Posts filed under ‘science’

life in CERN and the UN

Where does time go? Suddently I’ve finished my time as a Visiting Scholar in Melbourne Law School and started a contract with UNITAR-UNOSAT, based in CERN in Geneva, focused on geotagx.org & citizencyberlab.eu.

Over the weekend I participated in the CERN webfest as a mentor, workshop presenter and team member. It was an intense hackathon but worthwhile – evidenced in our team winning the ‘best design project’ prize.

[Photo by James Doherty]

Later this week I’ll be in London for the Wikimania Foundation conference. I also plan to help celebrate OpenStreetMap’s 10-year anniversary.

Working within CERN and the UN is invaluable experience. I’ve been impressed by CERN’s great computer security training. I’ve done a UN course on Psychological First Aid, based on WHO guidelines with inspiring participants from across the UN system.

I’m learning so much and meeting so many talented and inspiring people.

August 6, 2014 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

science/art

I wrote this article for RiAus while I worked there.

I’ve recently returned from a round-the-world adventure, presenting at several conferences and workshops about my PhD research and exploring along the way.

During my adventures I was lucky enough to visit some of the world’s coolest places that do science-art projects, as well as compare notes with some people working in these spaces internationally.

While I was in California I visited the Exploratorium and was enthralled by their tinkering studio. I spent a good ten minutes playing with their oscylinderscope. Even though I know I perceive music when sound waves tickle hairs in my ears, there was something compelling and affirming about seeing this at the same time as hearing it. We’ve done some cool music-themed things in the past at RiAus and I hope to see something about the physics of music happen in the future.

bikesI also visited Noisebridge, a hackerspace in San Francisco that blew me away. They had a collection of 3D printers just sitting around that dwarfed the collection we had at our 3D printing workshop with ANAT. They also have a dedicated sewing room, woodwork room and bike wall (pictured) – so much space!

It made me appreciate how awesome Hackerspace Adelaide is, given the limited real-world space and resources. I guess that’s why lots of projects end up happening out and about, like our Tour Down Under project in 2011.

I moved from the new-world technological frontier of California to a place steeped in science history – Florence. There I visited Museo Galileo and La Specola, fundamental to the history of astronomy and anatomy respectively. La Specola was fascinatingly creepy, while I found Museo Galileo profoundly educational for me personally.

I visited Museo Galileo fresh from talking about evaluation of science engagement at the Public Communication of Science and Technology conference, which made me more mindful of how I was engaging with the museum. At the moment I’m particularly interested in observational, ethnographic approaches to evaluating engagement, so was thinking about what someone might report from observing me interacting in the museum. I’m also interested in how engagement activities reinforce (or contradict) each other – and realised my own personal experience at Museo Galileo related to this.

I was involved in the RiAus Adelaide Reef project last year. This was a satellite of the worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef project. As science advisor on th

e project, I worked with mathematicians and scientists to develop the interpretive signage for the final exhibition – as well as learning to crochet to contribute to the project as an artist. I was much more comfortable with the environmental science and biology in the project, so spent more time trying to get my head around the idea of hyperbolic space with mathematicians David Butler and Simon Pampena who kindly helped out on the project.

galileo

In the final, interactive section of Museo Galileo, I came to an exhibit (pictured). Had I not been involved with the hyperbolic crochet project last year, I may have quickly glanced at it, pressed a button, then moved on. As it was, I spent a good ten minutes there. I pressed the buttons that moved the cone mostly full of water around, which changed the type of curve within. I tried to integrate in my brain how the level of water moving within a cone related to my understanding of hyperbolic space from the crochet project last year.

It would have been clear to anyone observing that I was engaged with the exhibit. I spent longer at the exhibit than others who passed through the whole room while I was there. However if people had been observing alone they would never have known why I engaged with the exhibit. Yes, this exhibit in Italy clearly stimulated my genuine learning about mathematics. However this learning built on my prior learning about mathematics through a craft project in Australia. In my evaluation research I’m interested in the steps that people take between projects that lead to more active citizens or more aware people, so it was profoundly useful to understand these steps within myself.

I went on from Florence to London, where there are too many amazing people and places doing science-art projects to mention. Keeping on the crafty theme, there are some people doing projects beyond London that I met who inspired me.

Something that appealed to me as a potential project for our 300+ group of science-art crafters involved in the RiAus Adelaide Reef is the Knit a Neuron project, created by Helen Featherstone and Anne Cooke.

This project appealed because, like the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, it allows people to contribute an individually crafted piece which, combined with others, forms a new entity. Through creating their individual pieces crafters can learn some science or maths about what they’re crafting. Then the final exhibition gives everyone – viewers and crafters – something new to learn about, which in the UK version was the science of brain injuries and stroke.

