ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada) is presenting a pre-celebration event to honour Italian Research in the World Day (April 15, 2021). Take special note: the event is being held the day before.
Before launching into the announcement, bravo to the organizers! ARPICO consistently offers the most comprehensive details about their events of any group that contacts me. One more thing, to date, they are the only group that have described which technology they’re using for the webcast and explicitly address any concerns about downloading software (you don’t have to) or about personal information. (Check out Technical Instruction here.)
Here are the details from ARPICO’s April 4, 2021 announcement (received via email),
We hope everyone is doing well and being safe while we attempt to outlast this pandemic. In the meanwhile, from the comfort of our homes, we hope to be able to continue to share with you informative lectures to entertain and stimulate thought.
It is our pleasure, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Italy in Vancouver, to announce that ARPICO’s next public event will be held on April 14th, 2021 at 7:00 PM, in celebration of Italian Research in the World Day. Italian Research in the World Day was instituted starting in 2018 as part of the Piano Straordinario “Vivere all’Italiana” – Giornata della ricerca Italiana nel mondo. The celebration day was chosen by government decree to be every year on April 15 on the anniversary of the birth of Leonardo da Vinci.
The main objective of the Italian Research Day in the World is to value the quality and competencies of Italian researchers abroad, but also to promote concrete actions and investments to allow Italian researchers to continue pursuing their careers in their homeland. Italy wishes to enable Italian talents to return from abroad as well as to become an attractive environment for foreign researchers.
This year we are pleased to have Professor Marco Musiani, an academic in biological sciences, share with us a lecture titled “Wolves, Livestock, and the Physical and Social Environments.” An abstract and short professional biography are provided below.
We have chosen BlueJeans as the videoconferencing platform, for which you will only require a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Safari, Opera are all supported). Full detailed instructions on how the virtual event will unfold are available on the EventBrite listing here in the Technical Instruction section.
If participants wish to donate to ARPICO, this can be done within EventBrite; this would be greatly appreciated in order to help us continue to build upon our scholarship fund, and to defray the cost of the videoconferencing license.
We look forward to seeing everyone there.
The evening agenda is as follows:
6:45PM – BlueJeans Presentation link becomes active and registrants may join.
If you experience any technical details please email us at email@example.com and we will attempt to assist you as best we can.
7:00pm – Start of the evening Event with introductions & lecture by Prof. Marco Musiani
~8:00 pm – Q & A Period via BlueJeans Chat Interface
If you have not already done so, please register for the event by visiting the EventBrite link or RSVPing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wolves, Livestock, and the Physical and Social Environments
Due primarily to wolf predation on livestock (depredation), some groups oppose wolf (Canis lupus) conservation, which is an objective for large sectors of the public. Prof. Musiani’s talk will compare wolf depredation of sheep in Southern Europe to wolf depredation of beef cattle in the US and Canada, taking into account the differences in social and economic contexts. It will detail where and when wolf attacks happen, and what environmental factors promote such attacks. Livestock depredation by wolves is a cost of wolf conservation borne by livestock producers, which creates conflict between producers, wolves and organizations involved in wolf conservation and management. Compensation is the main tool used to mitigate the costs of depredation, but this tool may be limited at improving tolerance for wolves. In poorer countries compensation funds might not be available. Other lethal and nonlethal tools used to manage the problem will also be analysed. Wolf depredation may be a small economic cost to the industry, although it may be a significant cost to affected producers as these costs are not equitably distributed across the industry. Prof. Musiani maintains that conservation groups should consider the potential consequences of all of these ecological and economic trends. Specifically, declining sheep or cattle price and the steady increase in land price might induce conversion of agricultural land to rural-residential developments, which could negatively impact the whole environment via large scale habitat change and increased human presence.
Marco Musiani is a Professor in the Dept. of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Calgary. He also has a Joint Appointment with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Calgary. His lab has a strong focus on landscape ecology, molecular ecology, and wildlife conservation.
Marco is Principal Investigator on projects on caribou, elk, moose, wolves, grizzlies and other wildlife species throughout the Rocky Mountains and Foothills regions of Canada. All such projects are run together with graduate students and have applications towards impact assessment, mainly of human infrastructure.
His focus is on academic matters. However, he also serves as reviewer for research and management projects, and acted as a consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (working on conflicts with wolves).
WHEN (EVENT): Wed, April 14th, 2021 at 7:00PM (BlueJeans link active at 6:45PM)
WHERE: Online using the BlueJeans Conferencing platform.
Tickets for this event are FREE. Due to limited seating at the venue, we ask that each household register once and watch the presentation together on a single device. You will receive the event videoconferencing invite link via email in your registration confirmation.
Can I update my registration information? Yes. If you have any questions, contact us at email@example.com
I am having trouble using EventBrite and cannot reserve my ticket(s). Can someone at ARPICO help me with my ticket reservation? Of course, simply send your ticket request to us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we help you.
Researchers at Stanford University (California, US) believe they have a solution for a problem with neuroprosthetics (Note: I have included brief comments about neuroprosthetics and possible ethical issues at the end of this posting) according an August 5, 2020 news item on ScienceDaily,
The current generation of neural implants record enormous amounts of neural activity, then transmit these brain signals through wires to a computer. But, so far, when researchers have tried to create wireless brain-computer interfaces to do this, it took so much power to transmit the data that the implants generated too much heat to be safe for the patient. A new study suggests how to solve his problem — and thus cut the wires.
Stanford researchers have been working for years to advance a technology that could one day help people with paralysis regain use of their limbs, and enable amputees to use their thoughts to control prostheses and interact with computers.
The team has been focusing on improving a brain-computer interface, a device implanted beneath the skull on the surface of a patient’s brain. This implant connects the human nervous system to an electronic device that might, for instance, help restore some motor control to a person with a spinal cord injury, or someone with a neurological condition like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The current generation of these devices record enormous amounts of neural activity, then transmit these brain signals through wires to a computer. But when researchers have tried to create wireless brain-computer interfaces to do this, it took so much power to transmit the data that the devices would generate too much heat to be safe for the patient.
Now, a team led by electrical engineers and neuroscientists Krishna Shenoy, PhD, and Boris Murmann, PhD, and neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Jaimie Henderson, MD, have shown how it would be possible to create a wireless device, capable of gathering and transmitting accurate neural signals, but using a tenth of the power required by current wire-enabled systems. These wireless devices would look more natural than the wired models and give patients freer range of motion.
Graduate student Nir Even-Chen and postdoctoral fellow Dante Muratore, PhD, describe the team’s approach in a Nature Biomedical Engineering paper.
The team’s neuroscientists identified the specific neural signals needed to control a prosthetic device, such as a robotic arm or a computer cursor. The team’s electrical engineers then designed the circuitry that would enable a future, wireless brain-computer interface to process and transmit these these carefully identified and isolated signals, using less power and thus making it safe to implant the device on the surface of the brain.
To test their idea, the researchers collected neuronal data from three nonhuman primates and one human participant in a (BrainGate) clinical trial.
As the subjects performed movement tasks, such as positioning a cursor on a computer screen, the researchers took measurements. The findings validated their hypothesis that a wireless interface could accurately control an individual’s motion by recording a subset of action-specific brain signals, rather than acting like the wired device and collecting brain signals in bulk.
The next step will be to build an implant based on this new approach and proceed through a series of tests toward the ultimate goal.
As I found out while investigating, ethical issues in this area abound. My first thought was to look at how someone with a focus on ability studies might view the complexities.
My ‘go to’ resource for human enhancement and ethical issues is Gregor Wolbring, an associate professor at the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada). his profile lists these areas of interest: ability studies, disability studies, governance of emerging and existing sciences and technologies (e.g. neuromorphic engineering, genetics, synthetic biology, robotics, artificial intelligence, automatization, brain machine interfaces, sensors) and more.
I can’t find anything more recent on this particular topic but I did find an August 10, 2017 essay for The Conversation where he comments on technology and human enhancement ethical issues where the technology is gene-editing. Regardless, he makes points that are applicable to brain-computer interfaces (human enhancement), Note: Links have been removed),
Ability expectations have been and still are used to disable, or disempower, many people, not only people seen as impaired. They’ve been used to disable or marginalize women (men making the argument that rationality is an important ability and women don’t have it). They also have been used to disable and disempower certain ethnic groups (one ethnic group argues they’re smarter than another ethnic group) and others.
A recent Pew Research survey on human enhancement revealed that an increase in the ability to be productive at work was seen as a positive. What does such ability expectation mean for the “us” in an era of scientific advancements in gene-editing, human enhancement and robotics?
Which abilities are seen as more important than others?
The ability expectations among “us” will determine how gene-editing and other scientific advances will be used.
And so how we govern ability expectations, and who influences that governance, will shape the future. Therefore, it’s essential that ability governance and ability literacy play a major role in shaping all advancements in science and technology.
One of the reasons I find Gregor’s commentary so valuable is that he writes lucidly about ability and disability as concepts and poses what can be provocative questions about expectations and what it is to be truly abled or disabled. You can find more of his writing here on his eponymous (more or less) blog.
Ethics of clinical trials for testing brain implants
In 2003, neurologist Helen Mayberg of Emory University in Atlanta began to test a bold, experimental treatment for people with severe depression, which involved implanting metal electrodes deep in the brain in a region called area 25 [emphases mine]. The initial data were promising; eventually, they convinced a device company, St. Jude Medical in Saint Paul, to sponsor a 200-person clinical trial dubbed BROADEN.
This month [October 2017], however, Lancet Psychiatry reported the first published data on the trial’s failure. The study stopped recruiting participants in 2012, after a 6-month study in 90 people failed to show statistically significant improvements between those receiving active stimulation and a control group, in which the device was implanted but switched off.
… a tricky dilemma for companies and research teams involved in deep brain stimulation (DBS) research: If trial participants want to keep their implants [emphases mine], who will take responsibility—and pay—for their ongoing care? And participants in last week’s meeting said it underscores the need for the growing corps of DBS researchers to think long-term about their planned studies.
… participants bear financial responsibility for maintaining the device should they choose to keep it, and for any additional surgeries that might be needed in the future, Mayberg says. “The big issue becomes cost [emphasis mine],” she says. “We transition from having grants and device donations” covering costs, to patients being responsible. And although the participants agreed to those conditions before enrolling in the trial, Mayberg says she considers it a “moral responsibility” to advocate for lower costs for her patients, even it if means “begging for charity payments” from hospitals. And she worries about what will happen to trial participants if she is no longer around to advocate for them. “What happens if I retire, or get hit by a bus?” she asks.
There’s another uncomfortable possibility: that the hypothesis was wrong [emphases mine] to begin with. A large body of evidence from many different labs supports the idea that area 25 is “key to successful antidepressant response,” Mayberg says. But “it may be too simple-minded” to think that zapping a single brain node and its connections can effectively treat a disease as complex as depression, Krakauer [John Krakauer, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland] says. Figuring that out will likely require more preclinical research in people—a daunting prospect that raises additional ethical dilemmas, Krakauer says. “The hardest thing about being a clinical researcher,” he says, “is knowing when to jump.”
Brain-computer interfaces, symbiosis, and ethical issues
This was the most recent and most directly applicable work that I could find. From a July 24, 2019 article by Liam Drew for Nature Outlook: The brain,
“It becomes part of you,” Patient 6 said, describing the technology that enabled her, after 45 years of severe epilepsy, to halt her disabling seizures. Electrodes had been implanted on the surface of her brain that would send a signal to a hand-held device when they detected signs of impending epileptic activity. On hearing a warning from the device, Patient 6 knew to take a dose of medication to halt the coming seizure.
“You grow gradually into it and get used to it, so it then becomes a part of every day,” she told Frederic Gilbert, an ethicist who studies brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) at the University of Tasmania in Hobart, Australia. “It became me,” she said. [emphasis mine]
Gilbert was interviewing six people who had participated in the first clinical trial of a predictive BCI to help understand how living with a computer that monitors brain activity directly affects individuals psychologically1. Patient 6’s experience was extreme: Gilbert describes her relationship with her BCI as a “radical symbiosis”.
