Art and mathematics may go hand-in-hand when building new and better materials for use in quantum computing and other quantum applications, according to University of Saskatchewan (USask) mathematician Dr. Steven Rayan (PhD).
Quantum materials are what futuristic dreams are made of. Such materials are able to efficiently conduct and insulate electric currents – the everyday equivalent of never having a lightbulb flicker. Quantum materials may be the fabric of tomorrow’s supercomputers, ones that can quickly and accurately analyze and solve problems to a degree far beyond what was previously thought possible.
“Before the 1700s, people were amazed that metals could be melted down and reshaped to suit their needs, be it the need for building materials or for tools. There was no thought that, perhaps, metals were capable of something much more — such as conducting electricity,” said Rayan, an associate professor of mathematics and statistics in the USask College of Arts and Science who also serves as the director of the USask Centre for Quantum Topology and its Applications (quanTA).
“Today, we’re at a similar juncture. We may be impressed with what materials are capable of right now, but tomorrow’s materials will redefine our expectations. We are standing at a doorway and on the other side of it is a whole new world of materials capable of things that we previously could not imagine.”
Many conducting materials exhibit a crystal-like structure that consists of tiny cells repeating over and over. Previous research published in Science Advances had highlighted Rayan and University of Alberta physicist Dr. Joseph Maciejko’s (PhD) success in defining a new type of quantum material that does not follow a typical crystal structure but instead consists of “hyperbolic” crystals that are warped and curved.
“This is an immense paradigm shift in the understanding of what it means to be a ‘material’,” said Rayan.
It is expected that hyperbolic materials will exhibit the perfect conductivity of current quantum materials, but at slightly higher temperatures. Today’s quantum materials often need to be supercooled to extremely low temperatures to reach their full potential. Maintaining such temperatures is an obstacle to implementing widespread quantum computing, which has the potential to impact information security, drug design, vaccine development, and other crucial tasks. Hyperbolic materials may be part of the solution to this problem.
Hyperbolic materials may also be the key to new types of sensors and medical imaging devices, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines that take advantage of quantum effects in order to be more lightweight for use in rural or remote environments.
USask recently named Quantum Innovation as one of its three new signature areas of research [Note: Link removed] to respond to emerging questions and needs in the pursuit of new knowledge.
“All of this comes at the right time, as new technologies like quantum computers, quantum sensors, and next-generation fuel cells are putting new demands on materials and exposing the limits of existing components,” said Rayan.
This year has seen two new articles by Rayan together with co-authors extending previous research of hyperbolic materials. The first is written with Maciejko and appears in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The second has been written with University of Maryland undergraduate student Elliot Kienzle, who served as a USask quanTA research assistant under Rayan’s supervision in summer of 2021.
In these two articles, the power of mathematics used to study quantum and hyperbolic crystals is significantly extended through the use of tools from geometry. These tools have not typically been applied to the study of materials. The results will make it much easier for scientists experimenting with hyperbolic materials to make accurate predictions about how they will behave as electrical conductors.
Reflecting on the initial breakthrough of considering hyperbolic geometry rather than ordinary geometry, Rayan said, “What is interesting is that these warped crystals have appeared in mathematics for over 100 years as well as in art – for instance, in the beautiful woodcuts of M.C. Escher – and it is very satisfying to see these ideas practically applied in science.”
The work also intersects with art in another way. The article with Kienzle, which was released in pre-publication form on February 1, 2022 [sic], was accompanied by exclusive hand drawings provided by Kienzle. With concepts in mathematics and physics often being difficult to visualize, the artwork helps the work to come to life and invites everyone to learn about the function and power of quantum materials.
The artwork, which is unusual for mathematics or physics papers, has garnered a lot of positive attention on social media.
“Elliot is tremendously talented not only as an emerging researcher in mathematics and physics, but also as an artist,” said Rayan. “His illustrations have added a new dimension to our work, and I hope that this is the start of a new trend in these types of papers where the quality and creativity of illustrations are as important as the correctness of equations.”
Here are links to and citations for both of Rayan’s most recent papers,
Imagine a summer camp where you can watch grizzly bears catch salmon in streams, while learning about the migration and preparation of the fish hovering in the water at your feet.
Welcome to the Salmon Science Camp for Nisga’a youth, run by Dr. Andrea Reid (she/her), principal investigator of the Centre for Indigenous Fisheries at UBC. With new funding from the multi-institutional $24 million Ărramăt Project, Dr. Reid plans to expand these camps and open doors to scientific learning.
What are the Salmon Science camps?
We started these camps in 2016, with funding from the Gingolx Village Government Education Department and NSERC [Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada] Indigenous Science Ambassadors Program, focusing on Nisga’a Nation youth aged four to 17 years old in Gingolx, my grandmother’s home village in British Columbia, at the base of the Alaska Panhandle. Each summer since, we charter boats and hire buses to get young people out onto the land and water where they follow the salmon life cycle, through all parts of the watershed from spawning grounds to the ocean and back again.
They learn to identify plants and animals, meet technicians working for the Nisga’a fisheries and wildlife department, learn from Elders who carry important stories about hoon (salmon) and how we care for them, and get to play and experiment with different scientific tools, from radio telemetry technology to underwater drones to water testing toolkits!
The Gingolx Village Government education manager Renee Garner said youth return from a day on the water feeling connected to one another. One student told her they had learned how the spirit bear got its name: fish cannot see their paws in the water, making them like ghosts and great hunters, something she would never forget.
What will the Ărramăt Project allow you to do?
