Tag Archives: University of Toronto

Graphene fatigue

Graphene fatigue operates under the same principle as metal fatigue. Subject graphene to stress over and over and at some point it (just like metal) will fail. Scientists at the University of Toronto (Ontatrio, Canada) and Rice University (Texas, US) have determined just how much stress graphene can withstand before breaking according to a January 28, 2020 University of Toronto news release by Tyler Irving (also on EurekAlert but published on January 29, 2020),

Graphene is a paradox. It is the thinnest material known to science, yet also one of the strongest. Now, research from University of Toronto Engineering shows that graphene is also highly resistant to fatigue — able to withstand more than a billion cycles of high stress before it breaks.

Graphene resembles a sheet of interlocking hexagonal rings, similar to the pattern you might see in bathroom flooring tiles. At each corner is a single carbon atom bonded to its three nearest neighbours. While the sheet could extend laterally over any area, it is only one atom thick.

The intrinsic strength of graphene has been measured at more than 100 gigapascals, among the highest values recorded for any material. But materials don’t always fail because the load exceeds their maximum strength. Stresses that are small but repetitive can weaken materials by causing microscopic dislocations and fractures that slowly accumulate over time, a process known as fatigue.

“To understand fatigue, imagine bending a metal spoon,” says Professor Tobin Filleter, one of the senior authors of the study, which was recently published in Nature Materials. “The first time you bend it, it just deforms. But if you keep working it back and forth, eventually it’s going to break in two.”

The research team — consisting of Filleter, fellow University of Toronto Engineering professors Chandra Veer Singh and Yu Sun, their students, and collaborators at Rice University — wanted to know how graphene would stand up to repeated stresses. Their approach included both physical experiments and computer simulations.

“In our atomistic simulations, we found that cyclic loading can lead to irreversible bond reconfigurations in the graphene lattice, causing catastrophic failure on subsequent loading,” says Singh, who along with postdoctoral fellow Sankha Mukherjee led the modelling portion of the study. “This is unusual behaviour in that while the bonds change, there are no obvious cracks or dislocations, which would usually form in metals, until the moment of failure.”

PhD candidate Teng Cui, who is co-supervised by Filleter and Sun, used the Toronto Nanofabrication Centre to build a physical device for the experiments. The design consisted of a silicon chip etched with half a million tiny holes only a few micrometres in diameter. The graphene sheet was stretched over these holes, like the head of a tiny drum.

Using an atomic force microscope, Cui then lowered a diamond-tipped probe into the hole to push on the graphene sheet, applying anywhere from 20 to 85 per cent of the force that he knew would break the material.

“We ran the cycles at a rate of 100,000 times per second,” says Cui. “Even at 70 per cent of the maximum stress, the graphene didn’t break for more than three hours, which works out to over a billion cycles. At lower stress levels, some of our trials ran for more than 17 hours.”

As with the simulations, the graphene didn’t accumulate cracks or other tell-tale signs of stress — it either broke or it didn’t.

“Unlike metals, there is no progressive damage during fatigue loading of graphene,” says Sun. “Its failure is global and catastrophic, confirming simulation results.”

The team also tested a related material, graphene oxide, which has small groups of atoms such as oxygen and hydrogen bonded to both the top and bottom of the sheet. Its fatigue behaviour was more like traditional materials, in that the failure was more progressive and localized. This suggests that the simple, regular structure of graphene is a major contributor to its unique properties.

“There are no other materials that have been studied under fatigue conditions that behave the way graphene does,” says Filleter. “We’re still working on some new theories to try and understand this.”

In terms of commercial applications, Filleter says that graphene-containing composites — mixtures of conventional plastic and graphene — are already being produced and used in sports equipment such as tennis rackets and skis.

In the future, such materials may begin to be used in cars or in aircraft, where the emphasis on light and strong materials is driven by the need to reduce weight, improve fuel efficiency and enhance environmental performance.

“There have been some studies to suggest that graphene-containing composites offer improved resistance to fatigue, but until now, nobody had measured the fatigue behaviour of the underlying material,” he says. “Our goal in doing this was to get at that fundamental understanding so that in the future, we’ll be able to design composites that work even better.”

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

Fatigue of graphene by Teng Cui, Sankha Mukherjee, Parambath M. Sudeep, Guillaume Colas, Farzin Najafi, Jason Tam, Pulickel M. Ajayan, Chandra Veer Singh, Yu Sun & Tobin Filleter. Nature Materials (2020) DOI: DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-019-0586-y Published: 20 January 2020

This paper is behind a paywall.

Colloidal quantum dots as ultra-sensitive hyper-spectral photodetectors

An October 16, 2019 news item on Nanowerk announces some of the latest work with colloidal quantum dots,

Researchers of the Optoelectronics and Measurement Techniques Unit (OPEM) at the University of Oulu [Finland] have invented a new method of producing ultra-sensitive hyper-spectral photodetectors. At the heart of the discovery are colloidal quantum dots, developed together with the researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Quantum dots are tiny particles of 15-150 atoms of semiconducting material that have extraordinary optical and electrical properties due to quantum mechanics phenomena.

By controlling the size of the dots, the researchers are able to finetune how they react to different light colors (light wavelengths), especially those invisible for the human eye, namely the infrared spectrum.

The figure briefly introduces the concept of the study conducted by the researchers of the University of Oulu and the University of Toronto. The solution consisting of colloidal quantum dots is inkjet-printed, creating active photosensitive layer of the photodetector. Courtesy: Oulu University

An October 16, 2019 Oulu University press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail,

-Naturally, it is very rewarding that our hard work has been recognized by the international scientific community but at the same time, this report helps us to realize that there is a long journey ahead in incoming years. This publication is especially satisfying because it is the result of collaboration with world-class experts at the University of Toronto, Canada. This international collaboration where we combined the expertise of Toronto’s researchers in synthesizing quantum dots and our expertise in printed intelligence resulted in truly unique devices with astonishing performance, says docent Rafal Sliz, a leading researcher in this project.
 
Mastered in the OPEM unit, inkjet printing technology makes possible the creation of optoelectronic devices by designing functional inks that are printed on various surfaces, for instance, flexible substrates, clothing or human skin. Inkjet printing combined with colloidal quantum dots allowed the creation of photodetectors of impresive detectivity characteristics. The developed technology is a milestone in the creation of a new type of sub-micron-thick, flexible, and inexpensive IR sensing devices, the next generation of solar cells and other novel photonic systems.

-Oulus’ engineers and scientists’ strong expertise in optoelectronics resulted in many successful Oulu-based companies like Oura, Specim, Focalspec, Spectral Engines, and many more. New optoelectronic technologies, materials, and methods developed by our researchers will help Oulu and Finland to stay at the cutting edge of innovation, says professor Tapio Fabritius, a leader of the OPEM.

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

Stable Colloidal Quantum Dot Inks Enable Inkjet-Printed High-Sensitivity Infrared Photodetectors by Rafal Sliz, Marc Lejay, James Z. Fan, Min-Jae Choi, Sachin Kinge, Sjoerd Hoogland, Tapio Fabritius, F. Pelayo García de Arquer, Edward H. Sargent. ACS Nano 2019 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acsnano.9b06125 Publication Date:September 23, 2019 Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Science and technology, the 2019 Canadian federal government, and the Phoenix Pay System

This posting will focus on science, technology, the tragic consequence of bureaucratic and political bungling (the technology disaster that is is the Phoenix payroll system), and the puzzling lack of concern about some of the biggest upcoming technological and scientific changes in government and society in decades or more.

Setting the scene

After getting enough Liberal party members elected to the Canadian Parliament’s House of Commons to form a minority government in October 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new cabinet and some changes to the ‘science’ portfolios in November 2019. You can read more about the overall cabinet announcement in this November 20, 2019 news item by Peter Zimonjic on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website, my focus will be the science and technology. (Note: For those who don’t know, there is already much discussion about how long this Liberal minority government will last. All i takes is a ‘loss of confidence’ motion and a majority of the official opposition and other parties to vote ‘no confidence’ and Canada will back into the throes of an election. Mitigating against a speedy new federal election,, the Conservative party [official opposition] needs to choose a new leader and the other parties may not have the financial resources for another federal election so soon after the last one.)

Getting back to now and the most recent Cabinet announcements, it seems this time around, there’s significantly less interest in science. Concerns about this were noted in a November 22, 2019 article by Ivan Semeniuk for the Globe and Mail,

Canadian researchers are raising concerns that the loss of a dedicated science minister signals a reduced voice for their agenda around the federal cabinet table.

“People are wondering if the government thinks its science agenda is done,” said Marie Franquin, a doctoral student in neuroscience and co-president of Science and Policy Exchange, a student-led research-advocacy group. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”

While not a powerful player within cabinet, Ms. Duncan [Kirsty Duncan] proved to be an ardent booster of Canada’s research community and engaged with its issues, including the muzzling of federal scientists by the former Harper government and the need to improve gender equity in the research ecosystem.

Among Ms. Duncan’s accomplishments was the appointment of a federal chief science adviser [sic] and the commissioning of a landmark review of Ottawa’s support for fundamental research, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor

… He [Andre Albinati, managing principal with Earnscliffe Strategy Group] added the role of science in government is now further bolstered by chief science adviser [sic] Mona Nemer and a growing network of departmental science advisers [sic]. .

Mehrdad Hariri, president of the Canadian Science Policy Centre …, cautioned that the chief science adviser’s [sic] role was best described as “science for policy,” meaning the use of science advice in decision-making. He added that the government still needed a separate role like that filled by Ms. Duncan … to champion “policy for science,” meaning decisions that optimize Canada’s research enterprise.

There’s one other commentary (by CresoSá) but I’m saving it for later.

The science minister disappears

There is no longer a separate position for Science. Kirsty Duncan was moved from her ‘junior’ position as Minister of Science (and Sport) to Deputy Leader of the government. Duncan’s science portfolio has been moved over to Navdeep Bains whose portfolio evolved from Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (yes, there were two ‘ministers of science’) to Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. (It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Sadly, nobody from the Prime Minister’s team called to ask for my input on the matter.)