Symbiosis is a term, borrowed from ecology, that means an intimate co-existence of two species for mutual advantage. As technologists work towards directly connecting the human brain to computers, it is increasingly being used to describe humans’ potential relationship with artificial intelligence.
Interface technologies are divided into those that ‘read’ the brain to record brain activity and decode its meaning, and those that ‘write’ to the brain to manipulate activity in specific regions and affect their function.
Commercial research is opaque, but scientists at social-media platform Facebook are known to be pursuing brain-reading techniques for use in headsets that would convert users’ brain activity into text. And neurotechnology companies such as Kernel in Los Angeles, California, and Neuralink, founded by Elon Musk in San Francisco, California, predict bidirectional coupling in which computers respond to people’s brain activity and insert information into their neural circuitry. [emphasis mine]
Already, it is clear that melding digital technologies with human brains can have provocative effects, not least on people’s agency — their ability to act freely and according to their own choices. Although neuroethicists’ priority is to optimize medical practice, their observations also shape the debate about the development of commercial neurotechnologies.
Neuroethicists began to note the complex nature of the therapy’s side effects. “Some effects that might be described as personality changes are more problematic than others,” says Maslen [Hannah Maslen, a neuroethicist at the University of Oxford, UK]. A crucial question is whether the person who is undergoing stimulation can reflect on how they have changed. Gilbert, for instance, describes a DBS patient who started to gamble compulsively, blowing his family’s savings and seeming not to care. He could only understand how problematic his behaviour was when the stimulation was turned off.
Such cases present serious questions about how the technology might affect a person’s ability to give consent to be treated, or for treatment to continue. [emphases mine] If the person who is undergoing DBS is happy to continue, should a concerned family member or doctor be able to overrule them? If someone other than the patient can terminate treatment against the patient’s wishes, it implies that the technology degrades people’s ability to make decisions for themselves. It suggests that if a person thinks in a certain way only when an electrical current alters their brain activity, then those thoughts do not reflect an authentic self.
To observe a person with tetraplegia bringing a drink to their mouth using a BCI-controlled robotic arm is spectacular. [emphasis mine] This rapidly advancing technology works by implanting an array of electrodes either on or in a person’s motor cortex — a brain region involved in planning and executing movements. The activity of the brain is recorded while the individual engages in cognitive tasks, such as imagining that they are moving their hand, and these recordings are used to command the robotic limb.
If neuroscientists could unambiguously discern a person’s intentions from the chattering electrical activity that they record in the brain, and then see that it matched the robotic arm’s actions, ethical concerns would be minimized. But this is not the case. The neural correlates of psychological phenomena are inexact and poorly understood, which means that signals from the brain are increasingly being processed by artificial intelligence (AI) software before reaching prostheses.[emphasis mine]
But, he [Philipp Kellmeyer, a neurologist and neuroethicist at the University of Freiburg, Germany] says, using AI tools also introduces ethical issues of which regulators have little experience. [emphasis mine] Machine-learning software learns to analyse data by generating algorithms that cannot be predicted and that are difficult, or impossible, to comprehend. This introduces an unknown and perhaps unaccountable process between a person’s thoughts and the technology that is acting on their behalf.
Maslen is already helping to shape BCI-device regulation. She is in discussion with the European Commission about regulations it will implement in 2020 that cover non-invasive brain-modulating devices that are sold straight to consumers. [emphases mine; Note: There is a Canadian company selling this type of product, MUSE] Maslen became interested in the safety of these devices, which were covered by only cursory safety regulations. Although such devices are simple, they pass electrical currents through people’s scalps to modulate brain activity. Maslen found reports of them causing burns, headaches and visual disturbances. She also says clinical studies have shown that, although non-invasive electrical stimulation of the brain can enhance certain cognitive abilities, this can come at the cost of deficits in other aspects of cognition.
Regarding my note about MUSE, the company is InteraXon and its product is MUSE.They advertise the product as “Brain Sensing Headbands That Improve Your Meditation Practice.” The company website and the product seem to be one entity, Choose Muse. The company’s product has been used in some serious research papers they can be found here. I did not see any research papers concerning safety issues.
It’s easy to forget that in all the excitement over technologies ‘making our lives better’ that there can be a dark side or two. Some of the points brought forth in the articles by Wolbring, Underwood, and Drew confirmed my uneasiness as reasonable and gave me some specific examples of how these technologies raise new issues or old issues in new ways.
What I find interesting is that no one is using the term ‘cyborg’, which would seem quite applicable.There is an April 20, 2012 posting here titled ‘My mother is a cyborg‘ where I noted that by at lease one definition people with joint replacements, pacemakers, etc. are considered cyborgs. In short, cyborgs or technology integrated into bodies have been amongst us for quite some time.
Interestingly, no one seems to care much when insects are turned into cyborgs (can’t remember who pointed this out) but it is a popular area of research especially for military applications and search and rescue applications.
I’ve sometimes used the term ‘machine/flesh’ and or ‘augmentation’ as a description of technologies integrated with bodies, human or otherwise. You can find lots on the topic here however I’ve tagged or categorized it.
Amongst other pieces you can find here, there’s the August 8, 2016 posting, ‘Technology, athletics, and the ‘new’ human‘ featuring Oscar Pistorius when he was still best known as the ‘blade runner’ and a remarkably successful paralympic athlete. It’s about his efforts to compete against able-bodied athletes at the London Olympic Games in 2012. It is fascinating to read about technology and elite athletes of any kind as they are often the first to try out ‘enhancements’.
Gregor Wolbring has a number of essays on The Conversation looking at Paralympic athletes and their pursuit of enhancements and how all of this is affecting our notions of abilities and disabilities. By extension, one has to assume that ‘abled’ athletes are also affected with the trickle-down effect on the rest of us.
Regardless of where we start the investigation, there is a sameness to the participants in neuroethics discussions with a few experts and commercial interests deciding on how the rest of us (however you define ‘us’ as per Gregor Wolbring’s essay) will live.
This paucity of perspectives is something I was getting at in my COVID-19 editorial for the Canadian Science Policy Centre. My thesis being that we need a range of ideas and insights that cannot be culled from small groups of people who’ve trained and read the same materials or entrepreneurs who too often seem to put profit over thoughtful implementations of new technologies. (See the PDF May 2020 edition [you’ll find me under Policy Development]) or see my May 15, 2020 posting here (with all the sources listed.)
As for this new research at Stanford, it’s exciting news, which raises questions, as it offers the hope of independent movement for people diagnosed as tetraplegic (sometimes known as quadriplegic.)
Part 1 covered some of the more formal aspects science culture in Canada, such as science communication education programmes, mainstream media, children’s science magazines, music, etc. Part 2 covered science festivals, art/sci or sciart (depending on who’s talking, informal science get togethers such ‘Cafe Sccientifque’, etc.
This became a much bigger enterprise than I anticipated and so part 3 is stuffed with the do-it-yourself (DIY) biology movement in Canada, individual art/sci or lit/sci projects, a look at what the mathematicians have done and are doing, etc. But first there’s the comedy.
Comedy, humour, and science
Weirdly, Canadians like to mix their science fiction (scifi) movies with humour. (I will touch on more scifi later in this post but it’s too big a topic to cover inadequately, let alone adequately, in this review.) I post as my evidence of the popularity of comedy science fiction films, this from the Category: Canadian science fiction films Wikipedia webpage,
As you see, comedy science fiction is the second most populated category. Also, the Wikipedia time frame is much broader than mine but I did check one Canadian science fiction comedy film, Bang Bang Baby, a 2014 film, which, as it turns out, is also a musical.
Daniel Chai is a Vancouver-based writer, comedian, actor and podcaster. He is co-host of The Fear of Science podcast, which combines his love of learning with his love of being on a microphone. Daniel is also co-founder of The Fictionals Comedy Co and the creator of Improv Against Humanity, and teaches improv at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is very excited to be part of Vancouver Podcast Festival, and thanks everyone for listening!
Jeff is the producer and co-host of The Fear of Science. By day, he is a graphic designer/digital developer [according to his LinkedIn profile, he works at Science World], and by night he is a cosplayer, board gamer and full-time geek. Jeff is passionate about all things science, and has been working in science communication for over 4 years. He brings a general science knowledge point of view to The Fear of Science.
Here’s more about The Fear of Science from its homepage (where you will also find links to their podcasts),
A podcast that brings together experts and comedians for an unfiltered discussion about complicated and sometimes controversial science fears in a fun and respectful way.
This podcast seems to have taken life in August 2018.(Well, that’s as far back as the Archived episodes stretch on the website.)
This is Vancolour is a podcast hosted by Mo Amir and you will find this description on the website,
THIS IS A PODCAST ABOUT VANCOUVER AND THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THIS CITY COLOURFUL
Cartoonist, writer, and educator, Raymond Nakamura produces work for Telus Science World and the Science Borealis science aggregator. His website is known as Raymond’s Brain features this image,
Much has been happening on this front. First for anyone unfamiliar with do-it-yourself biology, here’s more from its Wikipedia entry,
Do-it-yourself biology (DIY biology, DIY bio) is a growing biotechnological social movement in which individuals, communities, and small organizations study biology and life science using the same methods as traditional research institutions. DIY biology is primarily undertaken by individuals with extensive research training from academia or corporations, who then mentor and oversee other DIY biologists with little or no formal training. This may be done as a hobby, as a not-for-profit endeavour for community learning and open-science innovation, or for profit, to start a business.
A January 21, 2020 posting here listed the second Canadian DIY Biology Summit organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). It was possible to attend virtually from any part of Canada. The first meeting was in 2016 (you can see the agenda here). You’ll see in the agenda for the 2nd meeting in 2020 that there have been a few changes as groups rise into and fall out of existence.
From the 2020 agenda, here’s a list representing the players in Canada’s DIYbio scene,
Most of these organizations (e.g., Victoria Makerspace, Synbiota, Bricobio, etc.) seem to be relatively new (founded in 2009 or later) which is quite exciting to think about. This March 13, 2016 article in the Vancouver Observer gives you a pretty good overview of the DIY biology scene in Canada at the time while providing a preview of the then upcoming first DIY Biology summit.
*The Open Science Network in Vancouver was formerly known as DIYbio YVR. I’m not sure when the name change occurred but this July 17, 2018 article by Emily Ng for The Ubyssey (a University of British Columbia student newspaper) gives a little history,
In 2009, a group of UBC students and staff recognized these barriers and teamed up to democratize science, increase its accessibility and create an interdisciplinary platform for idea exchange. They created the Open Science Network (OSN).
The Open Science Network is a non-profit society that serves the science and maker community through education, outreach and the provision of space. Currently, they run an open community lab out of the MakerLabs space on East Cordova and Main street, which is a compact space housing microscopes, a freezer, basic lab equipment and an impressive amount of activity.
The lab is home to a community of citizen scientists, professional scientists, artists, designers and makers of all ages who are pursuing their own science projects.
Members who are interested in lab work can receive some training in “basic microbiology techniques like pipetting, growing bacteria, using the Polymerase Chain Reaction machine (PCR) [to amplify DNA] and running gels [through a gel ectrophoresis machine to separate DNA fragments by size] from Scott Pownall, a PhD graduate from UBC and the resident microbiologist,” said Wong [ Wes Wong, a staff member of UBC Botany and a founding member of OSN].
The group has also made further efforts to serve their members by offering more advanced synthetic biology classes and workshops at their lab.
There is another organization called ‘Open Science Network’ (an ethnobiology group and not part of the Vancouver organization). Here is a link to the Vancouver-based Open Science Network (a community science lab) where they provide further links to all their activities including a regular ‘meetup’.
I have poetry, a book, a television adaptation, three plays with mathematics and/or physics themes and more.
