Monthly Archives: October 2013

Visiting CERN Open Days 2013, Geneva, Switzerland + France

Super-excited to be on the underground tour to see ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)

For a long time it’s been an ambition of mine to visit CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which straddles the countries of Switzerland and France. Here they use the largest scientific instruments in the world to smash particles together at the speed of light in the hope of finding the smallest known things in the universe, the particles that make up matter. “CERN” comes from the acronym for the French “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire”, or European Council for Nuclear Research, which was founded in 1952 with the task of establishing a world-class physics research organization in Europe. When CERN was founded, its goals were around the research and understanding of what laid inside the atom, hence the term “nuclear” in the name.

Yay ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)!

In July I discovered that CERN were putting on two open days for the public before major upgrade work, so I knew I had to get there somehow! The lottery for underground tickets to see the legendary Large Hadron Collider, detectors and other experiments were hard to get hold of, as they only randomly released a few a day over the course of a month. As you’d expect geeks from all over the world were sitting like me refreshing the page constantly, to get the chance to grab tickets each time they released a few to the public, consequently they were snapped up within a couple of minutes every time.

Totally fabulous & excited to be in the particle accelerator tube tunnel, in the LHC ring at CERN!

Eventually I was lucky and grabbed a couple of tickets for ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). The 10,000-tonne ALICE detector is 26 meters long, 16 meters high, and 16 meters wide, and is used to study quark-gluon plasma. The detector sits in a cavern 56 meters below ground close to the village of St Genis-Pouilly in France, receiving beams from the LHC.

Super-excited to be on the underground tour to see ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment)

So in September I went to Geneva to visit CERN, as you’d expect it was a wonderful and awe-filled experience. There was so much to see and so many brilliant physicists, computer scientists and other experts who gave their time to conduct tours, give amazing talks and answer questions. Of course my highlight was going underground to see ALICE, which was breathtaking and to see part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator ring itself which is 27 miles in diameter. Also seeing the architecture, signs and small things like the bikes and scooters that the physicists use to move around, which gave one an idea of scale.

Bikes and scooters to get around the LHC spotted on my underground tour to see ALICE

Totally fabulous & excited to be in the particle accelerator tube tunnel, in the LHC ring at CERN!

Magnetic field warning signs - there are some jolly big magnets in the LHC and other detectors at CERN

We also visited Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) Payload Operations Control Centre (POCC). The AMS is a particle-physics detector that looks for dark matter, antimatter and missing matter from a module which is attached to the outside of the International Space Station (ISS). It also performs precision measurements of cosmic rays and 17 billion cosmic-ray events were collected in the first year! Data is received from the module on the ISS by NASA in Houston, and then it is relayed to the AMS Payload Operations Control Centre (POCC) at CERN for analysis. This experiment is run by a collaboration of 56 institutions. The detector measures 64 cubic metres and weighs 8.5 tonnes, was assembled at CERN.

At the AMS dark matter experiment talk
A model of the AMS module which is bolted onto the outside of the ISS.

CERN Control Room
Being in charge, in the CERN Control Centre 😉

It was a fab treat to have a look round CERN Control Centre (CCC), which combines the control rooms of the Laboratory’s eight accelerators, as well as the piloting of cryogenics and technical infrastructures. It was boggling to see all the control stations and monitors, I also noted all the empty champagne bottles, which together made a timeline of CERN’s milestones and achievements.

CERN Control Room

The Microcosm sculpture garden is wonderful and features some amazing examples of former CERN experiments shown as sculpture. Plus the many exhibits and kit on show which are too numerous to mention in a short blog post. There was even a music festival comprising of CERN staff bands, which was also fabulous. I didn’t get to see everything, there was far too much to fit in my one day at CERN, but here are a few of my photos of my most amazing day at CERN.

CERN staff band Music Festival
The CERN staff bands play at the Open Days music festival.

Garden of sculptures made with old bits of CERN experiments

Microcosm sculpture garden made of old CERN experiments.

Robotics Exhibition
There was also a great demonstration of robots!

At the ATLAS Globe and exhibition
My final sight of CERN was taking off from Geneva airport and seeing the Dome (above) and the CERN complex all lit up – I was very sad to leave!

Underground trip to see ALICE
Friendly physicist taking us on a tour underground.

