Posts Tagged ‘enrico mills’


Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

This week we talked about nanotechnology and we had a guest lecture by Professor Gimzewski, but you already knew that. You also probably already know what Gimzewski spoke about, so I am just going to jump into what I found interesting about his presentation. The first thing that comes to mind is Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). While Gimzewski did not specifically mention MSDSs, he spoke about toxicity research - or lack there of - on nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are being integrated into consumer products despite the fact that little is known about the effect nanoparticles have on our health and on the environment. A few weeks ago, I went to a presentation by Dr. Jim Hutchison (Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Material Science Institute, University of Oregon) where he spoke about nano- and green nanotechnology. He too spoke about the lack of understanding surrounding the environmental and health related implications of nanoparticles. He mentioned that, of all the nanoparticles that have been created, none have been quantitatively analyzed for toxic properties and only one has a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). According to Hutchison, the nanoparticle with an MSDS is carbon nanotubes and the information provided is laughable. For example, he said, the recommended protection, when handling carbon nanotubes, is a dust mask which would be of little or no use as nanoparticles are small enough to pass right through a dust mask. In the case of spilled carbon nanotubes, the MSDS suggests, sweeping them up with a broom, said Hutchison. It is disconcerting to hear that nanoparticles are being adopted in many products with no regard for the implications nanoparticles might have, especially when their adoption is being fueled, not necessarily or entirely by the properties they exhibit, but by the marketing buzz that surrounds products with nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are unlike any materials that have been used in the past, because they are engineered to exhibit specific material properties, which, unlike chemical properties, are permanent. Silver nanoparticles, which display anti-microbial properties now, will still exhibit the exact same anti-microbial properties in one, two, even three hundred years from now unless the nanoparticles are physically altered at some point. As I mentioned in my post about Hutchison’s presentation, silver nanoparticles are currently being used in consumer grade clothing. Hutchison’s research demonstrated that the majority of silver nanoparticles in clothing available to the public washes off in less than ten washes. All of the particles washed off these items of clothing make their way into public waterways and yet, we have no information regarding their toxicity.
I think nanotechnology is a fascinating field and has amazing potential, but care must be taken to make sure we don’t rush into an environmental disaster for the sake of having silver nanoparticle socks that keep our feet smelling fresh or nanoparticle sun tan lotion that whitens our teeth.

Enrico Mills


Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I’m just going to jump right into the random thoughts this class inspired in my this week.

As part of the search for extra terrestrial life, scientists have routinely broadcast messages into space. For one such broadcast, scientists at NASA blasted “All Across the Universe” by the Beatles in the direction of the North Star. The more I think about it, the more ludicrous it all sounds to me. In order to effectively broadcast a message to another galaxy, the signal would have to be very highly concentrated. Otherwise, by the time it arrived, it would be nothing more than a faint whisper in a mosh pit at a mettalica concert. Even if the message were being broadcast constantly, from the equator, the message would be restricted to a plane. Given the vastness of the universe, what is the likelyhood of another intelligent life form being on that exact plane. Then consider this, what if our broadcast is on a frequency they dont hear? Or better yet, if they can hear it, what if the alien tasked with listening to space that day is on a bathroom or coffee break. The futility of it all is flabbergasting.

After reading about NASA’s broadcast of the Beatles song, I saw another article that claimed some scientists had expressed concern over this particular broadcast. Making light of the matter, the article was titled, “Scientists Fear Aliens May Be Rolling Stones Fans”. While the title might have been farcicle, the scientists concerns were not. A few scientists, concerned that this Beatles song might earn the ire of an alien species, feared an attack, but most dissidents had a more realistic concern. Essentially, their concern was regarding the lack of careful consideration that went into the message being blasted into space. This led me to ask myself, what if something out there is listening AND they understand our message? What if all human knowledge, all human progress and all humanity is judged by aliens based on a single message? Would we want it to be a doritos commercial?

