Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ursula Franklin for Ada Lovelace Day #ALD16

Ursula Franklin, linocut, 11" x 14" by Ele Willoughby, 2016
Cross-posted from the minouette blog 

This year, to celebrate the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and math, Ada Lovelace Day (ALD16), I am returning again to my first subject: Ursula Franklin (16 September 1921 – 22 July 2016). Every year since 2009, people have devoted the 2nd Tuesday in October to blogging about (and otherwise celebrating) the under-recognized and under-appreciated women who have made pivotal contributions to STEM throughout history, in the name of Countess Ada Lovelace. (I hope you'll all recall, Ada, brilliant proto-software engineer, daughter of absentee father, the mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Lord Byron, she was able to describe and conceptualize software for Charles Babbage's computing engine, before the concepts of software, hardware, or even Babbage's own machine existed! She foresaw that computers would be useful for more than mere number-crunching. For this she is rightly recognized as visionary - at least by those of us who know who she was. She figured out how to compute Bernouilli numbers with a Babbage analytical engine. Tragically, she died at only 36.)

A preliminary mock-up of one of the Phylo cards
in this new Women in Science and Engineering set
featuring my portrait of today's namesake: Ada Lovelace
I began participating in Ada Lovelace Day in 2010, and I knew immediately I should write about Ursula Franklin. For me she really personifies the goals of ALD; not only did she represent excellence in science and engineering, but she was a great, perhaps even visionary, thinker on the very role of technology in our society, as well as a fearless and tireless advocate for women in STEM, peace and social justice. Her research interests and achievements were clearly guided by her principles, including gathering evidence of the harmful health effects of radiation from atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons to or her work on the political and societal impacts of support of the technologies and their use. When she died earlier this year, I wrote about her life, work and how she has been one of my heroes since I was too young to fully appreciate the importance of role models in my scientific career. Her influence as a roll model of women in physics and engineering here cannot be overstated. She was one of the most impressive people I have ever met. I got some encouragement from friends to do something I had long contemplated: add her portrait to my growing collection of scientists. When I finally sat down to do so this September, I was really tickled to open my email and receive a commission to do precisely that! I'm really pleased to say I'm going to be contributing some artwork to latest edition of the Phylo Project from Dave Ng and the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (the science education facility within the Michael Smith Laboratories, UBC): a trading card game about Women in Science and Engineering! Sometimes you get several hints of what work you should do next; this portrait's time clearly had arrived.

Franklin was born in Munich in 1921 and survived being interned by the Nazis. She received her PhD in physics from the Technical University of Berlin in 1948 and immigrated to Canada, where after a post-doc at U of T, she joined the faculty. She pioneered archeometry - the use of modern materials analysis in archeology, dating prehistoric artifacts made of metals and ceramics. In my portrait I include an image of an ancient Chinese ding vessel to represent both her metallurgical research and archeometry and her writing about "prescriptive" versus "holistic" technologies used in mass production versus technologies used by craft workers and artisans. Her science was always engaged with societal concerns. During the 60s she advocated for the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty, citing her studies of strontium-90 radioactive fallout found in children's teeth. Strontium-90 (90Sr) is called a "bone-seeker" because biochemically it behaves like calcium and when absorb it in our bodies what isn't excreted finds its way to our bones. Thus, this radioactive product of nuclear fission (for instance, in atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons) is particularly dangerous and can cause cancers. It decays by beta decay, giving off electrons, as shown by the child's tooth in my portrait. During the 70s she was part of the Science Council of Canada investigation of how we could better conserve resources and protect nature. She began to develop her ideas about complexities of modern technological society.

She consistently has stood up for her beliefs in peace and social justice. As a member of the Voice of Women (now called Canadian Voice of Women for Peace), she tried to persuade Parliament to disengage Canada from supplying any weapons to the US during the Vietnam war, to shift funding from weapons research to preventative medicine, to withdraw from NATO and disarm. She later fought to allow conscientious objectors to redirect part of their income taxes from military uses to peaceful purposes (though the Supreme Court declined to hear the associated case). She joined other retired female faculty in a class action law suit against the University of Toronto for claiming it had been unjustly enriched by paying women faculty less than comparably qualified men. The University settled in 2002 and acknowledged that there had been gender barriers and pay discrimination.

As an applied scientist, her writings on technology benefit from the insight of an insider, but her priorities are justice and peace and she critiques and analyses technology in this light. She does not view technology as neutral; it is a comprehensive system that includes methods, procedures, organization, "and most of all, a mindset". It can be work-related or control-related, holistic and prescriptive. Franklin argues that the dominance of prescriptive technologies in modern society discourages critical thinking and promotes "a culture of compliance". She investigated the relationship between technology and power. She investigated how we interact with communication technologies and advocated for the right to silence - long before our contemporary concern with these issues.

