Tag Archives: University of British Columbia (UBC)

Council of Canadian Academies (CCA): science policy internship and a new panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age

It’s been a busy week for the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA); I don’t usually get two notices in such close order.

2022 science policy internship

The application deadline is Oct. 18, 2021, you will work remotely, and the stipend for the 2020 internship was $18,500 for six months.

Here’s more from a September 13, 2021 CCA notice (received Sept. 13, 2021 via email),

CCA Accepting Applications for Internship Program

The program provides interns with an opportunity to gain experience working at the interface of science and public policy. Interns will participate in the development of assessments by conducting research in support of CCA’s expert panel process.

The internship program is a full-time commitment of six months and will be a remote opportunity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Applicants must be recent graduates with a graduate or professional degree, or post-doctoral fellows, with a strong interest in the use of evidence for policy. The application deadline is October 18, 2021. The start date is January 10, 2022. Applications and letters of reference should be addressed to Anita Melnyk at internship@cca-reports.ca.

More information about the CCA Internship Program and the application process can be found here. [Note: The link takes you to a page with information about a 2020 internship opportunity; presumably, the application requirements have not changed.]

Good luck!

Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age Announced

I have a few comments (see the ‘Concerns and hopes’ subhead) about this future report but first, here’s the announcement of the expert panel that was convened to look into the matter of public safety (received via email September 15, 2021),

CCA Appoints Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age

Access to the internet and digital technologies are essential for people, businesses, and governments to carry out everyday activities. But as more and more activities move online, people and organizations are increasingly vulnerable to serious threats and harms that are enabled by constantly evolving technology. At the request of Public Safety Canada, [emphasis mine] the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has formed an Expert Panel to examine leading practices that could help address risks to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy. Jennifer Stoddart, O.C., Strategic Advisor, Privacy and Cybersecurity Group, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin [law firm], will serve as Chair of the Expert Panel.

“The ever-evolving nature of crimes and threats that take place online present a huge challenge for governments and law enforcement,” said Ms. Stoddart. “Safeguarding public safety while protecting civil liberties requires a better understanding of the impacts of advances in digital technology and the challenges they create.”

As Chair, Ms. Stoddart will lead a multidisciplinary group with expertise in cybersecurity, social sciences, criminology, law enforcement, and law and governance. The Panel will answer the following question:

Considering the impact that advances in information and communications technologies have had on a global scale, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest regarding promising and leading practices that could be applied in Canada for investigating, preventing, and countering threats to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy?

“This is an important question, the answer to which will have both immediate and far-reaching implications for the safety and well-being of people living in Canada. Jennifer Stoddart and this expert panel are very well-positioned to answer it,” said Eric M. Meslin, PhD, FRSC, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA.

More information about the assessment can be found here.

The Expert Panel on Public Safety in the Digital Age:

  • Jennifer Stoddart (Chair), O.C., Strategic Advisor, Privacy and Cybersecurity Group, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin [law firm].
  • Benoît Dupont, Professor, School of Criminology, and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity and Research Chair for the Prevention of Cybercrime, Université de Montréal; Scientific Director, Smart Cybersecurity Network (SERENE-RISC). Note: This is one of Canada’s Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE)
  • Richard Frank, Associate Professor, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University; Director, International CyberCrime Research Centre International. Note: This is an SFU/ Society for the Policing of Cyberspace (POLCYB) partnership
  • Colin Gavaghan, Director, New Zealand Law Foundation Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies, Faculty of Law, University of Otago.
  • Laura Huey, Professor, Department of Sociology, Western University; Founder, Canadian Society of Evidence Based Policing [Can-SEPB].
  • Emily Laidlaw, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary.
  • Arash Habibi Lashkari, Associate Professor, Faculty of Computer Science, University of New Brunswick; Research Coordinator, Canadian Institute of Cybersecurity [CIC].
  • Christian Leuprecht, Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership, Department of Political Science and Economics, Royal Military College; Director, Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University.
  • Florian Martin-Bariteau, Associate Professor of Law and University Research Chair in Technology and Society, University of Ottawa; Director, Centre for Law, Technology and Society.
  • Shannon Parker, Detective/Constable, Saskatoon Police Service.
  • Christopher Parsons, Senior Research Associate, Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.
  • Jad Saliba, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Magnet Forensics Inc.
  • Heidi Tworek, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and Department of History, University of British Columbia.

Oddly, there’s no mention that Jennifer Stoddart (Wikipedia entry) was Canada’s sixth privacy commissioner. Also, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin (her employer) changed its name to Fasken in 2017 (Wikipedia entry). The company currently has offices in Canada, UK, South Africa, and China (Firm webpage on company website).

Exactly how did the question get framed?

It’s always informative to look at the summary (from the reports Public Safety in the Digital Age webpage on the CCA website),

Information and communications technologies have profoundly changed almost every aspect of life and business in the last two decades. While the digital revolution has brought about many positive changes, it has also created opportunities for criminal organizations and malicious actors [emphasis mine] to target individuals, businesses, and systems. Ultimately, serious crime facilitated by technology and harmful online activities pose a threat to the safety and well-being of people in Canada and beyond.

Damaging or criminal online activities can be difficult to measure and often go unreported. Law enforcement agencies and other organizations working to address issues such as the sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, and violent extremism [emphasis mine] must constantly adapt their tools and methods to try and prevent and respond to crimes committed online.

A better understanding of the impacts of these technological advances on public safety and the challenges they create could help to inform approaches to protecting public safety in Canada.

This assessment will examine promising practices that could help to address threats to public safety related to the use of digital technologies while respecting human rights and privacy.

The Sponsor:

Public Safety Canada

The Question:

Considering the impact that advances in information and communications technologies have had on a global scale, what do current evidence and knowledge suggest regarding promising and leading practices that could be applied in Canada for investigating, preventing, and countering threats to public safety while respecting human rights and privacy?

Three things stand out for me. First, public safety, what is it?, second, ‘malicious actors’, and third, the examples used for the issues being addressed (more about this in the Comments subsection, which follows).

What is public safety?

Before launching into any comments, here’s a description for Public Safety Canada (from their About webpage) where you’ll find a hodge podge,

Public Safety Canada was created in 2003 to ensure coordination across all federal departments and agencies responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians.

Our mandate is to keep Canadians safe from a range of risks such as natural disasters, crime and terrorism.

Our mission is to build a safe and resilient Canada.

The Public Safety Portfolio

A cohesive and integrated approach to Canada’s security requires cooperation across government. Together, these agencies have an annual budget of over $9 billion and more than 66,000 employees working in every part of the country.

Public Safety Partner Agencies

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) manages the nation’s borders by enforcing Canadian laws governing trade and travel, as well as international agreements and conventions. CBSA facilitates legitimate cross-border traffic and supports economic development while stopping people and goods that pose a potential threat to Canada.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) investigates and reports on activities that may pose a threat to the security of Canada. CSIS also provides security assessments, on request, to all federal departments and agencies.

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) helps protect society by encouraging offenders to become law-abiding citizens while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control. CSC is responsible for managing offenders sentenced to two years or more in federal correctional institutions and under community supervision.

The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is an independent body that grants, denies or revokes parole for inmates in federal prisons and provincial inmates in province without their own parole board. The PBC helps protect society by facilitating the timely reintegration of offenders into society as law-abiding citizens.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforces Canadian laws, prevents crime and maintains peace, order and security.

So, Public Safety includes a spy agency (CSIS), the prison system (Correctional Services and Parole Board), and the national police force (RCMP) and law enforcement at the borders with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). None of the partner agencies are dedicated to natural disasters although it’s mentioned in the department’s mandate.

The focus is largely on criminal activity and espionage. On that note, a very senior civilian RCMP intelligence official, Cameron Ortis, was charged with passing secrets to foreign entities (malicious actors?). (See the September 13, 2021 [updated Sept. 15, 2021] news article by Amanda Connolly, Mercedes Stephenson, Stewart Bell, Sam Cooper & Rachel Browne for CTV news and the Sept. 18, 2019 [updated January 6, 2020] article by Douglas Quan for the National Post for more details.)

There appears to be at least one other major security breach; that involving Canada’s only level four laboratory, the Winnipeg-based National Microbiology Lab (NML). (See a June 10, 2021 article by Karen Pauls for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news online for more details.)

As far as I’m aware, Ortis is still being held with a trial date scheduled for September 2022 (see Catherine Tunney’s April 9, 2021 article for CBC news online) and, to date, there have been no charges laid in the Winnipeg lab case.