Dorito’s Space Ad

I think everybody should have a say in how we choose to represent ourselves to alternate life forms. Perhaps we should all chip in and hire a publicist, pr firm and advertising agency. Then again, who knows what aliens like? Maybe we should just keep to ourselves until we know a little more about any potential life forms we are trying to contact. Who knows how, if at all, aliens will react to our message. After all, we have been studying human nature for thousands of years and we have little to show for it.

Space is so vast and we know so little about it. Speaking about it in generalities is pure insanity.

Oh, I almost forgot, the movie in class about sputnik was very interesting. In particular, it was fascinating to see just how primitive sputnik was.

Enrico mills

PS I was unable to embed the youtube clip of the doritos ad in my post, for whatever reason. Wordpress kept stripping the code out of my post. Also, somebody might want to look into the RAMPANT trackback spam on this blog.


Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I like Los Angeles. Acutally, I like big cities; the idea of living in a thriving metropolis. It’s like living in a living thing. When we sleep our bodies continue operating. When a city sleeps, it continues to operate. For my final project, I would like to create an apparatus that demonstrates the life-like nature of a city using the city’s life blood - its people. At the moment, my idea is very scattered and unrefined, but it basically involves using cell towers triangulation to approximate the flow of people through the city. Spots of congestion are then mapped onto a drum machine, creating a dynamic symphonic representation of the city.

Enrico Mills

Nano- and Green Nano Technology

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Jim Hutchison - Greener Nanoscience