I also had a great time throwing around crafty ideas with Julia Collins, who’s a doctor of knots at the University of Edinburgh. She does an awesome range of projects there now. We enthused about Vi Hart and got excited about the possibility of doing crafty maths projects for the Adelaide Fringe Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the same year – fringe festivals across hemispheres united through math and yarn!

comic

Moving from yarn to other festive things – I was lucky enough to be in Paris for the launch of the science humour exhibition (pictured) at Espace des Sciences Pierre-Gilles de Gennes in Paris.

Even if you don’t speak French, if you can follow enough to click on ‘visionnez les blagues’ on this site you can discover a trove of science cartoons. I contributed by sharing my favourite cartoon and explaining why I liked it on a note – that cartoon and explanation are now part of the exhibition. I would love to see this participatory project happen in the RiAus FutureSpace Gallery down the track.

July 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm Leave a comment

Translation: reducing water contamination using solar energy

Arsenic and other minerals have been removed from river water using solar power by a team of Peruvian and Chilean researchers.

Researchers from Peru’s National Engineering University and Chile’s Tarapacá University have photochemically purified water from the river Locumba near Tacna, a Peruvian town by the border with Chile.

The decontaminated water is used for agricultural irrigation, though depending on the level of decontamination achieved it could be used for human consumption in future.

The technology’s ease of use means it could be used in the countries involved with the research as well as Bolivia; Andean countries where natural contamination is present in many waterways.

Juan Rodríguez, coordinator of the research in Peru, told SciDev.Net that the technology is able to reduce high levels of arsenic contamination of currently 500 parts per billion (ppb) to about 30 ppb.

The researchers designed prototypes of electrochemical equipment and decontamination filters for use in rural or difficult to access areas, which for the moment can treat 20 cubic metres of water daily.

“Modular systems can process much higher volumes, so that’s what we’re trying to achieve,” Rodríguez said.

They used a photochemical system with tubes of glass or plastic to decontaminate the water. Based on reflections the tubes get solar radiation for a few hours, which can purify water contaminated with arsenic and make it suitable for consumption.

This system can also decontaminate boron and iron from water, as sunlight accelerates the rate at which minerals coagulate and can then be removed.

According to Rodríguez, this research is of importance for Bolivia, Chile and Peru because “the problem of arsenic in waterways is of natural origin and doesn’t distinguish between borders”.

This is my translation of a story written by Zoraida Portillo on the Science and Development Network, “Reducen contaminación por arsénico usando energía solar”, published on August 3, 2010. You can read the original in Spanish here.

SciDev.Net stories are published under a Creative Commons attribution license; my translation is available under the same license. Note this license is only for this page. Other works on this website are subject to other licenses; please contact me for details if you’d like to republish other parts of this site.

August 12, 2010 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

Translation: Environmental exposure impacts antibiotic resistance in children:

Exposure to antibiotics at home and in the broader environment influences the risk of children carrying antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli bacteria, according to a study published in the The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The study was based in four areas of Peru with poor health systems, where antibiotics are used indiscriminately and without prescription. It covered coastal, mountain and jungle environments and focused on children between the ages of three months and three years.

The study suggests that environmental exposure to antibiotic-resistant E. coli can be as important as the consumption of antibiotics, according to the paper’s principal author, Henry Kalter, from the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

A risk factor at home was the use of antibiotics by other family members. The study demonstrated that children who hadn’t taken particular antibiotics themselves still carried bacteria resistant to them.

At the community level, living in a place where many families raised chickens themselves was a protective factor against the transport of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According to Kalter, high consumption of home-raised chickens probably protects a community against exposure to antibiotics. He contrasted home-raised chickens with market-bought chickens, which may be given high doses of antibiotics and therefore have high levels of antibiotic-resistant E. coli.

“An important aspect of our conclusions is that the protective effect was not due to the fact that the children were eating certain types of chicken; rather that their communities were,” he said.

Kalter suggested that communities consuming more chickens raised at home presumably had less resistant bacteria in the environment, such as in open sewers and uncovered wells.

“This study reinforces the message that exposure to antibiotics leads to the development of antibiotic resistance, by studying the role of different types of exposure on small children carrying of antibiotic-resistant E. coli,” he continued.

According to Kalter, examining these factors provides a better understanding of how antibiotic resistance spreads in the developing world.

“These findings suggest that unnecessary use of antibiotics in humans and animals should be minimised as much as possible,” he added.

“Many tons of the antibiotics consumed each year on the planet are given to stock animals. This study demonstrates that this use has a very real cost to human health,” Edward T. Ryan, president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said in a press release from Johns Hopkins University.

The study was run by the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, the Peruvian charity PRISMA and the infectious disease laboratory of the Cayetano Heredia University in Peru.

