Tag Archives: University of British Columbia (UBC)

February 1, 2024 talk about ‘CULTUS’: a scifi, queer art installation at the University of British Columbia’s Belkin Gallery in Vancouver, Canada

Spanning religiosity, science fiction, contemporary perspectives on artificial intelligence, and the techno-industrial complex, artist Zach Blas and writer/editor Jayne Wilkinson will be discussing CULTUS, an art installation currently being shown as part of the Belkin Gallery’s January 12 – April 14, 2024 exhibition, Aporia (Notes to a Medium),

Zach Blas, CULTUS , 2023, from the 2024 exhibition at Arebyte Gallery, London, UK. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Max Colson

Here’s what the folks at the Belkin Art Gallery (Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery) had to say in their January 30, 2024 announcement (received via email),

Artist Talk with Zach Blas and Jayne Wilkinson

Thursday, February 1 at 5 pm 

Please join us for a lecture by interdisciplinary artist Zach Blas, with a dialogue to follow with writer/editor Jayne Wilkinson. Blas will discuss his most recent work, CULTUS, the second in a trilogy of queer science-fiction installations addressing the beliefs, fantasies and histories that are influential to the contemporary tech industry. CULTUS (the Latin word for “worship”) considers the God-like status often afforded to artificial intelligence (AI) and examines how this religiosity is marshalled to serve beliefs about judgement and transcendence, extraction and immortality, pleasure and punishment, individual freedom and cult devotion. The conversation to follow will address some of the pressing intersecting political and ethical questions raised by both using and critiquing contemporary image technologies like AI.

This conversation will be audio-recorded; email us at belkin.gallery@ubc.ca if you are interested in listening to the recording following the event.

This talk is presented in conjunction with the Belkin’s exhibition Aporia (Notes to a Medium) and Critical Image Forum, a collaboration between the Belkin and the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at UBC.

For anyone (like me) who’s never heard of either Blas or Wilkinson, there’s more on the Belkin’s event page,

Zach Blas is an artist, filmmaker and writer whose practice draws out the philosophies and imaginaries residing in computational technologies and their industries. Working across moving image, computation, installation, theory and performance, Blas has exhibited, lectured and held screenings at venues including the 12th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Tate Modern, 12th Gwangju Biennale and e-flux. His 2021 artist monograph Unknown Ideals is published by Sternberg Press. Blas is currently Assistant Professor of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto.

Jayne Wilkinson is a Toronto-based art writer and editor.

Should you be interested in attending the talk and/or the exhibition, here are some directions, from the Belkin Gallery’s Visit webpage,

Directions

The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery is located at the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus, 1825 Main Mall, Vancouver BC, V6T 1Z2

Open in Maps

By Public Transit

TransLink offers many routes to UBC, including several express services (44, 84, R4, 99). The UBC Bus Loop is the last stop for each of these buses, and is located in the central area of campus near the AMS Nest. To get to the gallery, walk west on University Boulevard. (about 1 block) until you reach Main Mall. Turn right onto Main Mall and continue for about 3 blocks until you reach Crescent Road. We are located on your left at the corner of Main Mall and Crescent Road, near the Flagpole Plaza.

By Car

From downtown Vancouver, proceed west on West 4th Avenue, which becomes Chancellor Blvd and then merges with NW Marine Drive. Continue west on NW Marine Drive, to the Rose Garden Parkade (on your left).

From the airport, proceed to SW Marine Drive. Stay on SW Marine Drive, which eventually merges with NW Marine Drive. Continue just past the Museum of Anthropology (on your left) to the Rose Garden Parkade (on your right).

Accessibility

Entrance

The Belkin is wheelchair accessible. The main entrance is located on the east side of the building next to Main Mall. For people requiring wheelchair or easier accessibility, use the ramp from Crescent Road to access the main gallery doors.  This entrance is level and accessible and has both a revolving door and a powered wheelchair-accessible door.

Washrooms

Washrooms are all-gender and include two multi-stall washrooms with wheelchair-accessible stalls and one stand-alone washroom that is wheelchair accessible.

Seating

Portable gallery stools are available for use.

Large Print Materials

Large print materials are available.

ASL Interpretation

ASL interpreters are available upon request for Belkin programs and events. To request interpretation for an event or tour, please contact us in advance.

Service Animals

Service dogs are welcome to accompany visitors.

Scent

The Belkin’s office is scent free. Occasionally, there are works or projects that are scent-focused.

Please ask our staff if you require any assistance or have any questions.

Admission to the gallery is free.

The University of British Columbia and its November 28, 2023 Great UBC Bug Bake Off

Last week, I received (via email) this enticing November 27, 2023 University of British Columbia media advisory,

Welcome, baking enthusiasts and insect epicureans, to the Great UBC Bug
Bake Off!

On Nov. 28 [2023], media are invited as four teams of faculty of land and food
systems students engage in a six-legged culinary showdown. Students will
showcase insect-laden dishes that are delicious, nutritious and
environmentally friendly. Esteemed judges, including UBC executive chef
David Speight, will weigh in on the taste, texture and insect ingenuity
of the creations.

We spoke to course instructor and sessional lecturer Dr. Yasmin Akhtar
about the competition, and why she advocates for entomophagy – eating
insects and bugs.

WHY DO YOU HOST THIS INSECT DISH COMPETITION?

This competition is the culmination of my applied biology course
“Insects as Food and Feed” where we spent the semester learning
about the benefits and risks of eating and using insects. One of my
goals is to reduce the negative perceptions people may have of eating
bugs. This competition is a fun way to raise awareness among students
about the nutritional value of insects, their role in sustainable food
systems and the importance of considering alternative protein sources.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EATING INSECTS?

In addition to being really tasty, there are two main benefits of eating
insects.

Many insects are incredibly nutritious: They are high in protein,
calcium, good fatty acids and vitamins. For example, a species of
grasshoppers commonly eaten in Mexico, Sphenarium purpurascens,
contain 48 grams of protein per 100 grams, compared to 27 grams of
protein per 100 grams of beef. Insect protein is also easily absorbed by
humans and some insects contain all the essential amino acids that
humans need.

The other benefit is environmental. Rearing insects requires much less
space, fewer resources like water and much less feed. They produce much
lower greenhouse gas emissions than cattle or pigs, for example. It also
encourages the sustainable use of diverse insect species, rather than
relying on a small number of traditional livestock species to meet the
world’s needs.

It is also relatively cheap to rear insects, which means that
small-scale farmers can benefit.

WHAT ARE SOME EASY WAYS TO INCORPORATE BUGS INTO YOUR DIET?

Insect flours and insect powders are an easy way to incorporate bugs
into your diet – especially if you are wary of eating insects whole.
You can purchase insect flour online and simply replace wheat flour in
any recipe with the insect flour for tasty, high-protein baked products
like muffins or as filling in samosas.

Barbecuing insects is another great option: they absorb flavour really
well, and dry out to become very crunchy. Barbecued crickets are my
favourite! I also really like chocolate-covered ants, and adding insect
powder to green tea.

WHAT ARE SOME RISKS OF EATING INSECTS THAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE AWARE OF?

Insects live in a lot of different environments, including soil, and can
be infested with microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and other viruses.
Just like other animal proteins, insects should be treated before they
are consumed – using heat to boil or cook them, for example.

If capturing insects from the wild, you need to be aware that they may
be contaminated with pesticides that were used to spray fruits and
vegetables. A better option would be purchase them from insect farms,
where they are safely raised to be used as food.

Lastly, if you’re allergic to seafood, then you’ll likely also be
allergic to insects because they share similar protein allergens.