Led by the University of Alberta, the Ărramăt Project is focused on strengthening human health and well-being through conservation and sustainable relationships with biodiversity. As one of 51 co-applicants from around the world on the recent New Frontiers in Research Fund Transformation grant awarded to this Indigenous-led project, my work will include expanding the camps to involve youth from the three other Nisga’a Nation villages: Gitlaxt’aamiks, Gitwinksihlkw, and Laxgalts’ap. We also want to create exchanges with neighbouring Nations, so camp attendees can learn about their different relationships with fish, including preparation methods and how they differ across cultures and environmental contexts. These exchanges will also promote cross-cultural learning and relationship building, bringing Indigenous youth together from across the province. All our activities build on the fundamental idea that salmon health and human well-being are inextricably linked, and we all need to do our part to ensure a better future for us all.
Why are these camps important?
These camps open a door to science and immersive learning experiences for Indigenous youth that might not necessarily be available due to the location of Gingolx, and they get to see a whole range of Nisga’a citizens as experts and scientists. This might mean they begin to see science as a future avenue for themselves, and view caring for salmon in the way Nisga’a have always done as not only an act of stewardship, but a truly scientific practice that is based on observation, experimentation, and other systematic ways of building knowledge about the world in which we all live. The camps demonstrate for youth that Indigenous science is science – it’s just as valid and important as conventional academic knowledge.
Interview language(s): English (Reid)
Congratulations to Dr. Reid!
Funding—have patience, it gets more interesting
Anyone who reads my postings with regularity will know I don’t often give compliments to funding agencies or the Canadian federal government for that matter. This time I have to offer kudos.
Breaking it down
As the news release notes, the salmon science camps got their start in 2016 with the Gingolx Village Government Education Department and the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) Indigenous Science Ambassadors Program.
(I found two different webpages for the Gingolx (Village Government) Education Department, this and this.)
It’s not clear as to whether the salmon science camps will continue getting the Gingolx/NSERC money now that a new agency and a new funding programme have become involved.
As noted in the news release, the Ărramăt Project (led by the University of Alberta) is funded under the New Frontiers in Research Fund, which itself was launched in 2018. From the About the New Frontiers in Research Fund webpage, Note: Links have been removed,
Launched in 2018, the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) funds interdisciplinary, high-risk / high-reward, transformative research led by Canadian researchers working with Canadian and international partners. The NFRF is designed to support world-leading innovation and enhance Canada’s competitiveness and expertise in the global, knowledge-based economy.
This fund seeks to inspire innovative research projects that push boundaries into exciting new areas and that have the potential to deliver game-changing impacts.
To meet its goals, the NFRF program is innovative in its design and implementation. Its novel merit review processes reflect the objectives of each funding opportunity, and the program offers flexibility in the use of grant funds to support international collaboration.
The NFRF is under the strategic direction of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is administered by the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat, which is housed within the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), on behalf of Canada’s three federal research funding agencies: SSHRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR] and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
The NFRF has a budget of $275 million over five years (2018-19 to 2022-23), and will grow to have an annual budget of $124 million beginning in 2023-24.
The NFRF is split into four streams: Exploration, Transformation, International, and Special Calls. The Ărramăt Project has been funded as part of the Transformation stream. (For more about the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, the NFRF, and funding opportunities, go here, scroll down and you’ll see what you’re looking for on the right side of the screen.)
“There are very few places left on earth where nature and Indigenous Peoples are not under stress. We urgently need solutions that can ensure health and well-being for future generations.” (Danika Billie Littlechild)
Biodiversity decline is a major issue in Canada and globally. Species extinctions, along with problems of land and water quality, are not just environmental issues. These losses are also leading to impacts on human health and well-being, particularly for Indigenous Peoples. As more and more lands, rivers, plants, and animals are lost and degraded, disease risks and food insecurity will become more common. Indigenous cultural practices, languages, and knowledges are threatened; however, they can also guide us towards necessary transformation.
“Conventional policy approaches don’t help us understand and address the linkages between environmental losses and human health problems like zoonotic diseases (e.g., COVID19). We have to get out of our disciplinary and bureaucratic silos and recognize that these ecological losses are interconnected to human health. They also cause economic and social stresses on families and communities.” (Brenda Parlee)
Ărramăt is a new project funded for 2021-2027 by the New Frontiers Research Fund Transformations Program (NFRF-T) in Canada, that is being launched in response to this global biodiversity and health crisis.
“The Ărramăt Project is about respecting the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of peoples and Mother Earth, life and livelihood, identity and expression, biodiversity and sustainability, and stewardship and well-being. Arramăt is a word from the Tamasheq language spoken by the Tuareg people of the Sahel and Sahara regions which reflects this holistic worldview.” (Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine)
Over 150 Indigenous organizations, universities, and other partners will work together to highlight the complex problems of biodiversity loss and its implications for health and well-being. The project Team will take a broad approach and be inclusive of many different worldviews and methods for research (i.e., intersectionality, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary). Activities will occur in 70 different kinds of ecosystems that are also spiritually, culturally, and economically important to Indigenous Peoples.
The project is led by Indigenous scholars and activists Danika Billie Littlechild (Carleton University), Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (former President of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), and Sherry Pictou (Dalhousie University). John O’Neil (former Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University) and Murray Humphries (Co-Director for the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition, and Environment at McGill University), are also Co- Principal Investigators of the project. The University of Alberta is the lead institution for the project (led by Brenda Parlee, Nominated Principal Investigator).
“The research builds on the momentum and opportunities created in Treaties, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). We want to harness that momentum in ways that can create fundamental change to the status quo around biodiversity and health.” (Sherry Pictou)
Over half of the $24 mil research budget will go directly to Indigenous governments and organizations to lead their own work in ways that respect, protect, and elevate the knowledges and Indigenous ways of life. Cultural security and social justice for women and those of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ and ancestral gender diverse communities, will be central to the work of this Team as they address fundamental questions of common concern. How can food security be strengthened for Indigenous Peoples? What are Indigenous-led approaches to conservation that support wild species and agrobiodiversity? What are the best practices for decolonizing education and science? How can we include the voices of Indigenous youth? How can we address the widespread and recurring violence against Mother Earth and Indigenous Peoples? Can we foster healthier relationships to nature? How can we emotionally and spiritually heal from the stresses and losses caused by colonial practices (e.g., residential schools), land and resource development, and climate change?