Concerns and hopes

Ordinarily I’d note links and relationships between the various expert panel members but in this case it would be a big surprise if they weren’t linked in some fashion as the focus seems to be heavily focused on cybersecurity (as per the panel member’s bios.), which I imagine is a smallish community in Canada.

As I’ve made clear in the paragraphs leading into the comments, Canada appears to have seriously fumbled the ball where national and international cybersecurity is concerned.

So getting back to “First, public safety, what is it?, second, ‘malicious actors’, and third, the examples used for the issues,” I’m a bit puzzled.

Public safety as best I can tell, is just about anything they’d like it to be. ‘Malicious actors’ is a term I’ve seen used to imply a foreign power is behind the actions being held up for scrutiny.

The examples used for the issues being addressed “sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, and violent extremism” hint at a focus on crimes that cross borders and criminal organizations, as well as, like-minded individuals organizing violent and extremist acts but not specifically at any national or international security concerns.

On a more mundane note, I’m a little surprised that identity theft wasn’t mentioned as an example.

I’m hopeful there will be some examination of emerging technologies such as quantum communication (specifically, encryption issues) and artificial intelligence. I also hope the report will include a discussion about mistakes and over reliance on technology (for a refresher course on what happens when organizations, such as the Canadian federal government, make mistakes in the digital world; search ‘Phoenix payroll system’, a 2016 made-in-Canada and preventable debacle, which to this day is still being fixed).

In the end, I think the only topic that can be safely excluded from the report is climate change otherwise it’s a pretty open mandate as far as can be told from publicly available information.

I noticed the international panel member is from New Zealand (the international component is almost always from the US, UK, northern Europe, and/or the Commonwealth). Given that New Zealand (as well as being part of the commonwealth) is one of the ‘Five Eyes Intelligence Community’, which includes Canada, Australia, the UK, the US, and, NZ, I was expecting a cybersecurity expert. If Professor Colin Gavaghan does have that expertise, it’s not obvious on his University of Otaga profile page (Note: Links have been removed),

Research interests

Colin is the first director of the New Zealand Law Foundation sponsored Centre for Law and Policy in Emerging Technologies. The Centre examines the legal, ethical and policy issues around new technologies. To date, the Centre has carried out work on biotechnology, nanotechnology, information and communication technologies and artificial intelligence.

In addition to emerging technologies, Colin lectures and writes on medical and criminal law.

Together with colleagues in Computer Science and Philosophy, Colin is the leader of a three-year project exploring the legal, ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence for New Zealand.

Background

Colin regularly advises on matters of technology and regulation. He is first Chair of the NZ Police’s Advisory Panel on Emergent Technologies, and a member of the Digital Council for Aotearoa, which advises the Government on digital technologies. Since 2017, he has been a member (and more recently Deputy Chair) of the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology. He was an expert witness in the High Court case of Seales v Attorney General, and has advised members of parliament on draft legislation.

He is a frustrated writer of science fiction, but compensates with occasional appearances on panels at SF conventions.

I appreciate the sense of humour evident in that last line.

Almost breaking news

Wednesday, September 15, 2021 an announcement of a new alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, the Three Eyes (Australia, UK, and US or AUKUS) was made.

Interestingly all three are part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and US. Hmmm … Canada and New Zealand both border the Pacific and last I heard, the UK is still in Europe.

A September 17, 2021 article, “Canada caught off guard by exclusion from security pact” by Robert Fife and Steven Chase for the Globe and Mail (I’m quoting from my paper copy),

The Canadian government was surprised this week by the announcement of a new security pact among the United States, Britain and Australia, one that excluded Canada [and New Zealand too] and is aimed at confronting China’s growing military and political influence in the Indo-Pacific region, according to senior government officials.

Three officials, representing Canada’s Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Defence departments, told the Globe and Mail that Ottawa was not consulted about the pact, and had no idea the trilateral security announcement was coming until it was made on Wednesday [September 15, 2021] by U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The new trilateral alliance, dubbed AUKUS, after the initials of the three countries, will allow for greater sharing of information in areas such as artificial intelligence and cyber and underwater defence capabilities.

Fife and Chase have also written a September 17, 2021 Globe and Mail article titled, “Chinese Major-General worked with fired Winnipeg Lab scientist,”

… joint research conducted between Major-General Chen Wei and former Canadian government lab scientist Xiangguo Qiu indicates that co-operation between the Chinese military and scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) went much higher than was previously known. The People’s Liberation Army is the military of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Given that no one overseeing the Canadian lab, which is a level 4, which should have meant high security, seems to have known that Wei was a member of the military and with the Cameron Ortis situation still looming, would you have included Canada in the new pact?

‘Drift: Art and Dark Matter’ at Vancouver’s (Canada) Belkin Art Gallery from 10 September – 05 December 2021

The drift in “Drift: Art and Dark Matter” (at the Belkin Art Gallery) comes from a mining term for an almost horizontal passageway or tunnel in a mine. (This makes sense when you realize SNOLAB is one of the partners for this show. For anyone unfamiliar with SNOLAB, there is more coming shortly.)

The show itself appears to be a suite of multimedia installations from four artists, which were first shown at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, Ontario.

Image: Josèfa Ntjam, Organic Nebula, 2019, photomontage, mixed techniques. Collection of the artist [one of the Drift show artists]

For anyone who’s primarily interested in the show’s Belkin Gallery appearance, scroll down to the “Drift moves to the Belkin in British Columbia” subhead where you’ll find an invitation to the show’s opening and more about the BC collaboration. **As of Sept. 9, 2021, I have updated the ‘questions’ subsection (scroll down to ?) with newly arrived answers.**

Drift: the show and the art/science residencies at Queen’s University

This show, which ran from 20 February to 30 May 2021, had its start at Queen’s University (Ontario) where it featured astroparticle physics, art/science residencies, and artists Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley and Jol Thoms, (from the Drift: Art and Dark Matter exhibition webpage on the Agnes Queen’s University site; Note: The Agnes is also known as, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre), Note: A link has been removed,

Some kind of invisible matter is having a gravitational effect on everything. Without the gravity of this “dark” matter, galaxies would fly apart. Observational data in astroparticle physics indicate that it exists, but so far dark matter hasn’t been directly detected. Given the contours of such an unknown, artists Nadia Lichtig, Josèfa Ntjam, Anne Riley and Jol Thoms reflect on the “how” and “why” of physics and art as diverse and interrelating practices of knowledge. Through open exchange between disciplines, they have created works that are sensory agents between scientific ideas of dark matter and the exploration of that which has never been directly sensed.

Drift: Art and Dark Matter is a residency and exhibition project generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and SNOLAB. Four artists of national and international stature were invited to make new work while engaging with physicists, chemists and engineers contributing to the search for dark matter at SNOLAB’s facility in Sudbury, two kilometres below the surface of the Earth.

The title Drift draws from the mining term for a horizontal tunnel, in this case the hot underground passageway in the copper and nickel mine stretching between the elevator and the clean lab spaces of SNOLAB. The project thereby begins from a reflection on the forms and energies that connect physics to art, labour, landscapes, cultures and histories.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, City of Kingston Arts Fund through the Kingston Arts Council and the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund at Queen’s University.

Partners

The Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute is the Canadian hub for astroparticle physics research, uniting researchers, theorists, and technical experts within one organization. Located at and led by Queen’s University, the McDonald Institute is proud to have thirteen partner universities and research institutes across the country, all of which are key players in Canada’s past and future innovation in astroparticle physics.

VISIT site >

SNOLAB is a world-class science facility located deep underground in the operational Vale Creighton nickel mine, near Sudbury, Ontario in Canada. The combination of great depth and cleanliness that SNOLAB affords allows extremely rare interactions and weak processes to be studied.  The science programme at SNOLAB is currently focussed on sub-atomic physics, largely neutrino and dark matter physics. SNOLAB seeks to enable, spearhead, catalyze and promote underground science, while inspiring both the public and future professionals in the field.

VISIT website >

SNO stands for Sudbury Neutrino Observatory according to the information in my June 6, 2019 posting about a then upcoming talk tiled, Whispering in the Dark: Updates from Underground Science. More recently, I noted that TRIUMF’s (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre) new Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Smith, was moving to Vancouver from Sudbury’s SNOLAB in my May 12, 2021 posting.

Drift’s online exhibition at the Agnes can still be accessed and there is lots to see.

There’s a little more to be had from the Drift: Art and Dark Matter exhibition webpage on the Agnes website,

Artist Biographies

Nadia Lichtig is an artist currently living in the South of France. In her multilayered work, voice is transposed into various media including painting, print, sculpture, photography, performance, soundscape and song—each medium approached not as a field to be mastered, but as a source of possibilities to question our ability to decipher the present. Visual and aural aspects entangle in her performances.