EVENT: GREAT UBC BUG BAKE OFF

Date/time: Tuesday, Nov. 28, 11:15 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Contest will begin promptly at 11:30 a.m. so please arrive early to set
up.

Location: Vij’s Kitchen, Room 130, 2205 East Mall

As you might have expected, the media attended. From a November 28, 2023 article by Stefan Labbé for vancouverisawesome.com

Inside a culinary lab at the University of British Columbia, nine students took turns offering a menu of insect-infused recipes to a panel of judges. 

Beef tacos wrapped in cricket flour-laced tortillas. Mealworm ginger sugar cookies “to add a little protein during the holidays.” And cheesecake with a layer of crushed cricket fudge. Judge and UBC executive chef David Speight snapped off a piece of ginger cookie in his mouth. 

“It doesn’t really taste like mealworm,” he said with a smile. “That’s good.”

The competition, billed as the Great UBC Bug Bake Off, pit the students against each other to see who could come up with the tastiest, and perhaps least offensive dish. But for students who had just spent months learning about insects as food and feed, the stakes of eating bugs was much larger. 

“We’re going hungry globally,” said UBC student Rozy Etaghene, after presenting her cheesecake.

By 2050, the global population is expected to hit nine million people [sic; the UN projection is for 9.8 billion]. To feed all those mouths, agricultural production will have to double, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. But agriculture already takes up 30 per cent of the planet’s land, with up to 70 per cent of that reserved for livestock like cattle, pigs and chickens.

But substituting chicken wings for fried crickets is not always an easy sell. A decade ago, Vancouver chef Vikram Vij donated $250,000 to renovate UBC’s culinary lab. At the time, the co-owner of Vij’s restaurants, Meeru Dhalwala, was in the midst of experimentation, first putting insects on the menu in 2008.

It all started with roasted crickets, an insect that requires only two kilograms of feed for every one kilogram of body weight gain. Spiced with cayenne, cumin and coriander, Dhalwala said she would treat them like ground almonds. 

“I made a cricket paratha, like a flatbread,” she said. “It was a really big deal at the time.”

Back at the UBC culinary lab, the judges had come to a decision: Etaghene’s cheesecake had lost out to a pound cake and plate of cranberry short-bread cookies — both baked with cricket flour.

dhalwala-cricket-parantha
A cricket paratha served at Meeru Dhalwala’s restaurant in Seattle sold four times better than in Vancouver, says the restaurateur. Stefan Labbé/Glacier Media

Labbé’s November 28, 2023 article offers a lot of information on insects as food in Canada and in the world, as well as, more about the bake off.

Another November 28, 2023 article this time written by Cosmin Dzsurdzsa for True North (I have more about True North after the excerpt) highlights other aspects of the event, Note: Links have been removed,

Canadian journalists were so eager to attend the University of British Columbia’s Bug Bake Off on Tuesday [November 28, 2023] to get a taste of edible insect creations that the event was booked to capacity the night before.

Former CBC producer and UBC media relations specialist Sachintha Wickramasinghe told True North on Monday that the event was at capacity.

“There’s been significant interest since this morning and we are already at capacity for media,” said Wicramansinghe. 

There has been growing interest by governments and the private sector to warm consumers up to the idea of edible insects. The Liberal government has lavished edible insect cricket farming companies with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of subsidies [emphasis mine]. 

For anyone curious about True North, there’s this from the True North Centre for Public Policy Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

The True North Centre for Public Policy is a Canadian media outlet that simultaneously describes itself as a “media company”, an “advocacy organization” and as a “registered charity with the government of Canada.”[1][2] It operates a digital media arm known simply as True North [emphasis mine].[3][4]

In 1994, the Independent Immigration Aid Association was started with the goal of helping immigrants from the United Kingdom settle in British Columbia.[2][5] According to Daniel Brown, a former director of the charity, a new board of directors took control of the charity in 2017 and renamed it the True North Centre for Public Policy.[2] Control was handed off to three people:[2]

  • Kaz Nejatian, a former staffer for United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, and current COO of Shopify.[6]
  • William McBeath, the director of Training and Marketing for the right-wing Manning Centre for Building Democracy.
  • Erynne Schuster, an Edmonton-based lawyer.

Nejatian’s wife, Candice Malcolm, describes herself as the “founder and Editor-In-Chief” of True North.[7][8]

The political leanings of the people in charge of True North in its various manifestations don’t seem to have influenced Dzsurdzsa’s November 28, 2023 article unduly. however, I’m a little surprised by the stated size of the industry subsidies made by the Liberal government. I found an $8.5 million dollar investment (isn’t that similar to a subsidy?) for one project alone in a June 29, 2022 article by Nicole Kerwin for Pet Food Processing, Note: A link has been removed,

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada revealed June 27 [2022] an $8.5 million investment to Aspire, an insect agricultural company, to build a new production facility in Canada. The facility will process cricket-based protein, helping to advance the use of insect proteins in human and pet food products.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, food-grade processing of insects is relatively new in Canada, however insect-based proteins create an opportunity for the country’s agri-food industry to develop more sustainable products.

“The strength of Canadian agriculture has always been its openness to new ideas and new approaches,” said Peter Fragiskatos, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Revenue and member of Parliament for London North Center. “Aspire [Food Group] is helping to re-shape how we think about agriculture and opening the door to new product and market opportunities.”

Founded in 2013, Aspire strives to tackle worldwide food scarcity with a focus on edible insect production, therefore developing highly nutritious foods and lowering its environmental impact. Currently, the company has production facilities in London, Ontario, and Austin, Texas. In 2020, Aspire purchased 12 acres of land in Ontario to construct what it expects to be the largest automated, food-grade cricket processing facility in the world.

“Aspire is re-imagining what it means to sustainably produce food, and how smart technology can turn that vision into a reality,” said Francious Drouin, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. “Aspire’s innovative facility will help further establish London’s reputation as a hub for cutting-edge technology, strongly contributing to Ontario and Canada’s position as an innovator in agriculture and agri-food.”

Apsire [sic] plans to use the investment, as well as smart technology, to build its first commercial insect production facility in Ontario. The facility will boost Aspire’s insect farming capabilities, providing it with the ability to grow and monitor billions of crickets, which will be used to create nutrient-rich protein ingredients for use in the human and pet food industries.

Getting back to the Bake Off, there’s a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) video (runtime: 3 mins. 34 secs.),

UBC Bug Bake Off serves up insect dishes

Students at the University of British Columbia have whipped up some protein-rich dishes made with a special ingredient: bugs. Our Science and Climate Specialist Darius Mahdavi tried the insect-laden dishes and brought some for our Dan Burritt as well.

Sadly, you will have to endure a couple of commercials before getting to the ‘main course’.

Leaning Out of Windows (LOoW): An Art and Physics Collaboration (2023 book) in Vancouver (Canada)

Be careful not to fall, is a familiar stricture when applied to ‘leaning out of windows’ supplying a frisson of danger to the ‘lean’ but in German, ‘aus dem Fenster lehnen’ or ‘lean out of the window’, is an expression for interdisciplinarity. It’s a nice touch for a book about an art/physics collaboration where it can feel ‘dangerous’ to move so far out of your comfort zone. The book is described this way in its Vancouver (Canada) Public Library catalogue entry,

Art and physics collide in this expansive exploration of how knowledge can be translated across disciplinary communities to activate new aesthetic and scientific perspectives.