The diversity of Indigenous Peoples, knowledges, and interdisciplinary Team expertise will be mobilized through the project to produce action at local to global scales of decision-making. Dene, Nisga’a (Canada), and Batwa (Uganda) aim to produce new models of conservation for ‘species at risk’ [emphasis mine]. Other groups such as the peoples of Treaty 8 and Treaty 3 (Canada), Yawanawà (Brazil), and Aymara (Bolivia) will focus on improving land and water security. Alternative economic and livelihood strategies (e.g., Indigenous Guardians) that benefit people and nature will be a focus for Indigenous Peoples in regions such as northern Canada, the Sahara and Sahel regions, and Thailand. The knowledge and customary strategies of Māori (Aotearoa-New Zealand) will contribute to the reconnection communities to their land and seascapes and regeneration of their cultural-ecological systems. The knowledges of Nêhiyawak (Cree), Sámi, and Tribal Peoples of India will be a foundation for action to rewild or restore cultural values and uses of other degraded landscapes. More than 140 projects will be funded on these and other themes over the 6 years.
“It is an honour and a profound responsibility to be part of this Indigenous-led project. It is unique from many other large projects in its embrace of governance models like ethical space, Indigenous research methodologies, and Indigenous Knowledges.” (John O’Neil)
“I am excited to see the work reveal how Indigenous Knowledges and stewardship practices define both the origins and contemporary centres of ecological research, biodiversity science, and conservation biology.” (Murray Humphries)
By 2027, the project will have produced a diversity of holistic and actionable solutions for improved stewardship and care for people and the planet.
“Strategies for biodiversity conservation have not historically been positive for Indigenous Peoples. They have a very small voice, if any, at the tables of decision-making. We don’t just want to be token members of the colonial structures that currently exist, we want to decolonize and Indigenize decisions about nature and health. Everyone needs to be accountable. We will not give up on Mother Earth and the possibility of renewing, strengthening, and elevating the health and well-being of Indigenous Peoples, their lands and waters, and all beings who rely upon them.” (Danika Billie Littlechild)
The compliments and getting back to the salmon science camps
The Ărramăt Project’s scope is breathtaking and necessary. Bravo!
I want to recognize the funding agencies (SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR). Bravo!
Plus the Gingolx Village Government Education Department. Bravo!
Federal support for research is an investment by the people of Canada [emphasis mine]. It is important for taxpayers to know how research dollars are being spent. By demonstrating the value of your research, New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) award recipients help strengthen public understanding of and support for high-risk, high-reward, interdisciplinary and international research.
Finally, Brava Dr. Reid! I don’t imagine it was easy to start your project and keep it running.
Canadians and their government have a great deal to grapple with in regard to indigenous people and much of it quite ugly. This funding doesn’t negate the past or absolve anyone of their sins but it does point to new possibilities for our relationships with each other and with our planet. (For anyone unfamiliar with the history of the relationship between the Canadian government and its Indigenous peoples there’s this essay on Wikipedia. Also, here’s the Residential Schools in Canada essay in the Canadian Encyclopedia and and there’s more here on the federal government’s Residential schools in Canada webpage.)
Not to get too carried away with grand visions, here’s a science salmon camp video,
The AICan (Artificial Intelligence Canada) Bulletin is published by CIFAR (Canadian Institute For Advanced Research) and it is the official newsletter for the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. This is a joint production from CIFAR, Amii (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute), Mila (Quebec’s Artificial Intelligence research institute) and the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence (Toronto, Ontario).
For anyone curious about the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, first announced in the 2017 federal budget, I have a March 31, 2017 post which focuses heavily on the, then new, Vector Institute but it also contains information about the artificial intelligence scene in Canada at the time, which is at least in part still relevant today.
The AICan Bulletin October 2021 issue number 16 (The Energy and Environment Issue) is available for viewing here and includes these articles,
The effects of climate change significantly impact our most vulnerable populations. Canada CIFAR AI Chair David Rolnick (Mila) and Tami Vasanthakumaran (Girls Belong Here) share their insights and call to action for the AI research community.
Amii, the University of Alberta, and ISL Engineering explores how machine learning can make water treatment more environmentally friendly and cost-effective with the support of Amii Fellows and Canada CIFAR AI Chairs — Adam White, Martha White and Csaba Szepesvári.
Immerse yourself into this AI-driven virtual experience based on empathy to visualize the impacts of climate change on places you hold dear with Mila.
The bulletin also features AI stories from Canada and the US, as well as, events and job postings.
I found two different pages where you can subscribe. First, there’s this subscription page (which is at the bottom of the October 2021 bulletin and then, there’s this page, which requires more details from you.
I’ve taken a look at the CIFAR website and can’t find any of the previous bulletins on it, which would seem to make subscription the only means of access.
Years ago I came across a newspaper article where the writer had interviewed some Chiefs. I can’t remember what occasioned the article but the quotes about land rights could have been taken from one of today’s newspapers. The article was written in 1925.
In hearing the stories of what Indigenous Peoples in Canada have had to endure such as the loss of their land and rights, horrific living conditions on the reserves, the Residential schools, and more, our failure to act is impossible to understand.
First Nations University of Canada seeks to have an ongoing transformative impact through education based on a foundation of Indigenous Knowledge. The Regina campus is situated on the atim kâ-mihkosit (Red Dog) Urban Reserve, Star Blanket Cree Nation and Treaty 4 Territory. Star Blanket is the first First Nation in Canada to create an urban reserve specifically dedicated to the advancement of education.