Science (and technology) have to be found elsewhere

There’s the Natural Resources (i.e., energy, minerals and metals, forests, earth sciences, mapping, etc.) portfolio which was led by Catherine McKenna who’s been moved over to Infrastructure and Communities. There have been mumblings that she was considered ‘too combative’ in her efforts. Her replacement in Natural Resources is Seamus O’Regan. No word yet on whether or not, he might also be ‘too combative’. Of course, it’s much easier if you’re female to gain that label. (You can read about the spray-painted slurs found on the windows of McKenna’s campaign offices after she was successfully re-elected. See: Mike Blanchfield’s October 24, 2019 article for Huffington Post and Brigitte Pellerin’s October 31, 2019 article for the Ottawa Citizen.)

There are other portfolios which can also be said to include science such as Environment and Climate Change which welcomes a new minister, Jonathan Wilkinson moving over from his previous science portfolio, Fisheries, Oceans, and Canadian Coast Guard where Bernadette Jordan has moved into place. Patti Hajdu takes over at Heath Canada (which despite all of the talk about science muzzles being lifted still has its muzzle in place). While it’s not typically considered a ‘science’ portfolio in Canada, the military establishment regardless of country has long been considered a source of science innovation; Harjit Sajjan has retained his Minister of National Defence portfolio.

Plus there are at least half a dozen other portfolios that can be described as having significant science and/or technology elements folded into their portfolios, e.g., Transport Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Safety and Emergency Preparedness, etc.

As I tend to focus on emerging science and technology, most of these portfolios are not ones I follow even on an irregular basis meaning I have nothing more to add about them in this posting. Mixing science and technology together in this posting is a reflection of how tightly the two are linked together. For example, university research into artificial intelligence is taking place on theoretical levels (science) and as applied in business and government (technology). Apologies to the mathematicians but this explanation is already complicated and I don’t think I can do justice to their importance.

Moving onto technology with a strong science link, this next portfolio received even less attention than the ‘science’ portfolios and I believe that’s undeserved.

The Minister of Digital Government and a bureaucratic débacle

These days people tend to take the digital nature of daily life for granted and that may be why this portfolio has escaped much notice. When the ministerial posting was first introduced, it was an addition to Scott Brison’s responsibilities as head of the Treasury Board. It continued to be linked to the Treasury Board when Joyce Murray* inherited Brison’s position, after his departure from politics. As of the latest announcement in November 2019, Digital Government and the Treasury Board are no longer tended to by the same cabinet member.

The new head of the Treasury Board is Jean-Yves Duclos while Joyce Murray has held on to the Minister of Digital Government designation. I’m not sure if the separation from the Treasury Board is indicative of the esteem the Prime Minister has for digital government or if this has been done to appease someone or some group, which means the digital government portfolio could well disappear in the future just as the ‘junior’ science portfolio did.

Regardless, here’s some evidence as to why I think ‘digital government’ is unfairly overlooked, from the minister’s December 13, 2019 Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister (Note: All of the emphases are mine],

I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities. In particular, you will:

  • Lead work across government to transition to a more digital government in order to improve citizen service.
  • Oversee the Chief Information Officer and the Canadian Digital Service as they work with departments to develop solutions that will benefit Canadians and enhance the capacity to use modern tools and methodologies across Government.
  • Lead work to analyze and improve the delivery of information technology (IT) within government. This work will include identifying all core and at-risk IT systems and platforms. You will lead the renewal of SSC [Shared Services Canada which provides ‘modern, secure and reliable IT services so federal organizations can deliver digital programs and services to meet Canadians’ needs’] so that it is properly resourced and aligned to deliver common IT infrastructure that is reliable and secure.
  • Lead work to create a centre of expertise that brings together the necessary skills to effectively implement major transformation projects across government, including technical, procurement and legal expertise.
  • Support the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry in continuing work on the ethical use of data and digital tools like artificial intelligence for better government.
  • With the support of the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, accelerate progress on a new Government of Canada service strategy that aims to create a single online window for all government services with new performance standards.
  • Support the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development in expanding and improving the services provided by Service Canada.
  • Support the Minister of National Revenue on additional steps required to meaningfully improve the satisfaction of Canadians with the quality, timeliness and accuracy of services they receive from the Canada Revenue Agency.
  • Support the Minister of Public Services and Procurement in eliminating the backlog of outstanding pay issues for public servants as a result of the Phoenix Pay System.
  • Lead work on the Next Generation Human Resources and Pay System to replace the Phoenix Pay System and support the President of the Treasury Board as he actively engages Canada’s major public sector unions.
  • Support the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of National Revenue to implement a voluntary, real-time e-payroll system with an initial focus on small businesses.
  • Fully implement lessons learned from previous information technology project challenges and failures [e,g, the Phoenix Payroll System], particularly around sunk costs and major multi-year contracts. Act transparently by sharing identified successes and difficulties within government, with the aim of constantly improving the delivery of projects large and small.
  • Encourage the use and development of open source products and open data, allowing for experimentation within existing policy directives and building an inventory of validated and secure applications that can be used by government to share knowledge and expertise to support innovation.

To be clear, the Minister of Digital Government is responsible (more or less) for helping to clean up a débacle, i.e., the implementation of the federal government’s Phoenix Payroll System and drive even more digitization and modernization of government data and processes.

They’ve been trying to fix the Phoenix problems since the day it was implemented in early 2016.That’s right, it will be four years in Spring 2020 when the Liberal government chose to implement a digital payroll system that had been largely untested and despite its supplier’s concerns.

The Phoenix Pay System and a great sadness

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (the largest union for federal employees; PSAC) has a separate space for Phoneix on its website, which features this video,

That video was posted on September 24, 2018 (on YouTube) and, to my knowledge, the situation has not changed appreciably. A November 8, 2019 article by Tom Spears for the Ottawa Citizen details a very personal story about what can only be described as a failure on just about every level you can imagine,

Linda Deschâtelets’s death by suicide might have been prevented if the flawed Phoenix pay system hadn’t led her to emotional and financial ruin, a Quebec coroner has found.

Deschâtelets died in December of 2017, at age 52. At the time she was struggling with chronic pain and massive mortgage payments.

The fear of losing her home weighed heavily on her. In her final text message to one of her sons she said she had run out of energy and wanted to die before she lost her house in Val des Monts.

But Deschâtelets might have lived, says a report from coroner Pascale Boulay, if her employer, the Canada Revenue Agency, had shown a little empathy.

“During the final months before her death, she experienced serious financial troubles linked to the federal government’s pay system, Phoenix, which cut off her pay in a significant way, making her fear she would lose her house,” said Boulay’s report.

“A thorough analysis of this case strongly suggests that this death could have been avoided if a search for a solution to the current financial, psychological and medical situation had been made.”

Boulay found “there is no indication that management sought to meet Ms. Deschâtelets to offer her options. In addition, the lack of prompt follow-up in the processing of requests for information indicates a distressing lack of empathy for an employee who is experiencing real financial insecurity.”

Pay records “indeed show that she was living through serious financial problems and that she received irregular payments since the beginning of October 2017,” the coroner wrote.

As well, “her numerous online applications using the form for a compensation problem, in which she expresses her fear of not being able to make her mortgage payments and says that she wants a detailed statement of account, remain unanswered.”

On top of that, she had chronic back pain and sciatica and had been missing work. She was scheduled to get an ergonomically designed work area, but this change was never made even though she waited for months.

Money troubles kept getting worse.

She ran out of paid sick leave, and her department sent her an email to explain that she had automatically been docked pay for taking sick days. “In this same email, she was also advised that in the event that she missed additional days, other amounts would be deducted. No further follow-up with her was done,” the coroner wrote.

That email came eight days before her death.

Deschâtelets was also taking cocaine but this did not alter the fact that she genuinely risked losing her home over her financial problems, the coroner wrote.

“Given the circumstances, it is highly likely that Ms. Deschâtelets felt trapped” and ended her life “because of her belief that she would lose the house anyway. It was only a matter of time.”

The situation is “even more sad” because CRA had advisers on site who dealt with Phoenix issues, and could meet with employees, Boulay wrote.

“The federal government does a lot of promotion of workplace wellness. Surprisingly, these wellness measures are silent on the subject of financial insecurity at work,” Boulay wrote.

I feel sad for the family and indignant that there doesn’t seem to have been enough done to mitigate the hardships due to an astoundingly ill-advised decision to implement an untested payroll system for the federal government’s 280,000 or more civil servants.

Canada’s Senate reports back on Phoenix

I’m highlighting the Senate report here although there are also two reports from the Auditor General should you care to chase them down. From an August 1, 2018 article by Brian Jackson for IT World Canada,

In February 2016, in anticipation of the start of the Phoenix system rolling out, the government laid off 2,700 payroll clerks serving 120,000 employees. [I’m guessing the discrepancy in numbers of employees may be due to how the clerks were laid off, i.e., if they were load off in groups scheduled to be made redundant at different intervals.]

As soon as Phoenix was launched, problems began. By May 2018 there were 60,000 pay requests backlogged. Now the government has dedicated resources to explaining to affected employees the best way to avoid pay-related problems, and to file grievances related to the system.

“The causes of the failure are multiple, including, failing to manage the pay system in an integrated fashion with human resources processes, not conducting a pilot project, removing essential processing functions to stay on budget, laying off experienced compensation advisors, and implementing a pay system that wasn’t ready,” the Senate report states. “We are dismayed that this project proceeded with minimal independent oversight, including from central agencies, and that no one has accepted responsibility for the failure of Phoenix or has been held to account. We believe that there is an underlying cultural problem that needs to be addressed. The government needs to move away from a culture that plays down bad news and avoids responsibility, [emphasis mine] to one that encourages employee engagement, feedback and collaboration.”

There is at least one estimate that the Phoenix failure will cost $2.2 billion but I’m reasonably certain that figure does not include the costs of suicide, substance abuse, counseling, marriage breakdown, etc. (Of course, how do you really estimate the cost of a suicide or a marriage breakdown or the impact that financial woes have on children?)