Leaning Out of Windows shares findings from a six-year collaboration by a group of artists and physicists exploring the connections and differences between the language they use [emphasis mine], the means by which they develop knowledge, how that knowledge is visualized, and, ultimately, how they seek to understand the universe. Physicists from TRIUMF, Canada’s particle physics accelerator, presented key concepts in the physics of Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces to artists convened by Emily Carr University of Art + Design; the participants then generated conversations, process drawings, diagrams, field notes, and works of art. The “wondrous back-and-forth” of this process allowed both scientists and artists to, as Koenig [Ingrid Koenig] and Cutler [Randy Lee Cutler] describe, “lean out of our respective fields of inquiry and inhabit the infinite spaces of not knowing.”

From this leaning into uncertainty comes a rich array of work towards furthering the shared project of artists and scientists in shaping cultural understandings of the universe: Otoniya J. Okot Bitek reflects on the invisible forces of power; Jess H. Brewer contemplates emergence, free will, and magic; Mimi Gellman looks at the resonances between Indigenous Knowledge and physics; Jeff Derksen finds Hegelian dialectics within the matter-antimatter process; Sanem Güvenç considers the possibilities of the void; Nirmal Raj ponders the universe’s “special moment of light and visibility” we happen to inhabit; Sadira Rodrigues eschews the artificiality of the lab for a “boring berm of dirt”; and Marina Roy metaphorically turns beams of stable and radioactive gold particles into art of pigments, oils, liquid plastic, and wood. Combined with additional essays, diagrams, and artworks, these texts and artworks live in the intersection of disparate fields that nonetheless share a deep curiosity of the world and our place within it, and a dedication to building and sharing knowledges.

Self-published, “Leaning Out of Windows: An Art and Physics Collaboration” and edited by Ingrid Koenig & Randy Lee Cutler (who also wrote many of the essays) was produced through an entity known as Figure 1 (located in Vancouver). It can be purchased for $45 CAD here on the Figure 1 website or $41.71 (CAD?) on Amazon. (Weirdly, if you look at the back outside cover you’ll see a price of $45 USD.)

Kind of a book

“Leaning” functions as three kinds of books in one package. First, it is documentation for a six year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), second, a collection of essays, and, third, a catalogue for three inter-related exhibitions. (Aside: my focus is primarily on the text for an informal book review.)

Like an art exhibition catalogue, this book is printed in a large, awkward to hold format, with shiny (coated) pages. It makes reading the essays and documentation a little challenging but perfect for a picture book/coffee table book where the images are supposed to look good.

I particularly liked the maps for the various phases of the project and the images for phase 1 showing what happens when an image is passed from one artist to the next, without explanation, asking for a new image to be produced and passed on to yet another artist and so on. There is no discussion amongst the artists about the initial impetus (the first artist in the stream of four met with physicists at a science symposium to talk about antimatter).

Ingrid Koenig, Antimatter Process Design (detail), 2017. This diagram shows the process design of five different streams of interactions, mapping out routes for 26 artists and 26 physicists, as well as an experimental class taught by Koenig at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. [downloaded from https://canadianart.ca/features/searching-for-the-language-of-the-universe/]

Unexpectedly, the documentation proved to be a highlight for me. BTW, you can find out more about the Leaning Out of Windows (LOoW) project (e.g. participants, phases, and art/science resources) on its website.

Koenig should be congratulated for getting as much publicity for the book as possible, given the topic and that there are no celebrities involved. CBC gave it a mention (May 8, 2023) on its Books: Leaning Out of Windows webpage. It also got a mention by Dana Gee in a May 12, 2023 ‘Books brief‘ posting on the Vancouver Sun website.

Plus, there were a couple of articles in an art magazine highlighting the art/science project while it was in progress featuring the few images I was about to access online for this project.

A January 6, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine by Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig introduces the project (Note: I’ll revisit the “metaphor and analogy” mention in this article and throughout the LOoW book later in this post),

The disciplines of art and physics share certain critical perspectives: both deal with how metaphor and analogy inform creative processes. Additionally, artists and physicists address issues of the imagination, creative thinking and communication, and how meaning is made through theoretical research and process-based investigations. There are also important differences in these perspectives. Art brings an appreciation for abstract or non-representational practices. Physics research addresses complex problems relevant to understanding the study of matter and motion through space and time. Physicists also contribute knowledge about how the universe behaves. Together, the achievements of art and physics allow the possibility of a much richer understanding of the nature of reality than each field can contribute individually.

There’s a January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine by Perrin Grauer featuring Mimi Gellman, Note: A link has been removed,

Artwork by artist and ECU Associate Professor Mimi Gellman was selected to appear on the cover of the current issue of Canadian Art magazine.

The gleaming, otherworldly image graces the magazine’s issue on antimatter —a subject which “presents a mirror world of abstract phenomena: time reversals, mutual annihilation, cosmic rays, cloud chambers, an infinite sea of sub-atomic particles that parallels our ‘real’ world of matter,” according to the issue’s editors.

Mimi describes her work as approaching some of the affinities between the biological, the perceptual, the cultural and the astronomical.

“My drawings do not explore the exterior world we perceive but rather what I call the ‘architecture of consciousness’ which permits us to perceive it,” she says.

“Recalling astronomical diagrams and reflecting the mixture of hybrid cultural worldviews in my background, they reveal deep similarities between the dimension explored by sub-atomic physics and the implicit interiority of contemporary art.”

I’m sorry I never saw any announcements for the project exhibitions, all of which seemed to have taken place at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. There were three concepts each explored in three exhibitions, with different artists each time, titled: Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces, respectively.

A bouquet or two and a few nitpicks

Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig have a wonderful quote from Karen Barad, physicist and philosopher, in their essay titled, “Collaborative Research between Artists and Physicists,”

Barad introduces the concept of intra-action and the fluidity of materialization through our bodily entanglements—through intra-action our bodies remain entangled with those around us. “Not only subjects but also objects are permeated through and through with their entangled kin, the other is not just in one’s skin, but in one’s bones, in one’s belly in one’s heart, in one’s nucleus, in one’s past and future.This is a true for electrons as it is for brittlestars as it is for the differentially constituted human.” As Barad asks herself, “How do I know where my physics begins and ends?” … [p. 13]

To the left of the page is a black and white photograph of entangled cables captioned, “GRIFFIN (Gamma Ray Infrastructure for Fundamental Investigations of Nuclei- TRIUMF.” It’s a nice touch and points to the difficulty of ‘illustrating’ or producing visual art in response to physics ideas such as quantum entanglement, something Einstein called, ‘spooky action at a distance’. From the Quantum entanglement Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

Quantum entanglement is the phenomenon that occurs when a group of particles are generated, interact, or share spatial proximity in a way such that the quantum state of each particle of the group cannot be described independently of the state of the others [[emphasis mine], including when the particles are separated by a large distance [emphasis mine]. The topic of quantum entanglement is at the heart of the disparity between classical and quantum physics: entanglement is a primary feature of quantum mechanics not present in classical mechanics.[1]

Some of the essays

One essay that stood out in LOoW, was “A Boring Berm of Dirt’ (pp. 141-7) by Sadira Rodrigues. She notes that dirt and soil are not the same; one is dead (dirt) and the other is living (soil) and that the berm has an important role at TRIUMF. If you want a more specific discussion of the difference between dirt and soil, see David Beaulieu’s February 23, 2023 essay (Soil vs. Dirt: What’s the Difference?) on The Spruce website.

Rodrigues’ essay (part of the Emergence concept) situates the work physically (word play alert: physics/physically) whereas all of the other work is based on ideas.