Many of her articles and speeches on pacifism, feminism, technology and teaching are collected in The Ursula Franklin Reader (2006). A nod to her pacifism and feminism is built into the structure of her portrait which encompasses the symbols for peach and women in the negative space. Franklin is one of many respected scholars and thinkers to have delivered a series of Massey Lectures, in 1989. Hers were gathered and published as The Real World of Technology. She has been recognized for her work in many ways, including receiving the Order of Canada, Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case for promoting the equality of girls and women in Canada and the Pearson Medal of Peace for her work in advancing human rights. She was inducted into the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame in 2012. Locals may know the Ursula Franklin Academy, a Toronto high school, named in her honour. I think this University, city, country and in fact, society at large were made a better place because Ursula Franklin was a part of it. So, though she has received this recognition, I think she should be a household name, so that's why I am happy to add her to my portrait pantheon of scientists and write about her again this Ada Lovelace Day 2016. I also think that it is very apt to combine making her portrait using holistic technologies of the artisan and sharing it through more prescriptive digital technologies with the world.

(NB: much of the biographical information is recycled from my own previous post about Franklin) .

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Metamorphosis and Maria Sibylla Merian; Backyard Butterflies to New World Entomological Explorer

Maria Sibylla Merian, linocut by Ele Willloughby, 2015.
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), leading entomologist of her day,
traveller and scientific illustrator is shown complete with
pomegranate branch and the life cycle of a butterfly from
caterpillar, to chrysalis in its cocoon to butterfly, inspired by
her famous work 'Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium'
- a process she carefully documented and explained.
Born April 2, 1647, Maria Sibylla Merian was the leading entomologist of her day, a great traveller and scientific illustrator. The German-born naturalist came from a Swiss family who founded one of one of Europe's largest publishing houses in the 17th century. This allowed her early access to many books on natural history. After she lost her father at age three, and her mother remarried still life painter Jacob Marrel. Her step-father and his students trained her as an artist. She began painting insects and plants by 13. She wrote, "I spent my time investigating insects. At the beginning, I started with silk worms in my home town of Frankfurt. I realized that other caterpillars produced beautiful butterflies or moths, and that silkworms did the same. This led me to collect all the caterpillars I could find in order to see how they changed".

She married her step-father's apprentice Johann Andreas Graff, they had a daughter Johanna Helena, and moved to his home city of Nurenburg. She was able to contribute to the family income by painting, creating embroidery designs, and teaching drawing lessons to unmarried daughters of wealthy families, something which also allowed her access to the finest gardens where she continued collecting and documenting. She published her first book of natural illustrations, titled Neues Blumenbuch, in 1675 at age 28. In 1679, she first published her insect research in a two-volume, illustrated book focusing on insect metamorphosis. She moved twice to be with her mother after her step-father's death, then to join her half-brother at a Labadist religious community. She also split with her husband. After her mother's death, she moved to Amsterdam in 1691 and divorced her husband in 1692.

In Amsterdam, she was able to observe some of the collections of insects which had been brought back from Suriname. She became curious whether the life cycles of the exotic butterflies and other insects mirrored those Europe species she knew well. She was able to secure the city of Amsterdam's permission and and travel grant to travel to Suriname in South America, along with her younger daughter Dorothea Maria. She further funded her travels by selling 255 paintings. She planned a five year mission to study insects, making her perhaps the first person to plan a proper scientific expedition!

Maria Sibylla Merian, from
Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Plate LX. 1705
She travelled throughout the colony sketching insects and plants. She criticized the Dutch planters treatment of indigenous people and black slaves (though she relied upon amerindian slaves in her residence and her excursions, and brought a young amerindian woman named Indianin back with her to Holland). She used local native names for the plants and described local uses. Malaria likely cut her expedition short and forced her return to the Dutch Republic in 1701. She sold her collected specimen and in 1705 she published a book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium about the insects of Suriname.

She suffered a stroke in 1715 which left her partially paralysed and died a pauper in 1717. Her daughter Dorothea published Erucarum Ortus Alimentum et Paradoxa Metamorphosis, a collection of her mother's work, posthumously. Both Dorothea and Johanna followed their mother's lead and became botanical illustrators.

Copper engraving from Maria Sibylla Merian's
Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Plate XLIX.
Modern scholars now appreciate her pioneering scientific work as well as the beauty of her scientific illustrations. During her life time insects were still reviled and people still put credence in the Aristotelian idea that they were spontaneously generated or "born of mud". She meanwhile detailed the life cycle of 186 species and explained the poorly-understood or even unknown process of metamorphosis. Science was conducted in Latin and her publications were in the vernacular, making them more popular with high society than contemporary scientists. Despite her knowledge and original research contributions she was not really recognized as a scientist in her day (though Carl Linnæus (1707-1778), father of taxonomy, did cite her in his Systema Naturæ of 1753). It was very unusual for a woman in her day to pursue science, let alone travel the world in its pursuit. She was able to do so because she began her studies with the accessible - animals she could find in her own backyard, and become the leading expert on metamorphosis. During her great expedition, she also noted their habitats, feeding habits and uses to indigenous people. Her classification of butterflies and moths are still relevant today. She detailed plants, frogs, snakes, spiders, iguanas, and tropical beetles and was the first European to describe both army ants and leaf cutter ants as well as their effect on other organisms.