ALICE Exhibition
ALICE exhibition

Emergency Stop - underground at CERN
One of many huge emergency stop signs underground in the particle accelerator ring.

Oh yes, I finally got my paws on a couple (well 3) official CERN t-shirts, which completed my trip as I’d been after a CERN t-shirt for many years, in fact I’d even taken to designing my own celebratory t-shirts for the switch on of the LHC back in 2008!

Rainycat celebratory LHC t-shirt designs!
Celebratory t-shirts I designed for the switch on of the LHC in 2008 – I really should do some more for the Nobel Prize announcement!

ALICE A Large Ion Collider Experiment t-shirt
In comparison, an official ALICE t-shirt from CERN circa 2013

Ada Lovelace Day 2013 – Lynne Bruning, E-textile Enchantress Extraordinaire

Happy Ada Lovelace Day! Now in its forth year, ALD celebrates women in technology and science, from students to the famous names and of course Ada Lovelace herself. Ada was a mathematician who is known as the world’s first computer programmer because of her notes suggesting the first algorithm for computer, for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the first general-purpose computer. On Ada Lovelace Day it is now traditional to write a blog post about a women in technology or science who one finds inspiring.

Raw choc caek in Inspiral with Lynne & Nikki.
Lynne also has excellent taste in caek!

This year I’m writing about my good friend, Lynne Bruning, tech educator, fashion designer, innovator, e-textile enchantress, blogger and whose non-stop enthusiasm for all things wearable tech, fashion, art and life itself is an inspiration.

Lynne uses her BA in Neurophysiology from Smith College, a Masters in Architecture from the University of Colorado and her family history in textiles to create stunning, colourful, bespoke technology infused fashions and as her blog says, Lynne “jets thru the universe creatively cross-pollinating the worlds of science, textiles, fashion and technology”. She is constantly updating her website and others such as Instructables with new tutorials, how tos, with news of testing components and ideas for getting the most out of making e-textiles and wearable technology – who else would conduct a thorough investigation into the best conductive thread to buy and what to avoid? Lynne, also periodically broadcasts her tech tips and tricks, and conducts show ‘n’ tells on The eTextile Lounge, on Livestream, where lively conversation between Lynne, her guests and viewers can be found.

In terms of innovation, Lynne has created a technique to hand-weave conductive thread and LEDs. Her work also includes the creation of assistive wearable technologies, such as her Bats haptic coat, which is designed to assist visually impaired wearers to navigate their environment using sonar. If an object is within 24″ a vibrating motor will activate and buzz that an object is coming up in the users path. See image below.

Lynne Bruning's Bats haptic coat

Not content with all of the above, Lynne also exhibits her work and has curated wearable tech shows and workshops at events such as Maker Faires, plus gives presentations on technology, fashion and e-textiles.

International Symposium on Wearable Computers 2013 (ISWC), ETH Zurich, Switzerland

At the International Symposium on Wearable Technology, Zurich 2013

I had a great time at the 17th International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC), held this year at ETH Zurich, Switzerland alongside UbiComp. This year there was a record amount of submissions for all calls: papers, posters, Gadget Show and the Design Exhibition. The full programme and abstracts can be found here.

Showing my Bluetooth EEG Visualising Pendant at the Design Exhibition at ISWC

Me with my EEG Visualising Pendant

This year I submitted my EEG Visualising Pendant for selection in the Design Exhibition. The pendant uses EEG (Electroencephalography) signals, which are gleaned from a NeuroSky MindWave Mobile, a standalone headset device that detects electrical signals from the brain, which are accessed via a single electrode on a protruding arm from the headband. The pendant displays attention / concentration data as red LEDs (light emitting diodes) beside meditation / relaxation data in green LEDs on an LED matrix. The pendant has live, record and playback functions, which give the user the choice of displaying live EEG visualisations or recording and playing up to four minutes of previous brainwave data visualisations on a loop. The wearer can use this functionality they’re feeling mischievous i.e. want to manipulate a situation, what I term ’emotive engineering’ and want to appear to be concentrating / paying attention or relaxed, as well as if they just want to use the pendant as an aesthetic piece of jewellery without the EEG headset. More information on the EEG Visualising Pendant can be found here.

During the Design Exhibition, I was interviewed by BBC Technology News, the coverage can be found here. I was also filmed by Swiss TV.