In “Boring Berm … ,” radioactivity is mentioned, a term which is largely taboo these days due its association with poisoning, bombs, and death. The eassy goes into fascinating detail about TRIUMF’s underground facility and how the facility deals with its nuclear waste and the role that the berm plays. (On a more fanciful note, the danger in the title of the book is given another dimension in this essay focused on nuclear topics.) Regardless, the essay was definitely an eye-opener.

Aside: The institution has been rebranded from: TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) to: TRIUMF (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre). You can find a reference to the ‘nuclear’ name in my October 2, 2018 posting although the name was already changed, probably in the early to mid-2010s. There is no mention of the ‘nuclear’ name in TRIUMF’s Wikipedia entry, accessed August 22, 2023.

Gellman and language

Mimi Gellman’s essay, “Crossing No Divide: Mapping Affinities in Art and Science” evokes unity, as can be seen in the title. She’s one of the more ‘lyrical’ writers,

There is a place in our imagination where east or west, or large or small, or any other opposites cease to be productive contradictions. As an artist and educator, I have become interested in the non-binary and resonance between Indigenous Knowledge and physics, between art and science, and between traditional ways of considering cognition and thinking with the hand. [p. 33]

This is how Gellman is described for the January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine, which is archived on the Emily Carr University of Art + Design (ECUAD) website,

Mimi Gellman is an Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi (Ojibway-Jewish Métis) visual artist and educator with a multi-streamed practice in architectural glass and conceptual installation. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Culture + Community at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, Canada, and is completing her research praxis PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University on the metaphysics of Indigenous mapping.

She highlights some interesting observations about language and thinking,

The Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin, like many Indigenous languages is verb-based in contrast with Western languages’ noun-based constructions and these have deep implications for the development of one’s worldview. …

I suspect anyone who speaks more than one language can testify to the observation that language affects one’s worldview. More academically, it’s called linguistic relativity or the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I find it hard to believe that it’s considered a controversial idea but here goes from the Linguistic relativity Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

The idea of linguistic relativity, also known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis /səˌpɪər ˈhwɔːrf/ sə-PEER WHORF, the Whorf hypothesis, or Whorfianism, is a principle suggesting that the structure of a language influences its speakers’ worldview or cognition, and thus individuals’ languages determine or shape their perceptions of the world.[1]

The hypothesis has long been controversial, and many different, often contradictory variations have existed throughout its history.[2] The strong hypothesis of linguistic relativity, now referred to as linguistic determinism, says that language determines thought and that linguistic categories limit and restrict cognitive categories. This was held by some of the early linguists before World War II,[3] but it is generally agreed to be false by modern linguists.[4] Nevertheless, research has produced positive empirical evidence supporting a weaker version of linguistic relativity:[4][3] that a language’s structures influence and shape a speaker’s perceptions, without strictly limiting or obstructing them.

Gettng back to Gellman, language, linguistic relativity, worldviews, and, adding physics/science, she quotes James (Sa’ke’j) Youngblood Henderson “a research fellow at the Native Law Centre of Canada, University of Saskatchewan College of Law. He was born to the Bear Clan of the Chickasaw Nation and Cheyenne Tribe in Oklahoma in 1944 and is married to Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaw educator. In 1974, he received a juris doctorate in law from Harvard Law School,”

[at a 1993 dialogue between Western and Indigenous scientists …]

[Youngblood Henderson] We don’t have one god. You need a noun-based language to have one god. We have forces. All forces are equal and you are just the amplifier of the forces. The way you conduct your life and the dignity you give to other things gives you access to other forces. Even trees are verbs instead of nouns. The Mi’kmaq named their trees for the sound the wind makes when it blows through the trees during the autumn about an hour after the sunset, when the wind usually comes from a certain direction. So one might be like a ‘shu-shu’ something and another more like a ‘tinka-tinka’ something. Although physics in the western world has been essentially the quest for the smallest noun (which used to be a-tom, ‘that which cannot be further divided’), as they were inside the atom things weren’t acting like nouns anymore. The physicists were intrigued with the possibilities inherent in a language that didn’t depend on nouns but could move right to verbs when the circumstances were appropriate.3

This work from Gellman is a favourite of mine, and is featured in the January 13, 2020 article in Canadian Art Magazine and you’ll find it in the book,

Image courtesy Mimi Gellman. Mimi Gellman, ‘Invisible Landscapes,’ 2017. Conte on Japanese Obonai paper, 63.5 x 48.3 cm. [downloaded from https://www.ecuad.ca/news/2020/canadian-art-magazine-features-cover-artwork-by-mimi-gellman]

There are more LOoW images embedded in the January 6, 2020 article on the Canadian Art Magazine website.

Derksen and his poem

Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Theodor W. Adorno, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel were unexpected guest stars in Derksen’s essay, “From Two to Another: The Anti-Matter Series,” given that he is an award-winning poet. These days he has this on his profile page on the Department of English, Simon Fraser University website, “Dean and Associate Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.”

From LOoW,

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are well known as materialists, having helped define a materialist view of history, of economics and of capitalism. And both Marx and Engels aimed to develop Marxism as a science rather than a model based on naturalizing capitalism and “man.” … [p. 89]

Derksen includes a diagram/poem, for which I can’t find a digitized copy, but here’s what he had to say about it,

My mode of looking at this [antimatter] is through poetic research —which itself does not aim to arrive at a synthesis but instead looks for relational moments. In this I also see a poetic language emerge from both discourses [artistic/scientific]—matter-antimatter thought and dialectical thinking. For my contribution to Leaning Out of Windows, I have tried to combine the scientific aspect of dialectical thinking with the poetic aspect of matter-antimatter thought and experimentation. To do this, I have taken the diagrammatic rendering of Carl Anderson’s experiment which resulted in his 1932 paper … as a model to relate the dialectical thinking at the heart of Marxism and matter-antimatter thought. …

Towards the end of his essay, Derksen notes that he’s working (on what I would call) a real poem. I sent an email to Derksen on August 21, 2023 asking,

  • Have you written the poem or is still in progress?
  • If you have written it, has it been published or is it being readied for publication? I would be happy to mention where.
  • If you do have it ready and would like to ‘soft launch’ the poem, could you send it to me for inclusion in the post?

No response at this time.

Flashback to Alan Storey

I think it was 2002 or 2003 when I first heard about an artist at TRIUMF, Alan Storey. The ‘residency’ was the product of a joint effort between the Canada Council for the Arts (Canada Council) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC).

I spoke with Storey towards the end of his ;residency; and he was a little disappointed because nothing much had come of it. Nobody really seemed to know what to do with an artist at a nuclear facility and he didn’t really didn’t seem to know either. (Alan Storey’s work can be seen in the City of Vancouver’s collection of public art works here and on his website.)

My guess is that someone had a great idea but didn’t think past the ‘let’s give money to science institutions so they can host some artists who will magically produce wonderful things for us’ stage of thinking. While there is no longer a Canada Council/NSERC programme, it’s clear from LOoW (funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [SSHRC]) that lessons have been learned.

Kudos to David Morissey who acted as an interface and convenor for the artists and to Nigel Smith (Director 2021 – present) and Jonathan Bagger (Director 2014 – 2020) for supporting the project from the TRIUMF side and to Ingrid Koenig and Randy Lee Cutler who organized and facilitated LOoW from the artists’ side.

Now, for the nits

“Co-thought” is mentioned a number of times. What is it? According to my searches, it has something to do with gestures. Here’s one of the few reference I could find for co-thought,

Co-thought and co-speech gestures are generated by the same action generation process by Mingyuan Chu and Sotaro Kita. Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2016 Feb;42(2):257-70. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000168. Epub 2015 Aug 3.