They offer undergraduate and graduate programmes and appear to have some sort of partnership with the University of Regina (Saskatchewan). Their Indigenous Knowledge & Science undergraduate programme description can be found here.
Indigenous science, technology, and society (Indigenous STS)
Indigenous Science, Technology, and Society (Indigenous STS) is an international research and teaching hub, housed at the University of Alberta, for the burgeoning sub-field of Indigenous STS.
Our mission is two-fold: 1) To build Indigenous scientific literacy by training graduate students, postdoctoral, and community fellows to grapple expertly with techno-scientific projects and topics that affect their territories, peoples, economies, and institutions; and 2) To produce research and public intellectual outputs with the goal to inform national, global, and Indigenous thought and policymaking related to science and technology. Indigenous STS is committed to building and supporting techno-scientific projects and ways of thinking that promote Indigenous self-determination.
Kim TallBear is an Associate Professor, Faculty of Native Studies, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience & Environment, University of Alberta, and a 2018 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow. She is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor TallBear is the author of one monograph, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), which won the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association First Book Prize. She is the co-editor of a collection of essays published by the Oak Lake Writers, a Dakota and Lakota tribal writers’ society in the USA. Professor TallBear has written nearly two-dozen academic articles and chapters published in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Sweden. She also writes for the popular press and has published in venues such as BuzzFeed, Indian Country Today, and GeneWatch. She is a frequent blogger on issues related to Indigenous peoples, science, and technology. Professor TallBear is a frequent commentator in the media on issues related to Indigenous peoples and genomics including interviews in New Scientist, New York Times, Native America Calling, National Geographic, Scientific American, The Atlantic, and on NPR, CBC News and BBC World Service. Professor TallBear has advised science museums across the United States on issues related to race and science. She also advised the former President of the American Society for Human Genetics on issues related to genetic research ethics with Indigenous populations. She is a founding ethics faculty member in the Summer internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING), and has served as an advisor to programs at genome ethics centres at Duke University and Stanford University. She is also an advisory board member of the Science & Justice Research Centre at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor TallBear was an elected council member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) from 2010-2013. She is co-producer of an Edmonton sexy storytelling show, Tipi Confessions, which serves as a research-creation laboratory at the University of Alberta on issues related to decolonization and Indigenous sexualities. She is a citizen of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota and is also descended from the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.
The Summer internship for INdigenous peoples in Genomics Canada (SING Canada) is an initiative associated with the Indigenous Science, Technology, and Society Research and Training Program (Indigenous STS) at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Native Studies. Building on the success of SING US and SING Aotearoa, SING Canada is an annual one-week intensive workshop designed to build Indigenous capacity and scientific literacy by training undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral, and community fellows in the basic of genomics, bioinformatics, and Indigenous and decolonial bioethics. This week-long, all expenses paid residential program invites Indigenous participants to engage in hands-on classroom, lab, and field training in genomic sciences and Indigenous knowledge. The curriculum includes an introduction to leading advances in and Indigenous approaches to genomics and its the ethical, environmental, economic, legal, and social (GE3LS) implications. Participants gain an awareness of the uses, misuses, opportunities, and limitations of genomics as a tool for Indigenous peoples’ governance. SING Canada is distinguished by its dedication to critical Indigenous theory and an emphasis on discussing the local contexts (i.e. political, legal, biological, and Indigenous) where the workshops take place, including the human and other-than-human relations that have implications variously for human and non-human health, environments, and societies. This is not your average summer science training program!
A May 4, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announced work that may result the restoration of nasal cartilage for skin cancer patients,
A team of University of Alberta researchers has discovered a way to use 3-D bioprinting technology to create custom-shaped cartilage for use in surgical procedures. The work aims to make it easier for surgeons to safely restore the features of skin cancer patients living with nasal cartilage defects after surgery.
The researchers used a specially designed hydrogel — a material similar to Jell-O — that could be mixed with cells harvested from a patient and then printed in a specific shape captured through 3-D imaging. Over a matter of weeks, the material is cultured in a lab to become functional cartilage.
“It takes a lifetime to make cartilage in an individual, while this method takes about four weeks. So you still expect that there will be some degree of maturity that it has to go through, especially when implanted in the body. But functionally it’s able to do the things that cartilage does,” said Adetola Adesida, a professor of surgery in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.
“It has to have certain mechanical properties and it has to have strength. This meets those requirements with a material that (at the outset) is 92 per cent water,” added Yaman Boluk, a professor in the Faculty of Engineering.
Who would have thought that nose cartilage would look like a worm?
Adesida, Boluk and graduate student Xiaoyi Lan led the project to create the 3-D printed cartilage in hopes of providing a better solution for a clinical problem facing many patients with skin cancer.
Each year upwards of three million people in North America are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer. Of those, 40 per cent will have lesions on their noses, with many requiring surgery to remove them. As part of the procedure, many patients may have cartilage removed, leaving facial disfiguration.
Traditionally, surgeons would take cartilage from one of the patient’s ribs and reshape it to fit the needed size and shape for reconstructive surgery. But the procedure comes with complications.
“When the surgeons restructure the nose, it is straight. But when it adapts to its new environment, it goes through a period of remodelling where it warps, almost like the curvature of the rib,” said Adesida. “Visually on the face, that’s a problem.
“The other issue is that you’re opening the rib compartment, which protects the lungs, just to restructure the nose. It’s a very vital anatomical location. The patient could have a collapsed lung and has a much higher risk of dying,” he added.
The researchers say their work is an example of both precision medicine and regenerative medicine. Lab-grown cartilage printed specifically for the patient can remove the risk of lung collapse, infection in the lungs and severe scarring at the site of a patient’s ribs.