Also concerning the Senate report, there is a July 31, 2018 news item on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news online,

“We are not confident that this problem has been solved, that the lessons have all been learned,” said Sen. André Pratte, deputy chair of the committee. [emphases mine]

I haven’t seen much coverage about the Phoenix Pay System recently in the mainstream media but according to a December 4, 2019 PSAC update,

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said the Phoenix situation could continue until 2023, yet government funding commitments so far have fallen significantly short of what is needed to end the Phoenix nightmare. 

PSAC will continue pressing for enough funding and urgent action:

  • eliminate the over 200,000 cases in the pay issues backlog
  • compensate workers for their many hardships
  • stabilize Phoenix
  • properly develop, test and launch a new pay system

2023 would mean the débacle had a seven year lifespan, assuming everything has been made better by then.

Finally, there seems to be one other minister tasked with the Phoenix Pay System ‘fix’ (December 13, 2019 mandate letter) and that is the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Anita Anand. She is apparently a rookie MP (member of Parliament), which would make her a ‘cabinet rookie’ as well. Interesting choice.

More digital for federal workers and the Canadian public

Despite all that has gone before, the government is continuing in its drive to digitize itself as can be seen in the Minister of Digital Government’s mandate letter (excerpted above in ‘The Minister of Digital Government and some …’ subsection) and on the government’s Digital Government webspace,

Our digital shift to becoming more agile, open, and user-focused. We’re working on tomorrow’s Canada today.

I don’t find that particularly reassuring in light of the Phoenix Payroll System situation. However, on the plus side, Canada has a Digital Charter with 10 principles which include universal access, safety and security, control and consent, etc. Oddly, it looks like it’s the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry who are tasked with enhancing and advancing the charter. Shouldn’t this group also include the Minister of Digital Government?

The Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray, does not oversee a ministry and I think that makes this a ‘junior’ position in much the same way the Minister of Science was a junior position. It suggests a mindset where some of the biggest changes to come for both employees and the Canadian public are being overseen by someone without the resources to do the work effectively or the bureaucratic weight and importance to ensure the changes are done properly.

It’s all very well to have a section on the Responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) on your Digital Government webspace but there is no mention of ways and means to fix problems. For example, what happens to people who somehow run into an issue that the AI system can’t fix or even respond to because the algorithm wasn’t designed that way. Ever gotten caught in an automated telephone system? Or perhaps more saliently, what about the people who died in two different airplane accidents due to the pilots’ poor training and an AI system? (For a more informed view of the Boeing 737 Max, AI, and two fatal plane crashes see: a June 2, 2019 article by Rachel Kraus for Mashable.)

The only other minister whose mandate letter includes AI is the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Navdeep Bains (from his December 13, 2019 mandate letter),

  • With the support of the Minister of Digital Government, continue work on the ethical use of data and digital tools like artificial intelligence for better government.

So, the Minister of Digital Government, Joyce Murray, is supporting the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Navdeep Bains. That would suggest a ‘junior’ position wouldn’t it? If you look closely at the Minister of Digital Services’ mandate letter, you’ll see the Minister is almost always supporting another minister.

Where the Phoenix Pay System is concerned, the Minister of Digital Services is supporting the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, the previously mentioned rookie MP and rookie Cabinet member, Anita Anand. Interestingly, the employees’ union, PSAC, has decided (as of a November 20, 2019 news release) to ramp up its ad campaign regarding the Phoenix Pay System and its bargaining issues by targeting the Prime Minister and the new President of the Treasury Board, Jean-Yves Duclos. Guess whose mandate letter makes no mention of Phoenix (December 13, 2019 mandate letter for the President of the Treasury Board).

Open government, eh?

Putting a gift bow on a pile of manure doesn’t turn it into a gift (for most people, anyway) and calling your government open and/or transparent doesn’t necessarily make it so even when you amend your Access to Information Act to make it more accessible (August 22, 2019 Digital Government news release by Ruth Naylor).

One of the Liberal government’s most heavily publicized ‘open’ initiatives was the lifting of the muzzles put on federal scientists in the Environment and Natural Resources ministries. Those muzzles were put into place by a Conservative government and the 2015 Liberal government gained a lot of political capital from its actions. No one seemed to remember that Health Canada also had been muzzled. That muzzle had been put into place by one of the Liberal governments preceding the Conservative one. To date there is no word as to whether or not that muzzle has ever been lifted.

However, even in the ministries where the muzzles were lifted, it seems scientists didn’t feel free to speak even many months later (from a Feb 21, 2018 article by Brian Owens for Science),

More than half of government scientists in Canada—53%—do not feel they can speak freely to the media about their work, even after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government eased restrictions on what they can say publicly, according to a survey released today by a union that represents more than 16,000 federal scientists.

That union—the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) based in Ottawa—conducted the survey last summer, a little more than a year and a half into the Trudeau government. It followed up on a similar survey the union released in 2013 at the height of the controversy over the then-Conservative government’s reported muzzling of scientists by preventing media interviews and curtailing travel to scientific conferences. The new survey found the situation much improved—in 2013, 90% of scientists felt unable to speak about their work. But the union says more work needs to be done. “The work needs to be done at the department level,” where civil servants may have been slow to implement political directives, PIPSC President Debi Daviau said. ”We need a culture change that promotes what we have heard from ministers.”

I found this a little chilling (from the PIPSC Defrosting Public Science; a 2017 survey of federal scientists webpage),

To better illustrate this concern, in 2013, The Big Chill revealed that 86% of respondents feared censorship or retaliation from their department or agency if they spoke out about a departmental decision or action that, based on their scientific knowledge, could bring harm to the public interest. In 2017, when asked the same question, 73% of respondents said they would not be able to do so without fear of censorship or retaliation – a mere 13% drop.

It’s possible things have improved but while the 2018 Senate report did not focus on scientists, it did highlight issues with the government’s openness and transparency or in their words: “… a culture that plays down bad news and avoids responsibility.” It seems the Senate is not the only group with concerns about government culture; so do the government’s employees (the scientists, anyway).

The other science commentary

I can’t find any commentary or editorials about the latest ministerial changes or the mandate letters on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website so was doubly pleased to find this December 6, 2019 commentary by Creso Sá for University Affairs,

The recently announced Liberal cabinet brings what appear to be cosmetic changes to the science file. Former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan is no longer in it, which sparked confusion among casual observers who believed that the elimination of her position signalled the termination of the science ministry or the downgrading of the science agenda. In reality, science was and remains part of the renamed Ministry of Innovation, Science, and (now) Industry (rather than Economic Development), where Minister Navdeep Bains continues at the helm.

Arguably, these reactions show that appearances have been central [emphasis mine] to the modus operandi of this government. Minister Duncan was an active, and generally well-liked, champion for the Trudeau government’s science platform. She carried the torch of team science over the last four years, becoming vividly associated with the launch of initiatives such as the Fundamental Science Review, the creation of the chief science advisor position, and the introduction of equity provisions in the Canada Research Chairs program. She talked a good talk, but her role did not in fact give her much authority to change the course of science policy in the country. From the start, her mandate was mostly defined around building bridges with members of cabinet, which was likely good experience for her new role of deputy house leader.

Upon the announcement of the new cabinet, Minister Bains took to Twitter to thank Dr. Duncan for her dedication to placing science in “its rightful place back at the centre of everything our government does.” He indicated that he will take over her responsibilities, which he was already formally responsible for. Presumably, he will now make time to place science at the centre of everything the government does.

This kind of sloganeering has been common [emphasis mine] since the 2015 campaign, which seems to be the strategic moment the Liberals can’t get out of. Such was the real and perceived hostility of the Harper Conservatives to science that the Liberals embraced the role of enlightened advocates. Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit their predecessors left behind was the sheer absence of any intelligible articulation of where they stood on the science file, which the Liberals seized upon with gusto. Virtue signalling [emphasis mine] became a first line of response.

When asked about her main accomplishments over the past year as chief science advisor at the recent Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa, Mona Nemer started with the creation of a network of science advisors across government departments. Over the past four years, the government has indeed not been shy about increasing the number of appointments with “science” in their job titles. That is not a bad thing. We just do not hear much about how “science is at the centre of everything the government does.” Things get much fuzzier when the conversation turns to the bold promises of promoting evidence-based decision making that this government has been vocal about. Queried on how her role has impacted policy making, Dr. Nemer suggested the question should be asked to politicians. [emphasis mine]

I’m tempted to describe the ‘Digital Government’ existence and portfolio as virtue signalling.

Finally

There doesn’t seem to be all that much government interest in science or, even, technology for that matter. We have a ‘junior’ Minister of Science disappear so that science can become part of all the ministries. Frankly, I wish that science were integrated throughout all the ministries but when you consider the government culture, this move more easily lends itself to even less responsibility being taken by anyone. Take another look at the Canada’s Chief Science Advisor’s comment: “Queried on how her role has impacted policy making, Dr. Nemer suggested the question should be asked to politicians.” Meanwhile, we get a ‘junior Minister of Digital Government whose portfolio has the potential to affect Canadians of all ages and resident in Canada or not.

A ‘junior’ minister is not necessarily evil as Sá points out but I would like to see some indication that efforts are being made to shift the civil service culture and the attitude about how the government conducts its business and that the Minister of Digital Government will receive the resources and the respect she needs to do her job. I’d also like to see some understanding of how catastrophic a wrong move has already been and could be in the future along with options for how citizens are going to be making their way through this brave new digital government world and some options for fixing problems, especially the catastrophic ones.

*December 30, 2019 correction: After Scott Brison left his position as President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government in January 2019, Jane Philpott held the two positions until March 2019 when she left the Liberal Party. Carla Quatrough was acting head from March 4 – March 18, 2019 when Joyce Murray was appointed to the two positions which she held for eight months until November 2019 when, as I’ve noted, the ‘Minister of Digital Government’ was split from the ‘President of the Treasury Board’ appointment.

ETA January 28, 2020: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has an update on the Phoenix Pay System situation in a January 28, 2020 posting (supplied by The Canadian Press),

More than 98,000 civil servants may still owe the federal government money after being overpaid through the disastrous Phoenix pay system.

… the problems persist, despite the hiring of hundreds of pay specialists to work through a backlog of system errors.