Lichtig studied linguistics at the LMU Munich in Germany and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Paris, France with Jean-Luc Vilmouth, where she graduated with honours in 2001, before assisting Mike Kelley in Los Angeles, USA the same year. She taught at the Shrishti School of Art and Technology, Bangalore, India as a visiting professor in 2006, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Valence in 2007, and is professor of Fine Arts at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-arts of Montpellier (MOCO-ESBA), France since 2009. She has collaborated with musicians who are also visual artists, such as Bertrand Georges (Audible), Christian Bouyjou (Popopfalse), Nicolu (La Chatte), Nina Canal (Ut) and Michael Moorley (The dead C). Nadia Lichtig worked and works under several group names and pseudonyms (until 2009: EchoparK, Falseparklocation, Skrietch, Ghosttrap and Nanana).

Josèfa Ntjam was born in 1992 in Metz (FR), and currently lives and works in Paris. Ntjam is part of a generation of artists who grew up with the internet, communicating and sending images by electromagnetic wave. Working with video, text, installation, performance and photomontage, Ntjam creates a story with every piece that acts as a reflection of the world around her. Drawing connections to science fiction and the cosmos, Ntjam has said of her work, “I sat there some time ago with Sun Ra in his Spaceship experimenting with a series of alternative stories. An exoteric syncretism with which I travel as a vessel in perpetual motion.”

Ntjam studied in Amiens and Dakar (Cheikh Anta Diop University) and graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Bourges (FR) and Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art, Paris-Cergy (FR). Her works and performance have been shown at numerous venues such as the 15th Biennial of Lyon, DOC! Paris, a la Zentral (CH), Palais de Tokyo, Beton Salon, La Cite internationale des arts, la Bienanale de Dakar (SN), Let Us Rflect Festival (FR), FRAC de Caen, and CAC Bretigny.

Anne Riley is a multidisciplinary artist living as an uninvited Slavey Dene/German guest from Fort Nelson First Nation on the unceded Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh Nations. Her work explores different ways of being and becoming, touch, and Indigeneity. Riley received her BFA from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. She has exhibited both in the United States and Canada. Currently she is working on a public art project commissioned by the City of Vancouver with her collaborator, T’uy’tanat Cease Wyss. Wyss and Riley’s project A Constellation of Remediation consists of Indigenous remediation gardens planted throughout the city, decolonizing and healing the dirt back to soil. The duo was longlisted for the 2021 Sobey Art Award.

Riley’s that brings the other nearly as close as oneself, included in the 2015 exhibition Every Little Bit Hurts at Western Front, foregrounded touch, impression and embodied experience. It featured a wall drawing created by the artist rubbing, dragging and moving her body across the gallery wall wearing raw-dyed denim. “I’m interested in queer touch as a radical act,” she says. “It’s not always possible because of fear. But I’m also investigating first touch between mother and child. I have the same hands as my mother and my great grandmother.”

Jol Thoms is a Canadian-born, European-based artist, author and sound designer. Both his written and moving-image work engage posthumanism, feminist science studies, general ecology and the environmental implications of pervasive technical/sensing devices. In the fields of neutrino and dark matter physics he collaborates with renowned physics institutes around the world. These “laboratory-landscapes” are the focus of his practice led PhD at the University of Westminster. In 2017 Thoms was a fellow of Schloss Solitude and resident artist at the Bosch Campus for Research and Advanced Engineering.

Thoms graduated with an Honors BA in Philosophy, Art History and Visual Studies from the University of Toronto (2009) and later studied under Prof. Simon Starling at the Städelschule in Frankfurt (2013). Between 2014 and 2016 he developed and taught an experimental creative-research program for architecture students at the University of Braunschweig with then interim director Tomás Saraceno. In 2016 Thoms won the MERU Art*Science Award for his film G24|0vßß, which was installed in the Blind Faith: Between the Cognitive and the Visceral in Contemporary Art group exhibition at Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Drift moves to the Belkin in British Columbia

An invitation (also received via email) to the show’s launch in BC is for the evening before the show officially opens,

Thursday 9 Sep 2021, 6 pm

Please join us for the opening of Drift: Art and Dark Matter  with a performance-conversation between artists Denise Ferreira da Silva and Jol Thoms. This event is free and open to the public, but space is limited due to COVID-19 safety protocols. To ensure a spot, please RSVP to belkin.rsvp@ubc.ca.

Opening remarks will begin at 6 pm, followed by a conversation with Ferreira da Silva and Thoms who will touch on intersections between the films Soot Breath / Corpus Infinitum (2021) and n-Land (2021), both of which will play throughout the evening on the Belkin’s Outdoor Screen.

Soot Breath / Corpus Infinitum (2021) is a film collaboration between Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva. Moving across scales geologic, historic-cultural, quantum and cosmic, the work reimagines knowledge and existence without the limits of European and Colonial constructions of the human.

n-Land (2021) is an audio-visual composition by Jol Thoms. Examining context and agency through scales at once geologic, cosmic and human, the piece probes the ecological ethics of our time through a holographic, multi-dimensional view of the SNOLAB site.

The official dates for Drift are Friday, September 10, 2021to December 5, 2021.

As best as I can tell from the Morris & Helen Belkin Art Gallery (the Belkin) homepage description of ‘Drift’, the show will comprise the original series of installations from the four artists featured at the Agnes. The new work from art/science residencies at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where the Belkin is located will be featured in artist talks and in a symposium to be held in November 2021.

Here’s how the newest residencies are described and a list of the various supporting agencies in an undated announcement on the Galleries West website,

As a complement to the Drift exhibition, the Belkin is collaborating with the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UBC on Ars Scientia [emphasis mine], an interdisciplinary research project fusing the praxes of art and science that will include artist-scientist residencies and a research symposium.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, City of Kingston Arts Fund through the Kingston Arts Council and the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund at Queen’s University. The project is curated by Sunny Kerr, Curator of Contemporary Art at Agnes Etherington Art Centre. The Belkin gratefully acknowledges [emphasis mine] the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council, UBC Grants for Catalyzing Research Clusters, and our Belkin Curator’s Forum members.

Ars Scientia

There’s a brief description of Ars Scientia in the graduate school webspace located on the UBC website. Emily Wight’s March 22, 2021 article for the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) provides more detail about Ars Scientia (the first para. is the least interesting),

The Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (Blusson QMI) has partnered with the Morris & Helen Belkin Art Gallery (the Belkin) and UBC’s Department of Physics and Astronomy (UBC PHAS) in Ars Scientia, a new project that connects physicists and artists in an effort to find shared ways of communicating about science and explaining the world around us. The partnership was recently awarded two years of funding through the UBC Research Excellence Cluster program.

Though the project is in its early days, the team at Ars Scientia is already working quickly to partner scientists with artists who will conduct six-month residencies in order to explore the potential for academic art-science collaborations; much of the cluster’s early programming will be in support of DRIFT: Art and Dark Matter (DRIFT), an exhibit set to debut at the Belkin in September 2021. DRIFT is a collaborative exhibit that has linked artists and scientists in exploring ways of describing that which exists beyond the limits of our language and understanding; most recently, the exhibit connected the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, and SNOLAB.

This partnership is a promising early step in Blusson QMI’s mission to engage meaningfully with the art community and external audiences, and an opportunity for an enriching exchange of knowledge and perspective. Students in particular will benefit from this exchange; by inviting artists into labs and research spaces, trainee scientists will gain valuable insight into how someone with different expertise might interpret their work, and how to communicate more effectively about their research. New programs are under development and will be announced soon.

Ars Scientia is co-led by Andrea Damascelli, UBC PHAS [Dept. of Physics and Astronomy] Professor and Blusson QMI Scientific Director; Jeremy Heyl, UBC PHAS Professor; and Shelly Rosenblum, Curator of Academic Programs at the Belkin, and supported by a team of staff including Program Manager James Day.

Art/science residencies in BC

I found this undated announcement on the Belkin Art Gallery website,

Ars Scientia: Merging Artistic Practice with Scientific Research

The long search for dark matter has put the spotlight on the limitations of human knowledge and technological capability. Confronted with the shortcomings of our established modes of detecting, diagnosing and testing, the search beckons the creation of new ways of learning and knowing. Fusing the praxes of arts and science in the emergent fields of interdisciplinary research, Ars Scientia, a tripartite partnership between UBC’s Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI), the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Belkin, presents an opportunity to foster new modes of knowledge exchange across the arts, sciences and their pedagogies. Funded by UBC’s Research Excellence Cluster program, Ars Scientia will conduct rich programming and research to address this line of inquiry over the next two years beginning in 2021.