Here’s my short video tour around the Design Exhibition

Rachael's fab fibre optic dress
Fiber Optic Corset Dress

Including my work, there were fourteen exhibits in the Design Exhibition, here’s a brief listing of them:

Fiber Optic Corset Dress (above), by Rachael Reichert, James Knight, Lisa Ciafaldi and Keith Connelly of Cornell University, USA, which glowed wonderfully in the darkened exhibition space. The dress also features in Rachael’s short film CyBelle Horizon.

Gorgeous Lüme

Lüme (above) by Elizabeth E. Bigger, Luis E. Fraguada, Jorge & Esther and built by Associative Data, is a series of garments that incorporate embedded electronics which illuminate based on the wearer’s selection of colour and other choices, controlled from a smartphone. The garments shone and changed colour beautifully. Lüme won the Design Exhibition prize in the aesthetic garment category.

E-Shoe: A High Heeled Shoe Guitar

E-Shoe: A High Heeled Shoe Guitar, by Alex Murray-Leslie, Melissa Logan and Max Kibardin of the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia, is an intriguing and startlingly captivating shoe guitar that was created to explore acoustics in wearable technology and the practicalities of instruments for live multi-modal performances.

Brace Yourself – The World’s Sexiest Knee “Brace”

Brace Yourself – The World’s Sexiest Knee “Brace” by Crystal Compton and Guido Gioberto of the University of Minnesota, USA, is an interesting and playful look at how a stocking incorporating a bend sensor can be used to track movement in the leg in a new and more aesthetically pleasing way.

Play the Visual Music

Play the Visual Music by Helen Koo of Auburn University, USA, is a garment for musicians and performers which responds to sound and intended to provide visual multi-sensory stimulations to the audience.

Garment with Stitched Stretch Sensors that Detects Breathing +  AVAnav: Helmet-Mounted Display for Avalanche Rescue Jason O. Germany

Garment with Stitched Stretch Sensors that Detects Breathing & AVAnav: Helmet-Mounted Display for Avalanche Rescue

AVAnav: Helmet-Mounted Display for Avalanche Rescue, by Jason O. Germany of the University of Oregon, USA, has developed a series of prototypes to assist rescue teams locate buried avalanche victims.

Haptic Mirror Therapy Glove by James Hallam of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, is a glove that allows the stimulation of a paretic hand’s fingers following a stroke by tapping the fingers of the unaffected hand. James’ glove won the functional category prize in the Design Exhiibition.

At the International Symposium on Wearable Technology, Zurich 2013

Garment for rapid prototyping of pose-based applications, by Jacob Dennis, Robert Lewis, Tom Martin, Mark Jones, Kara Baumann, John New and Taylor Pearman of Virginia Tech, USA, is a loose fitting body-suit as the title suggests for rapid prototyping of pose-based applications.

Garment with Stitched Stretch Sensors that Detects Breathing, by
Mary Ellen Berglund, Guido Gioberto, Crystal Compton of the University of Minnesota, USA, is intended to be “a comfortable, everyday athletic garment incorporating a breathing sensor to monitor the activities of crewmembers on NASA missions”.


A Wearable Sensing Garment to Detect and Prevent Suit Injuries for Astronauts
, by Crystal Compton, Reagan Rockers, Thanh Nguyen of the University of Minnesota, USA, was developed using pressure sensors to help detect and resolve areas of injury in spacesuits.

Garment Body Position Monitoring and Gesture Recognition by Sahithya Baskaran, Norma Easter, Cameron Hord, Emily Keen and Mauricio Uruena of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, was designed to recognise arm movements that might lead to repetitive strain injuries and capture data on reaction time.

The Photonic Bike Clothing IV for Cute Cyclist

The Photonic Bike Clothing IV for Cute Cyclist by
Jiyoung Kim and Sunhee Lee Dong-A of the University of South Korea, uses solar panels to power heat pads to aid the comfort of the rider.

Strokes & Dots by Valérie Lamontagne is a collection of garments which are part of a research project looking at fostering advancement of creative innovation and aesthetics in wearable technology.

During the ISWC main conference, there were so many interesting papers presented, my favourites included:

Eagerly waiting for FIDO: Ficilitating Interactions for Dogs with Ocupations

Blitz the dog preparing for the FIDO presentation!