The public service pay centre was still dealing with a backlog of about 202,000 complaints as of Dec. 24 [2019], down from 214,000 pay transactions that went beyond normal workload in November [2019].

The medical community and art/science: two events in Canada in November 2019

This time it’s the performing arts. I have one theatre and psychiatry production in Toronto and a music and medical science event in Vancouver.

Toronto’s Here are the Fragments opening on November 19, 2019

From a November 2, 2019 ArtSci Salon announcement (received via email),

An immersive theatre experience inspired by the psychiatric writing of Frantz Fanon

Here are the Fragments.
Co-produced by The ECT Collective and The Theatre Centre
November 19-December 1, 2019
Tickets: Preview $17 | Student/senior/arts worker $22 | Adult $30
Service charges may apply
Book 416-538-0988 | PURCHASE ONLINE

An immigrant psychiatrist develops psychosis and then schizophrenia. He walks a long path towards reconnection with himself, his son, and humanity.

Walk with him.

Within our immersive design (a fabric of sound, video, and live actors) lean in close to the possibilities of perceptual experience.

Schizophrenics ‘hear voices’. Schizophrenics fear loss of control over their own thoughts and bodies. But how does any one of us actually separate internal and external voices? How do we trust what we see or feel? How do we know which voices are truly our own?

Within the installation find places of retreat from chaos. Find poetry. Find critical analysis.

Explore archival material, Fanon’s writings and contemporary interviews with psychiatrists, neuroscientists, artists, and people living with schizophrenia, to reflect on the relationships between identity, history, racism and mental health.

I was able to find out more in a November 6, 2019 article at broadwayworld.com (Note: Some of this is repetitive),

How do we trust what we see or feel? How do we know which voices are truly our own? THE THEATRE CENTRE and THE ECT COLLECTIVE are proud to Co-produce HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS., an immersive work of theatre written by Suvendrini Lena, Theatre Centre Residency artist and CAMH [ Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] Neurologist. Based on the psychiatric writing of famed political theorist Frantz Fanon and combining narratives, sensory exploration, and scientific and historical analysis, HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS. reflects on the relationships between identity, history, racism, and mental health. FRAGMENTS. will run November 19 to December 1 at The Theatre Centre (Opening Night November 21).

HERE ARE THE FRAGMENTS. consists of live performances within an interactive installation. The plot, told in fragments, follows a psychiatrist early in his training as he develops psychosis and ultimately, treatment resistant schizophrenia. Eduard, his son, struggles to connect with his father, while the young man must also make difficult treatment decisions.

The Theatre Centre’s Franco Boni Theatre and Gallery will be transformed into an immersive interactive installation. The design will offer many spaces for exploration, investigation, and discovery, bringing audiences into the perceptual experience of Schizophrenia. The scenes unfold around you, incorporating a fabric of sound, video, and live actors. Amidst the seeming chaos there will also be areas of retreat; whispering voices, Fanon’s own books, archival materials, interviews with psychiatrists, neuroscientists, and people living with schizophrenia all merge to provoke analysis and reflection on the intersection of racism and mental health.

Suvendrini Lena (Writer) is a playwright and neurologist. She works as the staff neurologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and at the Centre for Headache at Women’s College Hospital [Toronto]. She is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Toronto where she teaches medical students, residents, and fellows. She also teaches a course called Staging Medicine, a collaboration between The Theatre Centre and University of Toronto Postgraduate Medical Education.

Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), was a French West Indian psychiatrist, political philosopher, revolutionary, and writer, whose works are influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism. Fanon published numerous books, including Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

In addition to performances, The Theatre Centre will host a number of panels and events. Highlights include a post-show talkback with Ngozi Paul (Development Producer, Artist/Activist) and Psychiatrist Collaborator Araba Chintoh on November 22. Also of note is Our Patients and Our Selves: Experiences of Racism Among Health Care Workers with facilitator Dr. Fatimah Jackson-Best of Black Health Alliance on November 23rd and Fanon Today: A Creative Symposium on November 24th, a panel, reading, and creative discussion featuring David Austin, Frank Francis, Doris Rajan and George Elliot Clarke [formerly Toronto’s Poet Laureate and Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate; emphasis and link mine].

You can get more details and a link for ticket purchase here.

Sounds and Science: Vienna meets Vancouver on November 30, 2019

‘Sounds and Science’ originated at the Medical University of Vienna (Austria) as the November 6, 2019 event posting on the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Faculty of Medicine website,

The University of British Columbia will host the first Canadian concert bringing leading musical talents of Vienna together with dramatic narratives from science and medicine.

“Sounds and Science: Vienna Meets Vancouver” is part of the President’s Concert Series, to be held Nov. 30, 2019 on UBC campus. The event is modeled on a successful concert series launched in Austria in 2014, in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna.

“Basic research tends to always stay within its own box, yet research is telling the most beautiful stories,” says Dr. Josef Penninger, director of UBC’s Life Sciences Institute, a professor of medical genetics and a Canada 150 Chair. “With this concert, we are bringing science out of the ivory tower, using the music of great composers such as Mozart, Schubert or Strauss to transport stories of discovery and insight into the major diseases that affected the composers themselves, and continue to have a significant impact on our society.”

Famous composers of the past are often seen as icons of classical music, but in fact, they were human beings, living under enormous physical constraints – perhaps more than people today, according to Dr. Manfred Hecking, an associate professor of internal medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.

“But ‘Sounds and Science’ is not primarily about suffering and disease,” says Dr. Hecking, a former member of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra who will be playing double bass during the concert. “It is a fun way of bringing music and science together. Combining music and thought, we hope that we will reach the attendees of the ‘Sounds and Science’ concert in Vancouver on an emotional, perhaps even personal level.”

A showcase for Viennese music, played in the tradition of the Vienna Philharmonic by several of its members, as well as the world-class science being done here at UBC, “Sounds and Science” will feature talks by UBC clinical and research faculty, including Dr. Penninger. Their topics will range from healthy aging and cancer research to the historical impact of bacterial infections.

Combining music and thought, we hope that we will reach the attendees of the ‘Sounds and Science’ concert in Vancouver on an emotional, perhaps even personal level.
Dr. Manfred Hecking

Faculty speaking at “Sounds and Science” will be:
Dr. Allison Eddy, professor and head, department of pediatrics, and chief, pediatric medicine, BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital;
Dr. Troy Grennan, clinical assistant professor, division of infectious diseases, UBC faculty of medicine;
Dr. Poul Sorensen, professor, department of pathology and laboratory medicine, UBC faculty of medicine; and
Dr. Roger Wong, executive associate dean, education and clinical professor of geriatric medicine, UBC faculty of medicine
UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono and Vice President Health and Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean, faculty of medicine and vice-president, health at UBC will also speak during the evening.

The musicians include two outstanding members of the Vienna Philharmonic – violinist Prof. Günter Seifert and violist-conductor Hans Peter Ochsenhofer, who will be joined by violinist-conductor Rémy Ballot and double bassist Dr. Manfred Hecking, who serves as a regular substitute in the orchestra.

For those in whose lives intertwine music and science, the experience of cross-connection will be familiar. For Dr. Penninger, the concert represents an opportunity to bring the famous sound of the Vienna Philharmonic to UBC and British Columbia, to a new audience. “That these musicians are coming here is a fantastic recognition and acknowledgement of the amazing work being done at UBC,” he says.

“Like poetry, music is a universal language that all of us immediately understand and can relate to. Science tells the most amazing stories. Both of them bring meaning and beauty to our world.”

“Sounds and Science” – Vienna Meets Vancouver is part of the President’s Concert Series | November 30, 2019 on campus at the Old Auditorium from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

To learn more about the Sounds and Science concert series hosted in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna, visit www.soundsandscience.com.

I found more information regarding logistics,

Saturday, November 30, 2019
6:30 pm
The Old Auditorium, 6344 Memorial Road, UBC

Box office and Lobby: Opens at 5:30 pm (one hour prior to start of performance)
Old Auditorium Concert Hall: Opens at 6:00 pm

Sounds
Günter Seifert  VIOLIN
Rémy Ballot VIOLIN
Hans Peter Ochsenhofer VIOLA
Manfred Hecking DOUBLE BASS

Science
Josef Penninger GENETICS
Manfred Hecking INTERNAL MEDICINE
Troy Grennan INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Poul Sorensen PATHOLOGY & LABORATORY MEDICINE
Allison Eddy PEDIATRICS
Roger Wong GERIATRICS

Tickets are also available in person at UBC concert box-office locations:
– Old Auditorium
– Freddie Wood Theatre
– The Chan Centre for the Performing Art

General admission: $10.00
Free seating for UBC students
Purchase tickets for both President’s Concert Series events to make it a package, and save 10% on both performances

Transportation
Public and Bike Transportation
Please visit Translink for bike and transit information.
Parking
Suggested parking in the Rose Garden Parkade.

Buy Tickets

The Sounds and Science website has a feature abut the upcoming Vancouver concert and it offers a history dating from 2008,

MUSIC AND MEDICINE

The idea of combining music and medicine into the “Sounds & Science” – scientific concert series started in 2008, when the Austrian violinist Rainer Honeck played Bach’s Chaconne in d-minor directly before a keynote lecture, held by Nobel laureate Peter Doherty, at the Austrian Society of Allergology and Immunology’s yearly meeting in Vienna. The experience at that lecture was remarkable, truly a special moment. “Sounds & Science” was then taken a step further by bringing several concepts together: Anton Neumayr’s medical histories of composers, John Brockman’s idea of a “Third Culture” (very broadly speaking: combining humanities and science), and finally, our perception that science deserves a “Red Carpet” to walk on, in front of an audience. Attendees of the “Sounds & Science” series have also described that music opens the mind, and enables a better understanding of concepts in life and thereby science in general. On a typical concert/lecture, we start with a chamber music piece, continue with the pathobiography of the composer, go back to the music, and then introduce our main speaker, whose talk should be genuinely understandable to a broad, not necessarily scientifically trained audience. In the second half, we usually try to present a musical climax. One prerequisite that “Sounds & Science” stands for, is the outstanding quality of the principal musicians, and of the main speakers. Our previous concerts/lectures have so far covered several aspects of medicine like “Music & Cancer” (Debussy, Brahms, Schumann), “Music and Heart” (Bruckner, Mahler, Wagner), and “Music and Diabetes” (Bach, Ysaÿe, Puccini). For many individuals who have combined music and medicine or music and science inside of their own lives and biographies, the experience of a cross-connection between sounds and science is quite familiar. But there is also this “fun” aspect of sharing and participating, and at the “Sounds & Science” events, we usually try to ensure that the event location can easily be turned into a meeting place.