In 2012 there was a night of poetry readings in Vancouver. What made it special was that five poets had collaborated with five scientists (later amended to four scientists and a landscape architect) according to my December 4, 2012 posting. The whole thing was conceptualized and organized by Aileen Penner who went on to produce a chapbook of the poetry. She doesn’t have any copies available currently but you can contact her on her website’s art/science page if you are interested in obtaining a copy. She doesn’t seem to have organized any art/science projects since. For more about Aileen Penner who is a writer and poet, go to her website here.
The Banff International Research Station (BIRS) it’s all about the mathematics) hosted a workshop for poets and mathematicians way back in 2011. I featured it (Mathematics: Muse, Maker, and Measure of the Arts) after the fact in my January 9, 2012 posting (scroll down about 30% of the way). If you have the time, do click on my link to Nassif Ghoussoub’s post on his blog (Piece of Mind) about mathematicians, poetry, and the arts. It’s especially interesting in retrospect as he is now the executive director for BIRS, which no longer seems to have workshops that meld any of the arts with mathematics, and science.
That sadly seems to be it for poetry and the sciences, including mathematics. If you know of any other poetry/science projects or readings, etc. in Canada during the 2010-9 decade, please let me know in the comments.
Karl Schroeder, a Canadian science fiction author, has written many books but of particular interest here are two futuristic novels for the Canadian military.The 2005 novel, Crisis in Zefra, doesn’t fit the time frame I’ve established for this review but the the 2014 novel, Crisis in Urla (scroll down) fits in nicely. His writing is considered ‘realistic’ science fiction in that it’s based on science research and his work is also associated with speculative realism (from his Wikipedia entry; Note: Links have been removed),
Karl Schroeder (born September 4, 1962) is a Canadianscience fiction author. His novels present far-future speculations on topics such as nanotechnology, terraforming, augmented reality, and interstellar travel, and are deeply philosophical.
The other author I’m mentioning here is Margaret Atwood. The television adaptation of her book, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has turned a Canadian literary superstar into a supernova (an exploding star whose luminosity can be the equivalent of an entire galaxy). In 2019, she won the Booker Prize, for the second time for ‘The Testaments’ (a followup to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’), sharing it with Bernardine Evaristo and her book ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. Atwood has described her work (The Handmaid’s Tale, and others) as speculative fiction rather than science fiction. For me, she bases her speculation on the social sciences and humanities, specifically history (read her Wikipedia entry for more).
In 2017 with the television adaptation of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Atwood’s speculative fiction novel became a pop culture phenomenon. Originally published in 1985, the novel was also adapted for a film in 1990 and for an opera in 2000 before it came to television, according to its Wikipedia entry.
There’s a lot more out there, Schroeder and Atwood are just two I’ve stumbled across.
I have drama, musical comedy and acting items.
Pi Theatre’s (Vancouver) mathematically-inclined show, ‘Long Division‘, ran in April 2017 and was mentioned in my April 20, 2017 posting (scroll down about 50% of the way).
This theatrical performance of concepts in mathematics runs from April 26 – 30, 2017 (check here for the times as they vary) at the Annex at 823 Seymour St. From the Georgia Straight’s April 12, 2017 Arts notice,
“Mathematics is an art form in itself, as proven by Pi Theatre’s number-charged Long Division. This is a “refreshed remount” of Peter Dickinson’s ambitious work, one that circles around seven seemingly unrelated characters (including a high-school math teacher, a soccer-loving imam, and a lesbian bar owner) bound together by a single traumatic incident. Directed by Richard Wolfe, with choreography by Lesley Telford and musical score by Owen Belton, it’s a multimedia, movement-driven piece that has a strong cast. … “
You can read more about the production here. As far as I’m aware, there are no upcoming show dates.
There seems to be some sort of affinity between theatre and mathematics, I recently featured (January 3, 2020 posting) a theatrical piece by Hannah Moscovitch titled, ‘Infinity‘, about time, physics, math and more. It had its first production in Toronto in 2015.
John Mighton, a playwright and mathematician, wrote ‘The Little Years’ which has been produced in both Vancouver and Toronto. From a May 9, 2005 article by Kathleen Oliver for the Georgia Straight,
The Little Years is a little jewel of a play: small but multifaceted, and beautifully crafted.
John Mighton’s script gives us glimpses into different stages in the life of Kate, a woman whose early promise as a mathematician is cut short. At age 13, she’s a gifted student whose natural abilities are overlooked by 1950s society, which has difficulty conceiving of women as scientists. Instead, she’s sent to vocational school while her older brother, William, grows up to become one of the most widely praised poets of his generation.
John Mighton is a successful playwright and mathematician, yet at times in his life, he’s struggled with doubt. However, he also learned there was hope, and that’s the genesis of The Little Years, which opens at the Tarragon Theatre on Nov. 16 and runs to Dec. 16 .
In keeping (more or less) with this subsection’s theme ‘The Word’, Mighton has recently had a new book published, ‘All Things Being Equal: Why Math is the Key to a Better World’, according to a January 24, 2020 article (online version) by Jamie Portman for Postmedia,
It’s more than two decades since Canadian mathematician and playwright John Mighton found himself playing a small role in the film, Good Will Hunting. What he didn’t expect when he took on the job was that he would end up making a vital contribution to a screenplay that would go on to win an Oscar for its writers, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
What happened on that occasion tells you a great deal about Mighton’s commitment to the belief that society grossly underestimates the intellectual capacity of human beings — a belief reiterated with quiet eloquence in his latest book, All Things Being Equal.
Mighton loved the experience but as shooting continued he became troubled over his involvement in a movie that played “heavily on the idea that geniuses like Will are born and not made.” This was anathema to his own beliefs as a mathematician and he finally summoned up the courage to ask Affleck and Damon if he could write a few extra lines for his character. This speech was the result: “Most people never get the chance to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers who believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”
At a time of growing controversy across Canada over the teaching of mathematics in school and continuing evidence of diminishing student results, Mighton continues to feel gratitude to the makers of Good Will Hunting for heeding his concerns. [I will be writing a post about the latest PISA scores where Canadian students have again slipped in their mathematics scores.]
Mighton is on the phone from from Toronto, his voice soft-spoken but still edged with fervour. He pursues two successful careers — as an award-winning Canadian playwright and as a renowned mathematician and philosopher who has devoted a lifetime to developing strategies that foster the intellectual potential of all children through learning math. But even as he talks about his 2001 founding of JUMP Math, a respected charity that offers a radical alternative to conventional teaching of the subject, he’s anxious to remind you that he’s a guy who almost failed calculus at university and who once struggled to overcome his “own massive math anxiety.”
You can find out more about John Mighton in his Wikipedia entry (mostly about his academic accomplishments) and on the JUMP Math website (better overall biography).
It’s called ‘Math Out Loud’ and was first mentioned here in a January 9, 2012 posting (the same post also featured the BIRS poetry workshop),
“When Mackenzie Gray talks about the way Paul McCartney used a recursive sequence to make the song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” seem to last forever, you realize that part of the Beatles’ phenomenal success might have sprung from McCartney’s genius as a mathematician.
When Roger Kemp draws on a napkin to illustrate that you just have to change the way you think about numbers to come up with a binary code for pi (as in 3.14 ad infinitum), you get a sense that math can actually be a lot of fun.”
Produced by MITACS which in 2012 was known as ‘Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems’, a not-for-profit research organization, the musical went on tour in the Fall of 2012 (according to my September 7, 2012 posting). Unusually, I did not embed the promotional trailer for this 2012 musical so, here it is now,
Since 2012, Mitacs has gone through some sort of rebranding process and it’s now described as a nonprofit national research organization. For more you can read its Wikipedia entry or go to its website.
Acting and storytelling
It turns out there was an acting class (five sessions) for scientists at the University of Calgary in 2017. Here’s more from the course’s information sheet,
Act Your Science: Improve Your Communication Skills with Training in Improvisation 2 hours a session, 5 sessions, every Wednesday starting November 14  …
Dr. Jeff Dunn, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Graduate Students Association, the Canadian Science Writers Association [also known as Science Writers and Communicators of Canada] and the Loose Moose Theatre have teamed together to provide training in a skill which will be useful where ever your career takes you.
The goal of this project is to improve the science communication skills of graduate students in science fields. We will improve your communication through the art of training in improvisation. Training will help with speech and body awareness. Improvisation will provide life‐long skills in communication, in a fun interactive environment.
For many years, Alan Alda, a well-known actor (originally of the “MASH” television series fame), has applied his acting skills and improvisation training to help scientists improve their communication. He developed the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
The training will involve five 2hr improvisation workshop sessions led by one of Canada’s top professional improvisation trainers, Dennis Cahill, the Artistic Director from Loose Moose Theatre. Dennis has an international reputation for developing the theatrical style of improvisation. Training involves a lot of moving around (and possibly rolling on the floor!) so dress casually. Be prepared to release your inhibitions!
The information sheet includes a link to this University of Chicago video (posted on Youtube February 24, 2014) of actor Alan Alda discussing science communication,
Victoria Bouvier, a Michif-Metis woman, is of the Red River Settlement and Boggy Creek, Manitoba, and born and raised in Calgary. She is an Assistant professor in Indigenous Studies at Mount Royal University and a doctoral candidate in Educational Research [emphasis mine] at the University of Calgary. Her research is exploring how Michif/Métis people, born and raised in urban environments, practice and express their self-understandings, both individually and collectively through using an Indigenous oral system and visual media as methodology.
In a technology-laden society, people are capturing millions of photographs and videos that document their lived experiences, followed by uploading them to social media sites. As mass amounts of media is being shared each day, the question becomes: are we utilizing photos and videos to derive meaning from our everyday lived experiences, while settling in to a deeper sense of our self-in-relation?
This session will explore how photos and videos, positioned within an Indigenous oral system, are viewed and interacted with as a third perspective in the role of storytelling.
Finally, h/t to Jennifer Bon Bernard’s April 19, 2017 article (reposted Dec. 11, 2019) about Act Your Science for the Science Writers and Communicators blog. The original date doesn’t look right to me but perhaps she participated in a pilot project.
Neuroscience, science policy, and science advice
The end of this part is almost in sight
Knitting in Toronto and drawings in Vancouver (neuroscience)
In 2017, Toronto hosted a neuroscience event which combined storytelling and knitting (from my October 12, 2017 posting (Note: the portion below is an excerpt from an ArtSci Salon announcement),
With NARRATING NEUROSCIENCE we plan to initiate a discussion on the role and the use of storytelling and art (both in verbal and visual forms) to communicate abstract and complex concepts in neuroscience to very different audiences, ranging from fellow scientists, clinicians and patients, to social scientists and the general public. We invited four guests to share their research through case studies and experiences stemming directly from their research or from other practices they have adopted and incorporated into their research, where storytelling and the arts have played a crucial role not only in communicating cutting edge research in neuroscience, but also in developing and advancing it.
The ArtSci Salon folks also announced this (from the Sept. 25, 2017 ArtSci Salon announcement; received via email),
ATTENTION ARTSCI SALONISTAS AND FANS OF ART AND SCIENCE!! CALL FOR KNITTING AND CROCHET LOVERS!
In addition to being a PhD student at the University of Toronto, Tahani Baakdhah is a prolific knitter and crocheter and has been the motor behind two successful Knit-a-Neuron Toronto initiatives. We invite all Knitters and Crocheters among our ArtSci Salonistas to pick a pattern (link below) and knit a neuron (or 2! Or as many as you want!!)
BRING THEM TO OUR OCTOBER 20 ARTSCI SALON! Come to the ArtSci Salon and knit there!
That link to the patterns is still working.
Called “The Beautiful Brain” and held in the same time frame as Toronto’s neuro event, Vancouver hosted an exhibition of Santiago Ramon y Cajal’s drawings from September 5 to December 3, 2017. In concert with the exhibition, the local ‘neuro’ community held a number of outreach events. Here’s what I had in my September 11, 2017 posting where I quoted from the promotional material for the exhibition,
The Beautiful Brain is the first North American museum exhibition to present the extraordinary drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist renowned for his discovery of neuron cells and their structure, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. Known as the father of modern neuroscience, Cajal was also an exceptional artist. He combined scientific and artistic skills to produce arresting drawings with extraordinary scientific and aesthetic qualities.