The Ars Scientia research cluster has begun this interdisciplinary work by partnering scientists with artists to conduct six-month residencies that explore the potential for academic art-science collaborations. [List is not complete] Artists Justine A. Chambers, Josephine Lee, Khan Lee and Kelly Lycan have partnered with physicists Rysa Greenwood, Alannah Hallas, Daniel Korchinski, Kirk Madison, Sarah Morris and Luke Reynolds to identify areas of collaborative research in pursuit of both scientific and artistic aims. The residencies will culminate in a research symposium where collaborative findings will be shared, set to take place in November 2021 [emphases mine].

Much of the early programming of Ars Scientia will be in support of Drift: Art and Dark Matter (7 September-5 December 2021) at the Belkin, a residency and exhibition project generated by Agnes Etherington Art Centre, the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and SNOLAB.

There is what seems to be a more complete list of the participants in the Belkin/Blusson residency on the same webpage as the undated announcement of the above,

  • Justine A. Chambers
  • Andrea Damascelli
  • James Day
  • Rysa Greenwood
  • Jeremy Heyl
  • Daniel Korchinski
  • Josephine Lee
  • Khan Lee
  • Kelly Lycan
  • Kirk Madison
  • Susana Mendez Álcala
  • Sarah Morris
  • Marcus Prasad
  • Luke Reynolds
  • Shelly Rosenblum
  • Emily Wight

You’ll notice two things should you go to the undated announcement. First, some of the names are clickable; these are the artists’ biographies. Second, Emily Wight who wrote the March 22, 2021 article for the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (SBQMI) is also on the list. I also noticed that a couple of the names belong to people who are staff members, James Day (Ars Scientia Program Manager) and Marcus Prasad (from his personal website: Academic Programs Assistant at the Belkin Assistant Project Coordinator for Ars Scientia).

?

On Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, I emailed some followup questions for the folks at the Belkin. Sadly, I failed to take into account that long weekend, which gave them very little time to respond before I planned to post this. Should I receive any replies, I will update this posting.

*ETA September 9, 2021: Marcus Prasad, Academic Programs Assistant at the Belkin Assistant Project Coordinator for Ars Scientia, very kindly sent answers to the questions:

Here are the questions:

  • Would you have any details about the talks, projects, and/or symposium?

*One of Ars Scientia’s main projects is a residency program between UBC physicists and 4 artists who have been paired up or grouped together to think through an arts-science collaboration. As practicing professionals in their respective fields, they have been asked to think about points of intersection and difference in their disciplines, as well as to formulate new ways of knowing and learning from each other. The intent of this residency program is to provide time and space for these collaborations to unfold in whatever way the participants desire. We plan to have a symposium/gathering event at the end of November where findings from these collaborations can be presented in a large discussion. While this research cluster is topically related to the Drift exhibition at the Belkin, it is somewhat of a separate entity. Programming in the research cluster complements the Belkin’s exhibition, but will continue over the next couple of years after Drift has left the gallery. [emphases mine]

  • Will there be an online version of the BC work? (e.g., the Agnes had and still has an online version of the show.)

*I am unsure what kind of online presence the Belkin will have for the works in the exhibition specifically, but documentation of related events and programming is often made available on their website.

  • I noticed that Emily Wight who wrote the March 22, 2021 article about the show for the ‘Stewart Blusson’ is also listed as one of the participants. The only (more or less) relevant online reference I could find for Ms. Wight was at Carleton University for a student art show. Is this the same person? Is she an artist and/or writer who’s participating in the residency?

*Emily Wight is part of the steering committee for Ars Scientia, along with myself, James Day, and Susana Mendez Álcala. Shelly Rosenblum, Andrea Damascelli, and Jeremy Heyl are the cluster co-leads, and the rest of the listed names are either artists or physicists participating in the residency.

**Note: Susana Mendez Álcala is the Large Grants and Awards Officer at the SBQMI.

  • Will there be some talks that focus on astrophysics? e.g., Might someone from TRIUMF such as the new CEO, Nigel Smith who came here from the SNOLAB give a talk? [See my May 12, 2021 posting about TRIUMF’s new Chief Executive Office {CEO}]
  • Following on that thought, will there be any joint events with other organizations as there were with The Beautiful Brain show? [See my September 11, 2017 posting titled: “Art in the details: A look at the role of art in science—a Sept. 19, 2017 Café Scientifique event in Vancouver, Canada” for more about that exhibit and its associated events ?

*To my knowledge, we have not planned for a talk with TRIUMF as of yet. The QMI is working on programming with the H.R. MacMillan space centre for Dark Matter Days, however, and we do plan to expand our reach to other organizations in the second year of our cluster.

**Prasad also had this to say: “… we are in the midst of getting an Ars Scientia website up, so there’ll be more concrete information on there to come.”

**Thank you to Marcus Prasad for the answers and for clearing up a few matters that I had not thought to ask about.**

One comment: I have had difficulties accessing the Belkin Gallery website, e.g., most of Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 and on the morning of Friday, September 3, 2021. Hopefully, they’re experiencing just a few glitches and nothing more serious.

There you have it.

Five country survey of reactions to food genome editing

Weirdly and even though most of this paper’s authors are from the University of British Columbia (UBC; Canada), only one press release was issued and that was by the lead author’s (Gesa Busch) home institution, the University of Göttingen (Germany).

I’m glad Busch, the other authors, and the work are getting some attention (if not as much as I think they should).

From a July 9, 2021 University of Göttingen press release (also on EurekAlert but published on July 12, 2021),

A research team from the University of Göttingen and the University of British Columbia (Canada) has investigated how people in five different countries react to various usages of genome editing in agriculture. The researchers looked at which uses are accepted and how the risks and benefits of the new breeding technologies are rated by people. The results show only minor differences between the countries studied – Germany, Italy, Canada, Austria and the USA. In all countries, making changes to the genome is more likely to be deemed acceptable when used in crops rather than in livestock. The study was published in Agriculture and Human Values.

Relatively new breeding technologies, such as CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) gene editing, have enabled a range of new opportunities for plant and animal breeding. In the EU, the technology falls under genetic engineering legislation and is therefore subject to rigorous restrictions. However, the use of gene technologies remains controversial. Between June and November 2019, the research team collected views on this topic via online surveys from around 3,700 people from five countries. Five different applications of gene editing were evaluated: three relate to disease resistance in people, plants, or animals; and two relate to achieving either better quality of produce or a larger quantity of product from cattle.

“We were able to observe that the purpose of the gene modification plays a major role in how it is rated,” says first author Dr Gesa Busch from the University of Göttingen. “If the technology is used to make animals resistant to disease, approval is greater than if the technology is used to increase the output from animals.” Overall, however, the respondents reacted very differently to the uses of the new breeding methods. Four different groups can be identified: strong supporters, supporters, neutrals, and opponents of the technology. The opponents (24 per cent) identify high risks and calls for a ban of the technology, regardless of possible benefits. The strong supporters (21 per cent) see few risks and many advantages. The supporters (26 per cent) see many advantages but also risks. Whereas those who were neutral (29 per cent) show no strong opinion on the subject.

This study was made possible through funding from the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and Genome BC.

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

Citizen views on genome editing: effects of species and purpose by Gesa Busch, Erin Ryan, Marina A. G. von Keyserlingk & Daniel M. Weary. Agriculture and Human Values (2021) Published: DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-021-10235-9

This paper is open access.

Methodology

I have one quick comment about the methodology. It can be difficult to get a sample that breaks down along demographic lines that is close to or identical to national statistics. That said, it was striking to me that every country was under represented in the ’60 years+ ‘ category. In Canada, it was by 10 percentage points (roughly). For other countries the point spread was significantly wider. In Italy, it was a 30 percentage point spread (roughly).

I found the data in the Supplementary Materials yesterday (July 13, 2021). When I looked this morning, that information was no longer there but you will find what appears to be the questionnaire. I wonder if this removal is temporary or permanent and, if permanent, I wonder why it was removed.

Participants for the Canadian portion of the survey were supplied by Dynata, a US-based market research company. Here’s the company’s Wikipedia entry and its website.

Information about how participants were recruited was also missing this morning (July 14, 2021).

Genome British Columbia (Genome BC)

I was a little surprised when I couldn’t find any information about the program or the project on the Genome BC website as the organization is listed as a funder.

There is a ‘Genomics and Society’ tab (seems promising, eh?) on the homepage where you can find the answer to this question: What is GE³LS Research?,

GE3LS research is interdisciplinary, conducted by researchers across many disciplines within social science and humanities, including economics, environment, law, business, communications, and public policy.