At a guess, Science and Sounds started informally in 2008 and became a formal series in 2014.

There is a video but it’s in German. It’s enjoyable viewing with beautiful music but unless you have German language skills you won’t get the humour. Also it runs for over 9 minutes (a little longer than most of videos you’ll find here on FrogHeart),

Enjoy!

September 2019’s science’ish’ events in Toronto and Vancouver (Canada)

There are movies, plays, a multimedia installation experience all in Vancouver, and the ‘CHAOSMOSIS mAchInesexhibition/performance/discussion/panel/in-situ experiments/art/ science/ techne/ philosophy’ event in Toronto. But first, there’s a a Vancouver talk about engaging scientists in the upcoming federal election. .

Science in the Age of Misinformation (and the upcoming federal election) in Vancouver

Dr. Katie Gibbs, co-founder and executive director of Evidence for Democracy, will be giving a talk today (Sept. 4, 2019) at the University of British Columbia (UBC; Vancouver). From the Eventbrite webpage for Science in the Age of Misinformation,

Science in the Age of Misinformation, with Katie Gibbs, Evidence for Democracy
In the lead up to the federal election, it is more important than ever to understand the role that researchers play in shaping policy. Join us in this special Policy in Practice event with Dr. Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, Canada’s leading, national, non-partisan, and not-for-profit organization promoting science and the transparent use of evidence in government decision making. A Musqueam land acknowledgement, welcome remarks and moderation of this event will be provided by MPPGA students Joshua Tafel, and Chengkun Lv.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019
12:30 pm – 1:50 pm (Doors will open at noon)
Liu Institute for Global Issues – xʷθəθiqətəm (Place of Many Trees), 1st floor
Pizza will be provided starting at noon on first come, first serve basis. Please RSVP.

What role do researchers play in a political environment that is increasingly polarized and influenced by misinformation? Dr. Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, will give an overview of the current state of science integrity and science policy in Canada highlighting progress made over the past four years and what this means in a context of growing anti-expert movements in Canada and around the world. Dr. Gibbs will share concrete ways for researchers to engage heading into a critical federal election [emphasis mine], and how they can have lasting policy impact.

Bio: Katie Gibbs is a scientist, organizer and advocate for science and evidence-based policies. While completing her Ph.D. at the University of Ottawa in Biology, she was one of the lead organizers of the ‘Death of Evidence’—one of the largest science rallies in Canadian history. Katie co-founded Evidence for Democracy, Canada’s leading, national, non-partisan, and not-for-profit organization promoting science and the transparent use of evidence in government decision making. Her ongoing success in advocating for the restoration of public science in Canada has made Katie a go-to resource for national and international media outlets including Science, The Guardian and the Globe and Mail.

Katie has also been involved in international efforts to increase evidence-based decision-making and advises science integrity movements in other countries and is a member of the Open Government Partnership Multi-stakeholder Forum.

Disclaimer: Please note that by registering via Eventbrite, your information will be stored on the Eventbrite server, which is located outside Canada. If you do not wish to use this service, please email Joelle.Lee@ubc.ca directly to register. Thank you.

Location
Liu Institute for Global Issues – Place of Many Trees
6476 NW Marine Drive
Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z2

Sadly I was not able to post the information about Dr. Gibbs’s more informal talk last night (Sept. 3, 2019) which was a special event with Café Scientifique but I do have a link to a website encouraging anyone who wants to help get science on the 2019 federal election agenda, Vote Science. P.S. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to post this in a more timely fashion.

Transmissions; a multimedia installation in Vancouver, September 6 -28, 2019

Here’s a description for the multimedia installation, Transmissions, in the August 28, 2019 Georgia Straight article by Janet Smith,

Lisa Jackson is a filmmaker, but she’s never allowed that job description to limit what she creates or where and how she screens her works.

The Anishinaabe artist’s breakout piece was last year’s haunting virtual-reality animation Biidaaban: First Light. In its eerie world, one that won a Canadian Screen Award, nature has overtaken a near-empty, future Toronto, with trees growing through cracks in the sidewalks, vines enveloping skyscrapers, and people commuting by canoe.

All that and more has brought her here, to Transmissions, a 6,000-square-foot, immersive film installation that invites visitors to wander through windy coastal forests, by hauntingly empty glass towers, into soundscapes of ancient languages, and more.

Through the labyrinthine multimedia work at SFU [Simon Fraser University] Woodward’s, Jackson asks big questions—about Earth’s future, about humanity’s relationship to it, and about time and Indigeneity.

Simultaneously, she mashes up not just disciplines like film and sculpture, but concepts of science, storytelling, and linguistics [emphasis mine].

“The tag lines I’m working with now are ‘the roots of meaning’ and ‘knitting the world together’,” she explains. “In western society, we tend to hive things off into ‘That’s culture. That’s science.’ But from an Indigenous point of view, it’s all connected.”

Transmissions is split into three parts, with what Jackson describes as a beginning, a middle, and an end. Like Biidaaban, it’s also visually stunning: the artist admits she’s playing with Hollywood spectacle.

Without giving too much away—a big part of the appeal of Jackson’s work is the sense of surprise—Vancouver audiences will first enter a 48-foot-long, six-foot-wide tunnel, surrounded by projections that morph from empty urban streets to a forest and a river. Further engulfing them is a soundscape that features strong winds, while black mirrors along the floor skew perspective and play with what’s above and below ground.

“You feel out of time and space,” says Jackson, who wants to challenge western society’s linear notions of minutes and hours. “I want the audience to have a physical response and an emotional response. To me, that gets closer to the Indigenous understanding. Because the Eurocentric way is more rational, where the intellectual is put ahead of everything else.”

Viewers then enter a room, where the highly collaborative Jackson has worked with artist Alan Storey, who’s helped create Plexiglas towers that look like the ghost high-rises of an abandoned city. (Storey has also designed other components of the installation.) As audience members wander through them on foot, projections make their shadows dance on the structures. Like Biidaaban, the section hints at a postapocalyptic or posthuman world. Jackson operates in an emerging realm of Indigenous futurism.

The words “science, storytelling, and linguistics” were emphasized due to a minor problem I have with terminology. Linguistics is defined as the scientific study of language combining elements from the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. I wish either Jackson or Smith had discussed the scientific element of Transmissions at more length and perhaps reconnected linguistics to science along with the physics of time and space, as well as, storytelling, film, and sculpture. It would have been helpful since it’s my understanding, Transmissions is designed to showcase all of those connections and more in ways that may not be obvious to everyone. On the plus side, perhaps the tour, which is part of this installation experience includes that information.

I have a bit .more detail (including logistics for the tours) from the SFU Events webpage for Transmissions,

Transmissions
September 6 – September 28, 2019

The Roots of Meaning
World Premiere
September 6 – 28, 2019

Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre
SFU Woodward’s, 149 West Hastings
Tuesday to Friday, 1pm to 7pm
Saturday and Sunday, 1pm to 5pm
FREE

In partnership with SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs and produced by Electric Company Theatre and Violator Films.

TRANSMISSIONS is a three-part, 6000 square foot multimedia installation by award-winning Anishinaabe filmmaker and artist Lisa Jackson. It extends her investigation into the connections between land, language, and people, most recently with her virtual reality work Biidaaban: First Light.

Projections, sculpture, and film combine to create urban and natural landscapes that are eerie and beautiful, familiar and foreign, concrete and magical. Past and future collide in a visceral and thought-provoking journey that questions our current moment and opens up the complexity of thought systems embedded in Indigenous languages. Radically different from European languages, they embody sets of relationships to the land, to each other, and to time itself.

Transmissions invites us to untether from our day-to-day world and imagine a possible future. It provides a platform to activate and cross-pollinate knowledge systems, from science to storytelling, ecology to linguistics, art to commerce. To begin conversations, to listen deeply, to engage varied perspectives and expertise, to knit the world together and find our place within the circle of all our relations.

Produced in association with McMaster University Socrates Project, Moving Images Distribution and Cobalt Connects Creativity.

….

Admission:  Free Public Tours
Tuesday through Sunday
Reservations accepted from 1pm to 3pm.  Reservations are booked in 15 minute increments.  Individuals and groups up to 10 welcome.
Please email: sfuw@sfu.ca for more information or to book groups of 10 or more.

Her Story: Canadian Women Scientists (short film subjects); Sept. 13 – 14, 2019

Curiosity Collider, producer of art/science events in Vancouver, is presenting a film series featuring Canadian women scientists, according to an August 27 ,2019 press release (received via email),

Her Story: Canadian Women Scientists,” a film series dedicated to sharing the stories of Canadian women scientists, will premiere on September 13th and 14th at the Annex theatre. Four pairs of local filmmakers and Canadian women scientists collaborated to create 5-6 minute videos; for each film in the series, a scientist tells her own story, interwoven with the story of an inspiring Canadian women scientist who came before her in her field of study.

Produced by Vancouver-based non-profit organization Curiosity Collider, this project was developed to address the lack of storytelling videos showcasing remarkable women scientists and their work available via popular online platforms. “Her Story reveals the lives of women working in science,” said Larissa Blokhuis, curator for Her Story. “This project acts as a beacon to girls and women who want to see themselves in the scientific community. The intergenerational nature of the project highlights the fact that women have always worked in and contributed to science.

This sentiment was reflected by Samantha Baglot as well, a PhD student in neuroscience who collaborated with filmmaker/science cartoonist Armin Mortazavi in Her Story. “It is empowering to share stories of previous Canadian female scientists… it is empowering for myself as a current female scientist to learn about other stories of success, and gain perspective of how these women fought through various hardships and inequality.”

