Tuesday, January 30, 2018

a sonnet for scicomm

i decided to compose a sonnet about the science communication program. mainly because i wanted to write a sonnet. but i also felt like restraining my writing to fit within a specific structure would make me more deliberate about what i included and more in touch with what things i associate the strongest with being here.

i wrote the sonnet to encapsulate how complex the year has been: good and bad, funny and sad, inspiring and frustrating. there’s a fair amount of inside jokes, a little bit of love for sudbury even though i complain about it all the time, nods to the field of science and technology studies, and references to both the highs and lows of the year thus far.

so anyway, a sonnet is in iambic pentameter which sounds kind of like this:

say it out loud so you get it right. i promise it will only be sort of embarrassing.

an iamb is one duh-DUH and there are five of them in each line, so, pentameter.

iambic pentameter is kind of like your heart beat, but like, a poem.

shakespeare liked to follow a rhyme scheme like this:
abab cdcd efef gg.

so i did too. because why come up with something unique when i can just copy the best sonneteer? i learned that’s a word today—sonneteer. a writer of sonnets.

here’s a poem by an apparent sonneteer.

a sonnet for scicomm

can scicomm be distilled into an art?
or a precise science that is sublime?
an eloquent poetic truth imparts
a clarity that can shift paradigms.

chantal taught us to differentiate
behaviours breaking through museum days.
and slag and stacks as bears of black collate
in this, a crater where the earth gave way.

remember all the people meerna blessed.
and trees don’t talk apparently it seems.
and some of us are cursed—bad luck, unless,
perhaps the strike is still haunting my dreams.

so follow me along this frozen wake
the ice is cracking on onwatin lake

-jeremiah yarmie

Monday, January 22, 2018

Discovering the Creativity in Science Communication

There is no question about the importance of science in our society. From healthcare to the environment, and all the way up to space, science permeates every facet of life. But its importance needn’t overshadow its ability to be fun and engaging.

I entered this program confident that I would help to expel science misinformation by firmly delivering hard facts and truths. However, this assumption was quickly extinguished as the first thing we learned was that science communication is a two-way street, a relationship between the communicator and their audience – one that requires patience, tact, research, and perhaps surprisingly, creativity. The deficit model, or the one-way street, is condescending and outdated, and therefore, the best communicators are ones who come to understand their audience and find unique ways to introduce them to scientific topics and research.

The creativity element was one that I hadn’t considered, but has impacted me the most. Through this program, we’ve learned to marry the science with our passions, skills, and personal interests. We’ve been encouraged to explore every domain, to paint the world with science, and by experimentation, learn to communicate through a myriad of mediums.

Hard at work during Wiebke's workshop!
My personal journey has seen me transform an educational video into a series of tweets, try my hand at documentary filmmaking and editing, navigate the world of sexual education through presentation, and dream up underwater adventures using virtual reality. While the idea of complete creative control may seem disconcerting at first, it’s a rewarding way to combine your interests with your goals.

Of course, I can’t forget to mention the masterful creations by my talented classmates. I constantly find myself filled with excitement and wonder when watching them exhibit their projects. I’ve sat in admiration watching some turn an exponential graph into a building song, create an endearing storybook for young children, propose a bacteria paint night, and bake climate change into a cake (yes, it was quite delicious).

The brilliance of this program is that with all of us coming from varying scientific backgrounds and worldwide locations, the way we approach science communication is multifaceted and unique. We learn from our courses, but we also learn from each other.

Likewise, our instructors also come from diverse backgrounds, allowing us to experience many different perspectives and disciplines. The concepts introduced in each course can be carried over to the others, and as a result, our communication repertoires have expanded with each new direction we take in class.
Early on in our first term, we were privileged to participate in a 3-day intensive filmmaking workshop led by Dr. Wiebke Finkler of New Zealand, whose directorial knowledge and love of whales were equally inspirational. Later on, we were also visited by Julia Krolik, creator of Art the Science (https://artthescience.com/), whose projects sing of ingenuity and innovation. Both of these women employ their diverse interests to produce awe-inspiring bodies of work in the spirit of science.

Art the Science founder Julia Krolik.
Having class at Science North also helped fuel our creativity, complimented by behind-the-scenes chats with staff scientists, project coordinators, and producers. Walking through the science centre on Wednesday mornings, you couldn’t help but feel the unlimited potential circulating through the building. Indeed, there isn’t anything quite like finishing your class then heading downstairs to say a quick hello to Maple, the resident porcupine. The setting invited our minds to explore, prompting us to think up and create different pathways leading to scientific understanding.

I often think of this program as a long corridor lined with rooms, with each door representing an invitation to try our hand at a new form of science communication. Some rooms I’ve enjoyed more than others, but I’ve left every one having gained new insights and skills. I’ve learned to go beyond writing, where I feel most comfortable, and instead transform the science and my ideas into tangible objects and new technologies.

Science can sometimes feel limiting in its creative license, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s possible to combine your passions in science with art or technology, and let the world see the unique creations that result. It also doesn’t need to be an overwhelming or daunting task, you simply must allow yourself to explore this field through different lenses, always keeping the science message en tĂȘte.

As we move into second term, our new courses present additional opportunities to go further down the corridor and open more doors, ushering us to new realms of science communication. 