There’s also a GE3LS Research in BC page titled Project Search; I had no luck there either.

It all seems a bit mysterious to me and, just in case anything else disappears off the web, here’s a July 13, 2021 news item about the research on phys.org as backup to what I have here.

Art, sound, AI, & the Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter

The Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter (received via email) features a number of events either currently taking place or about to take place.

2021 AI Song Contest

2021 marks the 2nd year for this international event, an artificial intelligence/AI Song Contest 2021. The folks at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Metacreation Lab have an entry for the 2021 event, A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want). Should you click on the song entry, you will find an audio file, a survey/vote consisting of four questions and, if you keep scrolling down, more information about the creative, team, the song and more,

Driven by collaborations involving scientists, experts in artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, designers, and artists, the Metacreation Lab for Creative AI is at the forefront of the development of generative systems, whether these are embedded in interactive experiences or automating workflows integrated into cutting-edge creative software.

Team:

Cale Plut (Composer and musician) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation lab, researching AI music applications in video games.

Philippe Pasquier (Producer and supervisor) is an Associate Professor, and leads the Metacreation Lab. 

Jeff Ens (AI programmer) is a PhD Candidate in the Metacreation lab, researching AI models for music generation.

Renaud Tchemeube (Producer and interaction designer) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation Lab, researching interaction software design for creativity.

Tara Jadidi (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at FUM, Iran, working with the Metacreation lab.

Dimiter Zlatkov (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at UBC, working with the Metacreation lab.

ABOUT THE SONG

A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want) explores the relationships between AI, humans, labour, and creation in a lighthearted and fun song. It is co-created with the Multi-track Music Machine (MMM)

Through the history of automation and industrialization, the relationship between the labour magnification power of automation and the recipients of the benefits of that magnification have been in contention. While increasing levels of automation are often accompanied by promises of future leisure increases, this rarely materializes for the workers whose labour is multiplied. By primarily using automated methods to create a “fun” song about leisure, we highlight both the promise of AI-human cooperation as well as the disparities in its real-world deployment. 

As for the competition itself, here’s more from the FAQs (frequently asked questions),

What is the AI Song Contest?

AI Song Contest is an international creative AI contest. Teams from all over the world try to create a 4-minute pop song with the help of artificial intelligence.

When and where does it take place?

Between June 1, 2021 and July 1, 2021 voting is open for the international public. On July 6 there will be multiple online panel sessions, and the winner of the AI Song Contest 2021 will be announced in an online award ceremony. All sessions on July 6 are organised in collaboration with Wallifornia MusicTech.

How is the winner determined?

Each participating team will be awarded two sets of points: one a public vote by the contest’s international audience, the other the determination of an expert jury.

Anyone can evaluate as many songs as they like: from one, up to all thirty-eight. Every song can be evaluated only once. Even though it won’t count in the grand total, lyrics can be evaluated too; we do like to determine which team wrote the best accoring to the audience.

Can I vote multiple times for the same team?

No, votes are controlled by IP address. So only one of your votes will count.

Is this the first time the contest is organised?

This is the second time the AI Song Contest is organised. The contest was first initiated in 2020 by Dutch public broadcaster VPRO together with NPO Innovation and NPO 3FM. Teams from Europe and Australia tried to create a Eurovision kind of song with the help of AI. Team Uncanny Valley from Australia won the first edition with their song Beautiful the World. The 2021 edition is organised independently.

What is the definition of artificial intelligence in this contest?

Artificial intelligence is a very broad concept. For this contest it will mean that teams can use techniques such as -but not limited to- machine learning, such as deep learning, natural language processing, algorithmic composition or combining rule-based approaches with neural networks for the creation of their songs. Teams can create their own AI tools, or use existing models and algorithms.  

What are possible challenges?

Read here about the challenges teams from last year’s contest faced.

As an AI researcher, can I collaborate with musicians?

Yes – this is strongly encouraged!

For the 2020 edition, all songs had to be Eurovision-style. Is that also the intention for 2021 entries?

Last year, the first year the contest was organized, it was indeed all about Eurovision. For this year’s competition, we are trying to expand geographically, culturally, and musically. Teams from all over the world can compete, and songs in all genres can be submitted.

If you’re not familiar with Eurovision-style, you can find a compilation video with brief excerpts from the 26 finalists for Eurovision 2021 here (Bill Young’s May 23, 2021 posting on tellyspotting.kera.org; the video runs under 10 mins.). There’s also the “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” 2020 movie starring Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, and Dan Stevens. It’s intended as a gentle parody but the style is all there.

ART MACHINES 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning and Art 2021

The symposium, Art Machines 2, started yesterday (June 10, 2021 and runs to June 14, 2021) in Hong Kong and SFU’s Metacreation Lab will be represented (from the Spring 2021 newsletter received via email),

On Sunday, June 13 [2021] at 21:45 Hong Kong Standard Time (UTC +8) as part of the Sound Art Paper Session chaired by Ryo Ikeshiro, the Metacreation Lab’s Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier will present their paper, Exploiting Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art. We’ve included a more detailed preview of the paper in this newsletter below.

Concurrent with ART MACHINES 2 is the launch of two exhibitions – Constructing Contexts and System Dreams. Constructing Contexts, curated by Tobias Klein and Rodrigo Guzman-Serrano, will bring together 27 works with unique approaches to the question of contexts as applied by generative adversarial networks. System Dreams highlights work from the latest MFA talent from the School of Creative Media. While the exhibitions take place in Hong Kong, the participating artists and artwork are well documented online.

Liminal Tones: Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art

Applications of swarm aesthetics in music composition are not new and have already resulted in volumes of complex soundscapes and musical compositions. Using an experimental approach, Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier create a series of sound textures know as Liminal Tones (B/ Rain Dream) based on swarming behaviours

Findings of the Liminal Tones project will be presented in papers for the Art Machines 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning (June 10-14 [2021]) and the International Conference on Swarm Intelligence (July 17-21 [2021]).

Talk about Creative AI at the University of British Columbia

This is the last item I’m excerpting from the newsletter. (Should you be curious about what else is listed, you can go to the Metacreation Lab’s contact page and sign up for the newsletter there.) On June 22, 2021 at 2:00 PM PDT, there will be this event,

Creative AI: on the partial or complete automation of creative tasks @ CAIDA

Philippe Pasquier will be giving a talk on creative applications of AI at CAIDA: UBC ICICS Centre for Artificial Intelligence Decision-making and Action. Overviewing the state of the art of computer-assisted creativity and embedded systems and their various applications, the talk will survey the design, deployment, and evaluation of generative systems.

Free registration for the talk is available at the link below.

Register for Creative AI @ CAIDA

Remember, if you want to see the rest of the newsletter, you can sign up at the Metacreation Lab’s contact page.

TRIUMF (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre) welcomes Nigel Smith as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on May 17, 2021and some Hollywood news

I have two bits of news as noted in the headline. There’s news about TRIUMF located on the University of British Columbia (UBC) endowment lands and news about Dr. Suzanne Simard (UBC Forestry) and her memoir, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Fores.

Nigel Smith and TRIUMF (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre)

As soon as I saw his first name, Nigel, I bet myself he’d be from the UK (more about that later in this posting). This is TRIUMF’s third CEO since I started science blogging in May 2008. When I first started it was called TRIUMF (Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics) but these days it’s TRIUMF (Canada’s national particle accelerator centre).

As for the organization’s latest CEO, here’s more from a TRIUMF February 12, 2021 announcement page ( the text is identical to TRIUMF’s February 12, 2021 press release),

Dr. Nigel Smith, Executive Director of SNOLAB, has been selected to serve as the next Director of TRIUMF.  

Succeeding Dr. Jonathan Bagger, who departed TRIUMF in January 2021 to become CEO of the American Physical Society, Dr. Smith’s appointment comes as the result of a highly competitive, six-month international search. Dr. Smith will begin his 5-year term as TRIUMF Director on May 17, 2021. 

“I am truly honoured to have been selected as the next Director of TRIUMF”, said Dr. Smith. “I have long been engaged with TRIUMF’s vibrant community and have been really impressed with the excellence of its science, capabilities and people. TRIUMF plays a unique and vital role in Canada’s research ecosystem and I look forward to help continue the legacy of excellence upheld by Dr. Jonathan Bagger and the previous TRIUMF Directors”.  

Describing what interested him in the position, Smith spoke to the breadth and impact of TRIUMF’s diverse science programs, stating “TRIUMF has an amazing portfolio of research covering fundamental and applied science that also delivers tangible societal impact through its range of medical and commercialisation initiatives. I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to lead a laboratory with such a broad and world-leading science program.” 