When asked why seeing better representation of women in scientific work is important, artist/filmmaker Michael Markowsky shared his thoughts. “It’s important for women — and their male allies — to question and push back against these perceived social norms, and to occupy space which rightfully belongs to them.” In fact, his wife just gave birth to their first child, a daughter; “It’s personally very important to me that she has strong female role models to look up to.” His film will feature collaborating scientist Jade Shiller, and Kathleen Conlan – who was named one of Canada’s greatest explorers by Canadian Geographic in 2015.

Other participating filmmakers and collaborating scientists include: Leslie Kennah (Filmmaker), Kimberly Girling (scientist, Research and Policy Director at Evidence for Democracy), Lucas Kavanagh and Jesse Lupini (Filmmakers, Avocado Video), and Jessica Pilarczyk (SFU Assistant Professor, Department of Earth Sciences).

This film series is supported by Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WWEST) and Eng.Cite. The venue for the events is provided by Vancouver Civic Theatres.

Event Information

Screening events will be hosted at Annex (823 Seymour St, Vancouver) on September 13th and 14th [2019]. Events will also include a talkback with filmmakers and collab scientists on the 13th, and a panel discussion on representations of women in science and culture on the 14th. Visit http://bit.ly/HerStoryTickets2019 for tickets ($14.99-19.99) and http://bit.ly/HerStoryWomenScientists for project information.

I have a film collage,

Courtesy: Curiosity Collider

I looks like they’re presenting films with a diversity of styles. You can find out more about Curiosity Collider and its various programmes and events here.

Vancouver Fringe Festival September 5 – 16, 2019

I found two plays in this year’s fringe festival programme that feature science in one way or another. Not having seen either play I make no guarantees as to content. First up is,

AI Love You
Exit Productions
London, UK
Playwright: Melanie Anne Ball
exitproductionsltd.com

Adam and April are a regular 20-something couple, very nearly blissfully generic, aside from one important detail: one of the pair is an “artificially intelligent companion.” Their joyful veneer has begun to crack and they need YOU to decide the future of their relationship. Is the freedom of a robot or the will of a human more important?
For AI Love You: 

***** “Magnificent, complex and beautifully addictive.” —Spy in the Stalls 
**** “Emotionally charged, deeply moving piece … I was left with goosebumps.” —West End Wilma 
**** —London City Nights 
Past shows: 
***** “The perfect show.” —Theatre Box

Intellectual / Intimate / Shocking / 14+ / 75 minutes

The first show is on Friday, September 6, 2019 at 5 pm. There are another five showings being presented. You can get tickets and more information here.

The second play is this,

Red Glimmer
Dusty Foot Productions
Vancouver, Canada
Written & Directed by Patricia Trinh

Abstract Sci-Fi dramedy. An interdimensional science experiment! Woman involuntarily takes an all inclusive internal trip after falling into a deep depression. A scientist is hired to navigate her neurological pathways from inside her mind – tackling the fact that humans cannot physically re-experience somatosensory sensation, like pain. What if that were the case for traumatic emotional pain? A creepy little girl is heard running by. What happens next?

Weird / Poetic / Intellectual / LGBTQ+ / Multicultural / 14+ / Sexual Content / 50 minutes

This show is created by an underrepresented Artist.
Written, directed, and produced by local theatre Artist Patricia Trinh, a Queer, Asian-Canadian female.

The first showing is tonight, September 5, 2019 at 8:30 pm. There are another six showings being presented. You can get tickets and more information here.

CHAOSMOSIS mAchInes exhibition/performance/discussion/panel/in-situ experiments/art/ science/ techne/ philosophy, 28 September, 2019 in Toronto

An Art/Sci Salon September 2, 2019 announcement (received via email), Note: I have made some formatting changes,

CHAOSMOSIS mAchInes

28 September, 2019 
7pm-11pm.
Helen-Gardiner-Phelan Theatre, 2nd floor
University of Toronto. 79 St. George St.

A playful co-presentation by the Topological Media Lab (Concordia U-Montreal) and The Digital Dramaturgy Labsquared (U of T-Toronto). This event is part of our collaboration with DDLsquared lab, the Topological Lab and the Leonardo LASER network


7pm-9.30pm, Installation-performances, 
9.30pm-11pm, Reception and cash bar, Front and Long Room, Ground floor


Description:
From responsive sculptures to atmosphere-creating machines; from sensorial machines to affective autonomous robots, Chaosmosis mAchInes is an eclectic series of installations and performances reflecting on today’s complex symbiotic relations between humans, machines and the environment.


This will be the first encounter between Montreal-based Topological Media Lab (Concordia University) and the Toronto-based Digital Dramaturgy Labsquared (U of T) to co-present current process-based and experimental works. Both labs have a history of notorious playfulness, conceptual abysmal depth, human-machine interplays, Art&Science speculations (what if?), collaborative messes, and a knack for A/I as in Artistic Intelligence.


Thanks to  Nina Czegledy (Laser series, Leonardo network) for inspiring the event and for initiating the collaboration


Visit our Facebook event page 
Register through Evenbrite


Supported by


Main sponsor: Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, U of T
Sponsors: Computational Arts Program (York U.), Cognitive Science Program (U of T), Knowledge Media Design Institute (U of T), Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IHPST)Fonds de Recherche du Québec – Société et culture (FRQSC)The Centre for Comparative Literature (U of T)
A collaboration between
Laser events, Leonardo networks – Science Artist, Nina Czegledy
ArtsSci Salon – Artistic Director, Roberta Buiani
Digital Dramaturgy Labsquared – Creative Research Director, Antje Budde
Topological Media Lab – Artistic-Research Co-directors, Michael Montanaro | Navid Navab


Project presentations will include:
Topological Media Lab
tangibleFlux φ plenumorphic ∴ chaosmosis
SPIEL
On Air
The Sound That Severs Now from Now
Cloud Chamber (2018) | Caustic Scenography, Responsive Cloud Formation
Liquid Light
Robots: Machine Menagerie
Phaze
Phase
Passing Light
Info projects
Digital Dramaturgy Labsquared
Btw Lf & Dth – interFACING disappearance
Info project

This is a very active September.

ETA September 4, 2019 at 1607 hours PDT: That last comment is even truer than I knew when I published earlier. I missed a Vancouver event, Maker Faire Vancouver will be hosted at Science World on Saturday, September 14. Here’s a little more about it from a Sept. 3, 2019 at Science World at Telus Science World blog posting,

Earlier last month [August 2019?], surgeons at St Paul’s Hospital performed an ankle replacement for a Cloverdale resident using a 3D printed bone. The first procedure of its kind in Western Canada, it saved the patient all of his ten toes — something doctors had originally decided to amputate due to the severity of the motorcycle accident.

Maker Faire Vancouver Co-producer, John Biehler, may not be using his 3D printer for medical breakthroughs, but he does see a subtle connection between his home 3D printer and the Health Canada-approved bone.

“I got into 3D printing to make fun stuff and gadgets,” John says of the box-sized machine that started as a hobby and turned into a side business. “But the fact that the very same technology can have life-changing and life-saving applications is amazing.”

When John showed up to Maker Faire Vancouver seven years ago, opportunities to access this hobby were limited. Armed with a 3D printer he had just finished assembling the night before, John was hoping to meet others in the community with similar interests to build, experiment and create. Much like the increase in accessibility to these portable machines has changed over the years—with universities, libraries and makerspaces making them readily available alongside CNC Machines, laser cutters and more — John says the excitement around crafting and tinkering has skyrocketed as well.

“The kind of technology that inspires people to print a bone or spinal insert all starts at ground zero in places like a Maker Faire where people get exposed to STEAM,” John says …

… From 3D printing enthusiasts like John to knitters, metal artists and roboticists, this full one-day event [Maker Faire Vancouver on Saturday, September 14, 2019] will facilitate cross-pollination between hobbyists, small businesses, artists and tinkerers. Described as part science fair, part county fair and part something entirely new, Maker Faire Vancouver hopes to facilitate discovery and what John calls “pure joy moments.”

Hopefully that’s it.

Cooking up a lung one way or the other

I have two stories about lungs and they are entirely different with the older one being a bioengineering story from the US and the more recent one being an artificial tissue story from the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa (both in Canada).

Lab grown lungs

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme posted a December 29, 2018 news item (with embedded radio files) about bioengineered lunjgs,

There are two major components to building an organ: the structure and the right cells on that structure. A team led by Dr. Joan Nichols, a Professor of Internal Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, were able to tackle both parts of the problem

In their experiment they used a donor organ for the structure. They took a lung from an unrelated pig, and stripped it of its cells, leaving a scaffold of collagen, a tough, flexible protein.  This provided a pre-made appropriate structure, though in future they think it may be possible to use 3-D printing technology to get the same result.

They then added cultured cells from the animal who would be receiving the transplant – so the lung was made of the animal’s own cells. Cultured lung and blood vessel cells were placed on the scaffold and it was  placed in a tank for 30 days with a cocktail of nutrients to help the cells stick to the scaffold and proliferate. The result was a kind of baby lung.

They then transplanted the bio-engineered, though immature, lung into the recipient animal where they hoped it would continue to develop and mature – growing to become a healthy, functioning organ.

The recipients of the bio-engineered lungs were four pigs adult pigs, which appeared to tolerate the transplants well. In order to study the development of the bio-engineered lungs, they euthanized the animals at different times: 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation.

They found that as early as two weeks, the bio-engineered lung had integrated into the recipient animals’ body, building a strong network of blood vessels essential for the lung to survive. There was no evidence of pulmonary edema, the build of fluid in the lungs, which is usually a sign of the blood vessels not working efficiently.  There was no sign of rejection of the transplanted organs, and the pigs were healthy up to the point where they were euthanized.

One lingering concern is how well the bio-engineered lungs delivered oxygen. The four pigs who received the trasplant [sic] had one original functioning lung, so they didn’t depend on their new bio-engineered lung for breathing. The scientists were not sure that the bio-engineered lung was mature enough to handle the full load of oxygen on its own.

You can hear Bob McDonald’s (host of Quirks & Quarks, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation science radio programme) interview lead scientist, Dr. Joan Nichols if you go to here. (Note: I find he overmodulates his voice but some may find he has a ‘friendly’ voice.)