Abstract

People spontaneously gesture when they speak (co-speech gestures) and when they solve problems silently (co-thought gestures) [emphasis mine]. In this study, we first explored the relationship between these 2 types of gestures and found that individuals who produced co-thought gestures more frequently also produced co-speech gestures more frequently (Experiments 1 and 2). This suggests that the 2 types of gestures are generated from the same process. We then investigated whether both types of gestures can be generated from the representational use of the action generation process that also generates purposeful actions that have a direct physical impact on the world, such as manipulating an object or locomotion (the action generation hypothesis). To this end, we examined the effect of object affordances on the production of both types of gestures (Experiments 3 and 4). We found that individuals produced co-thought and co-speech gestures more often when the stimulus objects afforded action (objects with a smooth surface) than when they did not (objects with a spiky surface). These results support the action generation hypothesis for representational gestures. However, our findings are incompatible with the hypothesis that co-speech representational gestures are solely generated from the speech production process (the speech production hypothesis).

It would have been nice if Koenig and Cutler had noted they were borrowing a word ot coining a word and explaining how it was being used in the LOoW context.

Fruit, passports, and fishing trips

The editors/writers use the words or variants, metaphor, poetry, and analogy with great abandon.

“Fruitful bridge” (top of page) and “fruitful match-ups” (bottom of page) on p. 18 seemed a bit excessive as did the “metaphorical passport” on p. 5.

I choked a bit over this on p. 19, “… these artist/scientist interactions can be seen as ‘procedural metaphors’ that enact a thought experiment … .” Procedural metaphor? It seems a bit of a stretch.

A last example and it’s a pair: “metaphorical fishing trips whereby artist and scientists received whatever they might reel in …” on p. 42 (emphases mine). Fishing trips are mentioned in a later essay too, one of the few times there’s some sort of follow through on an analogy.

Maybe someone who wasn’t involved with the project should have taken a look at the text before it was sent to the printer.

Using the words, poetry, metaphor, and analogy can be tricky and, I want to emphasize that in my opinion, those words were not often put to good use in this book.

Moving on, arts and sciences together have a longstanding history.

*ETA October 3, 2023: Ooops! I had a comment about the use of the word ‘passports’ in the book but somewhere in all my edits, I cut it out. (huff)*

Poetry and physics

One of the giants of 19th century physics, James Clerk Maxwell was also known for his poetry. and some of the most evocative (poetic) text in the LOoW book can be found in the quotes from various physicists of the 20th century. The link between physicist and poetry is explicit in a September 17, 2018 posting (12 poignant poems (and one bizarre limerick) written by physicists about physics) by Colin Hunter for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.

Going back further, there’s De rerum natura, a poem in six books, by Lucretius ((c. 99 BCE– c. 55 BCE). Amongst many other philosophical concerns (e.g., the nature of mind and soul, etc.), Lucretius also discussed atomism (“… a natural philosophy proposing that the physical universe is composed of fundamental indivisible components known as atoms; from the Atomism Wikipedia entry). So, poetry and physics have a long history.

Leaving aside Derksen’s diagram/poem, there’s a dearth of poetry in the book except for a suite of seven poems from TRIUMF physicist and professor at UBC, Jess Brewer following his “Emergence, Free Will and Magic” essay,

Emergence / An extremely brief history of one universe, expressed as a series of science fiction poems by Jess H. Brewer, June 29, 2019

Inspired by Dyson Freeman’s delightful lecture series , “Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe,” Reviews of Modern Physics (51) 1979

1. Bang
Why not?
For reasons known only to itself,
the universe begins
The quantum foam of spacetime seethes
with effortless energies,
entering and exiting this continuum
with a turbulent intensity
transcending the superficially smooth
expanding cosmos
and yet it kens the glacial passage of “time”,
because it waits.
And kens the vast reaches of “space”,
because it watches,
Its own experiences has taught it that
from each iteration of complexity,
awareness will emerge.

… [p. 149]

My thanks to Brewer for the poetry and magic and my apologies for any mistakes I’ve introduced into his piece. I was trying to be especially careful with the punctuation as that can make quite a difference to how a piece is read.

While Muriel Rukeyser is not a physicist at TRIUMF or, indeed, alive, one of her poems leads the essay “Leaning into Language or the Universe is Made of Stories,” by Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig,

Time comes into it
Say it. Say it.
The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms..
—Muriel Ruykeyser, Speed of Darkness, 1968

Before getting into the response that physicist, David Morrissey, had to the poem, here’s a little about the poet, from the Poetry Foundation’s Muriel Ruykeyser (1913-1980) webpage,

Muriel Rukeyser was a poet, playwright, biographer, children’s book author, and political activist. Indeed, for Rukeyser, these activities and forms of expression were linked. …

One of Rukeyser’s intentions behind writing biographies of nonliterary persons was to find a meeting place between science and poetry. [emphasis mine] In an analysis of Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, Virginia Terris argued that Rukeyser believed that in the West, poetry and science are wrongly considered to be in opposition to one another. Thus, writes Terris, “Rukeyser [set] forth her theoretical acceptance of science … [and pointed] out the many parallels between [poetry and science]—unity within themselves, symbolic language, selectivity, the use of the imagination in formulating concepts and in execution. [emphasis mine] Both, she believe[d], ultimately contribute to one another.”

Rokeyser’s poem raised a few questions. Is her poem a story? Or, is she using symbolic language, the poem, to poke fun at stories and atoms? Is she suggesting that atoms are really stories? I found the poem evocative especially with where it was placed in the book.

Morrissey takes a prosaic approach, from the essay “Leaning into Language or the Universe is Made of Stories,”

… [in response to Rukeyser’s claim about stories] Morrissey responded stating that “scientific theories are stories—but how we evaluate stories is important—they need to be true, but they do probe, and some are more popular than others, especially theories that we can’t measure.” He surprised us further when he said that wrong stories can also be useful—they may have elements in them that turn out to be useful for future research. … [pp. 205-6]

In general and throughout this project, it seems as if they (artists and physicists) tried but, for the most part, were never quite able to articulate in poetic, metaphoric, and analogical forms. They tended to fall back onto their preferred modes of scientific notations, prosaic language, and artworks.

Both sides of the knife blade cut

Everybody does it. Poets, academics, artists, scientists, etc. we all appropriate ideas and language, sometimes without understanding them very well. Take this for example, from the Canadian Broadcasting’s (CBC) Books “Elementary Particles” August 16, 2023 webpage,

Elementary Particles by Sneha Madhavan-Reese

A poetry collection about family history and scientific exploration

Through keen, quiet observation, Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s evocative new collection takes us from the wide expanse of rural India to the minute map of Michigan we carry on the palms of our hands. These poems contemplate ancestral language, the wonder and uncertainty of scientific discovery, the resilience of a dung beetle, the fleeting existence of frost flowers on the Arctic Ocean.

The collection is full of familiar characters, from Rosa Parks to Seamus Heaney to Corporal Nathan Cirillo, anchoring it in specific moments in time and place, but has the universality that comes from exploring the complex relationship between a child and her immigrant parents, and in turn, a mother and her children. Elementary Particles examines the building blocks of a life — the personal, family, and planetary histories, transformations, and losses we all experience. (From Brick Books)

Sneha Madhavan-Reese is a writer currently based in Ottawa. In 2015 she received Arc Poetry Magazine’s Diana Brebner Prize and was shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Her previous poetry collection is called Observing the Moon

As you can see, there’s no substantive mention of physics in this book description—it’s just a title. Puzzling since there’s this about the author on Asian Heritage Canada’s Sneha Madhavan-Reese webpage

Sneha Madhavan-Reese’s award winning poetry has been widely published in literary magazines in North America and Australia. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 2000, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 2002. Madhavan-Reese currently lives in Ottawa, Ontario. [emphases mine]

It seems the mechanical engineer did not write up her book blurb because even though the poet’s scientific specialty is not physics as such, I’d expect a better description.