A century after their completion, Cajal’s drawings are still used in contemporary medical publications to illustrate important neuroscience principles, and continue to fascinate artists and visual art audiences. …
Pictured: Santiago Ramón y Cajal, injured Purkinje neurons, 1914, ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC).
From Vancouver, the exhibition traveled to a gallery in New York City and then onto the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Mehrdad Hariri has done a an extraordinary job as its founder and chief executive officer. The CSPC has developed from a single annual conference to an organization that hosts different events throughout the year and publishes articles and opinion pieces on Canadian science policy and has been instrumental in the development of a Canadian science policy community.
The magnitude of Hariri’s accomplishment becomes clear when reading J.w. Grove’s [sic] article, Science Policy, in The Canadian Encyclopedia and seeing that the most recent reports on a national science policy seem to be the Science Council’s (now defunct) 4th report in 1968, Towards a National Science Policy in Canada, the OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) 1969 Review of [Canada’s] Science Policy, and 3 reports from the Senate’s Lamontagne Committee (Special Committee on Science Policy). Grove’s article takes us only to 1988 but I have been unable to find any more recent reports focused on a national science policy for Canada. (If you have any information about a more recent report, please do let me know in the comments.)
A November 5, 2019 piece (#VoteScience: lessons learned and building science advocacy beyond the election cycle) on the CSPC website further illustrates how the Canadian science policy community has gained ground (Note: Links have been removed),
… on August 8, 2019, a coalition of Canadian science organizations and student groups came together to launch the #VoteScience campaign: a national, non-partisan effort to advocate for science in the federal elections, and make science an election issue.
Specifically, we — aka Evidence for Democracy, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE), and the Toronto Science Policy Network (TSPN) [emphases mine] — built a collection of tools and resources to empower Canadian scientists and science supporters to engage with their local candidates on science issues and the importance of evidence-informed decision-making. Our goal was to make it easy for as many Canadians as possible to engage with their candidates — and they did.
Over the past three months, our #VoteScience portal received over 3,600 visitors, including 600 visitors who used our email form to reach out directly to their local candidates. Collectively, we took #VoteScience selfies, distributed postcards to supporters across Canada, and even wrote postcards to every sitting Member of Parliament (in addition to candidates from all parties in each of our own ridings). Also of note, we distributed a science policy questionnaire to the federal parties, to help better inform Canadians about where the federal parties stand on relevant science issues, and received responses from all but one party. We’ve also advocated for science through various media outlets, including commenting for articles appearing in The Narwhal and Nature News, and penning op-eds for outlets such as the National Observer, University Affairs, Le Devoir, and Découvrir.
Prior to SPIN, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA; more about them in part 4), issued a 2017 report titled, Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments. The report was the outcome of a 2016 CCA workshop originally titled, Towards a Science Policy in Alberta. I gather the scope broadened.
Interesting trajectory, yes?
Chief Science advisors/scientists
In September 2017, the Canadian federal government announced that a Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, had been appointed. I have more about the position and Dr. Nemer in my September 26, 2017 posting. (Prior to Dr. Nemer’s appointment a previous government had discontinued a National Science Advisor position that existed from 2004 to 2008.)
The Office of the Chief Science Advisor released it first annual report in 2019 and was covered here in a March 19, 2019 posting.
Québec is the only province (as far as I know) to have a Chief Scientist, Rémi Quirion who was appointed in 2011.
Onto Part 4 where you’ll find we’ve gone to the birds and more.
*The Canadian Science Policy Centre (CSPC) section was written sometime in February 2020. I believe they are planning to publish an editorial piece I submitted to them on April 20, 202 (in other words, before this post was published) in response to their call for submissions (see my April 1, 2020 post for details about the call). In short, I did not praise the organization with any intention of having my work published by them. (sigh) Awkward timing.
Notanee Bourassa knew that what he was seeing in the night sky was not normal. Bourassa, an IT technician in Regina, Canada, trekked outside of his home on July 25, 2016, around midnight with his two younger children to show them a beautiful moving light display in the sky — an aurora borealis. He often sky gazes until the early hours of the morning to photograph the aurora with his Nikon camera, but this was his first expedition with his children. When a thin purple ribbon of light appeared and starting glowing, Bourassa immediately snapped pictures until the light particles disappeared 20 minutes later. Having watched the northern lights for almost 30 years since he was a teenager, he knew this wasn’t an aurora. It was something else.
From 2015 to 2016, citizen scientists — people like Bourassa who are excited about a science field but don’t necessarily have a formal educational background — shared 30 reports of these mysterious lights in online forums and with a team of scientists that run a project called Aurorasaurus. The citizen science project, funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, tracks the aurora borealis through user-submitted reports and tweets.
The Aurorasaurus team, led by Liz MacDonald, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, conferred to determine the identity of this mysterious phenomenon. MacDonald and her colleague Eric Donovan at the University of Calgary in Canada talked with the main contributors of these images, amateur photographers in a Facebook group called Alberta Aurora Chasers, which included Bourassa and lead administrator Chris Ratzlaff. Ratzlaff gave the phenomenon a fun, new name, Steve, and it stuck.
But people still didn’t know what it was.
Scientists’ understanding of Steve changed that night Bourassa snapped his pictures. Bourassa wasn’t the only one observing Steve. Ground-based cameras called all-sky cameras, run by the University of Calgary and University of California, Berkeley, took pictures of large areas of the sky and captured Steve and the auroral display far to the north. From space, ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm satellite just happened to be passing over the exact area at the same time and documented Steve.
For the first time, scientists had ground and satellite views of Steve. Scientists have now learned, despite its ordinary name, that Steve may be an extraordinary puzzle piece in painting a better picture of how Earth’s magnetic fields function and interact with charged particles in space. The findings are published in a study released today in Science Advances.
“This is a light display that we can observe over thousands of kilometers from the ground,” said MacDonald. “It corresponds to something happening way out in space. Gathering more data points on STEVE will help us understand more about its behavior and its influence on space weather.”
The study highlights one key quality of Steve: Steve is not a normal aurora. Auroras occur globally in an oval shape, last hours and appear primarily in greens, blues and reds. Citizen science reports showed Steve is purple with a green picket fence structure that waves. It is a line with a beginning and end. People have observed Steve for 20 minutes to 1 hour before it disappears.
If anything, auroras and Steve are different flavors of an ice cream, said MacDonald. They are both created in generally the same way: Charged particles from the Sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field lines.
The uniqueness of Steve is in the details. While Steve goes through the same large-scale creation process as an aurora, it travels along different magnetic field lines than the aurora. All-sky cameras showed that Steve appears at much lower latitudes. That means the charged particles that create Steve connect to magnetic field lines that are closer to Earth’s equator, hence why Steve is often seen in southern Canada.
Perhaps the biggest surprise about Steve appeared in the satellite data. The data showed that Steve comprises a fast moving stream of extremely hot particles called a sub auroral ion drift, or SAID. Scientists have studied SAIDs since the 1970s but never knew there was an accompanying visual effect. The Swarm satellite recorded information on the charged particles’ speeds and temperatures, but does not have an imager aboard.
“People have studied a lot of SAIDs, but we never knew it had a visible light. Now our cameras are sensitive enough to pick it up and people’s eyes and intellect were critical in noticing its importance,” said Donovan, a co-author of the study. Donovan led the all-sky camera network and his Calgary colleagues lead the electric field instruments on the Swarm satellite.
Steve is an important discovery because of its location in the sub auroral zone, an area of lower latitude than where most auroras appear that is not well researched. For one, with this discovery, scientists now know there are unknown chemical processes taking place in the sub auroral zone that can lead to this light emission.
Second, Steve consistently appears in the presence of auroras, which usually occur at a higher latitude area called the auroral zone. That means there is something happening in near-Earth space that leads to both an aurora and Steve. Steve might be the only visual clue that exists to show a chemical or physical connection between the higher latitude auroral zone and lower latitude sub auroral zone, said MacDonald.
“Steve can help us understand how the chemical and physical processes in Earth’s upper atmosphere can sometimes have local noticeable effects in lower parts of Earth’s atmosphere,” said MacDonald. “This provides good insight on how Earth’s system works as a whole.”
The team can learn a lot about Steve with additional ground and satellite reports, but recording Steve from the ground and space simultaneously is a rare occurrence. Each Swarm satellite orbits Earth every 90 minutes and Steve only lasts up to an hour in a specific area. If the satellite misses Steve as it circles Earth, Steve will probably be gone by the time that same satellite crosses the spot again.
In the end, capturing Steve becomes a game of perseverance and probability.
“It is my hope that with our timely reporting of sightings, researchers can study the data so we can together unravel the mystery of Steve’s origin, creation, physics and sporadic nature,” said Bourassa. “This is exciting because the more I learn about it, the more questions I have.”
As for the name “Steve” given by the citizen scientists? The team is keeping it as an homage to its initial name and discoverers. But now it is STEVE, short for Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.
Other collaborators on this work are: the University of Calgary, New Mexico Consortium, Boston University, Lancaster University, Athabasca University, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group.
If you live in an area where you may see STEVE or an aurora, submit your pictures and reports to Aurorasaurus through aurorasaurus.org or the free iOS and Android mobile apps. To learn how to spot STEVE, click here.
There is a video with MacDonald describing the work and featuring more images,
Citizen scientists first began posting about Steve on social media several years ago. Across New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, they reported an unusual sight in the night sky: a purplish line that arced across the heavens for about an hour at a time, visible at lower latitudes than classical aurorae, mostly in the spring and fall. … “It’s similar to a contrail but doesn’t disperse,” says Notanee Bourassa, an aurora photographer in Saskatchewan province in Canada [Regina as mentioned in the news release is the capital of the province of Saskatchewan].
Traditional aurorae are often green, because oxygen atoms present in Earth’s atmosphere emit that color light when they’re bombarded by charged particles trapped in Earth’s magnetic field. They also appear as a diffuse glow—rather than a distinct line—on the northern or southern horizon. Without a scientific theory to explain the new sight, a group of citizen scientists led by aurora enthusiast Chris Ratzlaff of Canada’s Alberta province [usually referred to as Canada’s province of Alberta or simply, the province of Alberta] playfully dubbed it Steve, after a line in the 2006 children’s movie Over the Hedge.
Aurorae have been studied for decades, but people may have missed Steve because their cameras weren’t sensitive enough, says Elizabeth MacDonald, a space physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and leader of the new research. MacDonald and her team have used data from a European satellite called Swarm-A to study Steve in its native environment, about 200 kilometers up in the atmosphere. Swarm-A’s instruments revealed that the charged particles in Steve had a temperature of about 6000°C, “impressively hot” compared with the nearby atmosphere, MacDonald says. And those ions were flowing from east to west at nearly 6 kilometers per second, …
This paper is open access. You’ll note that Notanee Bourassa is listed as an author. For more about Bourassa, there’s his Twitter feed (@DJHardwired) and his YouTube Channel. BTW, his Twitter bio notes that he’s “Recently heartbroken,” as well as, “Seasoned human male. Expert storm chaser, aurora photographer, drone flyer and on-air FM radio DJ.” Make of that what you will.
There are a couple of events coming up in April and an opportunity to submit your work for inclusion in a Curiosity Collider event or two. There’s also a Science Writers and Communicators conference being held from April 12 – 15, 2018. All of this is happening in Vancouver, Canada.
Curiosity Collider events, etc.
Colliding with the Quantum
From a March 23, 2018 announcement (received via email) from CuriosityCollider.org,
MOA [Museum of Anthropology] Night Shift: Quantum Futures
In the quantum realm, what is observable and what is not? What happens when we mix art and science?