“This is to the benefit of the patient. They can go on the operating table, have a small biopsy taken from their nose in about 30 minutes, and from there we can build different shapes of cartilage specifically for them,” said Adesida. “We can even bank the cells and use them later to build everything needed for the surgery. This is what this technology allows you to do.”
The team is continuing its research and is now testing whether the lab-grown cartilage retains its properties after transplantation in animal models. The team hopes to move the work to a clinical trial within the next two to three years.
As far as superstars for Canadian science communication go, there is only one candidate and that would be Timothy Caulfield, professor of Health Law and Policy a the University of Alberta.
Not being Caulfield’s biggest fan, I stumbled onto some of his latest work by accident in a Tweet from Canadian Science Publishing (@cdnsciencepub). It sent me on a search that resulted in an open access paper (a pretty good one too or so I thought), a description of the research project that resulted in the paper, and more.
This story begins in 2020 with the research project description, from an April 15, 2020 posting on the Alberta Innovates (a provincial research entity) website,
Timothy Caulfield may be the most well-known face of scientific myth-busting. He is the host of Netflix’s The User’s Guide to Cheating Death and the author of multiple bestsellers on science and misinformation, including Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? and The Vaccination Picture. He’s also a law professor at the University of Alberta, the Research Director of its Health Law Institute, and a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy.
In March , Caulfield and his team received a $381,708 grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Alberta Innovates to research the spread of misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and recommend ways to counter it.
Q: Are you seeing any types of themes around COVID misinformation?
A: In the early days a lot of the misinformation was about the source of it. It’s a bio-weapon, right? Or even the idea that it was a hoax. Now what we’re seeing is a lot of the misinformation, not surprisingly, is about cures, is about prevention, about things that people can do in order to avoid getting it. That’s problematic.
The other thing we’re seeing is a lot of marketing, which is infuriating. A lot of people taking advantage of the fear and the uncertainty to push products.
Q: Why don’t people trust science?
A: That’s actually a topic that we’ve been exploring for a long time at the institute, looking at it in different contexts. Of course it’s complex. I think that there is a conflation between science and scientific institutions. Obviously a lot’s going on here, but things like the misbehaviour of the pharmaceutical industry have an impact.
The other thing that we’ve done research on and we’ve found that anytime industry is involved, trust erodes very quickly. You can say, “Do you trust the university research?” People say yes. If that same university researcher receives industry funding, the trust erodes, that’s part of the story.
There’s also this erosion in trust with the health-care system. Because many people feel like it hasn’t treated them well. …
As new science emerges, rapid changes in information and health advice have created fertile ground for conspiracy theories and misinformation to flourish, says Timothy Caulfield, a University of Alberta professor of health law and science policy.
“When things are uncertain, when there’s a lot of fear, when the science is still moving, people are more likely to believe conspiracy theories,” Caufield said. “That’s certainly the situation that we have now.”
A recent Carleton University study found that half of Canadians believe at least one conspiracy theory around the novel coronavirus, including 26 per cent who believe it was lab-created bioweapon.
That’s the kind of data that Caulfield, a Canada research chair in health law and policy, is looking at as part of an ongoing research project into the viral spread of misinformation during the pandemic.
In a wide-ranging Q&A with Nancy Carlson, host of CBC Edmonton’s News at 6, Caulfield said sorting good information from bad is as simple as thinking like a scientist, a skill that only requires a healthy degree of curiosity and internet access.
Where is it all coming from?
“It’s really coming from all over and that’s why it is so difficult to battle,” Caulfield said. But there are a few notable trends.
Celebrities and prominent individuals are the source of about 20 per cent of misinformation, but their posts have extraordinary reach, making up more than 70 per cent of what is shared online, Caulfield said. “That really gives you a sense of the power of pop culture.”
Bots, particularly on Twitter, play an important role, while the role of social media in general — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and more — can’t be underplayed. “This really has been a social media-driven infodemic,” he said.
Changing course a ‘badge of honour’
Should the border be closed? Do masks make a difference? Is hydroxychloroquine the answer? If science is so good, why do public health officials keep changing their minds?
While public frustration is understandable, Caulfield urges people to applaud health leaders for staying on top of emerging science and changing public health rules accordingly.
“If you are a science-based decision-maker, like a public health authority … it is a badge of honour that you’re changing your mind. It’s a badge of honour that you’re willing to look at the evolving evidence and reframe a recommendation,” he said.
Changing the dialogue
Here is one more fact about the COVID-19 infodemic: The mind of a conspiracy theorist will not be changed. At least not easily, said Caulfield.
“They may go to an idea or a belief for one reason … but once they start to embrace it, it becomes part of who they are, it becomes part of their personal identity, it becomes part of their personal brand,” he said.
“What you want to do is stop their rhetoric, their belief systems, from infecting the rest of the community, [emphasis mine]” Caulfield said. “We don’t want the hard-core deniers to impact the rest of the community in a way that’s not rational. That should be the goal of science communication.”
Interesting, eh? In that last paragraph, you’d think Caulfield was talking about a virus.
If COVDI-19 science communication interests you, this is a very good paper. I am particularly taken with their section on the ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ story from the first whispers that the medication might help to claims that it does to the research rush to prove/disprove the hypothesis to the entrenchment of belief in some quarters.
My reservations lie in problems that permeate science communication, (1) top/down communication, (2) disagreement means you are wrong, (3) you have to change (4) experts/government organizations are never wrong; they’ve simply gotten more data and, accordingly, have had to change course. Note: Experts/governments often pretend that they haven’t changed course due to their belief that the public has a short memory.
It’s very easy *to fall* into the traps and, with that said, there’s much value in this paper.