The original paper in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene is here.

This is my translation of a story written by Zoraida Portillo on the Science and Development Network, “Antibióticos propician resistencia infantil a E. coli”, published on June 14, 2010. You can read the original in Spanish here.

SciDev.Net stories are published under a Creative Commons attribution license; my translation is available under the same license. Note this license is only for this page. Other works on this website are subject to other licenses; please contact me for details if you’d like to republish other parts of this site.

June 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm Leave a comment

still south but north, video editing

I grew up in the southern state of a country in the Southern Hemisphere, South Australia. No geography confusion there. At the moment I’m living in the northernmost region of another country in the same hemisphere, which means I’m living in the north, even though for most of the world with internet access it’s still the south. However from my perspective, and that of Chileans, Arica is a northern extremity. It’s also extreme thanks to its exceptionally dry climate, which trumps that of my home town, Adelaide, which is also noted for aridity.

Arica is also an interesting place to be right now because Chile’s president, Sebastián Piñera, popped up this week for a celebration. The occasion was the day during the War of the Pacific (not to be confused with the Pacific War), when Chile took this region from Peru. Or more specifically, a big rock by the beach in Arica.

You might ask what I’m doing here, besides brushing up on South American history and international relations and taking South American Spanish classes. Despite reaching intermediate level in Spain, I needed classes because the language on this continent is different. So much so that I’m reading a book called “How to survive in the Chilean jungle,” which is not a guide to a jungle at all (I’m on the edge of the Atacama Desert), but rather the vocabulary unique to this skinny but vast nation.

As well as polishing my thesis I’ve been editing on a series of videos. They’re for one of the research institutes based at the University of Adelaide I’ve worked with before, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. You can see one here. I filmed the content before I left the country. I have my camera with me, so you can expect content from South America down the track.

June 11, 2010 at 8:37 am 2 comments

Being seen, not published…

I continue to lament the lack of the ‘published high’ I get from journalism while I work on my MPhil. However I’m emerging from this academic fugue for two conferences next month.

Firstly I’m heading to Canberra to present at the Australian Science Communicators conference, among other things. One of those other things is an interview – in Spanish – at the Chilean consulate, to get a working holiday visa for my move there at the end of April. You can keep up to date with that on my travel blog.

After Canberra I’ll return to Adelaide to volunteer at the Australian International Documentary Conference, following my fantastic adventure at WCSFP (the subject of my previous post). I wrote a roundup of my highlights from the WCSFP on my Nature blog, which has been woefully neglected since.

In Canberra I’ll be talking about how to avoid preaching to the converted in science engagement, as well as being part of a panel discussion on “Tools for Democracy and Dialogue”. This is the summary of my presentation:

Events aimed at public engagement with science often attract the same crowd.

They’re sometimes planned with little consideration for who will participate, beyond sheer numbers. So rather than representing a broad public, outcomes may represent people with above average interest in science and, studies suggest, socioeconomic status and education to match.

This raises issues of equality, and can limit the value of feedback from such events. As part of my research, I’ve looked at different ways participants have been recruited and what implications this has for outcomes of public engagement with science.

January 20, 2010 at 4:23 am Leave a comment

Scientists closer to developing salt-tolerant crops

An international team of scientists has developed salt-tolerant plants using a new type of genetic modification (GM), bringing salt-tolerant cereal crops a step closer to reality.

The research team – based at the University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus – has used a new GM technique to contain salt in parts of the plant where it does less damage.

Salinity affects agriculture worldwide, which means the results of this research could impact on world food production and security.

The work has been led by researchers from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, in collaboration with scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge, UK.

The results of their work were published recently in the top international plant science journal, The Plant Cell.

“Salinity affects the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one third of the world’s food is produced. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse, as pressure to use less water increases and quality of water decreases,” said the team’s leader, Professor Mark Tester, from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG).

“Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught will have a significant impact on world food production.”

Professor Tester said his team used the technique to keep salt – as sodium ions (Na+) – out of the leaves of a model plant species. The researchers modified genes specifically around the plant’s water conducting pipes (xylem) so that salt is removed from the transpiration stream before it gets to the shoot.

“This reduces the amount of toxic Na+ building up in the shoot and so increases the plant’s tolerance to salinity,” Professor Tester said.

“In doing this, we’ve enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We’ve used genetic modification to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do – but to do it much better.”

The team is now in the process of transferring this technology to crops such as rice, wheat and barley.

“Our results in rice already look very promising,” Professor Tester said.

This story was written with David Ellis and published in Adelaidean magazine.

August 10, 2009 at 4:43 am Leave a comment

Older Posts


Twitter Updates

Flickr

Rhône in summer

Rhône in summer

Rhône at dusk

More Photos

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.