Join us at UBC Museum of Anthropology on the evening of April 5  and immerse yourself in quantum physics through dance, spoken word, projection sculpture, virtual reality, and hands-on activities.
Doors/Bar/Art & Science Activities 6 pm | Live Show 7:30 pm | Entry with museum admission ($10; free for UBC students & staff, Indigenous peoples, children under 6, and MOA Members)| Family Friendly
This event is curated by Curiosity Collider Creative Managing Director Char Hoyt.
The artwork gathered together for this event is a delightful blending of some of the most famous theories in Quantum Mechanics with both traditional and new artistic practices. When science is filtered through a creative expression it can both inspire and reveal new ways of seeing and understanding the concepts within. Our performers have crafted thoughtful experiences through dance, spoken word, sound, and light, that express the weirdness of the quantum realm and how it is reflected in our daily lives. We have also worked closely with scientists to develop hands-on activities that embody the same principles to create experiences that engage your creativity in understanding the quantum world. We encourage you to interact with the artists and scientists and let their work guide you through the quantum realm.
Most of these folks are associated with the Quantum Matter Institute.
Call for submissions
From a March 23, 2018 announcement (received via email) from CuriosityCollider.org,
Call for Submissions:
Women in STEM Exhibition
Interstitial: Science Innovations by Canadian Women is a two-week exhibition (June 1-14) and events showcasing work by female artists featuring women in STEM. We are looking for one more 2D artist/illustrator to join the exhibition and will accept existing work. Deadline April 6. To submit, visit our website.
I found more information about this event at something called allevents.in/vancouver,
SciComm Social with SWCC and STAN
Science Writers and Communicators of Canada (SWCC) and Science Technology Awareness Network (STAN) are hosting their annual conferences in Vancouver in April. This joint reception event featuring #scicomm and #sciart is free for conference delegates and also open to the public … . [emphasis mine]
Friends, family, and fans of science communication & communicators welcome!
This evening event will include performances and activities from:
* Beakerhead – Power Point Karaoke, hosted by Banff SciComm/Beakerhead alumni: A deck of slides is provided. Brave participants, who have never seen the slides before, improvise the talk. Hilarity ensues, egged on by an enthusiastic audience.
* Curiosity Collider – #sciart silent auction, stage performances, and art installation
* SFU Applied Sciences – interactive technology exhibits
* Science Slam Canada – Whether it’s a talk, a poem, a song, a dance, or something completely unexpected, the possibilities are endless. Our only two rules? Five minute slams, and no slideshows allowed!
Get your tickets – available until April 10! This is a 19+ event. Performances starting at 7:30, doors at 7 pm.
Science Writers and Communicators Conference in Vancouver from April 12 – 15, 2018
Before getting to the costs here a couple of peeks at the programme. First, there’s a March 25, 2018 posting on the SWCC blog by Ashley EM Miller about one of the conference sessions,
Art can be a way to engage the public with science through the the simple fact that novelty sparks curiosity. Artists in the emerging field of sci-art utilize science concepts, methods, principles and information within their practice. Their art, along with the work of science illustrators, can facilitate a deeper emotional connection to science, particularly in those who don’t regularly pay attention or feel welcome.
However, using artwork in science communication is not as simple as inserting a picture into a body of text and referencing the artist in MLA style.
For those coming from the sciences, citing your sources, as laborious as that may be, is a given. While that is fine for incorporating information, that isn’t always adequate for artwork. In the art world, artists know how to ask other artists to use their work. If a scientist or science communicator does not have an “in” with the art community, they may not know where to find legal information about using art.
The session boasts a well-rounded panel. Attendees will gain insights on aspects of the art world with panelists Kate Campbell, a science illustrator, and Steven J. Barnes, a psychologist and artist. Legal and ethical considerations will be provided by Lawrence Chan, an intellectual property lawyer, and April Britski, the National Executive Director of Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens (CARFAC). For those unfamiliar, CARFAC is a federal organization that acts as a voice for visual artists in Canada and outlines minimum fee guidelines among other things.
Science communicators and bloggers will certainly benefit from the session, particularly early-career freelancers. When working independently, there are no organizational policies and procedures in place for you to follow. It means that you have to check everything yourself, and this session will give you a crash course of what to look for in artist collaborations, what to ask and how to ask it. Even researchers will benefit from the discussion, by learning about the opportunities for working with science illustrators and about what to expect.
There’s a programme schedule for the 2018 conference here and it includes both an “At a glance’ version and a more fulsome description of the various sessions such as these,
THURSDAY APRIL 12
Act your Science – Interactive Improvisation Training
10:00 am – 12:00 pm Innovation Lab
Come and share a taste of a communication program developed by Jeff Dunn, in collaboration with SWCC, theLoose Moose Theatre in Calgary and the University of Calgary. The goal of this presentation is to provide a taste of how improvisation can be used to improve communication skills in science fields. This hands-on exercise will help participants build capacity to communicate science to various audiences by learning how to fail gracefully in public (to help reduce presentation anxiety), how to connect with your audience and how to recognize and use status in personal interactions.
The full program is 10hrs of training, in this shorter session, we will sample the program in a fun interactive environment. Be prepared to release your inner thespian. Space is limited to 20 people
Jeff Dunn has been a research scientist in brain and imaging for over 30 years. He has a strong interest in mentoring science trainees to broaden their career skills and has recently been developing programs to improve science communication. One class, gaining traction, is “Act your Science”, a custom designed course using improvisation to improving science communication skills for science trainees. He is an alumni of the Banff Science Communication program where he first experienced improvisation training for science. He has held a Canada Research Chair and has Directed the Experimental Imaging Centre at the University of Calgary since 2004. He has over 150 science publications in diverse journals ranging from Polar Biology to the Journal of Neurotrauma. He has supervised scores of graduate students and taught on subjects including MRI, optical imaging and brain physiology at altitude. His imaging research currently includes multiple sclerosis, brain cancer and concussion.
Video Booth: How I SciComm – go ahead and tell all, we want to know!
Available 10:am – 2:30pm: Exploration Lab
A camera team will be on hand to help you record and upload your 1 minute video about who you are, and how you do your science communications. Here are some questions for you to think about:
1. Who are you?
2. How do you do your science communications?
3. What’s your favourite science trivia? What’s something cool you learned when researching a story? What’s your favourite jargon? What’s a word you had to memorizing pronunciation or spelling for a story
A Community of Innovators: 50 Years of TRIUMF
2:30 -3:30 pm Science Theatre
Ask TRIUMF’s spirited founders and emeriti about the humble beginnings of Canada’s particle accelerator centre and you will invariably hear: “This used to be just a big pile of dirt.” You could imagine TRIUMF’s founding members five decades ago standing at the edge of the empty lot nestled between the forest and the sea, contemplating possibilities. But not even TRIUMF’s founders could have imagined the twists and turns of the lab’s 50-year journey, nor the impact that the lab would have on the people of Canada and the world.
Today, on that same 12.8-acre plot of land, TRIUMF houses world-leading research and technology, and fuels Canada’s collective imagination for the future of particle and nuclear physics and accelerator science. Join TRIUMF’s Director Jonathan Bagger and colleagues for an exploration of TRIUMF’s origins, impacts, and possibilities – a story of collaboration that over five decades celebrates a multifaceted community and growing family of 20 Canadian member universities and partners from around the world.www.triumf50.com @TRIUMFlab
FRIDAY, APRIL 13
Frontiers in SciComm Policy & Practice
Canada 2067 – Building a national vision for STEM learning
10:30 Room 1900
Canada 2067 is an ambitious initiative to develop a national vision and goals for youth learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Significant and scalable changes in education can be achieved by aligning efforts towards shared goals that support all children and youth in Canada. A draft framework has been developed that builds on research into global policy, broad-based public input, five youth summits, consultation with millennials and a national leadership conference. It calls for action by diverse stakeholders including students, educators, parents, community organizations, industry and all levels of governments. In this workshop, participants will learn about the initiative and discuss the inherent challenges of catalyzing education change in Canada. Participants will also review the framework and provide feedback that will be incorporated into the final version of the Canada 2067 framework. Input into the design of phase 2 will also be encouraged.
Bonnie Schmidt, C.M., Ph.D.
Founder and President, Let’s Talk Science
Dr. Bonnie Schmidt is the founder and president of Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization that helps Canadian youth prepare for future careers and citizenship roles by supporting their engagement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Annually, Let’s Talk Science is accessed by more than 40% of schools in over 1,700 communities, impacting nearly 1 million youth. More than 3,500 volunteers at 45 post-secondary sites form our world-class outreach network. Bonnie currently serves as Chair of the National Leadership Taskforce on Education & Skills for the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) and is on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). She was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2015 and has received an Honorary Doctorate (Ryerson University), the Purvis Memorial Award (Chemical Institute of Canada), Community Service Award (Life Sciences Ontario), and a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award. @BMSchmidt
Infographics: Worth a Thousand Words with Kate Broadly and Sonya Odsen
1:15 Room 1520
Infographics have become a popular way to present results to non-specialist audiences, and they are a very effective tool for sharing science on social platforms. Infographics are more likely to be shared online, where they increase engagement with scientific content on platforms like Twitter.
No art skills? No problem! This session will guide you through the process of creating your own infographic, from crafting your story to telling that story visually, and will include strategies to design effective visuals without having to draw (unless you want to!). Topics will include developing your key messages, making your visuals functional rather than decorative, tips for giving your visuals a professional edge, and the best software options for each artistic skill level. Our goal is to empower you to create a visually-pleasing infographic regardless of your art or drawing experience. At the end of this active session, you will have a draft of your own unique infographic ready to be made digital.
The skills you develop during this session will be readily transferable to other visual media, such as talks, posters, or even creating visuals for blog posts.
Kate Broadley and Sonya Odsen are Science Communicators with Fuse Consulting. Located in Edmonton, Alberta, Fuse is dedicated to communicating cutting-edge research to different audiences in creative and innovative ways. Their ultimate goal is to bring knowledge to life and empower audiences to apply that knowledge in policy, conservation, research, and their day-to-day lives. Every day, Kate and Sonya tackle complex topics and transform them for specific audiences through writing and design. Infographics are one of their favourite tools for conveying information in fun and accessible ways. Their past and current design projects include interpretive signage for Nature Conservancy Canada, twitter-optimized visual abstracts for the Applied Conservation Ecology lab at the University of Alberta, and a series of science-inspired holiday cards. You can see examples of their work at http://www.fuseconsulting.ca/see-our-work/. Kate and Sonya are also ecologists by training, each holding an M.Sc. from the University of Alberta.
Should this excite your interest, get going as registration ends March 29, 2018. Here are the rates and the registration link is at the end,
After all these years of writing about geckos and their adhesive properties it seems that geckos sometimes slip or let go, theoretically. (BTW, there’s a Canadian connection’ one of the researchers is at the University of Calgary in the province of Alberta.) From a July 19, 2017 Cornell University news release (also on EurekAlert),
Geckos climb vertically up trees, walls and even windows, thanks to pads on the digits of their feet that employ a huge number of tiny bristles and hooks.
Scientists have long marveled at the gecko’s adhesive capabilities, which have been described as 100 times more than what is needed to support their body weight or run quickly up a surface.
But a new theoretical study examines for the first time the limits of geckos’ gripping ability in natural contexts. The study, recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, reports there are circumstances – such as when geckos fear for their lives, leap into the air and are forced to grab on to a leaf below – when they need every bit of that fabled adhesive ability, and sometimes it’s not enough.
“Geckos are notoriously described as having incredible ability to adhere to a surface,” said Karl Niklas, professor of plant evolution at Cornell University and a co-author of the paper. The study’s lead authors, Timothy Higham at the University of California, Riverside, and Anthony Russell at the University of Calgary, Canada, both zoologists, brought Niklas into the project for his expertise on plant biomechanics.
“The paper shows that [adhesive capability] might be exaggerated, because geckos experience falls and a necessity to grip a surface like a leaf that requires a much more tenacious adhesion force; the paper shows that in some cases the adhesive ability can be exceeded,” Niklas said.