FIDO – Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations: Wearable Dog-Activated Interfaces by Melody Jackson, Thad Starner and Clint Zeagler of
Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. This research looks at how assistance dogs can communicate more directly with their human companions by using a wearable system of sensors embedded in an a dog jacket, activated by pulling, biting and nose touching. Examples shown included human companions who needed precise alerts to be given to them, such as a dog who could distinguish between a doorbell and a tornado alert and raise an alarm, and other canine companions who could get help from others in the case of a medical emergency. What fascinated me about this research is how intelligent and individual it showed the dogs to be, for example in the Q&A it emerged that some dogs can remember over 1000 commands or words and respond differently depending on breed and temperament. Another point that came out of the Q&A was how with the dogs help, this technology could be really valuable to people with severe disabilities such as ‘locked-in’ syndrome.

Lucy Dunne conducts Q&A with Halley Profita on Don't Mind Me Touching My Wrist: A Case Study of Interacting with On-Body Technology in Public

Halley Profita and Lucy Dunne during the Q&A

Don’t Mind Me Touching My Wrist: A Case Study of Interacting with On-Body Technology in Public by Halley Profita, James Clawson, Scott Gilliland, Clint Zeagler, Thad Starner, Jim Budd and Ellen Yi-Luen Do of University of Colorado at Boulder, USA. This piqued my interest as it examined social acceptability of wearables via how people felt about the placing of an e-textile ‘jogwheel’ (a circular controller) on specific parts of the body, their attitudes to where it was placed and why. The insights were both fascinating and amusing. The study used both male and female testers and used the setting of a lift as a public place. The testing was done in the US and Korea to find out how differing cultural attitudes affected the study. Korea was an interesting choice as contrary to the US couples do not hold hands or show affection in public and interacting with a wearable on the body did highlight different cultural attitudes to the body and personal space. The paper discusses a whole load of insights from the research, but to be brief, the study showed the torso to be the most awkward place to wear the e-textile jogwheel and the wrist and forearm to be the least awkward place to wear it. A majority of wearers found the e-textile jogwheel a potentially ‘useful’ device.

Sensor-Embedded Teeth for Oral Activity Recognition

Sensor-Embedded Teeth for Oral Activity Recognition by Cheng-Yuan Li, Yen-Chang Chen, Wei-Ju Chen, Polly Huang and Hao-hua Chu of the National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan. This presentation discussed how a tri-axial accelerometer system could recognise oral activities such as talking, chewing, drinking and laughing. The system results showed “93.8% oral activity recognition accuracy when using a person-dependent classifier and 59.8%
accuracy when using a person-independent classifier.” They discussed the uses for this such as dietary tracking. I found this research quite intriguing as I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to self quantify and will look out for news of their future work in this area.

Thad Starner Keynote 'Through the looking glass'  at ISWC / Ubicomp

Thad Starner giving his keynote.

Wearable Computing: Through the Looking Glass by Thad Starner of Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Although I’ve read so many articles about Google Glass and possibly talked the hind leg off a donkey on the topic of Glass / lifelogging / privacy / surveillance / sousveillance in the last 18 months, I was still really looking forward to hearing Thad, who is also Technical Lead/Manager on Google’s Project Glass, talk about the device and discuss its tech specs. As Thad was previously part of the MIT Media Lab ‘Borg’ collective alongside Steve Mann, I was especially looking forward to hearing him present his thoughts on and about the history of wearable computing. I really enjoyed his talk and insights and best of all he brought along a box of some of his old head mounted display projects, one of which I cheekily tried on, see photo below.

Cheekily trying on Thad Starner's computer / Twiddler glasses at   at ISWC / Ubicomp - I hope he didn't mind ;-)

ISWC 2013 was fantastic and I loved Zurich, next year it moves on to Seattle, being the last year (paws crossed) of my PhD, I hope I’ll have the time (thesis beckons) and money (am running out of cash) to get there! Many thanks to Lucy Dunne and Troy Nachtigall for all their hard work organising the Design Exhibition, and to Kristof Van Laerhoven, the programme committee, volunteers, speakers, exhibitors and attendees who made the conference such an excellent and thought provoking experience. Not forgetting to say thanks too for all the great vegan food that was organised for me!