This is an image of the lung scaffold produced by the team,

Lung scaffold in the bioreactor chamber on Day 1 of the experiment, before the cells from the study pig were added. (Credit: Joan Nichols) [downloaded from https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/dec-29-2018-water-on-mars-lab-grown-lungs-and-more-the-biggest-science-stories-of-2018-1.4940811/lab-grown-lungs-are-transplanted-in-pigs-today-they-may-help-humans-tomorrow-1.4940822]

Here’s more technical detail in an August 1, 2018i University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) news release (also on EurekAlert), which originally announced the research,

A research team at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have bioengineered lungs and transplanted them into adult pigs with no medical complication.

In 2014, Joan Nichols and Joaquin Cortiella from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston were the first research team to successfully bioengineer human lungs in a lab. In a paper now available in Science Translational Medicine, they provide details of how their work has progressed from 2014 to the point no complications have occurred in the pigs as part of standard preclinical testing.

“The number of people who have developed severe lung injuries has increased worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs have decreased,” said Cortiella, professor of pediatric anesthesia. “Our ultimate goal is to eventually provide new options for the many people awaiting a transplant,” said Nichols, professor of internal medicine and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB.

To produce a bioengineered lung, a support scaffold is needed that meets the structural needs of a lung. A support scaffold was created using a lung from an unrelated animal that was treated using a special mixture of sugar and detergent to eliminate all cells and blood in the lung, leaving only the scaffolding proteins or skeleton of the lung behind. This is a lung-shaped scaffold made totally from lung proteins.

The cells used to produce each bioengineered lung came from a single lung removed from each of the study animals. This was the source of the cells used to produce a tissue-matched bioengineered lung for each animal in the study. The lung scaffold was placed into a tank filled with a carefully blended cocktail of nutrients and the animals’ own cells were added to the scaffold following a carefully designed protocol or recipe. The bioengineered lungs were grown in a bioreactor for 30 days prior to transplantation. Animal recipients were survived for 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation, allowing the research team to examine development of the lung tissue following transplantation and how the bioengineered lung would integrate with the body.

All of the pigs that received a bioengineered lung stayed healthy. As early as two weeks post-transplant, the bioengineered lung had established the strong network of blood vessels needed for the lung to survive.

“We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough,” said Nichols and Cortiella. “The bioengineered lungs continued to develop post-transplant without any infusions of growth factors, the body provided all of the building blocks that the new lungs needed.”

Nichols said that the focus of the study was to learn how well the bioengineered lung adapted and continued to mature within a large, living body. They didn’t evaluate how much the bioengineered lung provided oxygenation to the animal.

“We do know that the animals had 100 percent oxygen saturation, as they had one normal functioning lung,” said Cortiella. “Even after two months, the bioengineered lung was not yet mature enough for us to stop the animal from breathing on the normal lung and switch to just the bioengineered lung.”

For this reason, future studies will look at long-term survival and maturation of the tissues as well as gas exchange capability.

The researchers said that with enough funding, they could grow lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances within five to 10 years.

“It has taken a lot of heart and 15 years of research to get us this far, our team has done something incredible with a ridiculously small budget and an amazingly dedicated group of people,” Nichols and Cortiella said.

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

Production and transplantation of bioengineered lung into a large-animal model by Joan E. Nichols, Saverio La Francesca, Jean A. Niles, Stephanie P. Vega, Lissenya B. Argueta, Luba Frank, David C. Christiani, Richard B. Pyles, Blanca E. Himes, Ruyang Zhang, Su Li, Jason Sakamoto, Jessica Rhudy, Greg Hendricks, Filippo Begarani, Xuewu Liu, Igor Patrikeev, Rahul Pal, Emiliya Usheva, Grace Vargas, Aaron Miller, Lee Woodson, Adam Wacher, Maria Grimaldo, Daniil Weaver, Ron Mlcak, and Joaquin Cortiella. Science Translational Medicine 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 10, Issue 452, eaao3926 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao3926

This paper is behind a paywall.

Artificial lung cancer tissue

The research teams at the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa worked on creating artificial lung tissue but other applications are possible too. First, there’s the announcement in a February 25, 2019 news item on phys.org,

A 3-D hydrogel created by researchers in U of T Engineering Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab is helping University of Ottawa researchers to quickly screen hundreds of potential drugs for their ability to fight highly invasive cancers.

Cell invasion is a critical hallmark of metastatic cancers, such as certain types of lung and brain cancer. Fighting these cancers requires therapies that can both kill cancer cells as well as prevent cell invasion of healthy tissue. Today, most cancer drugs are only screened for their ability to kill cancer cells.

“In highly invasive diseases, there is a crucial need to screen for both of these functions,” says Shoichet. “We now have a way to do this.”

A February 25, 2019 University of Toronto news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, offers more detail ,

In their latest research, the team used hydrogels to mimic the environment of lung cancer, selectively allowing cancer cells, and not healthy cells, to invade. In their latest research, the team used hydrogels to mimic the environment of lung cancer, selectively allowing cancer cells, and not healthy cells, to invade. This emulated environment enabled their collaborators in Professor Bill Stanford’s lab at University of Ottawa to screen for both cancer-cell growth and invasion. The study, led by Roger Y. Tam, a research associate in Shochet’s lab, was recently published in Advanced Materials.

“We can conduct this in a 384-well plate, which is no bigger than your hand. And with image-analysis software, we can automate this method to enable quick, targeted screenings for hundreds of potential cancer treatments,” says Shoichet.

One example is the researchers’ drug screening for lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a rare lung disease affecting women. Shoichet and her team were inspired by the work of Green Eggs and LAM, a Toronto-based organization raising awareness of the disease.

Using their hydrogels, they were able to automate and screen more than 800 drugs, thereby uncovering treatments that could target disease growth and invasion.

In the ongoing collaboration, the researchers plan to next screen multiple drugs at different doses to gain greater insight into new treatment methods for LAM. The strategies and insights they gain could also help identify new drugs for other invasive cancers.

Shoichet, who was recently named a Distinguished Woman in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering, also plans to patent the hydrogel technology.

“This has, and continues to be, a great collaboration that is advancing knowledge at the intersection of engineering and biology,” says Shoichet.

I note that Shoichet (pronounced ShoyKet) is getting ready to patent this work. I do have a question about this and it’s not up to Shoichet to answer as she didn’t create the system. Will the taxpayers who funded her work receive any financial benefits should the hydrogel prove to be successful or will we be paying double, both supporting her research and paying for the hydrogel through our healthcare costs?

Getting back to the research, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Rationally Designed 3D Hydrogels Model Invasive Lung Diseases Enabling High‐Content Drug Screening by Roger Y. Tam, Julien Yockell‐Lelièvre, Laura J. Smith, Lisa M. Julian, Alexander E. G. Baker, Chandarong Choey, Mohamed S. Hasim, Jim Dimitroulakos, William L. Stanford, Molly S. Shoichet. Advanced Materials Volume 31, Issue 7 February 15, 2019 1806214 First published online: 27 December 2018 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.201806214

This paper is behind a paywall.

Iron oxide nanoparticles for artificial skin with super powers

A January 28, 2019 news item on ScienceDaily describes the possibilities for a skin replacement material,

A new type of sensor could lead to artificial skin that someday helps burn victims ‘feel’ and safeguards the rest of us, University of Connecticut researchers suggest in a paper in Advanced Materials.

Our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, heat, cold, and vibration is a critical safety function that most people take for granted. But burn victims, those with prosthetic limbs, and others who have lost skin sensitivity for one reason or another, can’t take it for granted, and often injure themselves unintentionally.

Chemists Islam Mosa from UConn [University of Connecticut], and James Rusling from UConn and UConn Health, along with University of Toronto engineer Abdelsalam Ahmed, wanted to create a sensor that can mimic the sensing properties of skin. Such a sensor would need to be able to detect pressure, temperature, and vibration. But perhaps it could do other things too, the researchers thought.

“It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” said Mosa.

A January 22, 2019 UConn news release (also on EurekAlert but dated January 28, 2019), which originated the news item, give more detail about the work,

Mosa and his colleagues created such a sensor with a silicone tube wrapped in a copper wire and filled with a special fluid made of tiny particles of iron oxide just one billionth of a meter long, called nanoparticles. The nanoparticles rub around the inside of the silicone tube and create an electric current. The copper wire surrounding the silicone tube picks up the current as a signal. When this tube is bumped by something experiencing pressure, the nanoparticles move and the electric signal changes. Sound waves also create waves in the nanoparticle fluid, and the electric signal changes in a different way than when the tube is bumped.

The researchers found that magnetic fields alter the signal too, in a way distinct from pressure or sound waves. Even a person moving around while carrying the sensor changes the electrical current, and the team found they could distinguish between the electrical signals caused by walking, running, jumping, and swimming.

Metal skin might sound like a superhero power, but this skin wouldn’t make the wearer Colossus from the X-men. Rather, Mosa and his colleagues hope it could help burn victims “feel” again, and perhaps act as an early warning for workers exposed to dangerously high magnetic fields. Because the rubber exterior is completely sealed and waterproof, it could also serve as a wearable monitor to alert parents if their child fell into deep water in a pool, for example.

“The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards,” Mosa says. The team has yet to test the sensor for its response to heat and cold, but they suspect it will work for those as well. The next step is to make the sensor in a flat configuration, more like skin, and see if it still works.

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

An Ultra‐Shapeable, Smart Sensing Platform Based on a Multimodal Ferrofluid‐Infused Surface by Abdelsalam Ahmed, Islam Hassan, Islam M. Mosa, Esraa Elsanadidy, Mohamed Sharafeldin, James F. Rusling, Shenqiang Ren. Advanced Materials DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adma.201807201 First published: 28 January 2019

This paper is behind a paywall.

Elder care robot being tested by Washington State University team

I imagine that at some point the Washington State University’s (WSU) ‘elder care’ robot will be tested by senior citizens as opposed to the students described in a January 14, 2019 WSU news release (also on EurekAlert) by Will Ferguson,

A robot created by Washington State University scientists could help elderly people with dementia and other limitations live independently in their own homes.