In the theoretical study, the researchers developed computer models to understand if there are common-place instances when the geckos’ ability to hold on to surfaces might be challenged, such as when canopy-dwelling geckos are being chased by a predator and are forced to leap from a tree, hoping to land on a leaf below. The researchers incorporated ecological observations, adhesive force measurements, and body size and shape measurements of museum specimens to conduct simulations. They also considered the biomechanics of the leaves, the size of the leaves and the angles on the surface that geckos might land on to determine impact forces. Calculations were also based on worst-case scenarios, where a gecko reaches a maximum speed when it is no longer accelerating, called “terminal settling velocity.”
“Leaves are cantilevered like diving boards and they go through harmonic motion [when struck], so you have to calculate the initial deflection and orientation, and then consider how does that leaf rebound and can the gecko still stay attached,” Niklas said.
The final result showed that in some cases geckos don’t have enough adhesion to save themselves, he added.
Higham and Russell are planning to travel to French Guiana to do empirical adhesive force studies on living geckos in native forests.
The basic research helps people better understand how geckos stick to surfaces, and has the potential for future applications that mimic such biological mechanisms.
The Council Canadian of Academies (CCA) released a report on subnational science policy that started life as a workshop on the province of Alberta’s science policy (see my Nov. 10, 2016 posting). Somehow by the time of the April 19, 2017 CCA news release (also received via email and found on EurekAlert) announcing the workshop report, the focus had widened,
A new report, Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments, released today [April 19, 2017] by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), affirms the importance of explicit science policies at the subnational level.
“In Canada, science is as much a provincial endeavour as it is a national one,” said Dr. Joy Johnson, FCAHS, Chair of the CCA Workshop Steering Committee, and Vice President of Research at Simon Fraser University. “Currently, the institutions that perform science, together with the infrastructure and funding that enable it, are a part of a multi-level system that is uncoordinated and complex. Realizing the benefits of science as a country requires explicit and effective science policies across all levels of government.”
While all governments have implicit science policies, the report emphasizes that explicit science policies help to articulate the value and objectives of support for science, enhance government coordination and alignment, and increase transparency. Making science policy explicit at the subnational level can also aid in leveraging federal support for science.
The report is the outcome of a two-day expert workshop that sought to identify key considerations for science policies relevant to subnational jurisdictions, specifically for Canadian provinces and territories. Among its findings, the report notes that a comprehensive framework for science policy can be built around five core elements: people, infrastructure, research, science culture, and knowledge mobilization. The report also underscores that science and innovation policies are distinct, but inextricably linked, and that cross-sectoral and cross-governmental coordination and cooperation are essential. With science changing rapidly and research activities becoming increasingly globalized, a commitment to science and to flexible, yet consistent, science policy, is important for long-term success.
“This study suggests that a long-term commitment to subnational science policy is important for maintaining and developing the entire science ecosystem,” said Dr. Eric M. Meslin, FCAHS, President and CEO of the CCA. “Indeed, with the recent release of Canada’s Fundamental Science Review there is now an excellent opportunity for provinces to consider how their own investments in science can be coordinated or aligned with federal priorities for maximum impact.”
Requested by the Government of Alberta, the report also pulls out some specific considerations for the province and highlights successful research initiatives such as the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR). Overall, the report is intended to be used by Canadian provinces and territories as a roadmap to guide conversations and inform decision-making about science policies at the subnational level.
Is anyone surprised that these experts would advise subnational science policies? Perhaps there’s a naïve ten-year-old out there?
Having gotten that off my chest, I have to admit I wouldn’t have come in with anything too different but I could guarantee a little more humour (assuming I’d have had anything to do with the final report).
On to the report, it’s a solid and workmanlike piece of writing and proposed policy as produced by the participants of the workshop (I see a few more people were added after my Nov. 10, 2016 posting), from the report,
Joy Johnson, FCAHS (Chair of the Steering Committee and Workshop),
Vice President Research, Simon Fraser
University (Burnaby, BC)
Paul Dufour (Steering Committee Member),
Adjunct Professor, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University
of Ottawa (Gatineau, QC)
Janet Halliwell (Steering Committee Member),
President, J.E. Halliwell Associates Inc. (Salt Spring Island, BC)
Kaye Husbands Fealing (Steering Committee Member),
Chair and Professor, School of Public Policy, Georgia
Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
Marc LePage (Steering Committee Member),
President and CEO, Genome Canada (Ottawa, ON)
Allison Barr, [new]
Director, Office of the Chief Scientist, Ontario
Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science (Toronto, ON)
Eric Cook, [new]
Executive Director and CEO, Research Productivity Council (Fredericton, NB)
Irwin Feller, [new]
Professor Emeritus, Pennsylvania State
University (State College, PA)
Peter Fenwick, [new]
Member, A100 (Calgary, AB)
Richard Hawkins, [new]
Professor, University of Calgary (Calgary, AB)
Jeff Kinder, [new]
Director, Federal Science and Technology Secretariat (Ottawa, ON)
Robert Lamb, [new]
Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Light Source Inc. (Saskatoon, SK)
John Morin, [new]
Director of Policy, Planning and External Relations, Western Economic Diversification Canada
Nils Petersen, [new]
Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta
Grace Skogstad, [new]
Professor, University of Toronto (Toronto,
P. Kim Sturgess, C.C., FCAE,
CEO, WaterSMART Ltd.
I expect there was an attempt to have women represented in the group of participants and amongst the reviewers. This time it worked out to five women out of 16 workshop participants or approximately 30% and one female reviewer out of four reviewers or 25%. I’m glad to see an effort has been made although I would like to these percentages increase.
As for regional representation, there was none from the North.
The international contingent were all from the US. As I’ve noted with regard to previous CCA reports, the international flavour is garnered from the US, the UK, another commonwealth country such as Australia or New Zealand, and, occasionally, from the European Union. Perhaps one of these times, experts from Asia, South America, or Africa might be included?
The rationale for creating an explicit science policy at the subnational level is compelling.
Science and innovation policies are distinct, but inextricably linked, for all levels of government.
Subnational governments play many of the same roles as national governments in supporting science.
A comprehensive framework for a science policy can be built around five core elements: people, infrastructure, research, science culture, and knowledge mobilization.
Cross-sectoral and cross-governmental coordination and cooperation are central to an effective subnational science policy.
A subnational science policy can bring clarity to provincial research priorities.
Committing long term to a subnational science policy is important for maintaining and developing the science system.
I’m picking a few bits out of the report that I found to be of particular interest. The cover features two light bulbs, appropriately since a couple of Canadians invented them (Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans). Then, Thomas Edison bought the patent, refined the invention, and commercialized it. Oddly, I haven’t been able to find any description of or credit for the front page illustration; which would have been helpful as most Canadians are not familiar with that piece of history.
Moving on, there’s no specific definition for the term, subnational.The closest they get is ‘regional’. In Canada, that presumably means provincial although they could be including cities and other regional jurisdictions such as Metro Vancouver, which includes the city of Vancouver along with several other municipalities. However, the impression is that they are discussing provincial governments only.
Moving on to what was in the report that was of interest to me, there was this on computation and digital infrastructure,
Rapid growth in the data requirements of many areas of scientific work is creating both physical and virtual infrastructure needs. Access to high-power computing capacity, data storage, and high-speed networking is increasingly vital to many domains of research activity, from oceanography to neuroscience. In Canada national organizations such as CANARIE and Compute Canada respond to these needs and focus investments in continued development of Canada’s digital research infrastructure (CANARIE, n.d.; CC, n.d.). These may be supported further by provincial investments, such as the Ontario government’s investment in Compute Ontario and the B.C. government’s support for the WestGrid high performance computing network (Gov. of BC, 2011; CC, 2016). Data harmonization, interoperability, and standardization can accelerate research and lead to new advances, particularly in health research. At a pan-Canadian level, the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure is seeking to coordinate the diverse players in the digital infrastructure ecosystem (LCDI, n.d.). Subnationally, provinces must also consider the adequacy of regional digital infrastructure, taking into account the requirements associated with provincial research priorities and how best to coordinate provincial, regional, [emphasis mine] and federal support. (p. 11 print; p. 23 PDF)
This was the most specific section of the report naming specific agencies and responsibilities. Intriguingly, they mention provincial and regional support separately but I believe that regional in this instance means ‘Atlantic’, ‘Western’, ‘Prairie’, Maritime’, etc., in other words, provincial and territorial (?) groupings. As the Naylor report also went into some detail about digital infrastructure, which I didn’t choose to mention in my three part commentary, I’m beginning to suspect some anxiety is being felt about data. Given the increasing concerns over cyber security both in Canada and around the globe, the anxiety is to be expected.
Next up, Science Culture (sigh),
Workshop participants suggested that subnational governments have a role to play in supporting a strong science culture through education, public science outreach,
engagement, and communication. This begins with science education at the primary and secondary levels, which provinces can direct through provincial science curricula in the K-12 system. Overall, Canada performs well in student science achievement relative to other countries as measured through the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (OECD, 2016). The development of K-12 science curricula in many provinces benefitted from the 1997 Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes created by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC, 1997), and from the 1984 Science Council of Canada report, Science for Every Student (SCC, 1984). That report reviewed science education at the primary and secondary levels, and established a vision for public science literacy in Canada. Research has since confirmed the fundamental role of science education as a key determinant of civic science literacy (Miller, 1998).
Support for Informal Science Learning and Engagement
Beyond formal science education, there are many avenues through which subnational governments can support public engagement in the sciences. Science centres and museums provide opportunities for the public to experience science in interactive, hands-on forums, which increasingly harness new digital and communication technologies. Expert science communicators and science ambassadors can make scientific work more accessible to the public, illuminating its relevance and potential. Non-profit organizations can build interest and knowledge among youth in the STEM fields (LTS, n.d.). Science fairs and festivals can also foster excitement about science. Contemporary science festivals often involve collaborations of musicians, artists, [emphasis mine] technologies, engineers, researchers, and communicators of many types.3 Governments can promote scientific and technological awareness through designated science and technology days or weeks. Chief scientists can officially support public science engagement, as is the case in Australia (see Gov. of AU, n.d.). Granting programs can create incentives to encourage researchers to participate in science communication and outreach activities. However, such incentives require careful structuring because not all researchers have the inclination or skills needed to communicate their work to a broader audience.
Subnational governments often support science centres, museums, and other forms of public science outreach. In Quebec, science culture is explicitly identified as a sub-priority in the provincial science policy (Gov. of QC, 2013), but such support is not always connected to or formally recognized in subnational science policies. Leaving such support unconnected to the larger policy framework that outlines the government’s approach to supporting science may contribute to a lack of alignment and coordination of government support. (pp. 12-3 print; pp. 24-5 PDF)
While it can’t be denied that reaching out to children and youth is important, science outreach for adults may be the key to getting more science participation from science and youth. I wrote about two 2012 studies one in the UK (ASPIRES) and the other in the US, which strongly suggested that children and teens can get excited about science and still decide that it’s ‘not for me’ because no one they know (parents, family friends, etc.) has a ‘scientific’ job. The impact that your family has on your occupational aspirations is quite substantive. You can read about the two studies in my Jan. 31, 2012 posting.There’s also a plaintive plea for more adult science outreach in my May 12, 2017 posting. One final note about science culture, given the mention of artists and musicians, I’m surprised they didn’t mention STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics).
The last bit I’m going to mention is Alberta’s position vis-à-vis science policy,
Alberta has a long history of supporting scientific research in the province. As noted earlier, the Alberta Research Council was established in 1921 as Canada’s first provincial research organization (ACT, 2016). Almost 100 years later, its legacy is carried on through research and technology development activities under the auspices of Alberta Innovates. Workshop participants pointed to two sectoral initiatives that are regarded as particular research success stories in the provincial research landscape: the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) established in 1974, and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) established through an endowment in 1980 (AIHS, 2016; ACT, n.d.) (see Box 4.1 for a brief discussion of each). Both initiatives are seen as “big bets” that have delivered significant benefits for the province; workshop participants cautioned that small
investments over short periods are less likely to deliver noticeable impacts.