“Nigel brings all the necessary skills and background to the role of Director,” said Dr. Digvir Jayas, Interim Director of TRIUMF, Chair of the TRIUMF Board of Management, and Vice-President, Research and International at the University of Manitoba. “As Executive Director of SNOLAB, Dr. Smith is both a renowned researcher and experienced laboratory leader who offers a tremendous track record of success spanning the local, national, and international spheres. The Board of Management is thrilled to bring Nigel’s expertise to TRIUMF so he may help guide the laboratory through many of the exciting developments on the horizon.  

Dr. Smith joins TRIUMF at an important period in the laboratory’s history, moving into the second year of our current Five-Year Plan (2020-2025) and preparing to usher in a new era of science and innovation that will include the completion of the Advance Rare Isotope Laboratory (ARIEL) and the Institute for Advanced Medical Isotopes (IAMI) [not to be confused with Amii {Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute}]. This new infrastructure, alongside TRIUMF’s existing facilities and world-class research programs, will solidify Canada’s position as a global leader in both fundamental and applied research. 

Dr. Smith expressed his optimism for TRIUMF, saying “I am delighted to have this opportunity, and it will be a pleasure to lead the laboratory through this next exciting phase of our growth and evolution.” 

Smith is leaving what is probably one of the more unusual laboratories, at a depth of 2km, SNOLAB is the deepest, cleanest laboratory in the world. (more information either at SNOLAB or its Wikipedia entry.)

Is Smith from the UK? Some clues

I found my subsequent clues on SNOLAB’s ‘bio’ page for Dr. Nigel Smith,

Nigel Smith joined SNOLAB as Director during July 2009. He currently holds a full Professorship at Laurentian University, adjunct Professor status at Queen’s University, and a visiting Professorial chair at Imperial College, London. He received his Bachelor of Science in physics from Leeds University in the U.K. in 1985 and his Ph. D. in astrophysics from Leeds in 1991. He has served as a lecturer at Leeds University, a research associate at Imperial College London, group leader (dark matter) and deputy division head at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, before relocating to Canada to oversee the SNOLAB deep underground facility.

The answer would seem to be yes, Nigel James Telfer Smith is originally from the UK.

I don’t know if this is going to be a trend but this is the second ‘Nigel” to lead TRIUMF. (The Nigels are now tied with the Johns and the Alans. Of course, the letter ‘j’ seems the most popular with four names, John, John, Jack, and Jonathan.) Here’s a list of TRIUMF’s previous CEOs (from the TRIUMF Wikipedia entry),

Since its inception, TRIUMF has had eight directors [now nine] overseeing its operations.

The first Nigel (Lockyer) is described as an American in his Wikipedia entry. He was born in Scotland and raised in Canada. However, he has spent the majority of his adult life in the US, other than the five or six years at TRIUMF. So, previous Nigel also started life in the UK.

Good luck to the new Nigel.

UBC forestry professor, Suzanne Simard’s memoir going to the movies?

Given that Simard’s memoir, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, was published last week on May 4, 2021, this is very heady news,. From a May 12, 2021 article by Cassandra Gill for the Daily Hive (Note: Links have been removed),

Jake Gyllenhaal is bringing the story of a UBC professor to the big screen.

The Oscar nominee’s production company, Nine Stories, is producing a film based on Suzanne Simard’s memoir, Finding the Mother Tree.

Amy Adams is set to play Simard, who is a forest ecology expert renowned for her research on plants and fungi.

Adams is also co-producing the film with Gyllenhaal through her own company, Bond Group Entertainment.

The BC native [Simard] developed an interest in trees and the outdoors through her close relationship with her grandfather, who was a horse logger.

Her 30 year career and early life is documented in the memoir, which was released last week on May 4 [2021]. Simard explores how trees have evolved, have memories, and are the foundation of our planet’s ecosystem — along with her own personal experiences with grief.

The scientists’ [sic] influence has had influence in popular culture, notably in James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar. The giant willow-like “Tree of Souls” was specifically inspired by Simard’s work.

No mention of a script and no mention of financing, so, it could be a while before we see the movie on Netflix, Apple+, HBO, or maybe a movie house (if they’re open by then).

I think the script may prove to the more challenging aspect of this project. Here’s the description of Simard’s memoir (from the Finding the Mother Tree webpage on suzannesimard.com)

From the world’s leading forest ecologist who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest–a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery.

About the Book

In her first book, Simard brings us into her world, the intimate world of the trees, in which she brilliantly illuminates the fascinating and vital truths – that trees are not simply the source of timber or pulp, but are a complex, interdependent circle of life; that forests are social, cooperative creatures connected through underground networks by which trees communicate their vitality and vulnerabilities with communal lives not that different from our own.

Simard writes – in inspiring, illuminating, and accessible ways – how trees, living side by side for hundreds of years, have evolved, how they perceive one another, learn and adapt their behaviors, recognize neighbors, and remember the past; how they have agency about the future; elicit warnings and mount defenses, compete and cooperate with one another with sophistication, characteristics ascribed to human intelligence, traits that are the essence of civil societies – and at the center of it all, the Mother Trees: the mysterious, powerful forces that connect and sustain the others that surround them.

How does Simard’s process of understanding trees and conceptualizing a ‘mother tree’ get put into a script for a movie that’s not a documentary or an animation?

Movies are moving pictures, yes? How do you introduce movement and action in a script heavily focused on trees, which operate on a timescale that’s vastly different.

It’s an interesting problem and I look forward to seeing how it’s resolved. I wish them good luck.

Why is Precision Nanosystems Inc. in the local (Vancouver, Canada) newspaper?

Usually when a company is featured in a news item, there’s some reason why it’s considered newsworthy. Even after reading the article twice, I still don’t see what makes the Precision Nanosystems Inc. (PNI) newsworthy.

Kevin Griffin’s Jan. 17, 2021 article about Vancouver area Precision Nanosystems Inc. (PNI) for The Province is interesting for anyone who’s looking for information about members of the local biotechnology and/or nanomedicine community (Note: Links have been removed),

A Vancouver nanomedicine company is part of a team using new genetic technology to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Precision NanoSystems Incorporated is working on a vaccine in the same class the ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the only two COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada.

PNI’s vaccine is based on a new kind of technology called mRNA which stands for messenger ribonucleic acid. The mRNA class of vaccines carry genetic instructions to make proteins that trigger the body’s immune system. Once a body has antibodies, it can fight off a real infection when it comes in contact with SARS-CoV-2, the name of the virus that causes COVID-19.

James Taylor, CEO of Precision NanoSystems, said the “revolutionary technology is having an impact not only on COVID-19 pandemic but also the treatment of other diseases.

The federal government has invested $18.2 million in PNI to carry its vaccine candidate through pre-clinical studies and clinical trails.

Ottawa has also invested another $173 million in Medicago, a Quebec-city based company which is developing a virus-like particle vaccine on a plant-based platform and building a large-scale vaccine and antibody production facility. The federal government has an agreement with Medicago to buy up to 76 million doses (enough for 38 million people) of its COVID-19 vaccine.

PNI’s vaccine, which the company is developing with other collaborators, is still at an early, pre-clinical stage.

Taylor is one of the co-founders of PNI along with Euan Ramsay, the company’s chief commercial officer.

The scientific co-founders of PNI are physicist Carl Hansen [emphasis mine] and Pieter Cullis. Cullis is also board chairman and scientific adviser at Acuitas Therapeutics [emphasis mine], the UBC biotechnology company that developed the delivery system for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

PNI, founded in 2010 as a spin-off from UBC [University of British Columbia], focuses on developing technology and expertise in genetic medicine to treat a wide range of infectious and rare diseases and cancers.

What has been described as PNI’s flagship product is a NanoAssemblr Benchtop Instrument, which allows scientists to develop nanomedicines for testing.

It’s informational but none of this is new, if you’ve been following developments in the COVID-19 vaccine story or local biotechnology scene. The $18.2 million federal government investment was announced in the company’s latest press release dated October 23, 2020. Not exactly fresh news.

One possibility is that the company is trying to generate publicity prior to a big announcement. As to why a reporter would produce this profile, perhaps he was promised an exclusive?

Acuitas Therapeutics, which I highlighted in the excerpt from Griffin’s story, has been featured here before in a November 12, 2020 posting about lipid nanoparticles and their role in the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Curiously (or not), Griffin didn’t mention Vancouver’s biggest ‘COVID-19 star’, AbCellera. You can find out more about that company in my December 30, 2020 posting titled, Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist, which features a link to a video about AbCellera’s work (scroll down about 60% of the way to the subsection titled: Avo Media, The Tyee, and Science Telephone, second paragraph).

The Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist? That would be Carl Hansen, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AbCellera and co-founder of PNI. it’s such a small world sometimes.

Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist

I’ll start off with the COVID-19 billionaire since I imagine that excites the most interest.

AbCellera billionaire

No less an authority than the business magazine Forbes has produced a list of COVID-19 billionaires in its December 23, 2020 article (Meet The 50 Doctors, Scientists And Healthcare Entrepreneurs Who Became Pandemic Billionaires In 2020) by Giacomo Tognini (Note: Links have been removed),

Nearly a year after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, the world could be nearing the beginning of the end of a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people. Vaccination for Covid-19 is underway in the United States and the United Kingdom, and promising antibody treatments could help doctors fight back against the disease more effectively. Tied to those breakthroughs: a host of new billionaires who have emerged in 2020, their fortunes propelled by a stock market surge as investors flocked to companies involved in the development of vaccines, treatments, medical devices and everything in between.

Altogether, Forbes found 50 new billionaires in the healthcare sector in 2020. …

Carl Hansen

Net worth: $2.9 billion

Citizenship: Canada

Source of wealth: AbCellera

Hansen is the CEO and cofounder of Vancouver-based AbCellera, a biotech firm that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify the most promising antibody treatments for diseases. He founded the company in 2012. Until 2019 he also worked as a professor at the University of British Columbia, but shifted to focus full-time on AbCellera. That decision seems to have paid off, and Hansen’s 23% stake earned him a spot in the billionaire club after AbCellera’s successful listing on the Nasdaq on December 11. The U.S. government has ordered 300,000 doses of bamlanivimab, an antibody AbCellera discovered in partnership with Eli Lilly that received FDA approval as a Covid-19 treatment in November [2020].

Hansen was a professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) where he founded AbCellera. From https://innovation.ubc.ca/about/news/spin-company-abcelleras-antibody-discovery-leads-covid-19-treatment (Note: A link has been removed),

AbCellera, a local biotechnology company founded at UBC, has developed a method that can search immune responses more deeply than any other technology. Using a microfluidic technology developed at the Michael Smith Laboratories, advanced immunology, protein chemistry, performance computing, and machine learning, AbCellera is changing the game for antibody therapeutics.

I believe a great deal of research that is commercialized was initially funded by taxpayers and I cannot recall any entrepreneurs here in Canada or elsewhere acknowledging that help in a big way. Should you be able to remember any comments of that type, please do let me know in the Comments.

Just prior to this financial bonanza, AbCellera was touting two new board members, John Montalbano on Nov. 18, 2020 and Peter Thiel on Nov. 19, 2020.

Here’s a bit about Mr. Montalbano from a Nov. 18, 2020 AbCellera news release (Note: A link has been removed),

November 18, 2020 – AbCellera, a technology company that searches, decodes, and analyzes natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed to prevent and treat disease, today announced the appointment of John Montalbano to its Board of Directors. Mr. Montalbano will serve as the Chair of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors.

Mr. Montalbano is Principal of Tower Beach Capital Ltd. and serves on the boards of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Aritzia Inc., and the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. His previous appointments include the former Vice Chair of RBC Wealth Management and CEO of RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM). When Mr. Montalbano retired as CEO of RBC GAM in 2015, it was among the largest 50 asset managers worldwide with $370 billion under management and offices in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong.

Montalbano has been on this blog before in a Nov. 4, 2015 posting. If you scroll down to the subsection “Justin Trudeau and his British Columbia connection,” you’ll see mention of Montalbano’s unexpected exit as member and chair of UBC’s board of governors.

The next board member to hop on the proverbial path to riches was announced in a Nov. 19, 2020 AbCellera news release,

AbCellera, a technology company that searches, decodes, and analyzes natural immune systems to find antibodies that can be developed to prevent and treat disease, today announced the appointment of Peter Thiel to its Board of Directors.

“Peter has been a valued AbCellera investor and brings deep experience in scaling global technology companies,” said Carl Hansen, Ph.D., CEO of AbCellera. “We share his optimistic vision for the future, faith in technological progress, and long-term view on company building. We’re excited to have him join our board and look forward to working with him over the coming years.”

Mr. Thiel is a technology entrepreneur, investor, and author. He was a co-founder and CEO of PayPal, a company that he took public before it was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. Mr. Thiel subsequently co-founded Palantir Technologies in 2004, where he continues to serve as Chairman. As a technology investor, Mr. Thiel made the first outside investment in Facebook, where he has served as a director since 2005, and provided early funding for LinkedIn, Yelp, and dozens of technology companies. He is a partner at Founders Fund, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that has funded companies including SpaceX and Airbnb.

“AbCellera is executing a long-term plan to make biotech move faster. I am proud to help them as they raise our expectations of what’s possible,” said Mr. Thiel.

Some Canadian business journalists got very excited over Thiel’s involvement in particular. Perhaps they were anticipating this December 10, 2020 AbCellera news release announcing an initial public offering. Much money seems to have been made not least for Mr. Montalbano, Mr. Thiel, and Mr. Hansen.

As for Mr. Thiel and taxes, I don’t know for certain but can infer that he’s not a big fan from this portion of his Wikipedia entry,

Thiel is an ideological libertarian,[108] though more recently he has espoused support for national conservatism[109] and criticized libertarian attitudes towards free trade[110] and big tech.[109]

My understanding is that libertarians object to taxes and prefer as little government structure as possible.

In any event, it seems that COVID-19 has been quite the bonanza for some people. If you’re curious you can find out more about AbCellera here.

Onto Avo Media and how it has contributed to the AbCellera story.

Avo Media, The Tyee, and Science Telephone

Vancouver (Canada)-based Avo Media describes itself this way on its homepage,

We make documentary, educational, and branded content.

We specialize in communicating science and other complex concepts in a clear, engaging way.

I think that description boils down to videos and podcasts. There’s no mention of AbCellera as one of their clients but they do list The Tyee, which in a July 1, 2020 posting (The Vancouver Company Turning Blood into a COVID Treatment: A Tyee Video) by Mashal Butt hosts a video about AbCellera,

The world anxiously awaits a vaccine to end the pandemic. But having a treatment could save countless lives in the meantime.

This Tyee video explains how Vancouver biotech company AbCellera, with funding from the federal government, is racing to develop an antibody-based therapy treatment as quickly as possible.

Experts — immunologist Ralph Pantophlet at Simon Fraser University, and co-founder and COO of AbCellera Véronique Lecault — explain what an antibody treatment is and how it can protect us from COVID-19.

It is not a cure, but it can help save lives as we wait for the cure.

This video was made in partnership with Vancouver’s Avo Media team of Jesse Lupini, Koby Michaels and Lucas Kavanagh.

It’s a video with a good explanation of AbCellera’s research. Interestingly, the script notes that the Canadian federal government gave the company over $175M for its COVID-19 work.

Why The Tyee?

While Avo Media is a local company, I notice that Jessica Yingling is listed in the final credits for the video. Yingling founded Little Dog Communications, which is based in both California and Utah. If you read the AbCellera news releases, you’ll see that she’s the media contact.

Is there a more unlikely media outlet to feature a stock market star, which probably will be making billions of dollars from this pandemic, than The Tyee? Politically, its ideology could be described as the polar opposite to libertarian ideology.

I wonder what the thought process was for the media placement and how someone based in San Diego (check out her self description on this Twitter feed @jyingling) came up with the idea?

Science Telephone

Avo Media’s latest project seems to be a podcast series, Science Telephone (this link is to the Spotify platform). Here’s more about the series and the various platforms where episodes can be found (from the Avo Media, Our Work, Science Telephone webpage) ,

Science Telephone is a new podcast that tests how well the science holds up when comedians get their hands onto it

Laugh while you learn, as the classic game of telephone is repurposed for scientific research. Each episode, one scientist explains their research to a comedian, who then has to explain it to the next comedian, and so on until it’s almost unrecognizable. See what sticks and what changes, with a rotating cast of brilliant scientists and hysterical comedians.

See a preview of the show below, or visit www.sciencetelephone.com to subscribe or listen to past episodes.

Science telephone is available on all the usual podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts

I have included the Science Telephone preview here,

As we move towards the end of this year and this pandemic, it’s time to enjoy a little science comedy.

Arc’teryx performance apparel and University of British Columbia (Canada) scientists stay green and dry

As rainy season approaches in the Pacific Northwest of Canada and the US, there’s some good news about a sustainable water- and oil-repellent fabric. Sadly, it won’t be available this year but it’s something to look forward to.