The folks at the University of Alberta have created a course for learning critical thinking skills where science is concerned. An Oct. 24, 2020 article by Nicole Bergot for the Edmonton Journal describes the course,
“The purpose of this course is to teach people about the process of science and how it is used to acquire knowledge,” course host Claire Scavuzzo, researcher in the Department of Psychology, said in a release. “By the end of the course, learners will be able to understand and use scientific evidence to challenge claims based on misinformation and engage the process of science to ask questions to build our knowledge.”
“With the uncertainty that comes with the current global COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing a general public distrust in science; ironically because of its self-correcting process,” said Scavuzzo.
The online course has no prerequisites, features guest lecturers, and can be completed at the learner’s own pace — roughly five weeks, with five to seven hours per week of study.
The five modules of the course are presented with practice quizzes, reflective quizzes, and interactive learning objects that are all available for free.
We are often told not to believe everything we read online or see on TV—but how do we tell the difference between sensationalized statistics and a real scientific study? A new online course in Science Literacy offered by the University of Alberta is ready to help learners spot sound science—an increasingly relevant skill in today’s world of social media.
The course covers a variety of topics, Scavuzzo explained, and students will have the opportunity to learn how holistic wisdom is gained and practiced by Canadian First Nations, Indigenous, and Metis peoples, compared to the westernized process of science. They will also learn how to think critically about scientific claims from a variety of sources, learning how to differentiate science from pseudoscience.
“Students can expect to finish this course with well-polished critical thinking skills. Rather than ‘science knowledge’ students will build the skill of thinking scientifically, so they are ready to engage in the process of science,” said Scavuzzo. “It may expose some of your biases and it may also help you recognize the value of challenging your biases by being skeptical, asking questions, and evaluating evidence. It will change the way you interact with and absorb content on social media. It will make you realize that these skills can—and should—be used every day.”
Cree Elder Kokum Rose Wabasca on how traditional knowledge is used in indigenous practices.
Métis Elder Elmer Ghostkeeper on how indigenous knowledge informs scientific discovery.
Dr. David Rast, scientist and psychology expert, on uncertainty and decision making
You can get more details about this Science Literacy Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) here (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the Module Overview) and to click on the registration link. There’s one other thing, you can get certified in Science Literacy should you choose that option.
The age-old technique of dressing in layers is a tried and tested way to protect from the elements. Now thanks to $1.5 million in new funding for UBC’s Okanagan campus, researchers are pushing the practice to new limits by creating a high-tech body armour solution with multiple layers of protection against diverse threats.
“Layers are great for regulating body heat, protecting us from inclement weather and helping us to survive in extreme conditions,” says Keith Culver, director of UBC’s Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative, which is supporting the network of researchers who will be working together over the next three years. “The idea is to design and integrate some of the most advanced fabrics and materials into garments that are comfortable, practical and can even stop a bullet.”
The research network working to develop these new Comfort-Optimized Materials For Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivability (COMFORTS) aims to create a futuristic new body armour solution by combining an intelligent, moisture-wicking base layer that has insulating properties with a layer of lightweight, ballistic-resistant material using cross-linker technology. It will also integrate a water, dust and gas repellent outer layer and will be equipped with comfort sensors to monitor the wearer’s response to extreme conditions.
“Although the basic idea seems simple, binding all these different materials and technologies together into a smart armour solution that is durable, reliable and comfortable is incredibly complex,” says Kevin Golovin, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at UBCO and principal investigator of the COMFORTS research network. “We’re putting into practice years of research and expertise in materials science to turn the concept into reality.”
The COMFORTS network is a collaboration between the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria and is supported by a number of industrial partners. The network has received a $1.5M contribution agreement from the Department of National Defence through its Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS) program, designed to support innovation in defence and security.
“The safety and security threats faced by our military are ever-changing,” says Culver. “Hazards extend beyond security threats from foreign forces to natural disasters now occurring more frequently than ever before. Almost every year we’re seeing natural disasters, forest fires and floods that put not just ordinary Canadians at risk but also the personnel that respond directly to those threats. Our goal is to better protect those who put their lives on the line to protect the rest of us.”
While the initial COMFORTS technologies developed will be for defence and security applications, Culver says the potential extends well beyond the military.
“Imagine a garment that could keep its users comfortable and safe as they explore the tundra of the Canadian arctic, fight a raging forest fire or respond to a corrosive chemical spill,” says Culver. “I imagine everyone from first responders to soldiers to extreme athletes being impacted by this kind of innovation in protective clothing.”
The research will be ongoing with eight projects planned over the next three years. Some of the protective materials testing will take place at UBC’s STAR Impact Research Facility (SIRF), located just north of UBC’s Okanagan campus. The ballistic and blast simulation facility is the only one of its kind in Canada—it supports research and testing of ballistic and blast-resistant armour, ceramic and other composite materials, as well as helmets and other protective gear.
“I anticipate we will see some exciting new, field-tested technologies developed within the next few years,” says Culver. “I look forward to seeing where this collaboration will lead us.”
Western Canada primed to be defense and security research hotspot
World-class vineyards and sunny lakeside resorts have long been the reputation for BC’s Okanagan Valley. That reputation has expanded with Kelowna’s growth as a tech hub, according to Professor Keith Culver, director of UBC’s Survive and Thrive Research (STAR) initiative, but core expertise in defense and security research has also been rapidly expanding since UBC launched the STAR initiative five years ago.
Culver is a professor, legal theorist, self-described convener and coach with proven expertise assembling multi-disciplinary research teams working at the vanguard of innovation. One of these teams, led by Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Kevin Golovin, was recently awarded a $1.5 million contract by the Department of National Defense to develop next-generation, high-performance body armour that increases the safety and comfort of Canadian soldiers.
What is UBC’s STAR initiative?
UBC STAR is a group of researchers and partners working together to solve human performance challenges. We know that solving complex problems requires a multi-disciplinary approach, so we build teams with specialized expertise from across both our campuses and other Western Canadian universities. Then we blend that expertise with the know-how and production capabilities of private and public sector partners to put solutions into practice. Above all, STAR helps university researchers and partners to work together in new, more productive ways.