In the end, it seems art and science or poetry and science (in this case, physics) sells.

Alchemy, beauty, and Marx’s surprise connection to atomism

It was unexpected to see a TRIUMF physicist reference alchemy. The physicists haven’t turned lead into gold but they have changed one element into another. If memory holds it was one metallic atom being changed into another type of metallic atom. (Having had to return the book to the library, memory has serve.)

The few references to alchemy that I’ve stumbled across elsewhere in my readings of assorted science topics are derogatory, hence the surprise. Things may be changing; Princeton University Press published a November 7, 2018 posting by author William R. Newman about Newton and alchemy. First, here’s a bit about William Newman,

William R. Newman is Distinguished Professor and Ruth N. Halls Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine at Indiana University. His many books include Atoms and Alchemy: Chymistry and the Experimental Origins of the Scientific Revolution and Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

Now for Newman’s comments, from the November 7, 2018 posting,

People often say that Isaac Newton was not only a great physicist, but also an alchemist. This seems astonishing, given his huge role in the development of science. Is it true, and if so, what is the evidence for it?

WN: The astonishment that Newton was an alchemist stems mostly from the derisive opinion that many moderns hold of alchemy [emphasis mine]. How could the man who discovered the law of universal gravitation, who co-invented calculus, and who was the first to realize the compound nature of white light also engage in the seeming pseudo-science of alchemy? There are many ways to answer this question, but the first thing is to consider the evidence of Newton’s alchemical undertaking. We now know that at least a million words in Newton’s hand survive in which he addresses alchemical themes. Much of this material has been edited in the last decade, and is available on the Chymistry of Isaac Newton site at www.chymistry.org. Newton wrote synopses of alchemical texts, analyzed their content in the form of reading notes and commentaries, composed florilegia or anthologies made up of snippets from his sources, kept experimental laboratory notebooks that recorded his alchemical research over a period of decades, and even put together a succession of concordances called the Index chemicus in which he compared the sayings of different authors to one another. The extent of his dedication to alchemy was almost unprecedented. Newton was not just an alchemist, he was an alchemist’s alchemist. 

… 

Beauty

The ‘beauty’ essay by Ingrid Koenig was also a surprise. Beauty seems to be anathema to contemporary artists. I wrote this in an August 23, 2016 posting (Georgina Lohan, Bharti Kher, and Pablo Picasso: the beauty and the beastliness of art [in Vancouver]), “It seems when it comes to contemporary art, beauty is transgressive.”

Koenig describes it as irrelevant for contemporary artists and yet, beauty is an important attribute to physicists. Her thoughts on beauty in visual art and in physics were a welcome addition to the book.

Marx’s connection to atomism

This will take a minute.

De rerum natura, a six-volume poem by Lucretius (mentioned under the Poetry and physics subhead of this posting), helped to establish the concept of atomism. As it turns out, Lucretius got the idea from earlier thinkers, Epicurus and Democritus.

Karl Marx’s doctoral dissertation, which focused on Lucretius, Epicurus and more, suggests an interest in science that may have led to his desire to establish economics as a science. From Cambridge University Press’s “Approaches to Lucretius; Traditions and Innovations in Reading the De Rerum Natura,” Chapter 12 – A Tribute to a Hero: Marx’s Interpretation of Epicurus in his Dissertation,

Summary

This chapter turns to Karl Marx’s treatment of Epicureanism and Lucretius [emphasis mine] in his doctoral dissertation, and argues that the questions raised by Marx may be brought to bear on our own understanding of Epicurean philosophy, particularly in respect of a tension between determinism and individual self-consciousness in a universe governed by material causation. Following the contours of Marx’s dissertation [emphasis mine], the chapter focusses on three key topics: the difference between Democritus’ and Epicurus’ methods of philosophy; the swerve of the atom; and the so-called ‘meteors’, or heavenly bodies [emphasis mine]. Marx sought to develop Hegel’s understanding of Epicurus, in particular by elevating the principle of autonomous action to a first form of self-consciousness – a consideration largely mediated by Lucretius’ theorization of the atomic swerve and his poem’s overarching framework of liberating humans from the oppression of the gods.

Fascinating, eh? The rest of this is behind a paywall. For the interested, here’s a citation and link for the book,

Approaches to Lucretius; Traditions and Innovations in Reading the De Rerum Natura
Edited by Donncha O’Rourke, University of Edinburgh

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Online publication date: June 2020
Print publication year: 2020
Online ISBN: 9781108379854

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108379854

32.99 (USD) Digital access

It’s a little surprising Derksen doesn’t mention the connection in his essay.

Finally

It’s an interesting book if not an easy one. (By the way, I wish they’d included an index.) You can get a preview of some of the artwork in the January 6, 2020 article on the Canadian Art Magazine website.

I can’t rid myself of the feeling that LOoW (the book) is meant to function as a ‘proof of concept’ for someone wanting to start an art/science department or programme at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, perhaps jointly with the University of British Columbia. It is highly unusual to see this sort of material in anything other than a research journal or as a final summary to the granting agency.

Should starting an art/science programme be the intention, I hope they are successful in getting such it together and, in the meantime, thank you to the physicists and artists for their work.

We should all ‘lean out of windows’ on occasion and, if it means, falling or encountering ‘dangerous, uncomfortable ideas’ then, that’s alright too.

AI art threatens your humanity according to a study

This August 21, 2023 University of British Columbia news release (also received via email) offers a provocative take on art produced by artificial intelligence (AI) from the university’s Sauder School of Business.

Intriguingly they used this image for the news release without a caption (I added the one you see) and no attribution/credit,

Courtesy: University of British Columbia

Now for the text, Note: A link has been removed,

AI-generated writing, photography, art and music have been skyrocketing in popularity, but that surging success has also triggered an enormous backlash, with many rejecting AI art — and even asserting that its proliferation marks the beginning of the end for humanity.

So why do some people react so negatively to art made by artificial intelligence? According to a new study from the UBC Sauder School of Business, it’s because for some, it challenges what it is to be human.

For the study, which appears in the June 2023 edition of Computers in Human Behavior, researchers led a series of psychology experiments involving AI art. In one, participants were shown two paintings, and were told that one was generated by AI and the other was human-made; in another, they listened to two pieces of music, one supposedly created by humans and the other by AI.

In reality, however, both pieces of artwork that participants were asked to evaluate were created by either AI or by a human. The researchers randomly labeled one of them as AI-made and the other one as human-made. Still, participants showed an overwhelming preference for artwork they thought was made by people.

“We found that there is a very pervasive bias against work made by AI artists,” says UBC Sauder PhD student Guanzhong Du (he/him), who co-authored the study with Kobe Millet and Michail D. Kokkoris from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Florian Buehler at Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences in Dornbirn, Austria.

“No matter which one is actually made by the human artist, people prefer the artwork that is labelled as human. They think it is more creative — and when they listen to music or look at paintings made by human artists, they think they are more awe-inspiring.”

To find out what’s driving the bias, the researchers tested whether the anti-AI sentiment was more pronounced in people with stronger “anthropocentric creativity beliefs” — that is, the belief that creativity is a uniquely human characteristic and distinguishes Homo sapiens from other species. They also measured the value of the artworks by asking participants which ones they would be willing to buy.