Jim Hutchison - Greener Nanoscience

I hadn’t looked at any of the extra credit opportunities until I checked my midterm grade today, but after looking at the list, I was surprised - a lot of them looked interesting. Necessity is a great motivator. I’m glad I was able to see, hear, experience Dr Jim Hutchison’s presentation on nano technology today.
He started out with a brief - very brief - history of nanotechnology. Apparently the original goal of nanotechnology was to create 2 nanometer (nm) islands with a seperation of 2 nm. What I found particulary interesting was the fact that strands of DNA were - or maybe still are - used as a lattice structure for placing nanoparticles (NPs). In case you are wondering why I keep abbreviating things, his presentation was very technical and full of abbreviations, so that’s what I wrote in my notes.
As part of his brief overview of nano technology, Dr Hutchison mentioned the use of gold (Au) NPs being used in the detection of Lanthanides. In essence, Au NPs attach to Lanthinides in a two to one ratio and pairs of Au NPs reflect a different wavelength of light than single Au NPs, resulting in a visible color change. Interesting.
Dr Hutchison developed a green organic chemistry lab curriculum and he is trying to bring the same mentality into nanotech. Many current organic chemistry lab curriculums use toxic and/or highly reactive chemicals, which are hazardous to the environment. Dr Hutchison’s curriculum replaces those chemicals with less hazardous “green” chemicals, making experiments safer, more environmentally friendly and less wasteful.
Nano technology is a very resource intensive speciality at the moment. For example, in the manufacture of high perfomance NPs, the waste to product ratio is usually somewhere between 6000:1 and 15000:1 - according to Dr Hutchison. Another interesting fact Dr Hutchison mention during his presentation dealt with the isolation of NPs. After the reaction which produces the NPs is complete, the NPs need to be seperated from the other products of the reaction. The traditional way to do this is to use a weak solvent and wash the precipitate over and over until there is nothing left but NPs. This uses, on average, 15 liters of solvent and takes three days to complete. Dr Hutchison’s green solution is to use diafiltration to physically filter out NPs. The result: better isolation of NPs and it only takes 15 minutes. Green nanotech, like green organic chemistry, is about reducing waste and environmental impact.
Much of his presentation was geared toward researchers, who, make and experiment with NPs in the lab everyday, but he also had something for the layman too. Silver NPs. Silver NPs are available in a increasing number of consumer grade products, because of their anti-microbial properties. The uses range from toilet seats to clothing, it is about the latter that Dr Hutchison brought an interesting fact to light. The advertised benefits of silver NP infused clothes include stain resistance, odor elimination and, obviously, anti-microbial properties. Dr Hutchison showed a graph effectively showing that the majority of the silver NPs found in consumer grade clothing wash off in less than ten washes! All those NPs end up in public waterways - waste treatment does not filter out NPs. Unfortunately, silver NPs have EXTREMELY good - and indescriminate - anti-microbial properties and wreak havoc on any and all bacteria - beneficial or harmful - they encounter in the wild. If we are not careful, our waterways could be complete devoid of bacteria, which would be devestating to the ecosystems of those waterways.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Consciousness has - as Dr Ramakrishnan mentioned in his lecture - many definitions. Like Dr Ramakrishnan, I also used Google to find a definition of consciousness. There were thirty two results, but this is what Princeton wordnet defined consciousness as: “an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your situation”. Most of the other definitions mentioned self awareness and the awareness of one’s surroundings or situation. If the dictionaries are to be believed, consciousness is, in a word, awareness. During Dr Ramakrishnan’s presentation on Thursday, a fellow student asked if octopi were conscious or if their camouflage was just an autonomic reaction. I thought this was a very good question and was eager to hear his response, but I was disappointed by the one he gave. Loosely stated, he argued that their behavior was too complex to be automatic and therefore it must be the result of conscious thought. Could an octopus’s camouflage not be a complex autonomic reaction to the scent of a predator? Or a complex reaction to a complex stimulus - a combination of water temperature and current velocity and scent? The other example Dr Ramakrishnan gave was the ability of octopi to exhibit two different reactions to different stimuli on each side of their body (i.e. Displaying mating colors on their left side while showing warning colors on their right). How is that proof of consciousness? One of our basic autonomic reactions is a reaction to pain. Hold your hand over a flame and you will pull your hand away before you even feel it start to burn. Now if you were to be blind-folded and a flame were placed under one hand, you would react by moving that hand, not both. Is that not an example of different autonomic reactions based on different stimuli? If the only requirement for consciousness is a simple awareness and a complex reaction, then my car is conscious. It knows when it has a brake light out - I see a message on the dash - and it’s aware of its surroundings - it beeps when it’s about to back into something. Hell, there are even cars that can park themselves! One definition I saw on Google said, “consciousness defies definition” and I would have to agree. It’s an over simplification to reduce the definition of consciousness to awareness - if they meant the same thing, why would they be two different words? Personally, I think consciousness has less to do with the actual act of sensing one’s self or one’s surroundings, but the interpretation of that information. If a person existed, who, through complex autonomous reactions, were able to closely mimic the behaviors of a normal person, would they be conscious? Now what about a robot? Where does sensing stop and consciousness begin?
I did not mean to bash Dr Ramakrishnan’s presentation. I really enjoyed it, in fact, I was disappointed I had to leave at 3:50 - before he was finished - to get to my next class. Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” and I think that can be applied to understanding consciousness. We will never see our consciousness from any other perspective than that of our own consciousness. It is like trying to describe the outside of building when you are inside and you can’t leave. You can get a pretty good idea for the shape and maybe where the doors and windows are, but you will never get all the details.


Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Genetic engineering is a topic that is frequently in the news. Which is unsurprising, because what could inspire the imagination more than scientists playing God and customizing the blueprint of life? There are many applications for genetic engineering, all of which are con