You recently received considerable new funding from the Department of National Defence. Can you tell us about that research
A team of researchers from UBC, the University of Alberta and the University of Victoria have established a research network to invent and test new materials for the protection of humans operating in extreme environments – in this case, soldiers doing their jobs on foot. Assistant Professor Kevin Golovin of UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering is leading the network with support from UBC STAR. The network brings together three leading Western Canadian universities to work together with industry to develop new technologies for the defence and security sector.
The network is developing several kinds of protective materials and hazard sensors for use in protective armour for soldiers and first responders. The name of the network captures its focus nicely: Comfort-Optimized Materials For Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivabilty (COMFORTS). Researchers in engineering, chemistry and other disciplines are developing new textile technologies and smart armour solutions that will be rigorously tested for thermal resistance to increase soldier comfort. We’re fortunate to be working with a great group of companies ready to turn our research into solutions ready for use. We’ll help to solve the challenges facing Canadian first responders and soldiers while enabling Canadian companies to sell those solutions to international markets.
What does the safety and security landscape look like in Western Canada?
I think there’s a perception out there that this kind of research is only happening in places like Halifax, Toronto or Waterloo. Western Canadian expertise is sometimes overlooked by Ottawa and Toronto, but there’s incredible expertise and cutting-edge research happening here in the west, and we are fortunate to have a strong private sector partner community that understands safety and security problems in military contexts, and in forestry, mining and wildfire and flood response. Our understanding of hazardous environments gives us a head start in putting technologies and strategies to work safely in extreme conditions, and we’re coming to realize that our creative solutions can both help Canadians and others around the world.
Why do companies want to work with UBC STAR and its Western Canadian partners?
We have great researchers and great facilities – our blast simulator and ballistics range are second to none – but we offer much more than expertise and equipment. UBC STAR is fundamentally about making the most of collaboration. We work together with our partners to understand the nature of problems and what could contribute to a solution. We readily draw on expertise from multiple universities and firms to assemble the right team. And we know that we are in the middle of a great living lab for testing solutions –with rural and urban areas of varying sizes, climates and terrains. We’re situated in an ideal place to work through technology development, while identifying the strategies and standards needed to put innovative technology to good use.
How do you expect this sector to develop over the next decade?
I see a boom coming in this sector. In Canada, and around the world, we are witnessing a rise in natural disasters that put first responders and others at risk, and our research can help improve their safety. At the same time, we are seeing a rise in global political tensions calling for Canadian military deployment in peacekeeping and other support roles. Our military needs help protecting its members so they can do their jobs in dangerous places. And, of course, when we develop protective materials for first responders and soldiers, the same solutions can be easily adapted for use in sport and health – such as protecting children playing contact sports or our aging population from slip and fall injuries. I think I speak for everyone involved in this research when I say that it’s incredibly rewarding to see how solutions found addressing one question often have far broader benefits for Canadians in every walk of life.
UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.
I love this image with the brain and heart as plants rooted in the earth for this upcoming ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada) event. I received a March 19, 2019 announcement (via email) from ARPICO about their latest Vancouver event, which is celebrating the 2019 Italian Research Day in the World,
… we are pleased to announce our next event in celebration of Italian Research of the World Day. On April 16th, 2019 at the Italian Cultural Centre, we will have the privilege of hosting the distinguished Dr. Paolo Raggi to present on the topic of mental disorders and cardiovascular health. Dr. Raggi is a pioneer and luminary in the field of heart health, especially for his approach of considering heart disease not as an isolated condition, but in relation to the health of many other organs, an important one among them being our brain.
This event is organized in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy in Ottawa and with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver to celebrate the Italian Research in the World Day, instituted starting in 2018 as part of the Piano Straordinario “Vivere all’Italiana” – Giornata della ricerca Italiana nel mondo. The celebration day was chosen by government decree to be every year on April 15 on the anniversary of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci.
The main objective of the Italian Research Day in the World is to value the quality and competencies of Italian researchers abroad, but also to promote concrete actions and investments to allow Italian researchers to continue pursuing their careers in their homeland. Italy wishes to enable Italian talents to return from abroad as well as to become an attractive environment for foreign researchers.
We look forward to seeing everyone there. The evening agenda is as follows: 6:30 pm – Doors Open for Registration 7:00 pm – Start of the evening event with introductions & lecture by Dr. Paolo Raggi ~8:00 pm – Q & A Period to follow – Mingling & Refreshments until about 9:30 pm If you have not already done so, please register for the event by visiting the EventBrite link or RSVPing to email@example.com. Further details are also available at arpico.ca and Eventbrite.
Mental Disorders and Cardiovascular Health: A Critical, if Overlooked, Connection Despite extraordinary advances in the diagnosis and care of heart disease, this ailment continues to affect a very large portion of the North American population and its related costs keep climbing. Reducing morbidity and mortality from heart disease will require a strong and integrated approach involving both research and clinical efforts aimed at prevention of disease rather than delayed care of its advanced complications. Dr. Raggi’s research investigates the mechanisms and prevention of heart disease and includes, among many other facets of this complex condition, the impact of mental stress disorders on coronary artery disease.
Paolo Raggi, MD, is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB and he is the former Director of the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and Chair of Cardiac Research at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton AB, Canada. He is also an Adjunct Professor of Radiology as well as Professor of Population Health and Epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, USA.
Dr. Raggi has been involved in research in the following fields: atherosclerosis imaging, vascular calcification, lipid metabolism, cardiovascular disease associated with: chronic kidney disease, rheumatological disorders, HIV infection, diabetes mellitus, the metabolic syndrome and the impact of mental stress disorders on coronary artery disease. He regularly engages in the interpretation of echocardiography, computed tomography, magnetic resonance and nuclear cardiology imaging studies for the diagnosis of coronary artery disease, subclinical atherosclerosis and evaluation of left ventricular function and viability.