The Robot Activity Support System, or RAS, uses sensors embedded in a WSU smart home to determine where its residents are, what they are doing and when they need assistance with daily activities.

It navigates through rooms and around obstacles to find people on its own, provides video instructions on how to do simple tasks and can even lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen.

“RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected,” said Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Minor works in the lab of Diane Cook, professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the WSU Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems.

For the last decade, Cook and Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a WSU professor of psychology, have led CASAS researchers in the development of smart home technologies that could enable elderly adults with memory problems and other impairments to live independently.

Currently, an estimated 50 percent of adults over the age of 85 need assistance with every day activities such as preparing meals and taking medication and the annual cost for this assistance in the US is nearly $2 trillion.

With the number of adults over 85 expected to triple by 2050, Cook and Schmitter-Edgecombe hope that technologies like RAS and the WSU smart home will alleviate some of the financial strain on the healthcare system by making it easier for older adults to live alone.

“Upwards of 90 percent of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home,” Cook said. “We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own.”

RAS is the first robot CASAS researchers have tried to incorporate into their smart home environment. They recently published a study in the journal Cognitive Systems Research that demonstrates how RAS could make life easier for older adults struggling to live independently

In the study CASAS researchers recruited 26 undergraduate and graduate students [emphasis mine] to complete three activities in a smart home with RAS as an assistant.

The activities were getting ready to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water and watering household plants.

When the smart home sensors detected a human failed to initiate or was struggling with one of the tasks, RAS received a message to help.

The robot then used its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and offer assistance.

The person could then indicate through a tablet interface that they wanted to see a video of the next step in the activity they were performing, a video of the entire activity or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the activity like the dog’s leash or a granola bar from the kitchen.

Afterwards the study participants were asked to rate the robot’s performance. Most of the participants rated RAS’ performance favorably and found the robot’s tablet interface to be easy to use. They also reported the next step video as being the most useful of the prompts.

“While we are still in an early stage of development, our initial results with RAS have been promising,” Minor said. “The next step in the research will be to test RAS’ performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot.”

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

Robot-enabled support of daily activities in smart home environment by Garrett Wilson, Christopher Pereyda, Nisha Raghunath, Gabriel de la Cruz, Shivam Goel, Sepehr Nesaei, Bryan Minor, Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, Matthew E.Taylor, Diane J.Cook. Cognitive Systems Research Volume 54, May 2019, Pages 258-272 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsys.2018.10.032

This paper is behind a paywall.

Other ‘caring’ robots

Dutch filmmaker, Sander Burger, directed a documentary about ‘caredroids’ for seniors titled ‘Alice Cares’ or ‘Ik ben Alice’ in Dutch. It premiered at the 2015 Vancouver (Canada) International Film Festival and was featured in a January 22, 2015 article by Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter,


The benign side of artificial intelligence enjoys a rare cinematic showcase in Sander Burger‘s Alice Cares (Ik ben Alice), a small-scale Dutch documentary that reinvents no wheels but proves as unassumingly delightful as its eponymous, diminutive “care-robot.” Touching lightly on social and technological themes that are increasingly relevant to nearly all industrialized societies, this quiet charmer bowed at Rotterdam ahead of its local release and deserves wider exposure via festivals and small-screen outlets.

… Developed by the US firm Hanson Robotics, “Alice”— has the stature and face of a girl of eight, but an adult female’s voice—is primarily intended to provide company for lonely seniors.

Burger shows Alice “visiting” the apartments of three octogenarian Dutch ladies, the contraption overcoming their hosts’ initial wariness and quickly forming chatty bonds. This prototype “care-droid” represents the technology at a relatively early stage, with Alice unable to move anything apart from her head, eyes (which incorporate tiny cameras) and mouth. Her body is made much more obviously robotic in appearance than the face, to minimize the chances of her interlocutors mistaking her for an actual human. Such design-touches are discussed by Alice’s programmer in meetings with social-workers, which Burger and his editor Manuel Rombley intersperses between the domestic exchanges that provide the bulk of the running-time.

‘Alice’ was also featured in the Lancet’s (a general medical journal) July 18, 2015 article by Natalie Harrison,

“I’m going to ask you some questions about your life. Do you live independently? Are you lonely?” If you close your eyes and start listening to the film Alice Cares, you would think you were overhearing a routine conversation between an older woman and a health-care worker. It’s only when the woman, Martha Remkes, ends the conversation with “I don’t feel like having a robot in my home, I prefer a human being” that you realise something is amiss. In the Dutch documentary Alice Cares, Alice Robokind, a prototype caredroid developed in a laboratory in Amsterdam, is sent to live with three women who require care and company, with rather surprising results

Although the idea of health robots has been around for a couple of decades, research into the use of robots with older adults is a fairly new area. Alex Mihailidis, from the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab [University of Toronto] in Toronto, ON, Canada, explains: “For carers, robots have been used as tools that can help to alleviate burden typically associated with providing continuous care”. He adds that “as robots become more viable and are able to perform common physical tasks, they can be very valuable in helping caregivers complete common tasks such as moving a person in and out of bed”. Although Japan and Korea are regarded as the world leaders in this research, the European Union and the USA are also making progress. At the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, for example, researchers are working to develop more complex sensor and navigation technology for robots that work alongside people and on assisted living prosthetics technologies. This research is part of a collaboration between the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University that was awarded £6 million in funding as part of a wider £85 million investment into industrial technology in the UK Government’s Eight Great Technologies initiative. Robotics research is clearly flourishing and the global market for service and industrial robots is estimated to reach almost US$60 billion by 2020.

The idea for Alice Cares came to director Sander Burger after he read about a group of scientists at the VU University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands who were about to test a health-care robot on older people. “The first thing I felt was some resentment against the idea—I was curious why I was so offended by the whole idea and just called the scientists to see if I could come by to see what they were doing. …

… With software to generate and regulate Alice’s emotions, an artificial moral reasoner, a computational model of creativity, and full access to the internet, the investigators hoped to create a robotic care provider that was intelligent, sensitive, creative, and entertaining. “The robot was specially developed for social skills, in short, she was programmed to make the elderly women feel less lonely”, explains Burger.

Copyright © 2015 Alice Cares KeyDocs

Both the Young and Harrison articles are well worth the time, should you have enough to read them. Also, there’s an Ik ben Alice website (it’s in Dutch only).

Meanwhile, Canadians can look at Humber River Hospital (HHR; Toronto, Ontario) for a glimpse at another humanoid ‘carebot’, from a July 25, 2018 HHR Foundation blog entry,

Earlier this year, a special new caregiver joined the Child Life team at the Humber River Hospital. Pepper, the humanoid robot, helps our Child Life Specialists decrease patient anxiety, increase their comfort and educate young patients and their families. Pepper embodies perfectly the intersection of compassion and advanced technology for which Humber River is renowned.

Pepper helps our Child Life Specialists decrease patient anxiety, increase their comfort and educate young patients.

Humber River Hospital is committed to making the hospital experience a better one for our patients and their families from the moment they arrive and Pepper the robot helps us do that! Pepper is child-sized with large, expressive eyes and a sweet voice. It greets visitors, provides directions, plays games, does yoga and even dances. Using facial recognition to detect human emotions, it adapts its behaviour according to the mood of the person with whom it’s interacting. Pepper makes the Hospital an even more welcoming place for everyone it encounters.

Humber currently has two Peppers on staff: one is used exclusively by the Child Life Program to help young patients feel at ease and a second to greet patients and their families in the Hospital’s main entrance.

While Pepper robots are used around the world in such industries as retail and hospitality, Humber River is the first hospital in Canada to use Pepper in a healthcare setting. Using dedicated applications built specifically for the Hospital, Pepper’s interactive touch-screen display helps visitors find specific departments, washrooms, exits and more. In addition to answering questions and sharing information, Pepper entertains, plays games and is always available for a selfie.

I’m guessing that they had a ‘soft’ launch for Pepper because there’s an Oct. 25, 2018 HHR news release announcing Pepper’s deployment,

Pepper® can greet visitors, provide directions, play games, do yoga and even dance

Humber River Hospital has joined forces with SoftBank Robotics America (SBRA) to launch a new pilot program with Pepper the humanoid robot.  Beginning this week, Pepper will greet, help guide, engage and entertain patients and visitors who enter the hospital’s main entrance hall.

“While the healthcare sector has talked about this technology for some time now, we are ambitious and confident at Humber River Hospital to make the move and become the first hospital in Canada to pilot this technology,” states Barbara Collins, President and CEO, Humber River Hospital. 


Pepper by the numbers:
Stands 1.2 m (4ft) tall and weighs 29 kg (62lb)
Features three cameras – two 2 HD cameras and one 3D depth sensor – to “see” and interact with people
20 engines in Pepper’s head, arms and back control its precise movements
A 10-inch chest-mounted touchscreen tablet that Pepper uses to convey information and encourage input

Finally, there’s a 2012 movie, Robot & Frank (mentioned here before in this Oct. 13, 2017 posting; scroll down to Robots and pop culture subsection) which provides an intriguing example of how ‘carebots’ might present unexpected ethical challenges. Hint: Frank is a senior citizen and former jewel thief who decides to pass on some skills.

Final thoughts

It’s fascinating to me that every time I’ve looked at articles about robots being used for tasks usually performed by humans that some expert or other sweetly notes that robots will be used to help humans with tasks that are ‘boring’ or ‘physical’ with the implication that humans will focus on more rewarding work, from Harrison’s Lancet article (in a previous excerpt),

… Alex Mihailidis, from the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab in Toronto, ON, Canada, explains: “For carers, robots have been used as tools that can help to alleviate burden typically associated with providing continuous care”. He adds that “as robots become more viable and are able to perform common physical tasks, they can be very valuable in helping caregivers …

For all the emphasis on robots as taking over burdensome physical tasks, Burger’s documentary makes it clear that these early versions are being used primarily to provide companionship. Yes, HHR’s Pepper® is taking over some repetitive tasks, such as giving directions, but it’s also playing and providing companionship.

As for what it will mean ultimately, that’s something we, as a society, need to consider.