or mathematics, while girls’ strengths are in reading. Students who have personal strengths in science or math are more likely to enter STEM fields, whereas students with reading as a personal strength are more likely to enter non-STEM fields, according to David Geary, Curators Professor of Psychological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science. These sex differences in academic strengths, as well as interest in science, may explain why the sex differences in STEM fields has been stable for decades, and why current approaches to address them have failed.

“We analyzed data on 475,000 adolescents across 67 countries or regions and found that while boys’ and girls’ achievements in STEM subjects were broadly similar in all countries, science was more likely to be boys’ best subject,” Geary said. “Girls, even when their abilities in science equaled or excelled that of boys, often were likely to be better overall in reading comprehension, which relates to higher ability in non-STEM subjects. As a result, these girls tended to seek out other professions unrelated to STEM fields.”

Surprisingly, this trend was larger for girls and women living in countries with greater gender equality. The authors call this a “gender-equality paradox,” because countries lauded for their high levels of gender equality, such as Finland, Norway or Sweden, have relatively few women among their STEM graduates. In contrast, more socially conservative countries such as Turkey or Algeria have a much larger percentage of women among their STEM graduates.

“In countries with greater gender equality, women are actively encouraged to participate in STEM; yet, they lose more girls because of personal academic strengths,” Geary said. “In more liberal and wealthy countries, personal preferences are more strongly expressed. One consequence is that sex differences in academic strengths and interests become larger and have a stronger influence college and career choices than in more conservative and less wealthy countries, creating the gender-equality paradox.”

The combination of personal academic strengths in reading, lower interest in science, and broader financial security explains why so few women choose a STEM career in highly developed nations.

“STEM careers are generally secure and well-paid but the risks of not following such a path can vary,” said Gijsbert Stoet, Professor in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. “In more affluent countries where any choice of career feels relatively safe, women may feel able to make choices based on non-economic factors. Conversely, in countries with fewer economic opportunities, or where employment might be precarious, a well-paid and relatively secure STEM career can be more attractive to women.”

Findings from this study could help target interventions to make them more effective, say the researchers. Policymakers should reconsider failing national policies focusing on decreasing the gender imbalance in STEM, the researchers add.

The University of Missouri also produced a brief video featuring Professor David Geary discussing the work,

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

The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education by Gijsbert Stoet, David C. Geary. Psychological Studies https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617741719 First Published February 14, 2018 Research Article

This paper is behind a paywall.

Gender equality and STEM: a deeper dive

Olga Khazan in a February 18, 2018 article for The Atlantic provides additional insight (Note: Links have been removed),

Though their numbers are growing, only 27 percent of all students taking the AP Computer Science exam in the United States are female. The gender gap only grows worse from there: Just 18 percent of American computer-science college degrees go to women. This is in the United States, where many college men proudly describe themselves as “male feminists” and girls are taught they can be anything they want to be.

Meanwhile, in Algeria, 41 percent of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math—or “STEM,” as its known—are female. There, employment discrimination against women is rife and women are often pressured to make amends with their abusive husbands.

According to a report I covered a few years ago, Jordan, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries in which boys are significantly less likely to feel comfortable working on math problems than girls are. In all of the other nations surveyed, girls were more likely to say they feel “helpless while performing a math problem.”

… this line of research, if it’s replicated, might hold useful takeaways for people who do want to see more Western women entering STEM fields. In this study, the percentage of girls who did excel in science or math was still larger than the number of women who were graduating with STEM degrees. That means there’s something in even the most liberal societies that’s nudging women away from math and science, even when those are their best subjects. The women-in-STEM advocates could, for starters, focus their efforts on those would-be STEM stars.

Final thoughts

This work upends notions (mine anyway) about equality and STEM with regard to women’s participation in countries usually described as ‘developed’ as opposed to ‘developing’. I am thankful to have my ideas shaken up and being forced to review my assumptions about STEM participation and equality of opportunity.

John Timmer in a February 19, 2018 posting on the Ars Technica blog offers a critique of the research and its conclusions,

… The countries where the science-degree gender gap is smaller tend to be less socially secure. The researchers suggest that the economic security provided by fields like engineering may have a stronger draw in these countries, pulling more women into the field.

They attempt to use a statistical pathway analysis to see if the data is consistent with this being the case, but the results are inconclusive. It may be right, but there would be at least one other strong factor that they have not identified involved.

Timmer’s piece is well worth reading.

For some reason the discussion about a lack of social safety nets and precarious conditions leading women to greater STEM participation reminds me of a truism about the arts. Constraints can force you into greater creativity. Although balance is necessary as you don’t want to destroy what you’re trying to encourage. In this case, it seems that comfortable lifestyles can lead women to pursue that which comes more easily whereas women trying to make a better life in difficult circumstance will pursue a more challenging path.