The results showed the bias against AI art is more pronounced in people who believe that creativity is a uniquely human characteristic, and that they were willing to pay more for works they believed were generated by humans.

“For those people, learning that AI can also be creative may be very threatening, because it challenges their worldview about what human beings are,” says Du. And the bias isn’t a matter of personal taste, he adds.

“It’s not like some people prefer Coke and some prefer Pepsi. It represents a deeper philosophical question about our understanding of human identity,” says Du. “What makes human beings unique as a species? What differentiates us from others? And what is our place in the universe?”

Artificial intelligence is already woven into everyday life, found in everything from chatbots to autocorrect to digital assistants like Siri and Alexa.

More recently, works made by AI art generators have swept social media. AI art also made headlines when a song featuring vocals by what sounded like music megastars Drake and The Weeknd went viral, raising alarm bells about creativity and ownership for artists and record companies.

The study is the first of its kind to link people’s aversion to AI art with speciesism and anthropocentrism, and their view that digital works threaten “the last fortress of human supremacy arguments, artistic creation.”

Du predicts that in the future, we will encounter more and more AI art. He also believes we should be aware of the human bias the study exposes, and embrace AI-generated art rather than resist it.

“We should learn to appreciate the beauty and the creativity of AI. Because if we leverage AI, if we work with AI, maybe we can better develop our own creativity. Maybe we can collaborate with AI, and achieve something we cannot achieve alone,” he says. “But if we are unaware of our bias against AI, that is not possible.”

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

Defending humankind: Anthropocentric bias in the appreciation of AI art by Kobe Millet, Florian Buehler, Guanzhong Du, Michail D. Kokkoris. Computers in Human Behavior Volume 143, June 2023, 107707 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2023.107707

This paper is open access.

Canadian Science Policy Centre panel on Sept. 6, 2023 [date changed to October 4, 2023]: Science, technology and innovation (STI) between Brazil and Canada plus a quantum panel on Sept. 13, 2023

In an August 17, 2023 Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) newsletter (received via email), they’ve announced a panel about science and technology opportunities with a country we don’t usually talk about much in that context (nice to see a broader, not the US and not a European or Commonwealth country, approach being taken),

Canada-Brazil Cooperation and Collaboration in STI [Science, Technology, and Innovation]

This virtual panel aims to discuss the ongoing Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) cooperation between Brazil and Canada, along with the potential for furthering this relationship. The focus will encompass strategic areas of contact, ongoing projects, and scholarship opportunities. It is pertinent to reflect on the science diplomacy efforts of each country and their reciprocal influence. Additionally, the panel aims to explore how Canada engages with developing countries in terms of STI.

Click the button below to register for the upcoming virtual panel!

Register Here

Date: Sept. 6 [2023] October 4, 2023
Time: 1:00 pm EDT

Here are the speakers (from the CSPC’s Canada-Brazil Cooperation and Collaboration in STI event page),

Fernanda de Negri
Moderator
Director of Studies and Sectoral Policies of Innovation, Regulation and Infrastructure at the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), Brazil
See Bio

Alejandro Adem
President of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada – NSERC
See Bio

Ambassador Emmanuel Kamarianakis
Canadian Embassy in Canada
See Bio

Ambassador Ademar Seabra da Cruz Jr.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brazil
See Bio

If you haven’t gotten your fill of virtual science policy panels yet, there’s this one on quantum technologies, from the August 17, 2023 Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) newsletter,

Canada’s Quantum Strategy and International Collaboration

Countries are investing heavily in quantum computing and other quantum technologies. As Canada has recently released its Quantum Strategy [Note: There is also report on Quantum Technologies expected from the Canadian Council of Academies, no release date yet], this is an opportunity to foster further international collaborations. Panelists will discuss the opportunities and challenges Canada will be facing and what this could mean for Canada’s leadership in quantum research and the development of quantum technologies.

Click the button below to register for the upcoming virtual panel!

Register Here

Date: Sep 13 [2023]
Time: 1:00 pm EDT

Here’s some information about the panel participants, from the CSPC’s Canada’s Quantum Strategy and International Collaboration event page,

Dr. Sarah Burke
Associate Professor, University of British Columbia
See Bio

Dr. Aimee K. Gunther
Deputy Director, Quantum Sensors Challenge Program, National Research Council Canada
See Bio

Prof. Andrea Damascelli
Scientific Director, Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute | Professor, Physics and Astronomy | Canada Research Chair in the Electronic Structure of Quantum Materials
See Bio

Nick Werstiuk
CEO, Quantum Valley Ideas Lab
See Bio

Eric Miller
Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute
See Bio

Ms. Alexandra Daoud
Moderator
Vice President, Intellectual Property at Anyon Systems
See Bio

Interestingly, the moderator, Alexandra Daoud, is a patent agent.

As for the Council of Canadian Academies, you can find out about the proposed report on Quantum Technologies here.

Wearable screen (flexible display) from the University of British Columbia (UBC)

If I read this correctly, the big selling point for UBC’s flexible, wearable display screen is energy efficiency. From a July 10, 2023 University of British Columbia (UBC) news release on EurekAlert,

Imagine a wearable patch that tracks your vital signs through changes in the colour display, or shipping labels that light up to indicate changes in temperature or sterility of food items.

These are among the potential uses for a new flexible display created by UBC researchers and announced recently in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

“This device is capable of fast, realtime and reversible colour change,” says researcher Claire Preston, who developed the device as part of her master’s in electrical and computer engineering at UBC. “It can stretch up to 30 per cent without losing performance. It uses a colour-changing technology that can be used for visual monitoring. And it is relatively cheap to manufacture.”

Previous attempts at creating stretchable displays have involved complex designs and materials, limiting their stretchability and optical quality. In this new research, scientists leaned on electrochromic displays—which are able to reversibly change colour, while requiring low power consumption—to overcome these limitations. [emphasis mine]

“We used PEDOT:PSS, an electrochromic material that consists of a conductive polymer combined with an ionic liquid, resulting in a stretchable electrode that acts as both the electrochromic element and the ion storage layer. This simplifies the device’s architecture and eliminates the need for a separate stretchable conductor,” says Ms. Preston.

The display is transparent and feels like a stiff rubber band. To support the thin layers of PEDOT and allow them to elongate without breaking, the team added a solid polymer electrolyte and a stretchable encapsulation material called styrene-ethylene-butylene-styrene (SEBS).

“The potential uses for this stretchable display are significant. It could be integrated into wearable devices for biometric monitoring, allowing for real-time visual feedback on vital signs. The displays could also be used in robotic skin, enabling robots to display information and interact more intuitively with humans,” noted senior author Dr. John Madden, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who supervised the work.

Additionally, the low power consumption and cost-effectiveness of this technology make it attractive for use in disposable applications such as indicator patches for medical purposes or smart packaging labels for sensitive shipments. It could also be used to actively change the colour of jackets, hats and other garments.

“While there is need for more work to integrate this device into everyday devices, this breakthrough brings us one step closer to a future where flexible and stretchable displays are a common part of our daily lives,” Dr. Madden added.

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

Intrinsically Stretchable Integrated Passive Matrix Electrochromic Display Using PEDOT:PSS Ionic Liquid Composite by Claire Preston, Yuta Dobashi, Ngoc Tan Nguyen, Mirza Saquib Sarwar, Daniel Jun, Cédric Plesse, Xavier Sallenave, Frédéric Vidal, Pierre-Henri Aubert, and John D. W. Madden. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2023, 15, 23, 28288–28299 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsami.3c02902 Publication Date: June 5, 2023 Copyright © 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society

This paper is open access.