- Meerna Homayed

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Communicating Bioleaching Science

            Being a part of the Science Communication graduate program gives us the opportunity to hold a GRA (Graduate Research Assistant) position. This year, my classmate Torben and I are extremely fortunate to be working with Dr. Nadia Mykytczuk and diving into the world of communicating the Elements of Bio-mining (EBM)!

We Got This Cooking GIF by WE tv

       The Elements of Bio-mining is a large government-funded program that includes projects from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and of course, Laurentian University. The aim? Harness the capabilities of microbial communities to stabilise mine waste and turn this waste into valuable metals such as nickel, copper, and zinc. These guys can handle extreme conditions and thrive at mining sites, including the nickel mines here in Sudbury. To learn more, go to http://www.biomining.ca.

Biology Lab GIF by University of California

Extracting metals from sulfide minerals creates sulfide-laden waste tailings, which develops the risk of acid mine drainage (AMD).

“Hey Shahana, what is AMD?”.


It’s basically when oxidation causes iron sulfide within these tailings to ultimately convert into sulfuric acid that can outflow and create acidic water. This drainage eventually leads to ecological destruction and contamination (as you can imagine). Methods to prevent oxidation and slow down AMD has included engineered covers or disposal under water. 

HOWEVER - There are ways to take these oxidising processes and make them beneficial, i.e. using bacteria to extract metals from ore or mine waste - also known as, bioleaching.

In this process, you also remove the iron and sulphur and make them less likely to produce AMD in the long run. Dr. Mykytczuk’s research involves in-situ bio-treatments and exploring strategies for low concentration metal extraction. However, because of Canada’s colder climate, these waste heaps have a hard time maintaining temperatures high enough for mesophilic or thermophilic microbial growth. So Dr. Mykytczuk’s research is looking at how to optimise cold-adapted microbial communities and identifying alternate bioleaching pathways. This is a great long-term, cost-effective (and most importantly in my eyes, ECO-FRIENDLY) solution, especially since there are ~5000 mine sites in Ontario alone.

Adventure Time Finn GIF

            In the end, this research is extremely important since there are few examples of bioleaching technologies that work in Canada. Hopefully, these technologies can be developed in Sudbury and made available for other sites! To learn more about Dr. Mykytczuk’s research, go to http://www3.laurentian.ca/livingwithlakes/about/staff/nadia-mykytczuk//.

            The first task Torben and I had was creating individual cards that summarised the elements of each of the three projects. For us, these cards were a great learning opportunity. Obviously, we got to dip our toes into the realm of graphic design to create images, icons, and colour schemes that helped us communicate the specific science of each project. We also applied what we learned about understanding our audience to select the appropriate vocabulary and concepts that would be best understood by the reader. Here is the card we created regarding Dr. Mykytczuk’s project about Passive Bioleaching (inspired by the graphic work of SCOM alumnus Hiba Farran):

- Shahana Gaur

Shoutout www.giphy.com

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Student Perspective: Conferences in Canada

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Geology, I was lucky enough to find jobs abroad in some pretty neat places. I assisted with research at a biological station in Costa Rica, taught English in Spain, and then worked on the science investments team in the New Zealand government. I chose this program because I thought it would be a good opportunity to get my foot in the door in the professional world here in Canada.

It was an adjustment being a student again, but on the positive side there are student perks! This semester I have benefited from health and dental care, student prices and discounts. Furthermore, I am taking advantage of the opportunity to go to conferences. I have been lucky enough to attend 3 conferences since September, as well as a WISE event https://wisesudbury.ca/, Ladies Learning to Code workshop https://www.canadalearningcode.ca/chapters/sudbury/ and even a luncheon talk about sustainability in businesses http://www.greeneconomynorth.ca/. I’m here to learn as much as I can, and you need to get yourself out there to get noticed.

Science Communicators and Writers of Canada conference

Since we did this in our very first week of classes, it was a bit overwhelming, but I personally found the whole conference quite useful as a great overview of science communication (although many colleagues didn’t share my same enthusiasm). There were lots of sessions looking at all kinds of science debates and topics and they had some strong panelists (I love hearing my old professor, Jeremy Kerr, speak http://sciencewriters.ca/Past-Program-2017).

Canadian Science Policy Conference

I chose to attend this conference because the program looked jam-packed with interesting science topics, speakers, and panels. I was keen to learn more about science policy in Canada since my only real experience was with the New Zealand government, so I was curious to see how things were done here. It was challenging going by myself to a conference where I didn’t know anyone, but I managed to chat with some interesting people and had a lot of business cards by the end of the 3 days. I got to experience a Science Slam, attended speeches by Mona Nemer and Kirsty Duncan, and I enjoyed my 3 course dinner while Julie Payette gave her controversial speech http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/julie-payette-climate-divine-intervention-analysis-wherry-1.4383734.

This was a one-day intensive conference run by Let’s Talk Science, which looked at the future of science education here in Canada. This was really interesting (and swanky) and I got to talk with educational professionals from all over the country. Working as an English teacher and running children’s programs for over 10 years, I have always been interested in how we are working to make Canada one of the best education systems in the world. I did find a lot of the content quite obvious (“if we had more passionate teachers our students would do better”...duh!) but the attendees were really dedicated to the mission and the positive atmosphere was contagious.

My advice to anyone entering this program is make the most of it. It is only one year, and it goes by quickly, so get out there, talk to people, learn as much as you can, and listen to the wise words of the science communicators around you.  

- Brigid Prouse