Sunday, February 8th, 2009

The first half of Desma 9, a class entitled “Art, Science & Technology”, has dealt largely with, unsurprisingly, art, science and technology and the connections that exist between them. The very first week, we discussed the “two cultures” - the concept that there exist disparate cultures for art and science. We discussed the merits of C.P. Snow’s Rede Lecture and whether the same holds true in todays society. The second week -entitled math, perspective, time and space - demonstrated the significance of science in arts, while the third week - during which we discussed robotics - demonstrated the influence art has on science. Finally, the fourth week dealt with the human body - an inspiration for many works of art and technology alike - and medicine.
In one of my other classes, the professor made an interesting comment in passing. He said, “the interface is where the interesting things happen”. He was specifically referring to fluid flows and he generalized a little by mentioning inter-disciplinary engineering, but it does not stop there. Professor Vesna has shown us numerous examples of this in class. Casey Reas’s interpretation of “Process 10″ is a perfect example of this. “Process 10 is a text that defines a process” but the interpretation is what makes his work an interface. Reas uses programming to interpret the text to generate the art described by the text. As a result, Reas is creating an interface between software programming and art. This is just one of many examples shown in class.
My project proposal also describes an interface. More specifically, an interface between human behavior, mathematical analysis and performing art. The human behavior I am targeting is bias. Bias is something that we all have. It is molded by our experience and it shapes our experiences. The idea is to create a mathematical model that quantifies bias and then to create a robotic performance based on the results. It is impossible - as far as i know - to numerically describe all bias in all people, so I restricted the demographic to news outlets and the bias to politcal bias.
In order to effectively assess political bias, the methodology would have to be free of bias, therefore my quantitative analysis would be programatic and would rely solely on the behavior of the news sources being assessed. The assessment of bias would be done by analyzing the linking and refrencing behavior of a news outlet compared to that of other news outlets. Two news outlets who frequently reference and link to one another using a positive tone are most likely of a similar political bias. It can also be inferred that two news outlets that only reference and link to one another using a negative tone, would be on opposite sides of the political landscape. Using the neural network of refrences and links and the push/pull forces of the tone surrounding said links, the algorithm would calculate the political bias of each news source.
The robotic performance gives these results a tangible aspect. Hearing that one news source received a political bias score of 7 is worthless on its own. Using a simulator, a person could experience the leanings (literally) of their favorite news source in real time.

Week3_The Information Imbalance

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

As I read “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction” by Walter Benjamin I was struck by the similarities between Walter Benjamin - a person I assume is representative of the artistic elite of the 1930s - and American realtors in the 90s. This might seem like a very bizarre connection to be making, but indulge me and I will explain.
I am currently reading “The World Is Flat 3.0” by Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes for the New York Times. The title of the book is a metaphor for what globalization is achieving in today’s world - a level playing field. One of the points Friedman makes is that, in the past, there was an imbalance of information which contributed to the rise of so-called experts. I use the term “so-called experts”, not because I do not believe in the existence of experts, but rather because these “experts” were only able to achieve this status by way of access to priveleged information. In the book, Friedman provides realtors as an example of such experts. Before the internet became as pervasive as it is, anybody who wanted to buy or sell a house was required to go through a realtor. This was largely in part due to the fact that realtors had exclusive access to databases full of property listings. Only realtors could add to or query said databases, giving them a distinct advantage in connecting sellers and buyers. With the rise of the internet, websites sprung up that provided the average seller or buyer with the ability to create and query listings, marginalizing the significance of the realtor. In today’s global economy, it is not just the realtor who is at risk of becoming margninalized by the globalization of the economy. Many American workers are at risk of becoming marginalized unless they adapt their skills and learn to compete on a global stage.
How does this relate to Walter Benjamin? Walter Benjamin experienced a similar phenomenon in the 1930s, when art began to be reproduced using mechanical means. Prior to the ubiquitous availability of digital - or mechanical - reproductions, being an art expert was limited to those individuals who were fortunate enough to have the means and opportunity to see, hear or experience the original works of art. Naturally, as reproductions become more readily available, the elite, at risk of losing their advantage, reacted by trying to regain their edge. Realtors reacted in much the same way as they came to appreciate that their advantage was at risk. The artistic elite claimed that the “aura” was lost in a reproduction and realtors claimed that websites would never give people the care and personable experience a realtor could provide. Eventually, natural forces fleche out unfair advantages in any system and it is in everybody’s best interest that they are. Imagine if we were still relying solely on the elite upper class for literary and artistic criticism today.

Enrico Mills


Sunday, January 18th, 2009

This week Professor Vesna talked about the number zero. She described it as inciting a revolution in the world of mathematics. The kind of revolution that tested the mettle of math adherent. One slide in particular caught my eye, because it said (0=infinity) which would explain how a simple number such as zero could be such a revolutionary new concept in math. The number zero is very simple to explain and understand, but its inverse - infinity - is an intangible number and that is what complicates matters.