Speckled caiman and a false coral snake by Maria Sibylla Merian
from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium II., Plate LXX.
Her work had a strong influence on future scientific illustration. Her work shows great accuracy and she was the first to illustrate the complete life cycle of insects. In her time, funding her expedition and her unladylike devotion to insects was ridiculed, but she is remembered as one of the best insect and flower illustrators of all time. Her daughters and student Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) all went on to be renown botanical illustrators.

Shortly after her death, Peter the Great saw and purchased a large number of her works in Amsterdam. Her portrait was printed on the 500 DM note before Germany converted to the euro. Her portrait has also appeared on a 0.40 DM stamp and two American 32 cent stamps. Many schools, place names, a scientific research vessel and a crater on Venus have been named in her honour.

One last tidbit (or two) for you history of science buffs: Dorothea's daughter, Maria Sibylla Merian's granddaughter married mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783). Maria Sibylla Merian was also first cousin to Jacob Christoph Le Blon (1667-1741), painter and engraver who invented the four colour printing process (using an RYBK color model similar to the modern CMYK system).

Monday, February 29, 2016

Take the Diversity of Bees over Oscar Fashion

Naomi Watts dressed as Augochlorella aurata

Last year, I really enjoyed bringing you the best in nudibranch Oscar fashion. So, I thought this year I might try the bees. After all, bees have tremendous diversity (unlike Oscar nominees), though you may only be able to name the honeybee (which isn't even native to North America) and the bumblebee (and there are in fact several different bumblebees). The ecological health of pollinators is of great concern, but it's isn't all about honeybees. In any region, the native bees are often the most important pollinators and few are familiar with their incredible variety. So enjoy the great beauty and astounding colours of these bees, glam enough for the red carpet. Maybe you'll recognize some from the nearest garden.

Learn more about bees of this part of the world at Resonating Bodies. Check out the great Bee Tribes of the World from York University for a sense of the staggering variation in bees. For a wonderful collection of photos of specimen, follow the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab on flickr.

You can also find my own artwork about the biodiversity of bees here and here. If you also make art about bees, let me know and check out this call for artists for an upcoming show about and for bees.

Alicia Vikander dressed as Xylocopa India, a yellow carpenter bee from India
Brie Larson dressed as Osmia chalybea
Rachel McAdams dressed as Augochlora buscki, a Puerto Rican bee
Charlize Theron's backless red dress mimics the female Centris errans from Bahamas
Cate Blanchet dressed as the very pretty, if not pleasant to other bees, nest parasite Thyreus wallacei of the Phillipines
Kerry Washington dressed as Isepeolus wagenknechti

Kate Winslet dressed as the all black leafcutter bee Megachile xylocopoides
Saoirse Ronan dressed as a small carpenter bee Ceratina mikmaqi

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Multimedia Cacti

The elusive cactibou, linocut by Ele Willoughby 2014
I've been working on a sort of quite possibly completely imaginary cryptozoological menagerie, which began sometime after the elusive cactibou a prickly desert cat-cactus hybrid complete with caribou/saguaro antlers improbably appeared fully formed in my mind. (Part of the delight of this project for me is to write the pseudoscientific description of each of my beasties. You can find the cactibou's description, from zoology to ethnobotany here.)

People sometimes ask me where I get my ideas. It's not an obvious question to answer well ("from my head?"), but I do know that cats are indeed prickly, mine seems to store water and disdain drinking, and that cacti seem to be more an more apparent in art I see. I thought today I would share some of the cacti art I've been admiring.

Valentina Glez Wohlers' Prickly Pair Chair- Classic
Their unusual though organic forms are appealing, but I love the whimsical improbability of cactus as home decor, as the prickly plants do not suggest comfort. Mexican born London-based designer Valentina Glez Wohlers' heritage shines in her delightfully whimsical Prickly Pair Chairs, which merge Mexican cactus shapes and colours and patterns with traditional European chair designs.

Valentina Glez Wohlers' Prickly Pair Chair- Tenango de Doria

More straitghtforward perhaps would be a simple cactus shaped pillow. Here's a cute one complete with DIY from everything emilty

DIY a cacti sampler with a Japanese craft book
It's easy to find cacti in all sorts of different forms and media. Check out ceramicist Lina Cofán’s
amazing wunderkammer of cacti and other plants.  

Lina Cofán

Lina Cofán

Lina Cofán

There are even functional ceramic cacti, like this beauty of a teapot:

lofficina ceramic cactus teapot
I love also the cacti in perhaps even less expected media.

ThornAndNeedle has a series of knit cacti

Cactus cake by Tetyana
Cactus cupcakes via Alana Jones Mann

Czech artist Veronika Richterová's magical sculptures from recycled PET bottles include some truly magical cacti (and jellyfish, amongst other things, via thisiscolossal).

Veronika Richterová PET cacti

Veronika Richterová PET cacti

Veronika Richterová PET cacti detail

There are also some beautiful illustrations in more traditional media.

Cactus Nest by Michelle Morin (unitedthread on Etsy)

Cactus Trio by Michelle Morin

Bird Sanctuary No. 5 by Michelle Morin

Anatomy of a Cactus by Rachel Ignotofsky


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