Virtual panel discussion: Canadian Strategies for Responsible Neurotechnology Innovation on May 16, 2023

The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) sent a May 11, 2023 notice (via email) about an upcoming event but first, congratulations (Bravo!) are in order,

The Science Meets Parliament [SMP] Program 2023 is now complete and was a huge success. 43 Delegates from across Canada met with 62 Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum on the Hill on May 1-2, 2023.

The SMP Program is championed by CSPC and Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer [through the Office of the Chief Science Advisor {OCSA}].

This Program would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors: The Royal Military College of Canada, The Stem Cell Network, and the University of British Columbia.

There are 443 seats in Canada’s Parliament with 338 in the House of Commons and 105 in the Senate and 2023 is the third time the SMP programme has been offered. (It was previously held in 2018 and 2022 according to the SMP program page.)

The Canadian programme is relatively new compared to Australia where they’ve had a Science Meets Parliament programme since 1999 (according to a March 20, 2017 essay by Ken Baldwin, Director of Energy Change Institute at Australian National University for The Conversation). The Scottish have had a Science and the Parliament programme since 2000 (according to this 2022 event notice on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s website).

By comparison to the other two, the Canadian programme is a toddler. (We tend not to recognize walking for the major achievement it is.) So, bravo to the CSPC and OCSA on getting 62 Parliamentarians to make time in their schedules to meet a scientist.

Responsible neurotechnology innovation?

From the Canadian Strategies for Responsible Neurotechnology Innovation event page on the CSPC website,

Advances in neurotechnology are redefining the possibilities of improving neurologic health and mental wellbeing, but related ethical, legal, and societal concerns such as privacy of brain data, manipulation of personal autonomy and agency, and non-medical and dual uses are increasingly pressing concerns [emphasis mine]. In this regard, neurotechnology presents challenges not only to Canada’s federal and provincial health care systems, but to existing laws and regulations that govern responsible innovation. In December 2019, just before the pandemic, the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] Council adopted a Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology. It is now urging that member states develop right-fit implementation strategies.

What should these strategies look like for Canada? We will propose and discuss opportunities that balance and leverage different professional and governance approaches towards the goal of achieving responsible innovation for the current state of the art, science, engineering, and policy, and in anticipation of the rapid and vast capabilities expected for neurotechnology in the future by and for this country.

Link to the full OECD Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology

Date: May 16 [2023]

Time: 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm EDT

Event Category: Virtual Session [on Zoom]

Registration Page: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-g8d1qubRhumPSCQi6WUtA

The panelists are:

Dr. Graeme Moffat
Neurotechnology entrepreneur & Senior Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy [University of Toronto]

Dr. Graeme Moffat is a co-founder and scientist with System2 Neurotechnology. He previously was Chief Scientist and VP of Regulatory Affairs at Interaxon, Chief Scientist with ScienceScape (later Chan-Zuckerberg Meta), and a research engineer at Neurelec (a division of Oticon Medical). He served as Managing Editor of Frontiers in Neuroscience, the largest open access scholarly journal series in the field of neuroscience. Dr. Moffat is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and an advisor to the OECD’s neurotechnology policy initiative.

Professor Jennifer Chandler
Professor of Law at the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa

Jennifer Chandler is Professor of Law at the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics, University of Ottawa. She leads the “Neuroethics Law and Society” Research Pillar for the Brain Mind Research Institute and sits on its Scientific Advisory Council. Her research focuses on the ethical, legal and policy issues in brain sciences and the law. She teaches mental health law and neuroethics, tort law, and medico-legal issues. She is a member of the advisory board for CIHR’s Institute for Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction (IMNA) and serves on international editorial boards in the field of law, ethics and neuroscience, including Neuroethics, the Springer Book Series Advances in Neuroethics, and the Palgrave-MacMillan Book Series Law, Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She has published widely in legal, bioethical and health sciences journals and is the co-editor of the book Law and Mind: Mental Health Law and Policy in Canada (2016). Dr. Chandler brings a unique perspective to this panel as her research focuses on the ethical, legal and policy issues at the intersection of the brain sciences and the law. She is active in Canadian neuroscience research funding policy, and regularly contributes to Canadian governmental policy on contentious matters of biomedicine.

Ian Burkhart
Neurotech Advocate and Founder of BCI [brain-computer interface] Pioneers Coalition

Ian is a C5 tetraplegic [also known as quadriplegic] from a diving accident in 2010. He participated in a ground-breaking clinical trial using a brain-computer interface to control muscle stimulation. He is the founder of the BCI Pioneers Coalition, which works to establish ethics, guidelines and best practices for future patients, clinicians, and commercial entities engaging with BCI research. Ian serves as Vice President of the North American Spinal Cord Injury Consortium and chairs their project review committee. He has also worked with Unite2Fight Paralysis to advocate for $9 million of SCI research in his home state of Ohio. Ian has been a Reeve peer mentor since 2015 and helps lead two local SCI networking groups. As the president of the Ian Burkhart Foundation, he raises funds for accessible equipment for the independence of others with SCI. Ian is also a full-time consultant working with multiple medical device companies.

Andrew Atkinson
Manager, Emerging Science Policy, Health Canada

Andrew Atkinson is the Manager of the Emerging Sciences Policy Unit under the Strategic Policy Branch of Health Canada. He oversees coordination of science policy issues across the various regulatory and research programs under the mandate of Health Canada. Prior to Health Canada, he was a manager under Environment Canada’s CEPA new chemicals program, where he oversaw chemical and nanomaterial risk assessments, and the development of risk assessment methodologies. In parallel to domestic work, he has been actively engaged in ISO [International Organization for Standardization and OECD nanotechnology efforts.

Andrew is currently a member of the Canadian delegation to the OECD Working Party on Biotechnology, Nanotechnology and Converging Technologies (BNCT). BNCT aims to contribute original policy analysis on emerging science and technologies, such as gene editing and neurotechnology, including messaging to the global community, convening key stakeholders in the field, and making ground-breaking proposals to policy makers.

Professor Judy Illes
Professor, Division of Neurology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, UBC [University of British Columbia]

Dr. Illes is Professor of Neurology and Distinguished Scholar in Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia. She is the Director of Neuroethics Canada, and among her many leadership positions in Canada, she is Vice Chair of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Advisory Board of the Institute on Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction (INMHA), and chair of the International Brain Initiative (www.internationalbraininitiative.org; www.canadianbrain.ca), Director at Large of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Canadian Academies.

Dr. Illes is a world-renown expert whose research, teaching and outreach are devoted to ethical, legal, social and policy challenges at the intersection of the brain sciences and biomedical ethics. She has made ground breaking contributions to neuroethical thinking for neuroscience discovery and clinical translation across the life span, including in entrepreneurship and in the commercialization of health care. Dr. Illes has a unique and comprehensive overview of the field of neurotechnology and the relevant sectors in Canada.

One concern I don’t see mentioned is bankruptcy (in other words, what happens if the company that made your neural implant goes bankrupt?) either in the panel description or in the OECD recommendation. My April 5, 2022 posting “Going blind when your neural implant company flirts with bankruptcy (long read)” explored that topic and while many of the excerpted materials present a US perspective, it’s easy to see how it could also apply in Canada and elsewhere.

For those of us on the West Coast, this session starts at 9 am. Enjoy!

*June 20, 2023: This sentence changed (We tend not to recognize that walking for the major achievement it is.) to We tend not to recognize walking for the major achievement it is.