This weeks assigned reading dealt with the fourth dimension - an equally abstract concept, when you think of it as a spatial dimension and not as time. Abstract concepts are where art and science meet. Thinking about these concepts got me thinking about the two cultures again. Last week we discussed the two cultures and how there is a divide between the people in the art world and the people in the scientific community. I agreed that such a divide did exist and, in my head, I had a clear mental picture of the two cultures and the divide between them. I imagined a wheel with the root of knowledge at the middle and various fields were spokes on that wheel. As one progressed down the spoke of a given specialization, be it art or science, the distance between the spoke on which one found one’s self and the adjascent spoke grew. Ironically, visualizations - of abstract concepts, more specifically - is where, I believe, art and science begin to rejoin.

At the forefront of science, researches are often confronted with very abstract concepts. From ephemeral nano-scale particles to dizzying numbers of dimensions, scientists are tasked with making these abstract concepts tangible to the layman using media. This is important, because scientist rely on the discoveries of the scientists before them, by making a discovery accessible and easily understandable through effective communication, it creates a solid foundation for tomorrow’s discoveries. Effective communication is also a cornerstone for art, as most artists, especially modern artists, have always sought to express the intangible through media. It is the artists who find or develop a technique or medium to effectively communicate their message, that are remembered as being luminary artists. The scientist and the artist are no longer divided, but rather share a very similar quest. The scientist strives to achieve better science through the use of art. The artist strives to achieve better art through science.

Enrico Mills


Monday, January 12th, 2009

In “The Two Cultures”, CP Snow laments the diverging paths of Art and Science, paths, which have put a “gulf of mutual incomprehension” between the two. It is indisputable that there exists a cultural separation between the Arts and Sciences, I am not going to argue otherwise, however, I would like to put forth a theory that tries to explain why such a shift is natural - and necessary.

After reading “The Two Cultures” my first thought was, “Where are the Leonardo Da Vincis of today?”. Da Vinci is regarded as both a  brilliant inventor and a critically acclaimed artist. His talents knew no bounds and put him at the forefront of both the Arts and Sciences. I can only assume CP Snow – writing centuries after Da Vinci’s time – looked back to this period when articulating how far the two cultures had drifted apart. I believe there are Da Vinci’s among us, but in today’s worlds, they are all working in specialized fields and if Da Vinci were alive today he would be too.

Many scholars believe the Renaissance was started by the discovery of ancient texts - an influx of information. Since then, each successive generation has enjoyed increasingly pervasive education and easier access to stores of knowledge - such as books and libraries.

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of mystery.

-Mary B Yates

During the Renaissance, the island of knowledge was relatively small and brilliant minds were able to push the frontiers in disparate fields. As the collective knowledge expanded and that collective knowledge became more accessible, people began to specialize.

In today’s world, it is increasingly important to choose a field to specialize in at an early age. For example, Tiger Woods started playing golf when he was two. While Woods might be an extreme case, it is indicative of the kind of specialization required to reach the pinnacle of one’s field. In today’s “success” driven society, it is understandable then that people would eschew the trappings of well-roundedness to perform better in their chosen field - choosing to surround themselves with people who share a similar motivation.

Specialization is set to take center stage as we enter the age of the Internet. Any person who has access to the Internet has information from all corners of the globe at their fingertips and the exchange of information is quick and effortless. For today’s multinational corporations, the Internet allows projects to be broken into components and delegated to specialists across the globe via a virtual platform. This means that finest quality results can be produced in the least amount of time without requiring specialists to be in the same room, or even on the same continent. Paradoxically, this kind of specialization is bringing people closer together by coordinating across different areas of specialization. Perhaps the crossover between the Arts and Sciences is more of a tangible reality in today’s Internet age than when CP Snow wrote his lecture.

As specializations become more and more specific, I believe, we will no longer have Art and Science as the two cultures, but rather a gradiated spectrum of cultures between the two “extremes”. With the lines blurred, the separation, while equally great, will no longer be an impassible void filled with “hostility and dislike”.

-Enrico Mills