An August 10, 2020 news item on phys.org announces the news from the University of British Columbia (UBC) about a greener, water-repellent fabric,

A sustainable, non-toxic and high-performance water-repellent fabric has long been the holy grail of outdoor enthusiasts and clothing companies alike. New research from UBC Okanagan and outdoor apparel giant Arc’teryx is making that goal one step closer to reality with one of the world’s first non-toxic oil and water-repellent performance textile finishes.

An August 10, 2020 UBC Okanagan news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Outdoor fabrics are typically treated with perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) to repel oil and water. But according to Sadaf Shabanian, doctoral student at UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering and study lead author, PFCs come with a number of problems.

“PFCs have long been the standard for stain repellents, from clothing to non-stick frying pans, but we know these chemicals have a detrimental impact on human health and the environment,” explains Shabanian. “They pose a persistent, long-term risk to health and the environment because they take hundreds of years to breakdown and linger both in the environment and our bodies.”

According to Mary Glasper, materials developer at Arc’teryx and collaborator on the project, these lasting impacts are one of the major motivations for clothing companies to seek out new methods to achieve the same or better repellent properties in their products.

To solve the problem, Shabanian and the research team added a nanoscopic layer of silicone to each fibre in a woven fabric, creating an oil-repellent jacket fabric that repels water, sweat and oils.

By understanding how the textile weave and fibre roughness affect the liquid interactions, Shabanian says she was able to design a fabric finish that did not use any PFCs.

“The best part of the new design is that the fabric finish can be made from biodegradable materials and can be recyclable,” she says. “It addresses many of the issues related to PFC-based repellent products and remains highly suitable for the kind of technical apparel consumers and manufacturers are looking for.”

Arc’teryx is excited about the potential of this solution.

“An oil- and water-repellent finish that doesn’t rely on PFCs is enormously important in the world of textiles and is something the whole outdoor apparel industry has been working on for years,” says Glasper. “Now that we have a proof-of-concept, we’ll look to expand its application to other DWR-treated textiles used in our products and to improve the durability of the treatment.”

“Working to lessen material impacts on the environment is crucial for Arc’teryx to meet our goal of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 65 per cent in intensity by 2030,” she adds.

Kevin Golovin, principal investigator of the Okanagan Polymer Engineering Research & Applications Lab where the research was done, says the new research is important because it opens up a new area of green textile manufacturing.

He explains that while the new technology has immense potential, there are still several more years of development and testing needed before people will see fabrics with this treatment in stores.

“Demonstrating oil repellency without the use of PFCs is a critical first step towards a truly sustainable fabric finish,” says Golovin. “And it’s something previously thought impossible.”

The research is funded through a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), with support from Arc’teryx Equipment Inc.

Arc’teryx is based in North Vancouver (Canada).

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

Rational design of perfluorocarbon-free oleophobic textiles by Sadaf Shabanian, Behrooz Khatir, Ambreen Nisar & Kevin Golovin. Nature Sustainability (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0591-9 Published: 10 August 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Glass sponge reefs: ‘living dinosaurs’ of the Pacific Northwest waters

Glass sponges in Howe Sound. Credit: Adam Taylor, MLSS [Marine Life Sanctuaries Society]

One of them looks to be screaming (Edvard Munch, anyone?) and none of it looks how I imagined an oceanic ‘living dinosaur’ might. While the news is not in my main area of interest (emerging technology), it is close to home. A June 1, 2020 University of British Columbia news release (also on EurekAlert) describes the glass sponge reefs (living dinosaurs) in the Pacific Northwest and current concerns about their welfare,

Warming ocean temperatures and acidification drastically reduce the skeletal strength and filter-feeding capacity of glass sponges, according to new UBC research.

The findings, published in Scientific Reports, indicate that ongoing climate change could have serious, irreversible impacts on the sprawling glass sponge reefs of the Pacific Northwest and their associated marine life – the only known reefs of their kind in the world.

Ranging from the Alaska-Canada border and down through the Strait of Georgia, the reefs play an essential role in water quality by filtering microbes and cycling nutrients through food chains. They also provide critical habitat for many fish and invertebrates, including rockfish, spot prawns, herring, halibut and sharks.

“Glass sponge reefs are ‘living dinosaurs’ thought to have been extinct for 40 million years before they were re-discovered in B.C. in 1986,” said Angela Stevenson, who led the study as a postdoctoral fellow at UBC Zoology. “Their sheer size and tremendous filtration capacity put them at the heart of a lush and productive underwater system, so we wanted to examine how climate change might impact their survival.”

Although the reefs are subject to strong, ongoing conservation efforts focused on limiting damage to their delicate glass structures, scientists know little about how these sponges respond to environmental changes.

For the study, Stevenson harvested Aphrocallistes vastus, one of three types of reef-building glass sponges, from Howe Sound and brought them to UBC where she ran the first successful long-term lab experiment involving live sponges by simulating their natural environment as closely as possible.

She then tested their resilience by placing them in warmer and more acidic waters that mimicked future projected ocean conditions.

Over a period of four months, Stevenson measured changes to their pumping capacity, body condition and skeletal strength, which are critical indicators of their ability to feed and build reefs.

Within one month, ocean acidification and warming, alone and in combination, reduced the sponges’ pumping capacity by more than 50 per cent and caused tissue losses of 10 to 25 per cent, which could starve the sponges.

“Most worryingly, pumping began to slow within two weeks of exposure to elevated temperatures,” said Stevenson.

The combination of acidification and warming also made their bodies weaker and more elastic by half. That could curtail reef formation and cause brittle reefs to collapse under the weight of growing sponges or animals walking and swimming among them.

Year-long temperature data collected from Howe Sound reefs in 2016 suggest it’s only a matter of time before sponges are exposed to conditions which exceed these thresholds.

“In Howe Sound, we want to figure out a way to track changes in sponge growth, size and area and area in the field so we can better understand potential climate implications at a larger scale,” said co-author Jeff Marliave, senior research scientist at the Ocean Wise Research Institute. “We also want to understand the microbial food webs that support sponges and how they might be influenced by climate cycles.”

Stevenson credits bottom-up community-led efforts and strong collaborations with government for the healthy, viable state of the B.C. reefs today. Added support for such community efforts and educational programs will be key to relieving future pressures.

“When most people think about reefs, they think of tropical shallow-water reefs like the beautiful Great Barrier Reef in Australia,” added Stevenson. “But we have these incredible deep-water reefs in our own backyard in Canada. If we don’t do our best to stand up for them, it will be like discovering a herd of dinosaurs and then immediately dropping dynamite on them.”

Background:

The colossal reefs can grow to 19 metres in height and are built by larval sponges settling atop the fused dead skeletons of previous generations. In northern B.C. the reefs are found at depths of 90 to 300 metres, while in southern B.C., they can be found as shallow as 22 metres.

The sponges feed by pumping sea water through their delicate bodies, filtering almost 80 per cent of microbes and particles and expelling clean water.

It’s estimated that the 19 known reefs in the Salish Sea can filter 100 billion litres of water every day, equivalent to one per cent of the total water volume in the Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound combined.

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

Warming and acidification threaten glass sponge Aphrocallistes vastus pumping and reef formation by A. Stevenson, S. K. Archer, J. A. Schultz, A. Dunham, J. B. Marliave, P. Martone & C. D. G. Harley. Scientific Reports volume 10, Article number: 8176 (2020) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-65220-9 Published 18 May 2020

This paper is open access.

Almost finally, there’s a brief video of the glass sponges in their habitat,

Circling back to Edvard Munch,

Courtesy of www.EdvardMunch.org [downloaded from https://www.edvardmunch.org/the-scream.jsp]

Here’s more about the painting, from The Scream webpage on edvardmunch.org,

Munch’s The Scream is an icon of modern art, the Mona Lisa for our time. As Leonardo da Vinci evoked a Renaissance ideal of serenity and self-control, Munch defined how we see our own age – wracked with anxiety and uncertainty.

Essentially The Scream is autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk, after his two companions, seen in the background, had left him. …

For all the times I’ve seen the image, I had no idea the inspiration was acoustic.

In any event, the image seems sadly à propos both for the glass sponge reefs (and nature generally) and with regard to Black Lives Matter (BLM). A worldwide conflagration was ignited by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. This African-American man died while saying, “I can’t breathe,” as a police officer held Floyd down with a knee on his neck. RIP (rest in peace) George Floyd while the rest of us make the changes necessary, no matter how difficult to create a just and respectful world for all. Black Lives Matter.