He lectured extensively both nationally and internationally and has been a research mentor for numerous trainees. The results of his work have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, Archives of Internal Medicine, Circulation, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, European Heart Journal, Kidney International, American Journal of Kidney Diseases, Radiology, Chest and several others. He has contributed over 350 publications to major peer-reviewed journals and 30 chapters for books on cardiovascular imaging and preventive cardiology.
Dr. Raggi has received numerous awards as best teaching attending and best clinical investigator nationally and internationally. He serves as a consultant for 30 scientific medical publications, he is Co-Editor of Atherosclerosis, and sits on the Board of 3 peer-reviewed medical journals. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and the Society of Cardiac Computed Tomography of which he was a co-founder. Dr. Raggi received the highest honours from the President of Italy in October 2017 and was named Knight of the Order of Stars, typically bestowed upon Italian citizens who have distinguished themselves for their service to the Country of origin and/or adoptive countries.
WHEN: Tuesday, April 16th, 2019 at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:30pm) WHERE: Italian Cultural Centre – Museum & Art Gallery – 3075 Slocan St, Vancouver, BC, V5M 3E4 RSVP: Please RSVP at EventBrite (https://mentaldisorderscardiovascularhealth.eventbrite.ca) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets are Needed Tickets are FREE, but all individuals are requested to obtain “free-admission” tickets on EventBrite site due to limited seating at the venue. Organizers need accurate registration numbers to manage wait lists and prepare name tags.
All ARPICO events are 100% staffed by volunteer organizers and helpers, however, room rental, stationery, and guest refreshments are costs incurred and underwritten by members of ARPICO. Therefore to be fair, all audience participants are asked to donate to the best of their ability at the door or via EventBrite to “help” defray costs of the event.
FAQs Where can I contact the organizer with any questions? email@example.com Do I have to bring my printed ticket to the event? No, you do not. Your name will be on our Registration List at the Check-in Desk. Is my registration/ticket transferrable? If you are unable to attend, another person may use your ticket. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org of this substitution to correct our audience Registration List and to prepare guest name tags. Can I update my registration information? Yes. If you have any questions, contact us at email@example.com I am having trouble using EventBrite and cannot reserve my ticket(s). Can someone at ARPICO help me with my ticket reservation? Of course, simply send your ticket request to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we help you.
What are my transport/parking options? Bus/Train: The Millenium Line Renfrew Skytrain station is a 5 minute walk from the Italian Cultural Centre. Parking: Free Parking is vastly available at the ICC’s own parking lot.
The ancient Romans believed that a healthy body and mind go hand in hand: mens sana in corpore sano! During the American Civil War physicians described the Soldier’s Heart as a syndrome that occurred on the battlefield that involved symptoms very similar to modern day posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They also noted that these soldiers manifested exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity and “abnormalities of the heart”. Interventions were developed to reduce the damage on the cardiovascular system and included surgical interventions to neutralize the sympathetic nervous system hyper-activity. With the advent of modern psychoanalysis, psychiatric symptoms became divorced from the body and were re-located to unconscious systems.
More recently, advancements in psychosomatic medicine and related fields clarified the complexity of the interaction between central and peripheral nervous system disorders, inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. This field of research has witnessed a quick expansion that brought to the discovery of important mechanisms of cardiovascular disease and potential therapeutic advances.
Happy Italian Research Day in the World (Giornata della ricerca Italiana nel mondo) which is held on April 15, 2019 (da Vinci’s birthday) as noted in the ARPICO announcement! If you’re planning to attend, don’t forget to register for Dr. Raggi’s talk at EventBrite (https://mentaldisorderscardiovascularhealth.eventbrite.ca) or email email@example.com.
What will Artificial Intelligence (AI) mean for society? That’s the question scholars from a variety of disciplines will explore during the inaugural Summer Institute on AI Societal Impacts, Governance, and Ethics. Summer Institute, co-hosted by the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) and CIFAR, with support from UCLA School of Law, takes place July 22-24, 2019 in Edmonton, Canada.
“Recent advances in AI have brought a surge of attention to the field – both excitement and concern,” says co-organizer and UCLA professor, Edward Parson. “From algorithmic bias to autonomous vehicles, personal privacy to automation replacing jobs. Summer Institute will bring together exceptional people to talk about how humanity can receive the benefits and not get the worst harms from these rapid changes.”
Summer Institute brings together experts, grad students and researchers from multiple backgrounds to explore the societal, governmental, and ethical implications of AI. A combination of lectures, panels, and participatory problem-solving, this comprehensive interdisciplinary event aims to build understanding and action around these high-stakes issues.
“Machine intelligence is opening transformative opportunities across the world,” says John Shillington, CEO of Amii, “and Amii is excited to bring together our own world-leading researchers with experts from areas such as law, philosophy and ethics for this important discussion. Interdisciplinary perspectives will be essential to the ongoing development of machine intelligence and for ensuring these opportunities have the broadest reach possible.”
Over the three-day program, 30 graduate-level students and early-career researchers will engage with leading experts and researchers including event co-organizers: Western University’s Daniel Lizotte, Amii’s Alona Fyshe and UCLA’s Edward Parson. Participants will also have a chance to shape the curriculum throughout this uniquely interactive event.
Summer Institute takes place prior to Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning Summer School, and includes a combined event on July 24th  for both Summer Institute and Summer School participants.
Two questions, why are all the summer school faculty either Canada- or US-based? What about South American, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. thinkers?
One last thought, I wonder if this ‘AI & ethics summer institute’ has anything to do with the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, which CIFAR administers and where both the University of Alberta and Vector Institute are members.