Today, Alberta is home to a dynamic science system and its scientific contributions are nationally and internationally competitive by many measures. Workshop participants identified the talent pool and a strong university research system as key strengths of Alberta’s science system. While bibliometric indicators (indicators based on research publication and citation patterns) are not valid measures of strength across all areas of academic research, they are valuable in many domains, especially when used to compare like with like. Using data collected by the CCA (2012b, 2016) in its studies of the state of science and technology and industrial R&D in Canada, a snapshot of Alberta’s strengths is revealing. Alberta’s research output and impact are broadly on par with Canada’s other large provinces: it has the second highest rate of publications per faculty researcher, the fourth highest Average Relative Citation (ARC) score6 among the provinces, and the third highest rate of doctoral graduates per population after Quebec and Ontario (CCA, 2012b, 2016). Bibliometric analysis indicates that Alberta’s research output is comparatively high in fields such as Public Health and Health Services; Earth and Environmental Sciences; Philosophy and Theology; and Psychology and Cognitive Sciences (Figure 4.1). Fields in which Alberta has a high research impact (as reflected by citations) include Clinical Medicine; Physics and Astronomy; Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Historical Studies; Economics and Business; and Information and Communication Technologies (Figure 4.2).
The four themes of Alberta Innovates give a sense of current research priorities, with the government offering significant funding support under bio solutions, energy and environment, health, and technology futures (AI, n.d.). Nanotechnology is another area of focus with the National Institute for Nanotechnology as an important piece of a broader nanotechnology cluster and strategy for Alberta. The province has developed a nanotechnology strategy that seeks to expand the sector, focusing on commercialization, talent, and infrastructure (Gov. of AB, 2007). (p. 20 print; p. 32 PDF)
6 The ARC score “is a measure of the frequency of citation of publications” (CCA, 2012b).
There is no question that Alberta has worked hard to establish its scientific credentials. I’m a little surprised the report doesn’t mention Québec’s efforts in more detail as they have been on a par with Alberta’s. I expect Ontario should also score well this in area but I stumble less frequently on information about Ontario’s science efforts than I do for Alberta and Québec. One last thing, it should be noted that the province of Alberta paid for this workshop/assessment either in large part or in whole.
In sum, they covered the bases competently and thoughtfully if not imaginatively. For anyone who’s has the time, there’s the full report (Science Policy: Considerations for Subnational Governments report) and its recommendations on gender and diversity, researcher mobility, alignment with federal support and programmes, science advice and evidence-based policy, and more.
Anyone who’s noticed how popular silver has become as an antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral agent may have wondered if resistance might occur as its use becomes more common. I have two bits on the topic, one from Australia and the other from Canada.
Researchers in Australia don’t have a definitive statement on the issue but are suggesting more caution (from a March 31, 2017 news item on Nanowerk),
Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney [UTS] warn that the broad-spectrum antimicrobial effectiveness of silver is being put at risk by the widespread and inappropriate expansion of nanosilver use in medical and consumer goods.
As well as their use in medical items such as wound dressings and catheters, silver nanoparticles are becoming ubiquitous in everyday items, including toothbrushes and toothpaste, baby bottles and teats, bedding, clothing and household appliances, because of their antibacterial potency and the incorrect assumption that ordinary items should be kept “clean” of microbes.
Nanobiologist Dr Cindy Gunawan, from the ithree institute at UTS and lead researcher on the investigation, said alarm bells should be ringing at the commercialisation of nanosilver use because of a “real threat” that resistance to nanosilver will develop and spread through microorganisms in the human body and the environment.
Dr Gunawan and ithree institute director Professor Liz Harry, in collaboration with researchers at UNSW [University of New South Wales] and abroad, investigated more than 140 commercially available medical devices, including wound dressings and tracheal and urinary catheters, and dietary supplements, which are promoted as immunity boosters and consumed by throat or nasal spray.
Their perspective article in the journal ACS Nano concluded that the use of nanosilver in these items could lead to prolonged exposure to bioactive silver in the human body. Such exposure creates the conditions for microbial resistance to develop.
The use of silver as an antimicrobial agent dates back centuries. Its ability to destroy pathogens while seemingly having low toxicity on human cells has seen it widely employed, in treating burns or purifying water, for example. More recently, ultra-small (less than 10,000th of a millimetre) silver nanoparticles have been engineered for antimicrobial purposes. Their commercial appeal lies in superior potency at lower concentrations than “bulk” silver.
“Nanosilver is a proven antimicrobial agent whose reliability is being jeopardised by the commercialisation of people’s fear of bacteria,” Dr Gunawan said.
“Our use of it needs to be far more judicious, in the same way we need to approach antibiotic usage. Nanosilver is a useful tool but we need to be careful, use it wisely and only when the benefit outweighs the risk.
“People need to be made aware of just how widely it is used, but more importantly they need to be made aware that the presence of nanosilver has been shown to cause antimicrobial resistance.”
What is also needed, Dr Gunawan said, is a targeted surveillance strategy to monitor for any occurrence of resistance.
Professor Harry said the findings were a significant contribution to addressing the global antimicrobial resistance crisis.
“This research emphasises the threat posed to our health and that of the environment by the inappropriate use of nanosilver as an antibacterial, particularly in ordinary household and consumer items,” she said.
Silver and other metals have been used to fight infections since ancient times. Today, researchers are using sophisticated techniques such as the gene-editing platform Crispr-Cas9 to take a closer look at precisely how silver poisons pathogenic microbes–and when it fails. The work is yielding new insights on how to create effective antimicrobials and avoid the pitfalls of antimicrobial resistance.
Joe Lemire, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary, will present his work in this area at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.
“Our overarching goal is to deliver the relevant scientific evidence that would aid policymakers in developing guidelines for when and how silver could be used in the clinic to combat and control infectious pathogens,” said Lemire. “With our enhanced mechanistic understanding of silver toxicity, we also aim to develop novel silver-based antimicrobial therapies, and potentially rejuvenate other antibiotic therapies that bacteria have come to resist, via silver-based co-treatment strategies.”
Lemire and his colleagues are using Crispr-Cas9 genome editing to screen for and delete genes that allow certain bacterial species to resist silver’s antimicrobial properties. [emphasis mine] Although previous methods allowed researchers to identify genes that confer antibiotic resistance or tolerance, Crispr-Cas9 is the first technology to allow researchers to cleanly delete these genes from the genome without leaving behind any biochemical markers or “scars.”
The team has discovered many biological pathways involved in silver toxicity and some surprising ways that bacteria avoid succumbing to silver poisoning, Lemire said. While silver is used to control bacteria in many clinical settings and has been incorporated into hundreds of commercial products, gaining a more complete understanding of silver’s antimicrobial properties is necessary if we are to make the most of this ancient remedy for years to come.
Joe Lemire will present this research at 12-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 25,  in Hall F, McCormick Place Convention Center (poster B379 939.2) (abstract). Contact the media team for more information or to obtain a free press pass to attend the meeting.
About Experimental Biology 2017
Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from six host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the U.S. and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. http://www.experimentalbiology.org #expbio
About the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)
ASBMB is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with more than 12,000 members worldwide. Founded in 1906 to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology, the society publishes three peer-reviewed journals, advocates for funding of basic research and education, supports science education at all levels, and promotes the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce. http://www.asbmb.org
Lemire’s co-authors for the work presented at the 2017 annual meeting are: Kate Chatfield-Reed (The University of Calgary), Lindsay Kalan (Perelman School of Medicine), Natalie Gugala (The University of Calgary), Connor Westersund (The University of Calgary), Henrik Almblad (The University of Calgary), Gordon Chua (The University of Calgary), Raymond Turner (The University of Calgary).
For anyone who wants to pursue this research a little further, the most recent paper I can find is this one from 2015,
This is the 4900th post on this blog and as FrogHeart moves forward to 5000, I’m thinking there will be some changes although I’m not sure what they’ll be. In the meantime, here are some random thoughts on the year that was in Canadian science and on the FrogHeart blog.
Changeover to Liberal government: year one
Hopes were high after the Trudeau government was elected. Certainly, there seems to have been a loosening where science communication policies have been concerned although it may not have been quite the open and transparent process people dreamed of. On the plus side, it’s been easier to participate in public consultations but there has been no move (perceptible to me) towards open government science or better access to government-funded science papers.
Open Science in Québec
As far as I know, la crème de la crème of open science (internationally) is the Montreal Neurological Institute (Montreal Neuro; affiliated with McGill University. They bookended the year with two announcements. In January 2016, Montreal Neuro announced it was going to be an “Open Science institution (my Jan. 22, 2016 posting),
The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) in Québec, Canada, known informally and widely as Montreal Neuro, has ‘opened’ its science research to the world. David Bruggeman tells the story in a Jan. 21, 2016 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog (Note: Links have been removed),
The Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) at McGill University announced that it will be the first academic research institute to become what it calls ‘Open Science.’ As Science is reporting, the MNI will make available all research results and research data at the time of publication. Additionally it will not seek patents on any of the discoveries made on research at the Institute.
Will this catch on? I have no idea if this particular combination of open access research data and results with no patents will spread to other university research institutes. But I do believe that those elements will continue to spread. More universities and federal agencies are pursuing open access options for research they support. Elon Musk has opted to not pursue patent litigation for any of Tesla Motors’ patents, and has not pursued patents for SpaceX technology (though it has pursued litigation over patents in rocket technology). …
It’s one heck of a Christmas present. Canadian businessmen Larry Tannenbaum and his wife Judy have given the Montreal Neurological Institute (Montreal Neuro), which is affiliated with McGill University, a $20M donation. From a Dec. 16, 2016 McGill University news release,
The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, was present today at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI) for the announcement of an important donation of $20 million by the Larry and Judy Tanenbaum family. This transformative gift will help to establish the Tanenbaum Open Science Institute, a bold initiative that will facilitate the sharing of neuroscience findings worldwide to accelerate the discovery of leading edge therapeutics to treat patients suffering from neurological diseases.
‟Today, we take an important step forward in opening up new horizons in neuroscience research and discovery,” said Mr. Larry Tanenbaum. ‟Our digital world provides for unprecedented opportunities to leverage advances in technology to the benefit of science. That is what we are celebrating here today: the transformation of research, the removal of barriers, the breaking of silos and, most of all, the courage of researchers to put patients and progress ahead of all other considerations.”
Neuroscience has reached a new frontier, and advances in technology now allow scientists to better understand the brain and all its complexities in ways that were previously deemed impossible. The sharing of research findings amongst scientists is critical, not only due to the sheer scale of data involved, but also because diseases of the brain and the nervous system are amongst the most compelling unmet medical needs of our time.
Neurological diseases, mental illnesses, addictions, and brain and spinal cord injuries directly impact 1 in 3 Canadians, representing approximately 11 million people across the country.
“As internationally-recognized leaders in the field of brain research, we are uniquely placed to deliver on this ambitious initiative and reinforce our reputation as an institution that drives innovation, discovery and advanced patient care,” said Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital and Chair of McGill University’s Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. “Part of the Tanenbaum family’s donation will be used to incentivize other Canadian researchers and institutions to adopt an Open Science model, thus strengthening the network of like-minded institutes working in this field.”
Chief Science Advisor
Getting back to the federal government, we’re still waiting for a Chief Science Advisor. Should you be interested in the job, apply here. The job search was launched in early Dec. 2016 (see my Dec. 7, 2016 posting for details) a little over a year after the Liberal government was elected. I’m not sure why the process is taking so long. It’s not like the Canadian government is inventing a position or trailblazing in this regard. Many, many countries and jurisdictions have chief science advisors. Heck the European Union managed to find their first chief science advisor in considerably less time than we’ve spent on the project. My guess, it just wasn’t a priority.
Prime Minister Trudeau, quantum, nano, and Canada’s 150th birthday
In April 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stunned many when he was able to answer, in an articulate and informed manner, a question about quantum physics during a press conference at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario (my April 18, 2016 post discussing that incident and the so called ‘quantum valley’ in Ontario).
In Sept. 2016, the University of Waterloo publicized the world’s smallest Canadian flag to celebrate the country’s upcoming 150th birthday and to announce its presence in QUANTUM: The Exhibition (a show which will tour across Canada). Here’s more from my Sept. 20, 2016 posting,
The record-setting flag was unveiled at IQC’s [Institute of Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo] open house on September 17 , which attracted nearly 1,000 visitors. It will also be on display in QUANTUM: The Exhibition, a Canada 150 Fund Signature Initiative, and part of Innovation150, a consortium of five leading Canadian science-outreach organizations. QUANTUM: The Exhibition is a 4,000-square-foot, interactive, travelling exhibit IQC developed highlighting Canada’s leadership in quantum information science and technology.
“I’m delighted that IQC is celebrating Canadian innovation through QUANTUM: The Exhibition and Innovation150,” said Raymond Laflamme, executive director of IQC. “It’s an opportunity to share the transformative technologies resulting from Canadian research and bring quantum computing to fellow Canadians from coast to coast to coast.”
The first of its kind, the exhibition will open at THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener on October 14 , and then travel to science centres across the country throughout 2017.
Science World at TELUS World of Science, Vancouver
TELUS Spark, Calgary
Discovery Centre, Halifax
Canada Science and Technology Museum, Ottawa
I gather they’re still looking for other venues to host the exhibition. If interested, there’s this: Contact us.
Other than the flag which is both nanoscale and microscale, they haven’t revealed what else will be included in their 4000 square foot exhibit but it will be “bilingual, accessible, and interactive.” Also, there will be stories.
Hmm. The exhibition is opening in roughly three weeks and they have no details. Strategy or disorganization? Only time will tell.
Calgary and quantum teleportation
This is one of my favourite stories of the year. Scientists at the University of Calgary teleported photons six kilometers from the university to city hall breaking the teleportation record. What I found particularly interesting was the support for science from Calgary City Hall. Here’s more from my Sept. 21, 2016 post,
Through a collaboration between the University of Calgary, The City of Calgary and researchers in the United States, a group of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary have successfully demonstrated teleportation of a photon (an elementary particle of light) over a straight-line distance of six kilometres using The City of Calgary’s fibre optic cable infrastructure. The project began with an Urban Alliance seed grant in 2014.
This accomplishment, which set a new record for distance of transferring a quantum state by teleportation, has landed the researchers a spot in the prestigious Nature Photonics scientific journal. The finding was published back-to-back with a similar demonstration by a group of Chinese researchers.
The research could not be possible without access to the proper technology. One of the critical pieces of infrastructure that support quantum networking is accessible dark fibre. Dark fibre, so named because of its composition — a single optical cable with no electronics or network equipment on the alignment — doesn’t interfere with quantum technology.
The City of Calgary is building and provisioning dark fibre to enable next-generation municipal services today and for the future.
“By opening The City’s dark fibre infrastructure to the private and public sector, non-profit companies, and academia, we help enable the development of projects like quantum encryption and create opportunities for further research, innovation and economic growth in Calgary,” said Tyler Andruschak, project manager with Innovation and Collaboration at The City of Calgary.
As for the science of it (also from my post),
A Sept. 20, 2016 article by Robson Fletcher for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting News) online provides a bit more insight from the lead researcher (Note: A link has been removed),
“What is remarkable about this is that this information transfer happens in what we call a disembodied manner,” said physics professor Wolfgang Tittel, whose team’s work was published this week in the journal Nature Photonics.
“Our transfer happens without any need for an object to move between these two particles.”
“Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect,” says Tittel.
Experiment draws on ‘spooky action at a distance’
The experiment is based on the entanglement property of quantum mechanics, also known as “spooky action at a distance” — a property so mysterious that not even Einstein could come to terms with it.
“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” explains Tittel. “When one of the photons was sent over to City Hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary.”
Next, the photon whose state was teleported to the university was generated in a third location in Calgary and then also travelled to City Hall where it met the photon that was part of the entangled pair.
“What happened is the instantaneous and disembodied transfer of the photon’s quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres away at the university,” says Tittel.
Council of Canadian Academies and The State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada
Preliminary data was released by the CCA’s expert panel in mid-December 2016. I reviewed that material briefly in my Dec. 15, 2016 post but am eagerly awaiting the full report due late 2017 when, hopefully, I’ll have the time to critique the material, and which I hope will have more surprises and offer greater insights than the preliminary report did.
Thank you to my online colleagues. While we don’t interact much it’s impossible to estimate how encouraging it is to know that these people continually participate and help create the nano and/or science blogosphere.
David Bruggeman at his Pasco Phronesis blog keeps me up-to-date on science policy both in the US, Canada, and internationally, as well as, keeping me abreast of the performing arts/science scene. Also, kudos to David for raising my (and his audience’s) awareness of just how much science is discussed on late night US television. Also, I don’t know how he does it but he keeps scooping me on Canadian science policy matters. Thankfully, I’m not bitter and hope he continues to scoop me which will mean that I will get the information from somewhere since it won’t be from the Canadian government.
Tim Harper of Cientifica Research keeps me on my toes as he keeps shifting his focus. Most lately, it’s been on smart textiles and wearables. You can download his latest White Paper titled, Fashion, Smart Textiles, Wearables and Disappearables, from his website. Tim consults on nanotechnology and other emerging technologies at the international level.
Dexter Johnson of the Nanoclast blog on the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) website consistently provides informed insight into how a particular piece of research fits into the nano scene and often provides historical details that you’re not likely to get from anyone else.
Dr. Andrew Maynard is currently the founding Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at the University of Arizona. I know him through his 2020 Science blog where he posts text and videos on many topics including emerging technologies, nanotechnologies, risk, science communication, and much more. Do check out 2020 Science as it is a treasure trove.
2017 hopes and dreams
I hope Canada’s Chief Science Advisor brings some fresh thinking to science in government and that the Council of Canadian Academies’ upcoming assessment on The State of Science and Technology and Industrial Research and Development in Canada is visionary. Also, let’s send up some collective prayers for the Canada Science and Technology Museum which has been closed since 2014 (?) due to black mold (?). It would be lovely to see it open in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary.
I’d like to see the nanotechnology promise come closer to a reality, which benefits as many people as possible.
As for me and FrogHeart, I’m not sure about the future. I do know there’s one more Steep project (I’m working with Raewyn Turner on a multiple project endeavour known as Steep; this project will involve sound and gold nanoparticles).
Should anything sparkling occur to me, I will add it at a future date.
In the meantime, Happy New Year and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this blog!
The essay on brains and machines becoming intertwined is making the rounds. First stop on my tour was its Oct. 4, 2016 appearance on the Mail & Guardian, then there was its Oct. 3, 2016 appearance on The Conversation, and finally (moving forward in time) there was its Oct. 4, 2016 appearance on the World Economic Forum website as part of their Final Frontier series.
The essay was written by Richard Jones of Sheffield University (mentioned here many times before but most recently in a Sept. 4, 2014 posting). His book ‘Soft Machines’ provided me with an important and eminently readable introduction to nanotechnology. He is a professor of physics at the University of Sheffield and here’s more from his essay (Oct. 3, 2016 on The Conversation) about brains and machines (Note: Links have been removed),
Imagine a condition that leaves you fully conscious, but unable to move or communicate, as some victims of severe strokes or other neurological damage experience. This is locked-in syndrome, when the outward connections from the brain to the rest of the world are severed. Technology is beginning to promise ways of remaking these connections, but is it our ingenuity or the brain’s that is making it happen?
Ever since an 18th-century biologist called Luigi Galvani made a dead frog twitch we have known that there is a connection between electricity and the operation of the nervous system. We now know that the signals in neurons in the brain are propagated as pulses of electrical potential, whose effects can be detected by electrodes in close proximity. So in principle, we should be able to build an outward neural interface system – that is to say, a device that turns thought into action.
In fact, we already have the first outward neural interface system to be tested in humans. It is called BrainGate and consists of an array of micro-electrodes, implanted into the part of the brain concerned with controlling arm movements. Signals from the micro-electrodes are decoded and used to control the movement of a cursor on a screen, or the motion of a robotic arm.
A crucial feature of these systems is the need for some kind of feedback. A patient must be able to see the effect of their willed patterns of thought on the movement of the cursor. What’s remarkable is the ability of the brain to adapt to these artificial systems, learning to control them better.
You can find out more about BrainGate in my May 17, 2012 posting which also features a video of a woman controlling a mechanical arm so she can drink from a cup coffee by herself for the first time in 15 years.
Jones goes on to describe the cochlear implants (although there’s no mention of the controversy; not everyone believes they’re a good idea) and retinal implants that are currently available. Jones notes this (Note Links have been removed),
The key message of all this is that brain interfaces now are a reality and that the current versions will undoubtedly be improved. In the near future, for many deaf and blind people, for people with severe disabilities – including, perhaps, locked-in syndrome – there are very real prospects that some of their lost capabilities might be at least partially restored.
Until then, our current neural interface systems are very crude. One problem is size; the micro-electrodes in use now, with diameters of tens of microns, may seem tiny, but they are still coarse compared to the sub-micron dimensions of individual nerve fibres. And there is a problem of scale. The BrainGate system, for example, consists of 100 micro-electrodes in a square array; compare that to the many tens of billions of neurons in the brain. The fact these devices work at all is perhaps more a testament to the adaptability of the human brain than to our technological prowess.
So the challenge is to build neural interfaces on scales that better match the structures of biology. Here, we move into the world of nanotechnology. There has been much work in the laboratory to make nano-electronic structures small enough to read out the activity of a single neuron. In the 1990s, Peter Fromherz, at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, was a pioneer of using silicon field effect transistors, similar to those used in commercial microprocessors, to interact with cultured neurons. In 2006, Charles Lieber’s group at Harvard succeeded in using transistors made from single carbon nanotubes – whiskers of carbon just one nanometer in diameter – to measure the propagation of single nerve pulses along the nerve fibres.
But these successes have been achieved, not in whole organisms, but in cultured nerve cells which are typically on something like the surface of a silicon wafer. It’s going to be a challenge to extend these methods into three dimensions, to interface with a living brain. Perhaps the most promising direction will be to create a 3D “scaffold” incorporating nano-electronics, and then to persuade growing nerve cells to infiltrate it to create what would in effect be cyborg tissue – living cells and inorganic electronics intimately mixed.
For anyone interested in more about the controversy regarding cochlear implants, there’s this page on the Brown University (US) website. You might also want to check out Gregor Wolbring (professor at the University of Calgary) who has written extensively on the concept of ableism (links to his work can be found at the end of this post). I have excerpted from an Aug. 30, 2011 post the portion where Gregor defines ‘ableism’,
The term ableism evolved from the disabled people rights movements in the United States and Britain during the 1960s and 1970s. It questions and highlights the prejudice and discrimination experienced by persons whose body structure and ability functioning were labelled as ‘impaired’ as sub species-typical. Ableism of this flavor is a set of beliefs, processes and practices, which favors species-typical normative body structure based abilities. It labels ‘sub-normative’ species-typical biological structures as ‘deficient’, as not able to perform as expected.
The disabled people rights discourse and disability studies scholars question the assumption of deficiency intrinsic to ‘below the norm’ labeled body abilities and the favoritism for normative species-typical body abilities. The discourse around deafness and Deaf Culture would be one example where many hearing people expect the ability to hear. This expectation leads them to see deafness as a deficiency to be treated through medical means. In contrast, many Deaf people see hearing as an irrelevant ability and do not perceive themselves as ill and in need of gaining the ability to hear. Within the disabled people rights framework ableism was set up as a term to be used like sexism and racism to highlight unjust and inequitable treatment.